THERE YOU FEEL FREE Nate Ragolia This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. Copyright © 2014 by Nate Ragolia All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For further information, please contact: [email protected] ISBN-‐‑13: 978-‐‑0692345269 ISBN-‐‑10: 0692345264 Edited by Marisa Roemer Artwork by Jonny Ruzzo Printed in the U.S.A. BLACK HILL PRESS blackhillpress.com Black Hill Press is a publishing collective founded on collaboration. Our growing family of writers and artists are dedicated to the novella—a distinctive, often overlooked literary form that offers the focus of a short story and the scope of a novel. We believe a great story is never defined by its length. Our independent press produces uniquely curated collections of Contemporary American Novellas. We also celebrate innovative paperback projects with our Special Editions series. Books are available in both print and digital formats, online and in your local bookstore, library, museum, university gift shop, and selected specialty accounts. Discounts are available for book clubs and teachers. Novellas 1. Corrie Greathouse, Another Name for Autumn 2. Ryan Gattis, The Big Drop: Homecoming 3. Jon Frechette, The Frontman 4. Richard Gaffin, Oneironautics 5. Ryan Gattis, The Big Drop: Impermanence 6. Alex Sargeant, Sci-‐‑Fidelity 7. Veronica Bane, Mara 8. Kevin Staniec, Begin 9. Arianna Basco, Palms Up 10. Douglas Cowie, Sing for Life: Tin Pan Alley 11. Tomas Moniz, Bellies and Buffalos 12. Brett Arnold, Avalon, Avalon 13. Douglas Cowie, Sing for Life: Away, You Rolling River 14. Pam Jones, The Biggest Little Bird 15. Peppur Chambers, Harlem’s Awakening 16. Kate St. Clair, Spelled 17. Veronica Bane, Miyuki 18. William Brandon, Silence 19. J.T. Robertson, The Memory Thieves 20. Scott Alumbaugh, Will Kill for Food 21. Shaunn Grulkowski, Retcontinuum 22. Kate St. Clair, Cursed 23. Tanner Fogle, A Little Evil 24. Nate Ragolia, There You Feel Free Special Editions 1. Kevin Staniec, 29 to 31: A Book of Dreams 2. Black Hill Press, The Cost of Paper: Volume One To my mom, Louise, and my dad, Tom, who never took the pen from my hand, and never stopped feeding my imagination. To Jared, Shauna, Jen, Jenny M., Brian, Math, Mandi, Antoine, Yolanda, Sylvia and so many others for reading my writing and tolerating awful jokes. And to my darling, Jenny, for her immense love and support. Foreword to There You Feel Free Commonly, T. S. Eliot1’s name is spoken in reverent tones, as if he were a creature, an alien outside of real life experience. Yes, he would be boggled by the callousness, rawness, and extremeness of 21st-‐‑century American life—just as we are by his fault of tolerance—but his life was not altogether different from our own. At 27, he published a poem about being 27, about the things we have all experienced: lust, confusion, and fear. At 34, he published a poem about being 34, about the death of dreams, the dawn of new doubts, and the realization that there isn’t as much time in life as we might prefer. Eliot published The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock in 1915. It’s a modernist stream of consciousness piece following the titular J. Alfred through feelings of isolation, physical and intellectual inertia, and lost opportunities for sex. The poem is Eliot’s notable breakthrough work. Prufrock is also, quite simply, the story of most twentysomethings’ “quarter-‐‑life crisis” experience. This is T. S. Eliot’s Garden State. It was in 1922, when Eliot was 34, that he published The Waste Land. Ezra Pound was said to have helped with revision and editing for the poem. The Waste Land reacts to the disillusionment of the post-‐‑World War I generation. It cries for a New World lacking clear order, with jumbled morals and ethics, and new knowledge of unimaginable atrocities. Noted for structural complexity, and abrupt shifts between speaker, satire, and prophesy, The Waste Land is Eliot’s Lost In Translation. It is On the Road and The Road before either Kerouac or McCarthy. It is his “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” before Stipe, Buck, Berry, and Mills. It is his declaration, as a man in his early thirties, of the death of the dreams he had in his twenties. It is the moment when an adult accepts that the world doesn’t make sense and abandons the delusions of twenty-‐‑x. The Waste Land understands that we want there to be a reason that things are the way they are, and it is brave enough to tell us that there isn’t. It knows that we want to understand the world and it is bold enough to tell us that there is no moment of understanding. There is no moment of enlightenment. There is no illumination, no Tree of Knowledge. There is only doubt and the continuing battle against it. Eliot wrote of authenticity. He wrote of music. He wrote of literature. He wrote of magic. He smoked cigarettes on patios and obsessed over nostalgia. He was an