Notes on “Airport Hotel Ghost Story”

This week, there’s a new issue of Midnight Breakfast, and one of the stories found there is by me. It’s called “Airport Hotel Ghost Tour,” and there’s a story behind it. Maybe two. Maybe three.

In the fall of 2011, I traveled to New Orleans for the first time. I was there for what had been billed as an engagement party but turned out to be a post-wedding party (not a bad surprise, as surprises go), but as I was only there for a long weekend, I didn’t get to spend nearly as much time there as I would have liked.

I had an early-morning flight back to New York City on Monday morning, as I’d decided that I wanted to try to get in to work rather than use a vacation day. And so, rather than stay somewhere in the city as I’d done the two previous nights, I found myself staying at a hotel near the airport, having a last dinner of comfort food. As someone who grew up in central New Jersey, I have nothing against comfort food, but relative to some of the meals I’d had in the past forty-eight hours, it seemed a huge disappointment.

“Well, maybe I can work this into a story sometime,” I thought.

That notion rattled around in my head for a year or two. Somewhere along the way, it combined with another memory from a previous vacation, involving signs for a ghost tour and a lonesome man standing, waiting for someone to arrive who’d go on it. And basically, that memory and the memory of the airport hotel dinner came together, and this is what emerged.

The hotel hung low-slung like a truncated letter U. There was a long stretch with two abbreviated wings facing out over an emptied pool, around which yellow caution tape had been half-assedly strung. To Marco, it seemed less a warning than someone’s beshat detritus, or a celebration’s weather-worn aftermath. From the second floor, it seemed like a giant’s grave, waiting to be filled.

 

The hotel’s outline reminded Marco of a kind of fortress, designed to obscure the adjacent takeoffs and landings. It seemed to Marco that this had been a failure. Though the planes’ ascent and descent was cloaked, their sound was not; removed from the accompanying visuals, there was only that sort of terror, the sound of nearby engines and metal, hurtling or falling less than a mile away. The sounds and sensations that this shelter released could only summon sharp anxiety and catastrophe’s illusion. Who needed ghosts, Marco thought. He continued up the stairs, following Otto.

If you’d like to read the whole story, you can do that here.

Teaching a Course at LitReactor

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A quick pause for self-promotion: this December, I’ll be teaching an online course at LitReactor. I’m especially excited to join the list of writers who have taught there, which includes D. Foy, Grace Krilanovich, Vanessa Veselka, and Lidia Yuknavitch. Here’s a quick bit from the description:

Writers cut their teeth on short stories. It’s where you learn the importance of good submission practices. It’s where you build your name and your reputation. It’s where most writers get that first taste of holding their own words in a bound, printed format.

But getting your stories published in a quality literary magazine takes more than just emailing 2,500 words to a dozen email addresses. A successful submission must be sent to the right publication and must hook the reader—but people who read for writing magazines aren’t normal readers.

While you can find blogs and books devoted to creating characters and showing instead of telling, it’s harder to find advice on the elements of story that get them past the gatekeepers.

You can learn more, or register for it, here.

Notes on Amazon, etc.

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Late last week, Alex Shephard wrote a long piece for MobyLives about the current clash between Amazon and Hachette, and how authors have taken sides. The whole thing’s totally worth reading, but particularly this section:

I make no bones about the fact that I think Amazon has been bad for literary culture in America, but I don’t want to take it away from anyone. If Konrath and other self-published authors are happy with the way Amazon is working for them, then that’s great for them and it’s great for literary culture. I just want Amazon to also work for publishers and I don’t see why that’s a problem. The goal should be to grow literary culture, not stifle it. There’s certainly not a one-size-fits-all solution and this certainly isn’t a fight to the death.

Or at least it shouldn’t be.

