I did this one in Crayola colored pencils while listening to A Prairie Home Companion on the radio. Chris Thile was hosting the show for the first time that night — well, for the first time as the official host after Garrison Keillor retired. Jack White performed. It was cool outside. It was a lovely evening.
After the riots were finally over and the broken glass was all swept up, Barack Obama and Donald Trump put on their colorful Christmas sweaters, their best khaki pants, and their brand new penny loafers. They pranced down the street, arm in arm, proud to be the new Co Presidents of the United States. They went into Cici’s Pizza and “killed the buffet” together, scarfing down countless slices of spinach Alfredo pizza, pineapple and ham pizza, barbecue chicken pizza, and cheddar cheese scorpion pizza. Once their tummies were full, Trump and Obama returned to the White House. They sat up all night in the Lincoln Bedroom, watching Full House DVDs and writing love letters to John Stamos in purple ink with lots of little hearts.
Matthew David Curry 2016
Miles was a pale, skinny boy with tangled blonde hair. He lived with his mother in an old house at the end of a street full of cracks and potholes. When the sun was shining, Miles liked to ride his bicycle up and down the street. When the weather wasn’t so good, he liked to sit in his bedroom and make airplanes and boats out of cardboard.
One day, Miles asked his mother to take him to the duck pond on the other side of town. He wanted to feed bread crumbs to the ducks and put his little cardboard boats in the water. So his mother rolled off the couch and put on her shoes, grumbling and blowing cigarette smoke in the air like a dragon. Then Miles and his mother walked outside and climbed into their rusty old mini-van.
But when they got to the duck pond, all the ducks were dead. A terrible disease had wiped out the entire population. The ducks were lying in the grass with their eyes still open, covered in flies.
“Don’t touch the dead ducks,” his mom said, snorting. “And stay away from the water too. There might be something bad in it.”
So Miles sat in the grass and ate the bread crumbs himself. His mom sat on a park bench not too far away, smoking a cigarette and staring down at her cell phone.
Miles noticed something moving in the grass beside his leg. He looked down and saw a tiny man standing beside him. The man wasn’t much bigger than a person’s finger. He wore a black business suit and a red tie. His eyes were red too. They glowed like lasers.
“What are you?” Miles yelled. “Are you some kind of leprechaun or something?”
“No,” said the little man with the red eyes. “I’m a politician. A small one. Why don’t you take me home with you and let me institute some rules and regulations in your household?”
Miles squealed and clapped his hands like it was Christmas morning. He had never seen a miniature politician before.
“Mama, guess what!” Miles screamed, running toward the park bench where his mom sat. “I just found a politician in the grass! A little tiny politician! He’s as big as my finger!”
Without looking up from her cell phone, his mom said, “Oh really? What kind is it? Democrat or Republican?”
“I don’t know,” said Miles, breathing hard. “He didn’t say.”
“Don’t pick it up,” his mom said, taking a drag on her cigarette. “It probably has germs all over it. Just leave it alone.”
But Miles went back to the spot in the grass where the politician was standing. While his mom wasn’t looking, Miles carefully slipped the little fellow into the pocket of his blue jeans.
When it was time to go, Miles took the politician with him.
As soon as they got back home, Miles ran to his bedroom as fast as he could. He pulled the politician out of his pocket and put him on the nightstand beside a cardboard airplane.
“Is this your dwelling place?” the politician asked, looking around and sneering.
“Yes sir! This is my bedroom!”
“Very well,” said the politician, snapping his fingers. “Make me a comfortable habitat to live in.”
Miles reached under his bed and dragged out an old shoebox full of baseball cards. He turned the box upside down and dumped the baseball cards on the carpet. He took some glue and scissors out of a drawer and gathered up cardboard, cotton, and toilet paper. He made a sofa, a chair, a coffee table, and a bed. He placed them all inside the shoebox.
Then he picked up the little politician and put him inside his new home.
“This is adequate, I suppose,” said the politician, sitting down in his cardboard chair like it was a throne. “Now I have a new task for you, child. I want you to take all the vegetables you can find and fashion them into the figure of a man. You will place the vegetable man on your front lawn. Then you will walk through your neighborhood and knock on every door. Tell your neighbors to come and place all their jewels and gold at the feet of the vegetable man! And when they do, you will bring all the riches to me!”
“Um … I don’t know about that,” Miles said, squirming and biting his lip. “That’s kind of dishonest.”
The politician beat his fist on the armrest of his new cardboard chair. “Don’t argue with me, child! You were born to do my bidding! Do you hear me? Now go to the kitchen at once and begin making the vegetable man! Do as I say! Disobedience will not be tolerated!”
