features, fiction, Memoir

Stanley Coats: An Introduction

Stanley Coats: An IntroductionStanley Coats, sprawled out in his overalls and dozing on the porch swing, knows he’s becoming the old dog with the saggy balls. The one beginning to get gray around the snout. At the sound of tires on gravel, he lifts his head a little. The dog dozing on the porch floor below him does the same, and they both crack an eye open to see who’s coming up the drive.

The searing pain behind his other eye has abated. Stanley refuses to believe it could have anything to do with a hangover and instead diagnoses himself with becoming his mother. He hopes it’s not terminal.

It’s not that he doesn’t love his mother. It’s the naps. For as long as Stanley can remember, sometime between two or three in the afternoon, his mother always took what he has come to call a twenty-minute sink-down. Continue reading

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Drinks, fiction, foodquarterly recipes

The Truth About Hunter S. Thompson

A sweating glass set down on a wooden bed stand makes an unmistakable sound. The ice doesn’t clink, it clicks, like fingernails on piano keys. In a small matter of time though the sound of the ice cubes change just as in another moment the wet glass leaves an indelible water mark. Of course, if someone’s setting a glass on your bed stand first thing in the morning, one of two things has happened: You’re either hung over, or you’re going to be.

There are moments in life that are greater than the individual. Recognizing these moments and rolling with them is what separates the ordinary from the extraordinary. If I had known this in my youth, I might have steered clear of that gas station, but sometimes, when there is little or no choice, you have to figure it’s fate.

I had finished up my last 1 to 10 p.m. shift at the American-Statesman, gone home to the roach-infested Holiday Inn-style apartment, and packed. It was 2 a.m. before I got loaded up and hit the road for Atlanta.

It was an ungodly hour somewhere between Austin and New Orleans when I started to get nervous about ever finding an open gas station. I was ready to pull into a station lot and just sleep until they opened. At each exit, I looked over the tops of the swamp mangroves hoping to see the beacon of mercury vapor lights that might indicate an open station. The fuel light on my metallic red Honda Accord had been on for more miles than I had ever pushed it before I finally got off the highway. There was no station at the exit, but I was desperate and figured there might be gas in town. I was surprised when I found an open station halfway between the highway and the town limits.

As my headlights picked up the two good-ol’-boys rushing out of the station door dressed in camo and hunter orange, it became immediately apparent that this had, at best, a 50/50 chance of going well. Sometimes, when it’s too dark and too secluded, you just know.

Now, it’s not like I was ignorant. I grew up in Indiana, and, the way I’ve always seen it, the only difference between a redneck ridge-runner and a Cajun is the accent. They’re cultural relatives, after all. But you can find bad apples anywhere.

I grabbed the pump handle, and a greasy, meaty claw grabbed it from my hand. “Full service,” he said in a rubbery swamp drawl. “Just stand back and everything be fine, satisfaction guaranteed.” When the skinny one (because in stories like these there’s always a skinny one and a fat one) jumped in the front seat to pop the hood and the gas tank–and then started rifling around in the console and the glove compartment, I knew this was going be an expensive tank of gas.

As they kept up a casually aggressive small talk, I sized up my few options. It’s not like I was going to take these two on. They were ready to fight, with Buck knives on their belts and who-knew-what in their boots. But, if I kept my mouth shut and was polite, maybe my odds would go up: In a minute the car would at least be full of gas….

At that moment, lurching out of the bathroom on the side of the building, I saw him. White Jack Purcells, white socks, white Fila tennis shorts, white shirt, tear-drop sunglasses, and that fucking Panama hat. In each hand a trademark: one, a Smith and Wesson .357 magnum with a six-inch barrel and enough power to knock down a full-size buck at a considerable distance; the other, a Dunhill Full Flavor cigarette stuffed into a plastic Joyu 450 cigarette filter.

If I had been an older man, my heart would have exploded out of my chest; instead it just revved like a 426 hemi with a snapped drive shaft–my engine was racing; my body was frozen. I was the deer in the headlights.

