Twist and Shout

Twist and Shout
Life is never straight (Joey Kulkin photo)

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Vignettes from Vermont: Aaron Walther publishes first book "Snow On My Time Machine"

Buy the book HERE

BENNINGTON -- They met again years ago in a southwestern stinkhole forever romanticized in literature and lore, that lonely place in the middle of the desert, just west of the Pecos, where, for a short time, space invaders and steamy pot pies and Super Birds made the kind of orgiastic love that defied every law of gravity and common sense. The romantic from Sheboygan and the addict from Long Beach met there 12 years later, while other yahoos joined the circus in waves. The badgers from Madison. A daft punker from Fairfax via Buxco. An Animalistic K-Stater who loved hand sanitizer and Denzel Washington. The ever witty Corpus Christi carouser with a Napoleon Complex. An Oslo thundercloud who pronounced meatballs meatbaaaals. Bumble Bill the photographer -- blblblblblblblblbl. The middle-aged bearded man who rubbed the sport editor's face then said with a grin "I only wanted to touch your whiskers, Joey." An angry divorcee from Dexter who spanked to porn and got caught. Mr. Chucky So-Hip-and-Fresh from Nob Hill. A Hunter S. Thompsonite and his spirited Belen cowgirl, both of them in boots and gallon hats. An old greasy boozer from Gamblerville. Even a young punk from Oberlin. Yes, these ink-stained wretches all rolled into this desperate town to join the circus of the newsroom, wave upon wave. All of them dominated a beat, and one of them ejaculated on his seat, and eventually they metamorphosized into human tumbleweeds that tumbled far away from Roswell.

Roswell.

Roswell, New Mexico.

Land of Enchantment.

Alien Nation.

Roswell.

It is where Art Gallery Dude and Aaron Walther met again, 12 years later. It's been almost another 12 years since then. Both of them joined other newsroom circuses in South Carolina and Texas and Idaho and Ohio and Wyoming and Missouri and New Hampshire and New Jersey. These days neither works in newsrooms. Maybe never again. If that's the case it's safe to say Roswell's newsroom was nuttiest for both of them -- and there's not even a second place. Well, maybe Trenton in AGD's case. But that's neither here nor there. This is about a special time in Alien Nation circa the days right after 9/11.

Back then Walther was the sweet and sad yet intense man from Sheboygan, a rare combination of bloodhound editor who rooted weeds from news stories and wrote headlines by day, then by night dove to the bottom of a bottle to chase the ghosts of Kerouac and Miller and Burgess and other badasses who today's badass writers adore and emulate.

Ten years later, after goading and encouragement galore from those who love him most, Walther has published his first book called Snow on My Time Machine. It is 351 pages of prose, poetry and screenplay-like short stories.

The first 181 pages of Snow On My Time Machine focuses on places, real or imagined, such as "Trying to Remember Tucson" and "Laura Dern Road" and "Desecration Boulevard" and "Train Ride to Rotterdam" and "Albuquerque French Fries" and "Indio" while he also devotes chunks of pulp to colors such as "Golden Lyric of the Fire" and "Purple Verse" and "Red Rubber Concerto" and "Orange Joya".

Walther plays with the perverse in many works. "The Undecipherable Want" features Jesus riding a missile spreading handfuls of love dust across the widening gap of mankind. Walther enjoys the cosmic nature of the universe as well and oftentimes writes about stars and sky and sun and energy. "Lomticks of Serenity" begins,

"Cosmic blood
Your kiss
Lost in memory
Day to Day
We Breathe
Within a haunted shell
Remembering
Yesterday
Yesteryear
The smell and sound of you
As we drove
Across the wide-open sky
To our place
Our only place ... "

Walther plays with politics, too. "Hesternopothia" features this verse:

"We're wrapped up in wars
kicking in doors
we're all killers
and poison for the poor
America's soaked in oil and blood
We can't get enough
of our powerful guns
Beating our children to death
with our social ills
and overdue bills
Mocking the third world
with our mansions and our pills."

Walther's poems and prose about love weigh a ton and are mostly fueled by hurt, sorrow, despair and wanting. You know, typical stuff that has bled from the hearts of romantics since man's first erection. Few writers, however, have the ability to wring the right words out of those emotions and translate them in such a great way like Walther does. The mother of his two children is his truest love, and "The Rough Idol" begins ...

"The sirens are splashing through the night
the palladiums are roaring with a crowd,
that Irish rock band is swinging their heads
through drilling sabers
and crisp dances net to the igloo
when you are miles away
slicing away
at the galaxy
with your wand full of wishes
and broken wedding dishes
carving love letters in your chest ...
and you've become nothing more than a rough idol"

But there have been other love stories since the divorce. Many others. The lovers in his life should recognize themselves by the time and place and eye color and skin tone. There was the guitar player in Roswell. There was the mental yo-yo from Ohio. Marillion is his favorite band, and themes in the popular song "Kayleigh" -- about a lovelorn yearner who remembers those early cherry blossoms in the market square and wants one more chance to see if they are right or he was wrong -- can be found in many of Walther's pieces.

Other times he takes you on short, strange mind trips splashed with doses or erotica, and here is an example in the middle of "Texas Cemetery Scroll" ...