Shaking his head, Miles went to the kitchen and tried to follow the politician’s instructions. He didn’t know how to make a man out of vegetables, so he just pulled a head of cabbage from the refrigerator and walked into the front yard. He jabbed a wooden stick into the ground and shoved the cabbage on top of it. Then he found a black Magic Marker and drew a face on the cabbage.
When he finished drawing the face, Miles rode through the neighborhood on his bicycle, stopping at each house, telling people to bring their jewelry to the cabbage man. Most of the people laughed and slammed their doors, but a few elderly people seemed to take him seriously.
Later that day, while Miles waited in his front yard, a confused old lady came and placed a turquoise necklace before the cabbage man. An old man came and brought a rusty pocket watch that didn’t work. Then a schizophrenic man with no teeth staggered into the yard and dumped some dirty pennies on the ground.
Miles slipped the items into his pocket and carried them into the house. He went to his bedroom and pulled the necklace, the pocket watch, and the pennies out of his pocket. At that moment, his mother stomped into the bedroom, demanding to know what he was doing.
“Miles, how come there’s a cabbage head on a stick in our front yard?” she yelled, blowing smoke from her nostrils. “And why do you have this jewelry and stuff? Did you steal it?”
“The politician made me do it!” Miles said, sobbing and pointing at the shoebox on the night stand.
His mother waddled over to the night stand and looked in the box.
“You brought that dirty old politician home!” she screamed. “I told you not to touch that nasty thing!”
She pulled off one of her shoes. She leaned over the night stand and beat the politician to death with two hard smacks. Then she scooped up his bloody remains with a Kleenex. She marched to the bathroom and flung the Kleenex into the toilet bowl.
“Miles, I can’t believe you brought that thing home,” she said, shaking her head.
After she flushed the dead politician down the toilet, she washed her hands in the sink and lit another cigarette.
“Miles, you listen to me,” she said. “I want you to get that necklace, that pocket watch, and all them pennies. I want you to go through the neighborhood and give everything back. And tell them folks you’re sorry, you hear me? And don’t ever carry a politician home again!”
Miles walked through the neighborhood with tears in his eyes. He gave the turquoise necklace to the old lady, the rusty pocket watch to the old man, and the pennies to the schizophrenic man with no teeth. Miles apologized to all of them for the cabbage scheme. He tried to tell them a tiny politician with red eyes had pressured him to do it, but they didn’t believe him.
When Miles finally got back home, the house smelled like warm chocolate chip cookies. He heard his mother moving around in the kitchen. He smiled. His heart skipped a beat. He ran to the kitchen as fast as he could, licking his lips.
Then his mother hit him in the head with a rolling pin over and over again until he died.
Matthew David Curry 2016
I had to take my cat Frances to the vet yesterday because of a stubborn skin allergy that makes her itch all the time. As always, the trip to the vet was a challenge. I had to change clothes when it was over. Frances is thirteen years old and full of issues. Even though she likes to snuggle up beside me and purr while I lie in bed, her heart normally burns with hatred for all living things. She often screams at me for no reason. When people come to visit, she sniffs them one time and then walks away, making them feel thoroughly unwelcome. I could tell you more bad things about her, but I won’t.
Frances is a solid black cat with intense yellow eyes. You probably don’t know it by looking at the picture up above, but her body is round and plump. She weighs fifteen pounds and waddles when she moves. Not long ago, my friend Angie looked at her and said, “You look like you’re pregnant with a whole bunch of kittens.”
When I first got Frances, she was tiny. I held her in one hand when I carried her home. She stared up at me the whole time, howling and bawling. I assumed she missed her mother. I assumed she would calm down eventually. She didn’t. Thirteen years later, Frances still stares up at me and makes loud, horrendous noises like she’s trying to tell me something urgent … and she’s upset because I don’t understand her. I live under a cloud of guilt, constantly wondering what she’s mad about, wondering why there’s so much frustration in her eyes, wondering what I’m doing wrong. I feed her quality cat food and tuna. I pet her and talk to her. I scratch her back. But she keeps on flooding me with guilt and shame.
Yesterday, when it was time to go to the vet, I scooped Frances up in my arms and carried her out the front door. Right away, her fur stood up. Her tail bristled like a toilet brush. She squirmed and thrashed with unusual strength. I locked my arms around her and held on as tightly as I could. I walked to the driveway and stood beside my car, struggling to open the driver’s side door and maintain my grip on Frances at the same time. It was a tough job. As if the situation wasn’t hard enough, she decided to empty her bladder on me too. She soaked my shirt. And the side of my car.