***

For my money, I used Amazon for a while in…say, the early-to-mid 00s. Then I started realizing things: I was obsessive about getting free shipping, but generally ordering two trade paperbacks would take me just below the $25 threshold for that, so I’d end up ordering more, so in trying to get free shipping, I’d end up spending $10 or $12 more than I’d planned. And inevitably, shipping would still take the better part of a week. So I started heading to local indies: when they were around, Coliseum Books was located a few blocks from where I was working at the time. Then I started spending more and more time at McNally Jackson (then McNally Robinson). And then WORD opened about five blocks from my apartment. And I noticed that–regardless of any other factors–ordering a book through a bookstore was going to take roughly the same amount of time as going through said online retail giant. Plus, there was the added bonus of interacting with people. Smart people. People who, in many cases, have become friends of mine. For me, this wasn’t a hard decision at all. Since then, I’ve  embraced the idea of supporting independent bookstores wholeheartedly; there were also, though, entirely practical reasons for me to make that first move.

***

Shepard also goes briefly into the question of bookstores not selling Amazon Publishing books. I can only imagine that there’s got to be something frustrating about being on the Amazon Publishing side of things: many of the books that they’ve done seem like the sort of work that would be designed for handselling–but it’s not surprising (and very understandable) that indie bookstores want nothing to do with work coming from a corporate entity that has its eye on supplanting them. And it’s also worth noting that Neal Pollack’s recent defense of Amazon ended up being more of a defense of Amazon Publishing than anything else.

I have bought two books that Amazon Publishing’s done: Benjamin Anastas’s memoir Too Good to Be True, and Shawn Vestal’s Godforsaken Idaho, both of which I enjoyed. For the record, I got the former as a Christmas gift, and ordered the latter via Powell’s. (And, at the time I’m typing this, I see that Vestal’s book has won the 2014 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize; I’ll be curious to see if this changes anything with respect to how bookstores handle it.) I’m also planning to pick up Nicole Haroutunian’s collection that Little A is publishing when it comes out next year–I like her writing (we published one of her stories at Vol.1) and her work with Underwater New York (who, full disclosure, have also published one of my stories.) Where I’ll get it remains to be seen, but I’ll certainly be handing money over to someone for it.

Conducted a Q & A at Greenlight

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Last week, I got to talk with Luke B. Goebel, whose debut novel Fourteen Stories, None of Them Are Yours has done a pretty excellent job of getting lodged in my head this year. It’s a sprawling work that also cycles back in on itself. As the title suggests, the format gets a little blurry: it’s a novel that’s also a collection of stories, some of which are the same story handled in different fashions, as the book’s narrator works through issues of grief and abandonment. English Kills Review has a recap, and the interview itself should be available soon in both audio and text forms.

Some Notes on Writing About “Cool Choices”

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So: I wrote about S’s new album Cool Choices for Dusted. It’s an album about aging and frustration–not aging in the “fuck, I’m a few years from the grave” sense, but aging in the sense that it sinks in that you’ve chosen a path in life that doesn’t quite jibe with what many around you are doing. It’s an album that resonated a lot with where my head’s been lately. The fact that it’s a noisy, cathartic album with plenty of catchiness doesn’t hurt, either. As someone who’s long enjoyed Jenn Ghetto’s music–whether in S, Carissa’s Wierd, or her Blink-182 cover band Silly Goose–this is a particular high point, I think, even as it mines frustrations and the detritus of a relationship for often-painful lyrics.

***

Also in the “things I’ve written recently” camp: reviews of books by Deborah Levy and Stuart Rojstaczer for the Jewish Daily Forward; thoughts on Alejandro Jodorowsky’s autobiographical novel Where the Bird Sings Best for Biographile.

Flashlight Below My Chin, Speaking Ominously

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Last year, I was asked to take part in a cosmic-horror-themed reading at WORD. The result was “The Wenceslas Men,” a story of which I’m especially proud. It looks like this will be an annual thing, and I’ve been asked back for this year’s edition, at WORD in Greenpoint on Wednesday, October 22nd. Here’s the official description:

Get ready for Halloween with Christopher Buelhman (The Necromancer’s House), Tobias Carroll of Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Michael Cisco (Member), and Katherine Howe (editor of The Penguin Book of Witches), who will do their best to give you nightmares with a joint reading and signing.

I’m especially excited to be reading with Michael Cisco, whose novel The Narrator was a head-twisting work unlike anything I’ve read before. And now: to write.

