Written by

Shearwater – Meridian

When he was in his usual jovial mood, Big J liked to call them Big Boy Drinks. Right now he felt more like calling it what his mother did: Poison. “I’m going to drink a good deal of poison tonight,” she would tell him.

Despite his mood, Big J kept the laugh in his voice as he told Scotty that he was coming over to the party for some Big Boy Drinks. His voice was a dense cloud in the crisp frozen air as he spoke into his bulky Nokia on his way from the front door to his ’97 Ford Taurus.

As the car warmed up, its dull dashboard lights flickering at him, J huffed into his gloveless hands and hugged his body. He didn’t know how cold it was; the thermometer outside his mother’s house had frozen over. When he finally pressed the gas, he heard the whir of his bald tires on the ice. The futile spinning had no traction. From experience, he knew not to keep trying. The friction would only melt the ice and act as lubricant in an ever-deepening hole.

Muttering words his mother only used after several doses of poison, J climbed out of the now tolerably warm car and found the pieces of plywood next to the front porch. Jamming a piece under each tire, he shifted the car into drive and walked around back to push.

Big J looked like an elf that just soiled itself as he waddled in all his layers to catch the car crawling at 5 mph away from the ice it had recently escaped. He hopped on one foot trying to keep pace with the car as he stuck the other leg inside, easing himself into the driver’s seat.

The snowplows didn’t come this far out of town. Instead, those with trucks and jeeps strapped chains on their tires and matted down the snow for the sedans to follow timidly later. Driving the two miles to the Niles city limit, J could feel the give, sense the slide waiting to happen if he braked too quickly or took too sharp a turn. It made him feel trapped in a pedestrian pace. When were they going to invent teleportation already?

The Taurus rolled past Scotty’s house around back to the barn. Inside the amber-hued barn interior, half a dozen gathered around the beer pong table, which was directly in front of the wood furnace. Bruce Springsteen was on the battered cassette player’s radio. Scotty’s dad nodded at J after putting a new log in the furnace and brushing his hands together. He was trashed.

Scotty had been throwing parties in his barn since they were 15. It was almost a decade now they’d been gathering at the side of bails of hay, drinking beer, and smoking. When his father found out, he was furious — furious that they hadn’t invited him. Immediately, he marched back into the house and returned with his own contribution of PBR to the 30-pack the scared teenagers had mustered. Everyone laughed. Now even the girls didn’t mind that much when Soctty’s dad got drunk and stared at their asses. Everyone needs a few minutes away from his wife, they figured, and were flattered.

But there weren’t any pretty girls here today, J noticed. Scotty’s sister Jill, whose two children were asleep in the house, was there. So was Steph, Scotty’s baby-momma, with whom he was cheating on his girlfriend. A couple others in thick coats rounded out what was a ragged and sparse crowd.

“Grab a Big Boy Drink,” Scotty said.
“Do you want Miller or Bud?” his sister asked, leaning over the cooler. She was missing a tooth.
“Oh, give me a Miller, whydonchya,” J said.
“Ah, a man after my own heart,” she said and tossed him a can of Miller Lite. Big J thought the difference between Bud Light drinkers and Miller Lite drinkers was about as consequential as the difference between a furnace and a space heater to a freezing man.
“Cheers,” he said, raising his can into the musty air.

A couple cans in, J broke the seal out back near some trees. There was no bathroom attached to the barn; if you had to shit or had a vag you went inside the house. The warmth of his penis heating his shivering hands against the nippy air, J thought about the bathroom he had been in a few hours earlier.

When he had seen the letter on the counter, he was surprised his mother hadn’t opened it. Unable to find a proper letter opener, Big J used a pair of scissors to cut open the envelope. It was from Michigan State. J had taken as many classes as could possibly help him from Southwestern Michigan College, the junior college. He had been accepted at Notre Dame, but his mother told him plainly that the money wasn’t there. A sizable state grant at State was his ticket out of this town.

“We regret to inform you blah blah blah you’re a piece of shit blah blah blah,” was what his darting eyes saw upon ripping the letter out.

Calmly, J folded the letter back in the envelope and walked upstairs to the bathroom no one used. The lock on the door gave a satisfying clack, indicating his safety within the sanctuary of the porcelain alter. Big J sat on the toilet and read through the letter three times, soaking up its empty optimism and kindness, letting its every word ping off the back of his skull. Then, slowly, he tore the letter into tiny pieces of dead tree, rolled the pieces up into miniature balls, and dropped them between his legs into the water below. His glasses fogged and he wiped the runny mucus from his nose with the back of his wrist.

Sitting with his face in his wet hands, elbows on his knees, J stayed still until he couldn’t stand the tingling of his dead legs.

Crystal Skulls – Locked Down

Back outside, J put himself away and zipped up. It was too cold to stand out here thinking.

Each team had one cup of beer left. Big J and Jill were on one team, Scotty and Steph on the other. When Scotty nailed the last shot, Steph pulled him close for a kiss and murmured, “Oh, you’re such a good marksman.”

“That I am, honey. That I am.”

Big J hit the rebuttal to euphoric shrieks from Jill. She held a drink aloft with one hand and tried to hug J with the other, spilling beer down his arm. Two kids, J thought to himself as he felt the warmth of her body on him.

The two girls thought it was ever so cute when the rebuttal was hit twice again after that. J thought it was dragging out the inevitable.

When J struck the corner of the cup with the ball and it popped up to hit Steph’s boob, Jill giggled and said, “Sheash, nobody can win here!”