Putting her inside the car was almost as hard as pushing a rope up a hill. But somehow I managed to do it. Once she was inside, I threw myself into the driver’s seat and jerked the door shut. I pulled out of the driveway and started down the road, gnashing my teeth and grumbling. Frances waddled behind the driver’s seat and hunkered in the back floorboard, screaming like she’d been shot.
She kept screaming all the way to the vet’s office. And I did plenty of screaming too. Over and over, I yelled, “Frances, I’m taking you somewhere to help you. I’m going to pay somebody a bunch of money to make you stop itching, okay? You’re welcome, Frances! You’re welcome, you’re welcome, you’re welcome!”
When we got to the vet’s office, I stumbled into the waiting room, holding her in front of me like a hostage. I didn’t even try to be gentle. I was too irate for that. My shirt was covered in black fur and fresh urine.
I mumbled to the lady behind the counter. I told her my name. I told her I had an appointment. Then I sat down in a chair in the corner, scowling. Frances sat on my lap, huddled against my stomach with her head down. She still despised me, but she was too scared of the waiting room to pull away from me. We both sat there a long time, quietly hating each other.
I go through cycles with Frances. In spite of her wretched disposition, I always love her. I think of her as a mutant roommate, a furry companion who greets me every day when I come home from the mill. The love never goes away. But sometimes I forget that I love her. Then I just think of her as an angry bag of fluid.
Two ladies walked into the vet’s office together and sat down across from me in the waiting area. One lady held a gray tabby cat in her arms, wrapped in a blanket like a baby. The cat’s eyes were half-open. He looked groggy and feeble. The lady holding the cat never spoke at all. She just cried continuously and held the cat against her chest, petting his head the whole time. The other woman leaned forward and whispered to me for few minutes. She told me the cat’s name was Oscar.
It was time to put Oscar to sleep, she said gently.
My heart dropped into my stomach. I bit my lip. I felt sad for them. They weren’t just bringing the cat in for a routine visit. They were bringing him in for the last time. They were saying goodbye to a friend. It was a dark day for them.
I looked down at my own cat. She was lying on my lap like a sack of potatoes. I picked her up and held her close. I stroked her fur and looked into her strange, yellow, alien eyes. I kissed the top of her head. I told her I loved her.
Eventually, the vet called me back to one of the examination rooms. I carried Frances into the room and placed her on a cold, metal table. She looked up at me, meowing softly, sniffing the air. The vet trimmed her claws and gave her a quick shot in the butt.
I paid for the shot and left. Frances and I were both happy to get back in the car. The ride home was much different. We stayed calm and quiet. She didn’t scream at me. I didn’t scream at her. We just listened to classical music all the way home.
Matthew David Curry 2016
Last Sunday, I met up with my friend Misty at Johnson Elementary School. We both went to the school when we were kids. Sadly, it’s not a school anymore. It’s just a few empty buildings on the side of the road. No kids, no electricity, no life. All the playground equipment is gone except for a few random pieces of wood. In front of the principal’s office, there’s a flower bed full of weeds – and a dirty old mattress.
In 2001, the teachers and students moved to a brand new facility up the road. Afterward, the old campus became an “alternative school,” a dumping ground for all the unruly kids in the community, the ones who were too evil to attend a regular school. I remember feeling sad when I learned my old school had become a children’s prison. But eventually, the Board of Education stopped using it as an alternative school. They sent all the bad kids somewhere else, I guess. After that, a local charity organization rented the school for a while and stored old clothes and furniture in some of the classrooms – but then they moved on too.
Now the place is a ghost town. Eventually, bulldozers will come and wipe it all away. That’s why Misty and I wanted to take pictures.
The doors to some of the buildings were unlocked. Some of the doors were wide open. And some of the doors were completely gone. We walked freely into all the buildings, wandered down the dark hallways, opened the doors to the classrooms, and peeked inside. I was hesitant to look inside the rooms, but Misty wasn’t. She’s completely fearless. She drives a tanker truck for a living and cuts down trees in her spare time. Nothing scares her at all.
Not all the rooms were empty. We found office desks in some of them. We pulled open drawers and flipped through old books. In one classroom, a TV set was mounted on a wall. In the library, bookcases were still in place – but the books were long gone. In a supply closet, we found giant rolls of colored paper, the kind teachers use for decorating bulletin boards.
Even though there were old desks and supplies here and there, the whole place felt dead and dismal. It was like a tomb.