Read a Bit Last Week

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Read last Thursday at Pacific Standard as part of The Disagreement Reading Series. I was asked to read “The Wenceslas Men,” and thus did. It’s funny–I’ve been working on a story that I thought would suit the series for a couple of months now. It’s one of the most overtly comic things I’ve written (and, in writing it, I’ve had to restrain myself from basically doing a bad Kingsley Amis impression.) Amusing, then, that the story that I did end up reading at the series is one of the bleaker things I’ve done.

I’ll be at it again this Wednesday, at Cakeshop for the Mixer series. I’ll likely be reading part of a longer story that I read an earlier version of earlier this year (if that makes any sense at all.) Either way, it should be fun–and I really like the idea that I’ll be reading in the same space where I’ve seen a lot of friends of mine play music over the years.

Bought Some Books, Bought Some Records: Hudson, NY

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I went up to Hudson, New York for Basilica Soundscape this weekend. I’ll have more to say about the festival–either here or at Vol.1 Brooklyn–but I wanted to do a quick post about a pair of books and a trio of records I picked up when there.

Books
Yoko Tawada, Where Europe Begins
The last time I’d been to Hudson, I spent a lot of time at The Spotty Dog, which combines a very good bookstore and a very good bar. Do you like a well-put-together fiction and essays section and/or excellent craft beer on tap? Then you could probably spend some time in here. Spotty Dog also ended up running a pop-up shop at the festival, where I picked up Tawada’s collection, knowing little more about it than the description and its evocative title.

Breece D’J Pancake, The Collected Stories
One of the books I brought up with me to read this weekend was Roberto Bolaño’s Between Parentheses. In it, he repeatedly praised the work of Enrique Vila-Matas, who falls into the “acclaimed writers whose work I’ve never read” category. Earlier today, I stopped by Spotty Dog to see if they had anything of his in story. They didn’t–but I did see a copy of Breece D’J Pancake’s collected stories on the staff picks shelf, and as I’d been meaning to read it for a while now, it seemed like as good a time as any.

Echo
At the festival merch table, a zine was for sale, assembled by some of the same people who had put together the festival itself, and with contributions from many of the artists who I had seen/would see over the course of the weekend. Seemed like a no-brainer.

Music
Gamelan Dharma Swara: Gamelan Dharma Swara
Saw this massive ensemble the first day. I’d heard good things about them from Chris Weingarten, and they didn’t disappoint–theirs was a huge, sometimes ecstatic sound, unlike nothing else on the bill.

Curtis Harvey: The Wheel
I ended up walking past FatCat Records’ store on Saturday, and poked my head in. Curtis Harvey has one of my all-time favorite rock voices; I helped put a Rex show together when I was at college, and reviewed his solo debut Box of Stones a couple of years ago for Dusted. I’d forgotten that this album had come out earlier this summer, so: mistake resolved, hopefully.

Emily Reo: Olive Juice
Emily Reo’s Saturday-evening set was one of the festival’s highlights for me: her sound brings together a solid core of pop songwriting with more ethereal elements, including a lot of effects on the vocals. It doesn’t hurt that her set included a terrific cover of Built to Spill’s “Car” which captures the original’s heartbreakingly bittersweet mood while branching out into an entirely different musical vein.

A Fragment, and Another Reading

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Worked on some editing and some revising yesterday; ended up reworking a very short, possibly comic piece that I’d begun earlier in the summer. I ended up pulling this bit out of it, as it didn’t quite fit; figured I’d post it here because it stands on its own pretty well.

Home reaction test kit, and that desire to discover limits. A night of striking myself in the elbow and knee, waiting for the twitch. No twitches came; bruises were raised the following morning. The week that followed involved inching past stray objects; the fortnight of flinching. Sold the mallet to a neighborhood kid four months later. He had his Viking act ready to go, he told me.

Also: I’ll be reading next week in Brooklyn. Specifically:

September 11 at The Disagreement Reading Series at Pacific Standard, beginning at 7 pm.

Upcoming Events: Two of Them, Both in September (Plus One More)

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Greetings. It’s September, and summer seems to be pulling off one final reminder that it’s out there: temperatures are lurking around 90, the humidity is grotesque, and the sky is occasionally just awash with haze. Apparently, this is my week for listening to the new Radiator Hospital album Torch Song, which is growing on me quite a lot, as well as Freaking Out, the debut from Attendant (aka the project of Radiator Hospital bassist Jon Rybicki). It’s a very classicly autumnal indie rock album: there’s some of the moodiness of Dinosaur Jr. and Beat Happening in there, and I’ve been enjoying it quite a lot.