We climbed a hill
shagged it rotten
like cotton candy
between the legs of an angel
and at the top of the hill
we found a flat, gravely place
I wanted to name the place Ashley
because it looked burnt and turned over
and all that remained was the ashes of destruction
and great piles of tumbled trees
and mountains of unraveled gravel -
and off behind us was a fence
a chain-link fence topped with rusting barbed wire
and beyond the fence
acres of dead -
it was a cemetery
and the fence encircling it
was cluttered with the debris
of loved ones' tokens
tokens of love
tokens of regret,
plastic and paper flowers
rolling in the wind
candied tumbleweeds smashed against the wire
and in this lot called Ashley
I found a letter
in a plastic bag
and the words were intact
and all a hush fell about my brood
as I began to read to them
a letter to the dead

... the full poem runs from pages 122 to 127.

***

THE SHORT STORIES begin on page 185. They're whimsy and fun and bizarro and two of them -- "Liam and the Mannequins of Ethereal Wisdom" and "Mr. Miller and the Pickle" -- need to be movies but only if David Lynch directs them. That's how AGD envisioned the stories on the big screen while reading them.

***

ABOUT A DOZEN YEARS EARLIER, circa 1990, they met in Long Beach, California, as young punks who worked at The Wherehouse record store. Walther was a manager. Art Gallery Dude made sure cassettes were in the right slots and did other menial shit.

AGD vaguely remembers Aaron Walther from those days.

Years later on a clear, starry night atop the lookout dams west of Roswell, in an elevated state best described as wanting to hug Yassir Arafat in the clouds, they talked about those Wherehouse days, but to be fair Walther had a much better memory of them.

Which is strange because both of them remember a cutie pie co-worker by the name of Keeley. And they both remember another co-worker by the name Mike Minard. (Side note: Minard and AGD grew up a block apart and went to the same schools K-12. Mike helped AGD get the job at the record store after helping him secure his first newspaper job, which led to him meeting Walther years later in Roswell. Life is funny that way.)

Minard was a large fella, and he drove a prairie yacht ...

1971 Ford Galaxy 500


... that he called the Pickle. It has been immortalized in "Mr. Miller and the Pickle" --  the 83-page finale to Snow On My Time Machine. It's a bizarre road trip featuring characters whose personalities are based on reporters and editors at the Roswell rag during a period when rock 'n' roll and Baptist sensibilities clashed in the best and worst of ways.

At the same time, Walther injected the story with circumstances of his own life in the wake of his brother dying, and then his mother.

Here's a devastating tidbit from what had been part 3 of the story on his Wordpress ...

"I just let Buddha drive through the night, for I felt dead to the day. It seemed my mind just couldn't take time anymore and I needed to shut down, but I hated that feeling, that numbness as I tipped the bottle back thinking it would open the curtain to enlightenment, but it did not; when you are numb you cannot feel and when you cannot feel how is one supposed to write.

"I looked out at the quiet galaxy as we swam through it like the finest angelfish; the stars, the moon, the paradise road to her heart now but a gravel pathway that just crunched beneath the soles of my worn shoes. How is it love just instantly dissipates? Just like that, like the sharp snap of a finger and then all is quiet dynamite and the explosion is like a reflection in my eyes, like this, her hand, once warm in the sun, once warm like life itself, slipped away, flowing away, like silt through a river.

"Buddha sighed and steered onward. The kids in the back were all sleeping soundly like peaceful children should without bombs in their minds and mad people around them making life uncomfortable and crazy. I felt now for their little souls, I really did. What a poor mess they were in and there was my good friend Buddha, all just quiet with tired eyes and steering to his mother's home, the place where he ran around as a boy, the same place we all ran around as small boys, or girls; simple children full of rainbows and butterflies in our happy guts, and then one day, for some mad reason I cannot comprehend at this late hour, it's all ripped away and then life becomes like constantly running away from stampeding elephants.

"I pressed my hand against the cool glass of the window of The Pickle and I thought about my brother and I thought about my mother, and how I was somehow forced by family duty and society to watch them die right in front of me. I was eating fried chicken from a box at the dinner table in the home of my parents when my brother took his final breath. It was me that went to his lifeless body and felt his thin wrist for a pulse, but there was none. It was I who declared him dead, even though by medical law and the rules of society, a registered super nurse or doc had to come in and check his heartbeat with a stethoscope.

"I remember my mother asking the super nurse about his heartbeat, as if in a final and desperate ditch of hope that maybe deep down inside it was still beating, but the super nurse juse shook her head NO and then there came all the weeping and the distress and they took him away in a big, black bag ...

"And I wanted to stop thinking about all that bad stuff as the moon chased us through the wilds of Western Pennsylvania. But then my thoughts drifted back to the double-death and it was my mother next, just a few months later on the bleached bed in that sterile palace of final whispers and I had to watch her as well, slowly, painfully pass from this world and it was this endless river of saying goodbye and the almighty sadness creeping all over every day because I knew the end was inevitable, as it is for us all.

"I watched her die more and more as day after day passed until the telephone rang one early spring morning and my father came stumbling downstairs where I was staying at the time and he nearly collapsed in my arms and he was shaking and wailing mad and saying she was dead … and when everything was done and she was wrapped away in the great stone vault, I went to the great NYC and moved into a plush place to call my own because I had become a somewhat famous typist and there was money and there was a bit of fame, but even so, I still felt like life was not what it should be. There was a great arrow hole in my soul … I was not whole and I may never be whole ever again."

In another story about death, mannequins murder the protagonist named after a rock 'n' roll superstar, which is every bit as bizarre as those space invaders, pot pies and Super Birds making orgiastic love in Alien Nation. You could do a lot worse for $12.95.