idealist who mourned the death of a simpler past. He believed in his disillusionment as much as anything else. T. S. Eliot…was a hipster. He spent his twenties and thirties on campuses, smoking cigarettes and rollicking with people who called themselves poets, writers, painters. He was a representative of the original Lost Generation—which pervades time and space. The Lost Generation continues, including all of us, nearly one hundred years after the War. This collection, The(se) Waste(d) Land(ings), is first and foremost a remix of Eliot’s The Waste Land, incorporating contemporary references that modernize the poem. The remix preserves the original meter and structure and, as often as possible, the original tone and spirit. The poem is also a humor piece, pointing to obvious touchstones in “hipsterdom” that fit nicely into Eliot’s intended context. The(se) Waste(d) Land(ings) also, importantly, intends to illuminate the parallels between the past and present, and to merge Gen Y with the Lost Generation, if only for a moment. The(se) Waste(d) Land(ings) is also, deep down, a story of interrelated lives. Each of the poem’s five cantos contains a different story about “hipsters,” planted in the footnotes. Each is a reflection of one type of life as a twenty-‐‑ or thirty-‐‑ something in 21st Century America, that turn out to be very similar to Eliot’s experiences. They also hope to clarify further that our generalizations about a movement (like indie culture or hipsterdom) is reductive. The shared “hipster” disillusionment with the world has allowed others to cast many of us in Gen Y as caricatures, but it has not stolen our deeper experiences, which are often intensely passionate, painful, or worst of all, hollow. We are, now, just as valuable, intelligent, and real as Eliot or any of his contemporaries. Our ideas and experiences are just as sound and true. Our passion to save our world from what we see it becoming is just as authentic. We are always the Lost Generation, but with different accoutrements. A fact, which is, well… Eh. Whatever. -‐‑ Nate Ragolia THERE YOU FEEL FREE The(se) Waste(d) Land(ings) I. The Surreal of the Kid2 Polaroid’s the cruelest myth, framing Youth out of Instagram, recreating Memory and history, spilling Sepia tones into spring scenes.3 Sunglasses kept us hot, masking Eyes in plastic color, conjuring “Cool” lives with flip lenses. Skinny jeans bonded us, crossing the Brooklyn Bridge With a trickle of dubstep; we danced on stone stairs, And strutted at the moon, into old Park Slope, And sipped Pabst4, and moaned bemused.5 Bin gar vorherrschend überhaupt; komme von Musik, echt hipster.6 And when we were kids, hopping between hostels, And I was buzzed. He said, Tommy, Tommy, Parliament.7 And so we smoked. 1 Nate Ragolia In the basements, there you hear beats. I speak, mostly of the Smiths, and forget I am happy.8 What are the songs that move, what feelings grow Out of this ironic mush? Book of Face, You cannot show, or tell, for you give only A web of quippy phrases, where status sings, And the newsfeed gives no value, a “like” no true love, And the vast friends no heartfelt amity.9 Only There is shallow under this V-‐‑Neck, (Come in under the shallow of this V-‐‑Neck),10 And I will tell you about a band unlike others Your shallow11 loves on vinyl in the morning Or your shallow loves of clubs amid flickering DJs;12 I will tell you to hear a handful of EPs.13 Frisch weht die Klänge der Gitarre Schlag, Mein Hipster Kind, Wo Sie verweilen?14 “You gave me Pavement first five years ago; They called me Terror Twilight girl!” -‐‑-‐‑Yet when we bought tickets, late for the Pavement show, Your ears open, and your hair swooped, I could not Sing, and my words failed, I was neither Shoegazing nor dead, I heard nothing, Looking into the center stage, the clatter. Öd‘ und beruhigt das Band.15 Kimberley Deal, great Pixies bassist Exhausted femme, nevertheless Is known as the bright voice of “Gigantic,”16 With a wicked riff of chords. And, sang she, 2 End Notes 1 Thomas Stearns (T. S.) Eliot was born in St. Louis, Missouri on September 26, 1888. He began writing poetry at age fourteen. The Smith Academy Record published his first poem in 1905 when he was seventeen. In 1915, he published The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, gaining widespread notoriety. The Waste Land was published in 1922. In 1948, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for his pioneering contributions to present-‐‑day poetry. Eliot died on January 4, 1965 at the age of 76 in Kensington, London, England. 