I’ve got a couple of fall events coming up. These are the first two, and I’ll be announcing more as formal announcements go up. (And by “formal announcements,” I pretty much mean “Facebook event pages.”)

On September 17th: I’ll be reading at Cakeshop as part of Mixer. Also reading? Lev Grossman, Porochista Khakpour, and Dia Felix, with music from Russ Marshalek. The Facebook page for that is right here

On September 22nd: I’ll be interviewing Luke B. Goebel at Greenlight Bookstore about his terrific debut novel Fourteen Stories, None of Them Are Yours. Should you want to RSVP to that on Facebook, you can do so here.

I’ll also be moderating a panel on the second day of this year’s Slice Literary Writers Conference, with a focus on editorial meetings.

More soon.

Views and Trees and Anniversaries

View from partway down the block

Fifteen years ago today, I moved to Greenpoint. I’m going with the 16th because that was the first night I actually slept here: there’d been some movement of things in the preceding days, but this was, for me, where it all started.

When I first moved in, the street on which I live was lined with newly-planted trees; I assume my block had been affected by the longhorn beetle infestation that struck the neighborhood a few years earlier. For years, I kept thinking, “Yeah, the trees will grow back eventually.” At some point not long ago, I realized that they already had. There’s probably a lesson to be learned in there; right now, I’m just grateful for the view as I look down the block. Small things.

Music and Talk of Music on a Thursday Night

AlvariusMy Thursday night began at the Housing Works Bookstore Cafe, where The Pitchfork Review was celebrating the release of their third issue. Jenn Pelly read an essay about her first forays into emo, which made me think of The Ataris for the first time since, if memory serves, I was sent a CD of theirs to review for my old zine. Mark Richardson read from a piece that appeared in the journal’s second issue, about listening to Sun Kil Moon’s Benjy; along the way, I realized that I’ve apparently been pronouncing Mark Kozelek’s name incorrectly since 1998 or so. And Lindsay Zoladz read about the device of using hashtags in song names, a titling move that seems doomed to backfire (or at least to tie the song in question to a very specific moment in time.) Taken together, the three pieces provided a fine survey of music writing, ranging in approach from the personal to the analytical.

(Being there, did I feel a little nostalgia for the Best Music Writing readings of bygone years? I’m not sure that I was conscious of it at the time, but looking back on it from the vantage point of a day, I think so. I’m certainly in that spot now.)

Once the readers were done, Dum Dum Girls’ Dee Dee played a short acoustic set. I’ve enjoyed her band’s music since their debut album, and hearing the songs in a pared-down style did nothing to change that. (See also: the pleasure of seeing someone play music in that space, which is always enjoyable.) From there, I headed up to the L train and made my way to Union Pool, to catch a set by Alvarius B.

I was a relative latecomer to Sun City Girls, the band in which Alan Bishop (aka the aforementioned Alvarius B.) played bass; they were a group whose name I’d seen referenced, but for whom I found seeking out their music far more difficult. When I did see their final album, Funeral Mariachi, at Sound Fix a couple of years ago, I picked it up. From there, I found myself delving into the music made by the group’s two surviving members, brothers Alan and Richard Bishop. This can be a mixed bag: pick an album by either of them, and it may well be bliss-inducing or experimental to an almost monastic extent.

That night at Union Pool, Sam Shalabi played an improvised set on the oud; then Byron Coley led a trio through a number of spoken-word pieces that, I’m assuming, had been written over the years. Perhaps I’m wrong, but that would explain the significant presence of Rudy Giuliani in one of them. Some were satirical; others invoked bygone urban geography and iconic musical figures. (One drew a comparison between Charles Mingus and D. Boon.) Alvarius B.’s set involved some consciously provocative stage banter–I’m tempted to volley out a James Ellroy comparison, in the sense that button-pushing played a significant role in the night’s proceedings.