Sun Kil Moon – Alesund

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” Big J’s parents loved asking him when he was a child.

He would look up from his plate of macaroni and cheese or his action figures and beam an adorable smile chock-full of seemingly perpetually chipped teeth.

“A Peacemaker.”

It never failed to get a laugh out of them; it was the only consistent way J could get them to look happy. Though he did not understand the joke, he would always laugh along just as loud.

In his mind, a Peacemaker was a legitimate and straightforward profession. The 7-year-old J had warped — though not objectionable — ideas on war. From the smatterings he’d heard about battle and his own combat experience from the extensive and thorough Lego battles he imagined, war was simple. Two nations agreed to fight over some tiny dispute or another and built a giant wooden box with ledges on the side. Then army guys positioned themselves on the various ledges, Country A on the left and Country B on the right, and shot at each other. If your country shot all the machine gun-toting members of the other country in the box, your nation won. Sometimes, an insubordinate and over-eager infantryman would lob a grenade into the middle of the box, killing anyone left over. It was suicidal, but it brought an end to the engagement with a sort of cat’s tail draw J had experienced in tic-tac-toe.

A Peacemaker would walk in the open gap in between the opposing militaries with each hand holding aloft a “peace” sign, the first two fingers of each fist sticking up like Asians tourists in a photograph. He would cry out, “Peace, dudes, peace.” The military men would cease shooting and listen to his plea for an armistice. Sometimes, they would agree that shooting each other got them no where. Other times they would agree to ignore him and continue fighting. Somewhat frequently an itchy finger would shoot first the messenger of reconciliation before turning back on the official opposition.

It was a dangerous job, but one that surely had a decent salary considering the potential risk.

His father would tousle his hair and tell him, “Jason, you can be anything you want to be when you grow up if you work for it.”

Though the existence of the position was concrete in J’s mind, his own moral steel was up for debate. He wasn’t convinced he had what it took to go through with a real Peacekeeping mission.

When he heard a crash and yelling one night, a relatively frequent occurrence, J knew he had to be strong. If he was going to ever become a full-fledged Peacemaker, opportunities such as these must be seized. He swung out from under the covers in his pajama flannel onesie and softly padded his way down the carpeted stairway. In the kitchen, he saw his parents facing each other, faces flushed, eyes huge, fingers pointing. The blender was in pieces on the floor.

Mustering all the courage he could find within the confines of his onesie, J formed his stubby fingers into tiny bunnyears and walked into the kitchen saying shrilly, “Peace, dudes, peace.”

Both accusing fingers dropped as his parents turned to look at him. J grabbed the closest of each of  their hands in his, creating a semicircle.

“You shouldn’t fight with each other,” he said. “Peace,” he said.

Then he joined his parents’ hands together. For a split second, they stood staring at each other, palm to palm with their fingers interlocked. Then his father gave a tiny cough, or maybe it was a scoff. J could never quite tell when he thought of the moment in later years.

His mother knelt next to him and messed his hair as his father turned and left the house through the front door.

“Are you crying, mommy?” J asked her.
“I’m crying and laughing,” she answered.
“Why are you doing that?”
“Because I’m happy and sad at the same time.”
That night J fell asleep on her lap as she sat on the sofa, a glass of wine next to her.


Destroyer – Foam Hands

When he felt bloated and burpy from the booze, Big J drove home. Surrounded by the early morning dusk, he coasted through the desolate town, then over the padded snow up to his curb. The snow on the lawn was soft and high, up to his thighs maybe.

As he waded to his door, his neighbor’s dogs barked at him. They were a pair of labs. When his neighbor didn’t feel like standing out in the cold to watch them as they peed, she would tie them to a stake and let them do their business, sometimes forgetting to bring them in for a while. The labs were at the end of their leashes, close to J’s yard. Their grinning, barking faces peeked up over the snowbank. The heat from their bodies had melted pods in the deep snow, where they sat, stuck.

[Buy The Golden Archipelago by Shearwater.]
[Buy Blocked Numbers by the Crystal Skulls, which has since disbanded, many members joining Fleet Foxes.]
[Buy Admiral Fell Promises by Sun Kil Moon, if you proved immune from my previous prompting.]
[Buy Trouble In Dreams by Destroyer and check out the Bejar-O-Matic or Destroyer drinking game.]
[If you have energy left after buying all those records, check out our new tumblr page. It’s got pictures and stuff.]
[Also, Joan wants you guys to comment more so he can feel validated in his life decisions, but I’m more of the opinion that if you have nothing to say it’s better not to say anything. Then again, I’m also desperately lonely, so I’ll leave the decision of commenting up to you.]

5 Responses to “Impotence”

  1. Brent says:

    I enjoyed that, Zac. I’m getting that Sun Kil Moon album, as well.

  2. Zac says:

    If you do not like the Sun Kil Moon album, I will personally buy you a compensation beer the next time I’m in Miami. That’s the Rigg Guarantee.

  3. Joan says:

    I’m digging the Sun Kil Moon album. All beers bought in Australia are on me.

  4. Brent says:

    Beers all around then, but not for compensation. We like the album, and we like to drink.

  5. Joe says:

    Just stumbled over this, and I really love the “voice” in your writing. It makes each scenario vivid to the touch, and immediately evokes similar memories in my own subconscious. There you have it. P.S… It was Crystal Skulls that got me here. Wish I’d known of them when they were together.

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