2 The “Kid” is someone who anyone has been at one point in his or her life. The “Kid” is a fixed point in time, a character, and a caricature. The “Kid” is also fictional. Luckily, all fiction is inspired by truth, somehow. This first canto of The(se) Waste(d) Land(ings), titled I. The Surreal of the Kid is about love, or some approximation of it, told without respect for the traditional structure of time because love happens at all times, and at only one time, at the same time. 3 “You’re living your life through that stupid phone,” she scolded as we stood before the dik diks in their sunken-‐‑earth, zoo terrarium. In retaliation, I peered through the screen of my iPhone at her, imagining the filters I would apply to her. Then I took a photograph of her, knowing that she hated them, especially when she hadn’t time to prepare. I giggled at her playful cries for me to delete it, and I took another, and another. And another. In those megapixels I now had a timeline of her emotion. That beautiful face changing from jovial grin, to mild aggravation, to pure, childlike hate is still ordered like a flipbook for me in that phone. I hummed “Kodachrome” for the rest of the day. 4 Pabst Blue Ribbon won an award 1893, but that’s not why we drink it. We’d just as soon drink Pabst Red Ribbon or Pabst Yellow Ribbon, if the beer had won second or third place, respectively. We’d be fine with PRR and PYR, just like we are with PBR. We don’t drink it because it’s good. We drink it because it’s cheap. Cheap things are real. Cheap things are accessible. Cheap things are made for us because we don’t have any money, and even though we’d like to think we’ll have it someday, we know we don’t now. Cheap things are for us because we’re at the beginning. That might not be fair, but we don’t care because we can afford a case of PBR. We can drink and drink and never get too drunk. We can embrace our plight as have-‐‑ nots, and we can make boozy promises to one another that we’ll make things different for the next group of kids. 5 That night after we broke up, I wanted nothing more than to get drunk enough that she would disappear from my mind. I wanted to get drunk enough to think I saw her, so I could tell her off. I wanted to vomit her from my system. I wanted to purge it all into a bucket like some medieval doctor might have prescribed to follow a battery of leeches. She was evil spirit in my blood. She was miasma poisoning my sleep with toxic air. I was never much for cleanses, but it was worth a shot. Tommy had half a case of PBR in his fridge and nothing else. In my mind I cursed him. What kind of friend consoles with bitter water? My disappointment, though, was no deterrent. I drank until my head ached. I drank until my stomach boiled. I was full of emptiness. I never embraced solace. My pain was only compounded. I left Tommy’s apartment wobbly-‐‑legged, but clearheaded enough to think through every way I had been right all along, and every way she had been more right than me. She won an argument she wasn’t present for, and I hated myself for knowing her so well that she could… and I hated that she was gone. I stopped on the Bridge to light a cigarette. I fumbled with the pack, perhaps wobblier than I thought. I looked at the East River, how it could devour. I inhaled deep, exhaled. I looked at the Pier 1 Playground, at the empty swings and unnatural silence. I inhaled deep, exhaled, and muttered to myself about my “being an asshole,” and needing to “just let it go.” And then, as I spun around to lean against the rail, I saw the silhouette of a man or a woman tip and tumble from the Brooklyn side tower. The black ghost fluttered, at first like a feather, and then gaining speed so smoothly it was hard for me to perceive. But he or she fell through the clear air, bathed by city lights mixed with the moon, in a bronze glow just momentous and regal enough to die by. The body, as I called it thereafter, landed on the bridge rail and yelped some inaudible word that resonated in the pseudo-‐‑quiet of night. It folded over the railing for a moment, then rebounded and slipped down between the walkway and traffic lane like a bag of flour, where it disappeared into the subliminal space beneath the Bridge. I was reminded, if briefly, of readings from Victor Hugo, and of the Death Poems written by dishonored samurai. I didn’t hear the splash over the sound of my retching. 6 I’m not average; I come from music, true hipster. 7 Parliament cigarettes are known for their recessed filter. It’s not uncommon to hear stories about various kinds of drugs smuggled in the liminal space of paper before the filter begins. Parliaments are carefully outside the mainstream. They are still common enough to be purchased anywhere, but aren’t as “cowboy” as Marlboros or “common” as Camels. Parliaments are a city cigarette for a city smoker. They are clean white, with only a thin blue band. They do not try to look like a cigarette with an effortful colored filter. They simply are cigarettes, ready to be burned, and then mashed into the sidewalk with sole of a leather boot, or basic canvas sneaker. 8 “Only someone as happy as Morrissey could write so cleverly about sadness,” she said.
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