In other words: the set did involve some beautiful moments, musically speaking; one of them was preceded by an introduction arguing that the song’s inspiration came from wishing violence on random people around him. Was it born out of a genuine sentiment, or was it more emblematic of a consciously nihilistic (or “nihilistic”) aesthetic? The employment of a persona–or, at least, the question of whether one is being employed–isn’t something one seems much at punk and indie shows these days. And that’s probably not a bad thing–the “I have a persona! Watch me shock you with what I say!” schtick isn’t something that prospers in abundance, and there’s a very fine line between keeping an audience from being too comfortable (an admirable move, I’d say) and simply offending them. For my money, last night’s set stayed in the former territory. After an hour and change, the give-and-take between the discomfort and the beatific music left me feeling the same set of emotions that first lured me into punk rock, albeit with a very different balance.

 

 

 

 

My Stop on the Writing Process Blog Tour

map-monmouthIt is, apparently, my turn to take part in the “answer a few questions about your process” interview series.  Huge thanks to Hannah Sloane, who tagged me to take part in this.

1. On what am I currently working?

In terms of fiction? A couple of short stories. A novel that touches on hardcore bands in the 90s, making art, a small town in northwestern New Jersey that never quite clicked, and storytelling. My story “Nearsighted in Northern Cities” is–as of right now–part of it; Åsa Morgan, who’s mentioned a number of times in the story, is one of the novel’s three central characters, and her father surfaces throughout as well.

I’m also working on a weirder project, that I’ve been calling my “J.G. Ballard meets stress-eating at a suburban Applebee’s” novel. I’m not quite as far along with that, though.

2. How does your work differ from others’ works in the same genre?

I think everyone comes from a different place, and in theory their writing affects that. I haven’t lived in New Jersey in fifteen years, but bits of my hometown are lodged in what I write. They will probably always be there, in some form or another.

(Or maybe the next thing will be what finally purges them from my system. I have no idea.)

3. Why do you write what you do?

Sometimes it’s to explore a particular sensation or experience. Sometimes I’ll find a scene or an image and will want to build something around it. I think it boils down to understanding–whether it’s of myself or of some aspect of the world around me. 

4. How does your writing process work?

These days, I usually do my first drafts on a tablet and then edit on a desktop. I’ve recently made the jump to full-time freelancing, so I’m not sure how that will affect this–the use of the tablet was, in part, based on me doing a lot of writing after the work day had ended, in coffee shops and bars. Now, that may well become “write in the living room, edit in the office.” We’ll see.


Bios:

Tobias Carroll lives and writes in Brooklyn, New York, where he is the managing editor of Vol.1 Brooklyn. His fiction and nonfiction have been published by Tin House, The Collagist, Underwater New York, The Paris Review Daily, Necessary Fiction, Bookforum, The Rumpus, The Collapsar, and Joyland.

Hannah Sloane has been published in CHEAP POPFreerange Nonfiction,Fwriction: ReviewLitroVol. 1 BrooklynWhiskeyPaper, and elsewhere. Her story The Wives recently featured in Wigleaf’s 50 Top (Very) Short Fictions 2014. More of her essays and fiction can be found at:www.hannahsloanewrites.com or say hello @hansloane.

Jane Liddle grew up in Newburgh, New York, and now lives in Brooklyn. Her stories have appeared in Two Serious Ladies, Cactus Heart, Whiskey Paper, Specter magazine, Luna Luna Magazine, and elsewhere. You can find her on Twitter @janeriddle or at liddlejane.tumblr.com.

Lauren Spohrer is a writer and public radio producer living in Durham, N.C. Her fiction has been published in NOON, Unsaid, the Mississippi Review, GIGANTIC, and some other places. She’s the founder and editor of Two Serious Ladies, an irregular online magazine to promote writing and art by women. She also makes a true-crime podcast called Criminal.

