Editor-in-chief Nate Waggoner sometimes publishes his fiction in a little feature we like to call, “Uncle Nate’s Storytime.” Here are three works of microfiction for your wintertime enjoyment.
STORY #1: HALF-ANIMAL
“Aaaaaaaaaaal-right! Right? Right, Gabe?
“This guy. He’s half-asleep already.
“Hey, why don’tcha have another beer, huh, Gabe? Jeepers creepers. That’s it, I’m calling it quits. Goodnight, everybody, this is, uh, this is the last episode of The Energies with John Monk. Gabe, it’s been good knowing you. But we’re done. Forever.
“NOOOO, who am I kidding? I’m stuck here forever. ‘Til the end of days, man. Just like I’ve always been here. I don’t wanna do it. Lord knows I have other things I’d rather do. Make a movie. Go see a movie! Talk to my family. Take a walk. Do some– oil painting. Hmmf. Write a novel. Can you imagine? I could write a book that’d blow all your– all your heads off. The stuff I’ve encountered? The tragedies I’ve suffered through? All you eggheads out there with your J.D. Salinger, your William Faulkner– Ha-ha! I don’t even know, haha, why I’m ragging on this stuff–!
“Because look, no one said I was smart, either. No one’s claimin’ I’m smart. I’m the kind of guy who– will– like, I choke on my own saliva or like a drink of water fairly often. It’s gotten worse, actually. I’ve actually gotten worse at breathing and drinking liquids. So nobody ever said I was smart or graceful.
“But you see these other guys talkin’ into microphones? What a ripoff, man. That’s what people like? I-I-I– look, I wish that was what I could do. That’s all, I’m jealous. I wish ‘em all the best. You hear these other shows? Thank God I’m not like them, bro. I should be thankin’ my lucky stars every day I’m not like these other clowns you hear about. I don’t wanna name names. Hi, who’s this?”
“Hey, is this me?”
“It is you.”
“Hey, uh, sorry, I’m just a little nervous.”
“Well, relax, pal– what, uh, what can I do for you?”
“I just, uh, I just wanted to say, your show got me through a really tough time. And you’re so funny, and I just, I’m really appreciative.”
“Well thank you, bro. Thank you, it means a lot to me to hear stuff like that, seriously. You’re okay now, though?”
“You’re doing okay now?”
“Eh, you know, just taking it as it comes.”
“That’s what it’s all about, my guy. Alright, thanks for the call, you have a good night.”
“See what I’m talking about? We’re workin’ miracles up in this piece. Meanwhile I can’t rub two cents together if my life depended on it. I’ve got duct tape on my windows. Oh yeah, the hinges are loose, and the super in my building won’t respond to my texts? So I uhhhhh– I have it duct-taped together. And every morning Eddie, uh, you know my cat, Eddie van Halen. He scratches at the tape to wake me up, and I wake up thinking I’m going to get sucked out into SPACE! Like an AIRLOCK! Hey! You’re on the air.”
“Hi, who’s this.”
“This is, uh, Jed in Los Angeles.”
“What’s goin’ on in Los Angeles tonight, Jed?”
“I just wanted to say you were wrong about The Eagles. They’re a good band.”
“Well, look. Do I think ‘One of These Nights’ is a cool song? Sure. Do I think maybe those guys needed some hardship in their lives, like, uh… some kind of prostrating situation? Right? Switches, shards of glass in their shoes? Just for a couple weeks, give ‘em some perspective? Yeah, I think so.”
“Are you kidding me? The solo on–”
“Go to Hell, you animal.
“I gotta figure something else out. I’m in this for the art, man. Everybody I know has gone on to great things. Great wealth and riches. TV shows. Starring roles in movies. Showrunning. Everybody that I came up with. Not me, man.
“This past weekend, I was working on shooting one of my videos? Ai-yi-yi! My car breaks down way out in Flushing. Maybe three miles from where I’m supposed to go. Can’t get a cab anywhere. I don’t have Uber, I, ah, ah, ah– I don’t support it. It’s just my beliefs, I don’t think, ah, I don’t think it’s right to support Uber… so there you go. End up walking the three miles, schlepping this camera equipment around. Gabe’s already there, he’s mad at me. And that’s when it starts snowing, just as I start walking. Unbelievable. Hi, you’re on The Energies! Welcome.”
“Yes, hi, welcome!”
“You better say your prayers.”
“Ha! Ha-ha! Hey Gabe? What did this guy say when you let him through? Had something for the topic. Ew, boy.”
“I’m comin’ for you, John.”
“Real tough guy. You think I don’t know you’re comin’ for me? No one’s more aware, bro. No one knows better’n I do. If it’s not you it’s a bus, or my heart, or a goddamn subway slasher, or a– a– I dunno, snakes? A bear? A nuclear missile? Right? But guess what? You can’t defeat me. Nothing can stop me. At this point? No suffering can quell me. It only feeds me. What– okay, you’re done, bro, get off my airwaves. Creep. Let’s open this up, though, new topic: what are you irrationally afraid of?
“Jeepers creepers. Right? Good heavens. Have mercy. The number is…”
STORY #2: AN ENCOUNTER WITH JIM JONES AT THE IN-N-OUT BURGER
On a road trip down to Los Angeles for a long weekend one summer day in the, well, in the mid ‘70s, mid or late ‘70s I guess it must have been– my boyfriend at the time, Paul, and I stopped at an In-N-Out Burger somewhere in Southern California.