Except for the gym. As soon as we walked into the gym, we were amazed by the way it smelled. It smelled exactly the way it did in 1991. It had the same metal bleachers on one side and the same scoreboard mounted on the wall. It had the same carpet with those black lines and circles printed on it. Paper cups and pieces of trash were scattered on the floor, but the gym still seemed like a living thing. It seemed like little kids could still have a basketball tournament in there at any minute.
But the longer we stayed there, the more I felt like I needed to get out. This was partly because I was afraid the police might show up and drag us away – although we weren’t doing anything illegal. I had asked the principal of the new school if it was okay to come and take pictures. It was fine to be there. And we didn’t take anything at all. We left everything exactly the way we had found it.
As I thought about it later, I realized why I was itching to get out. I felt like I had trespassed into the wrong decade. At one point in my life, I belonged in those buildings. That was my everyday life. But not anymore. Life has moved on. I belong somewhere else now. I’ve learned that if I reminisce too much, I’ll get stuck in the past. And I won’t appreciate all the good things in my life right now. It’s important to live in the present, to enjoy today.
It felt good to visit my old school, but it also felt good to walk away from it.
Matthew David Curry 2016
Last Tuesday, I attempted to do some book illustrations for a friend of a friend. The illustrations were supposed to show the struggles that women deal with each day. I spent about half the day trying to draw a woman squeezing into a pair of tight pants. It didn’t work. No matter what I did, it just looked like an angry woman with her hands on her hips, scowling for no particular reason. Finally, I e-mailed my friend and said, “I’m sorry. It’s not working. Could you get someone else to do these drawings?” She was wonderful about it. She said it was no problem at all, she could find another illustrator.
Even though I hated the way my illustrations turned out, I had a blast while I was doing my little warm-up sketches. I sat on the couch, watching an old VHS tape of The Andy Griffith Show. The episodes were recorded from a local TV station in 1989. They were packed with old commercials. (I also watched a David Bowie concert on YouTube at the same time.) Anyway, I paused the tape several times and drew various people. I drew two bank robbers, Jack Palance, and a lady from a Time Life books commercial. And David Bowie. (I did several other drawings, but I couldn’t cram them all in the photo.)
I’ve spent a lot of time working with Magic Markers this year. Up until now, I was always afraid to use ink. It’s so permanent. Once you make a mark, you can’t erase it or mess with it. It’s there. Forever. But that doesn’t bother me anymore. I get a certain thrill out of it now. It’s so bold and dark and intense.
I hope you’re doing well. Take care.
Here’s my little drawing of Miles Davis. The drawing is actually bigger than what you see in the photo, but I didn’t like the way his hands turned out. They were supposed to be clasped together with the fingers interlaced, but they ended up looking like a sloppy bird’s nest made out of old twigs. So I just cropped that part out altogether. But I’m pretty happy with the face. I loved drawing the glasses. I like the overall look of Miles Davis. Serious, intense.
Anyway, I hope you’re doing well, wherever you are in the world.
For the past four years, I’ve been writing and self-publishing books on Amazon. It’s a lot of fun, especially the last one I wrote. I loved watching the characters come to life and surprise me. I even enjoy the proofreading stage of the process …. although it’s horrendously tedious and gives me six or seven nervous breakdowns and completely destroys my social life. Somehow, that part is still fun too. It’s like solving a giant puzzle. Once the book is finished, it feels good to hold it in my hands and flip through the pages. And it’s good when people tell me they enjoyed reading it.
But the whole thing is time-consuming. Every time I write a book, I neglect everything else. I forget to clean. My apartment begins to look like a crack house. My friends think I’ve forgotten them. Also, it’s hard to get people to notice these books. Every time I send a copy of my book to a critic somewhere, I feel like I’m sticking a note in a bottle and slinging it into the ocean.
So I’m considering a different approach, a new strategy.
I don’t plan to quit writing books, but I do think I’ll focus my energy on writing short stories and sending them to magazines. It would be less time-consuming. I could write little stories and knock them out quickly and get on with my life. And I might get more exposure that way. And maybe make better money.
My newest book, Finding Drake Novak, actually started off as two short stories. Those stories became scenes in the first chapter of the book. This week, I gently extracted those two scenes, edited them a little bit, and turned them back into short stories. And I e-mailed them to magazines. I think I’m going to write some essays too. Funny stuff about everyday life. Observational humor. Stories about ordinary things and lessons I’ve learned and so on.
Do any of you have experience with this kind of thing? Can you suggest any magazines or websites? Or newspapers? Do you have any advice about this?