This story was inspired by a much better-written story by Ryan Kennebeck called It Looks Like It Might Eat You. Ryan was a splendid person, and I'm so glad I had the chance to know him as intimately as I did. The story below is for him, and about him. For years he was 100% of my audience, so I think by now I've got an idea about the kind of stuff he would like. I hope this is such stuff. (More stuff about him appears after the story.)
There is no forgetting that dead raccoon over there on the side of the road, lying on itís back with itís tongue sticking out like itís faking it. No forgetting that. That homeless guy over there (Is he homeless? Or do I just assume that because heís wearing a winter coat in the summer and is talking to himself?) Whatís he saying? I think heís singing. ĎTubthumpingĎ by Chumbawumba. No forgetting that. I sit in my car with the radio off, taking in the scenery. Itís crowded out here. Cars all over, humming. It pisses me off a lot less when traffic is just dead stopped like this. Thereís less anticipation than when weíre just dreadfully inching along fully ensconced in the exhaust fumes and forehead veins of our fellow drivers. I like it when itís stopped like this. It allows me to disengage. I can forget Iím stuck in traffic as long as I donít have an appointment with my gastrointerologist or my therapist or something. And as long as my tank isnít on E. As long as I can turn off the engine and Iím not tired of music--I like it when traffic is stopped like this. Besides, itís beautiful out tonight. Iíve never seen the sky so black. Itís an honest kind of black. And the stars are like pencil holes pushed through construction paper thatís been wrapped around a light bulb-- Just pouring through--lighting the ceiling and walls and the faces of your classmates and the fish tank in your AM kindergarten class eighteen years agoÖremember? And believe it or not, there are people walking around. Itís that kind of traffic jam. Iíve got my windows down because the Air conditioner is broken. Itís hot as hell outside my car, but due to some scientific miracle itís cool on the black leather of my dadís 69 T-Bird; Iím driving it home from the car show, and my bare legs are chilled against the unbroken flesh of the seat. Thereís a pretty ordinary assortment of vehicles out here on the road tonight. Mostly SUVs unfortunately, but weíve got a mix. There are a few Taurii . . . A Pontiac Coup de Ville, A Focus, A pick up truck, a cab, an RV, a Cadillac, a Honda Civic. A few others. Typical stuff. But the sky. I step out of my car into the heat and start walking. Itís a weird impulse, but weíve been stopped for awhile and there are enough people walking around to make my stepping out not feel so dangerous. I wonder what the first person who got out of their car was thinking? Iím wondering if I can walk up far enough to see what might be causing the blockage. Perhaps a hairball stuck in the drain, wrapped around a lost earring and some soap scum? Maybe itís cholesterol thatís blocking the flow of our traffic. Maybe a tumor. Maybe weíre stuck looking for the right wordÖor choking on the wrong one. Maybe somebodyís mistaken the check out line for the return counter, or the coat check for the complaint office. Maybe itís a really fat guy who tried to squeeze through a tiny doorway, or a kid who kept pouring milk into an overflowing bowl--trying to force the last Cheerio life preserver over the curving edge of his own mini Niagara Falls. How big we can sometimes feel as children. Maybe itís a young man. I can see him, stretching his rubber band arms, feeling like bad origami after hours in the jam. Looking at the skyís sharp teeth and thinking about how inviting it all is. There he is, watching the people scuffle by, Mothers knocking on RV doors with their children in tow, dancing to appease the gods of their impatient bladders. Warding off the floods of Exodus. There the young man is. Hair blowing in nonexistent wind. Tall, lanky. Clad compulsively in novelty shirts and undeniably hip pants he bought all for five bucks from the thrift store. You know heís got a book in his front pocket, bought from Half Price books, preferably cryptic stuff written in the margins by itís previous owner, passages underlined, exclamation pointsÖin an ideal situation the young man mightíve found a plane ticket stub someone had used as a bookmark, or maybe a casual short letter to Becky from Aunt Ruth on the inside of the wrinkled cover, written in fading mechanical pencil, mostly about trivialities, but ending with Aunt Ruth wishing Becky ĎThe best Advent ever.í with a couple of exclamation points to boot. His eyes are intelligent and humane, and there are creases on both sides of his lips that are clearly amused often. Heís parked his car across the highway long ways, in the middle, and heís walking around, looking at the people, looking at the stars. Heís beautiful, and I donít even know him, but I love him. He doesnít hear the honking. No one knows why he got out of his car. The cars just squeeze around him, one after the other, funneling through the small area heís left for passage. A woman got out of her car and asked him if he was okay, to which he responded, ĎJust fantastic.í Another guy asked if he needed a jump as he drove by, but he just shook his head, and sat on the hood. Traffic slowed to a trickle, miles down, by the reverent attention of a soul in epiphany--balancing on one leg and then the other with a gymnasts skill as he takes it all in. Thereís no forgetting that. But his eyebrows just bunch up at a certain point, and he looks at the pavement, and itís enough to break my heart.
Ryan Kennebeck was a fantastic person and a promising writer. He touched everyone who took the time to know him even just a little bit with his intelligence, wit, humility, and compassion. I've only had a few good friends in my life, and he was one of the best. My life is so much richer for having known him. I didn't realize how much he figured into my own life, or how much of an influence he was on me until there was no time left to let him know it. I'm currently trying to decide whether to try and re-stitch this new tear in the fabric of my life or leave it open, frayed edges just kind of hanging there, moving in the most casual breeze. I'm still trying to make sense out of his tragic death in late December, and going through the painfully individual, yet strangely universal process of grieving, sorting through the remnants of a unique piece of architecture brought down too early.
No doubt in ten years or so we would've had something truly astounding from Ryan. Anyone who's read his writing could attest to that. He had a flair for colorful description, plus a rare humanity underlying his smart humor that really made me feel warm, even if the characters didn't always. I'm of the opinion that there should be no 'bad' characters, just people; naive, flawed, hopeful, scared . . . often confronted with choices that have repercussions that can occassionally produce undesired or unexpected results. When I find I've written a 'bad' character nowadays, I ask myself what I've done wrong, and what I need to do to fix it. This notion was shaped largely by conversations I had with Ryan. Also important to me were the big, 'god level' conversations we'd have before classes at U.C., which could unfold and expand for hours. Ryan was very sensitive, and could find beauty in the most mundane. A few of his favorite responses to things were, 'Amazing', 'fantastic' and 'beautiful'. And you believed he meant it when he said it.
An amazing writer, and amazing person. He's got a collection of stories coming out in February entitled 'How It Changed His Sense of Humor', which is being published by Better Non Sequitur. It's all we have left from the creative mind of a wonderful young writer taken away from us too soon.
Other items of interest by Ryan Kennebeck:
[Forever after at http://eyeshot.net/troxell.html]
B R A V E S O U L S R E C E I V E
Archive of Recent Activities - Advice for Submitters
Enhanced Navigational Coherency - Long-Ass List of Contributors
Super Lo-Tech Slideshow - Four Years Ago, Maybe - Three Years Ago Today
Two Years Ago Today - Last Year Today
MORE STUFF TO SEE DOWN HERE
me three #1 is available for buying
pindeldyboz #5 is available for preorders
hobart #4 is now available
boom #1 is available for preorders
barrelhouse #1 is now available
charles ullmann's strategies for modern living
randall devallance's dive
incidents of egotourism in the temporary world
submissions are being accepted and declined for:
the duck & herring co., seasonal publications by Jamie Allen