Annie DeWitt’s writing has appeared in NOON, Guernica, BOMBlog, Esquire’s Napkin Fiction Project, The Believer Logger, art+culture, Everyday Genius, The Faster Times, elimae, and Dossier Magazine, amongst others, and is forthcoming in Tin House and the American Reader edited by Ben Marcus. Her work was recently anthologized in Short: An International Anthology of 500 Years of Short-Short Stories, Prose Poems, Brief Essays, and Other Short Prose Forms, edited by Alan Ziegler. Ann holds a B.A. from Brown University and an M.F.A. in Fiction from Columbia School of the Arts. She was a Founding Editor of Gigantic: A Magazine of Short Prose and Art in 2008. She currently teaches in the Undergraduate Creative Writing Program at Columbia University. For more of her work, please follow her column at The Believer: http://logger.believermag.com/tagged/various-paradigms

Rae Bryant: Rae Bryant is the author of the short story collection The Infinite State of Imaginary Morals (Patasola Press 2011). Her stories, essays, and poetry have appeared in print and online at The Paris Review, The Missouri Review, McSweeney’s, Huffington Post, New World Writing, Gargoyle Magazine, and elsewhere. Her intermedia has exhibited in NYC, D.C., Baltimore, and Florence Italy. She has won prizes and fellowships from Johns Hopkins, Aspen Writers Foundation, VCCA, and Whidbey Writers and has been nominated for the PEN/HEMINGWAY, Pen Emerging Writers, the &Now Award, and multiple times for the Pushcart Award.

Rosebud Ben-Oni is the author of SOLECISM (Virtual Artists’ Collective, 2013) and a CantoMundo Fellow. Her work appears in The American Poetry Review, Bayou, Arts & Letters, Puerto del Sol, The Feminist Wire, Dialogist, B O D Y, Lana Turner Journal, Slice Magazine, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review and elsewhere. In 2010, her story “ A Way out of the Colonia” won the Editor’s Prize in Camera Obscura. Please read more about Rosebud at rosebudbenoni.com She does good things at VIDA: Women in Literary Arts.

Tessa Fontaine graduated from the University of Alabama’s MFA program and joined a traveling circus sideshow. As an instructor for Alabama Prison Arts and Education Project, she taught creative writing and performance in prisons across Alabama. More of her work can be found in Creative Nonfiction, The Normal School, Seneca Review, DIAGRAM, Pank, and more. Stay tuned for more updates from the road

Luke B. Goebel is the author of Fourteen Stories, None of Them Are Yours (FC2 2014). He won the Ronald Sukenick Prize for innovative fiction for the above-mentioned novel. He is a fiction writer and an Assistant Professor. His fictions are forthcoming or have appeared in The American Reader, PANK, The New York Tyrant, Unsaid, Elimae, The Collagist, Greenmountains Review, Gigantic, and elsewhere. He won the Joan Scott Memorial Fiction Award in 2012.

 

An Older Story, Revisited

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Five years ago, the fine people at featherproof asked me to contribute to TripleQuick, a literary app that they were creating featuring flash fiction designed to appear over the course of three screens. The story that resulted, “Cyclist & Avenue,” was my first go at writing flash fiction that I was happy with. Writing something that minute got me thinking differently about the shape and construction of what I was writing. It was a massively educational experience, and I remain grateful to Jonathan Messinger and Zach Dodson for the opportunity.

(I should also mention that I’m very eager to see what Tim Kinsella’s just-started tenure as featherproof’s publisher will bring, as the guy’s commitment to challenging yet beatific art is a long-standing and impressive one.)

I’ve put the story up on Medium, and you can read the whole thing here. I remain fond of it: both the story as a whole, and what I learned from it.

On Making Stories

I’ve got a Google Plus account. Every once in a while, new features debut, and I’m sometimes notified of these by a new icon in the upper left-hand corner of my phone. One of these indicated the presence of a “New Story.” Curious, I clicked through. What that story turned out to be comprised of, however, was…not all that linear. The generated title of “Trip” suggests that Google viewed this as a trip somewhere. (It was not.) Included in the “story”:

  • The cover of a Brian Turner-assembled Australian rock comp, the incentive I’d gotten for donating to WFMU this year;
  • Photos from Matt Dojny’s paperback release party;
  • The packaging for Smuttynose’s Bouncy House ale, which includes a photo of my friend Liberty.

Normally, I’d look at something like this, deem it an invasion of my privacy, and figure out how to turn it off. But given the surrealism of this particular selection, I think I’m going to leave this on–ideas for stories have come from less.