Just after we ordered, I recognized a man in an all-black suit with Roy Orbison hair sitting alone at one of the tables.
“Paul,” I said, “isn’t that that preacher who hangs around the rallies sometimes? What is he doing down here?”
“Yeah, don’t stare,” he said. I wasn’t crazy about this commanding tone he’d taken on lately. I was finding myself at this time, you know. “Harvey says he gets an evil vibe off this guy. Just a bad, evil, wrong vibe.”
And then, oh, I’m sure I said something stupid and jealous like, “Well, I’m sure you’re so in touch with Harvey’s feelings,” you know, or referred to Harvey as his boyfriend or something just awful like that, I was so young.
We got our burgers and our fries and our sodas and sat down, Paul still acting evasive and shifty. And of course he saw us, Jim Jones did, and came and sat right over. And I tell you– just incredibly charismatic. My God. This magnetic force pulling us both, like in Star Wars when they can’t stop going towards that Death Star, they just get sucked in, you know?
Jim Jones calls us “gentlemen,” and he’s all quiet and peaceful, but you can sense this very magnetic, very attractive sort of rage boiling under the surface, like he could just go wild at any moment– not at us, not in a threatening way, but like there was just so much going on with him. And he’d just blink and kind of smirk, very slow, like a cat or a beautiful lizard.
So then he picks up his soda cup and shows us the underside of it. And a lot of people don’t know this, but the family that runs In-N-Out Burger is just Christian as all Hell, and they print Bible verses surreptitiously in little crevices like that. So Jim Jones points to the Bible verse, the chapter and the number of the verse, whatever it was, from one of the Gospels. He says, Do you know that one? And he recites it from memory. And this I’ll never forget, here’s how the Bible verse went that he said. It went: “And it came to pass, as he sat at meat with them, he took bread, and blessed, and brake, and gave to them.” And he said, “That’s what it’s all about, friends. Communion. All of us equal, together, in this life and the next.”
And then he just nodded at us and walked out the door.
Me and Paul fought the rest of that trip. Just a weird, bad energy. Couldn’t talk about anything. And of course we know what happened with Jim Jones. Just last year I looked up Paul on Facebook and now he’s one of those people that goes around yelling about food, just giving condescending little sermons to anyone and everyone: “Oh, those people in the flyover states, and in Oakland, they live in these, these food deserts and only know how to eat fast food and Twinkies or whatever, which is really just trash, and you are what you eat.”
That breakup was tough at times but in retrospect I’m so glad we went our separate ways, you know? Funny how people turn out. Me, I’m now a proud member of a doomsday cult. I have some literature if you’re interested.
STORY #3: THE PAIN OF LIN-MANUEL
How he hates them. How he, in a cab on the way back from some bar full of industry people one night in 2012, hates selling himself to people with so little faith and so little imagination, preening, affected, name-dropping people who sprint everywhere, to whom he can never adequately explain His Thing, His Whole Big Thing He’s Been Thinking About and Working On, the Thing he hopes will one day bring him fame, press coverage, worship, esteemed friends, money, hosting SNL, not just one or two glowing writeups in the Times but the whole Arts staff turned into frothing, monomaniacal fanatics who can’t stop writing about him, people hanging on his every word, the ability to just shoot out thoughts and drive everyone wild with how deep and beautiful and transcendently perfect they think he is.
Maybe he’s gotten as far as he’s going to go. One big, exciting debut and now working for “Bring It On.” No upward mobility in sight. The Broadway people don’t really care about him—for all their desperation for relevance, they’d much prefer to make show after show based on kids’ cartoons, the songs already written, just throw some fucking Disneyworld costumes on and everybody scream the same consonant chord together for minutes on end, some song about the power of believing in yourself. Consistency of style and form, to them, always, always, always, trumps innovation, meaning, good taste.
Hip-hop people, conversely, react to his work mainly with either apathy or outright contempt. Even friends and acquaintances have pulled him aside and spoke to him about how much of his recordings that he’s played for them are not really hip-hop—more like a light, very polished, Broadway patter with some internal rhymes. None of the catharsis and none of the transgressiveness of good rap, either. They felt he was not able to achieve the imbuing of Broadway or of historical stories with hardness or street smartness, but rather, that he had only managed to make rap more effete and limp.
He hears these criticisms sometimes and looks at the pieces of his work lying around and thinks of them as the wet pieces of white bread they must surely be. But other times he thinks, They just don’t see the whole thing the way I see it in my head.
How he smiles for them, and schmoozes and cracks self-deprecating jokes. How he ingratiates, beguiles. How he thinks: those criticisms don’t matter because all that matters is my will. In such moments, how far he parts from the philosophies of the checks-and-balances-loving founding fathers he admires so. But then: look at what their fairness and their tolerance and their patience for others like them wrought– a system that needed slavery to keep itself intact, a country that would later host the Trail of Tears and ignore the AIDS epidemic. And look what selfishness and willfulness and unchecked abuse of power and steamrolling and railroading over people can sometimes bring us: the Emancipation Proclamation, the New Deal.
It’s pointless to deliberate. He’s Lin. He’s Hamilton. Here he comes.