Hunter S. Thompson had just burst out of a gas-station bathroom in bum-fuck-Eygpt, had a gun pointed at a hillbilly’s head, and was telling them both to eat shit. He backed them off and grabbed me by the collar and shook. “Move, God damn it!” he roared, and he shoved me into the driver’s seat, backed around the hood, and jumped in on the passenger’s side. I was hunched forward with both hands on the wheel and a look on my face like I had just run over my favorite dog. He opened his mouth to shout at me, and the baseball-bat slammed into the trunk. It shook me out of my shock, and finally I peeled out, but not before we lost the back driver’s-side window to a brick.

Thompson threw his black gym bag into the back seat with my photo stuff, grinned, and stuck out his hand. In his staccato voice, he said, “Hunter Thompson.” Before we even got to the highway, he had convinced me that I needed to take him to where he needed to go.

Belize. A secluded banana plantation owned by a bunch of Rastafarians somewhere near the Guatemalan/Mexican border. They had developed an iguana problem and were licensing people to come and hunt them. It was remote, secluded, and the Rastas didn’t license just anyone.

I didn’t think I owed him my life, because I was pretty sure the Cajuns at the station just wanted my stuff and didn’t want to hurt me. So my decision was based solely on one fact: It was Hunter S. Thompson. I buckled my seatbelt and settled in as chauffeur. Thompson was an avid amateur photographer, so we easily dropped into a conversation about f-stops and shutter speeds, Cartier-Bresson and Capa.

At the Texas/Mexico border he had me park my car at Nuevo Laredo. Said we would take a bus across and pick up a car that would be waiting for us in Sabinas Hidalgo. There, we would drive along the mountains and find our way to the plantation.

There are few people who are apparent in their persona and Hunter S. Thompson was one. If his look wasn’t loud enough, the cherry-red 1976 Eldorado convertible waiting for us was like the second coming. His theory, he explained, was: create enough noise and people will look the other way.

I would never get to test this theory with Thompson. We began to relax, and as he relaxed the pharmaceuticals came out to amp things up again. It was at this point that I took my first mescaline, and, trust me, the world has always looked a little different.

I honestly can’t recount any other part of this sordid tale. From there on in, it was overloaded with drugs and tequila, with no end in sight until it somehow suddenly stopped. Not until I woke up, for the first time ever, to the sound of clicking ice, was there a coherent moment to reflect.

“It’s the cure, not the culprit,” he said, as I eyed the tall tumbler on the bed stand. I looked down and, to my surprise, there was a bandage on my leg and the sheets were stained with blood.

I ran my hand down to feel a chunk of my calf gone. I looked at Hunter with shock and dismay.

“Iguana bite. Biggest damn iguana ever, and you slayed the vicious beast with one shot just after it got a piece of you.”

“Iguana tacos?” I queried.

“Best ever, just like you said,” he replied.

I took a drink. Hunter S. Thompson never lied.

Makes one

2 tablespoons fresh coconut water

3 ounces fresh pineapple juice

seltzer water

crushed ice

1. Fill a 10 oz. tumbler three quarters full with ice.  Add the coconut water, pineapple juice, and top with seltzer.  Stir and garnish with lime, mango, and a cherry.

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fiction

The Fat White Kid

Denny Baum knows exactly where he’s going when he lets the door to his fifth-floor walk-up slam behind him. He uses the back of his cigarette hand to wipe the tears out of his eyes before he goes down the stairs, crosses the foyer, and pushes out onto the street.

He walks a gauntlet of Hispanic dope dealers who never fail to ask him to buy, even though, in the ten months since he moved into his studio apartment, he never has. As he nears Second Avenue, he passes the girl whose name he still doesn’t know and who, when she caught his eye eight months ago, was youthful and beautiful. He used to talk to her when she sat on the stoop next-door. Now she’s a bony, toothless crack whore, always anxious, like a little kid who has to pee.

Denny turns left on Second towards Chinatown. He walks fast. He’s mad at himself for being an idiot. He knew Kim would turn him down when he asked her out.

He steps off the curb and wipes his eyes again. People are looking. He knows his eyes are red and puffy, but he doesn’t give a fuck; for all they know, his mom got hit by a bus. His thoughts are focused on his self-pity and shame. It’s the usual routine: build up the courage to ask a girl for a date, get turned down, then sulk about it.

He’s going to the Chinatown restaurant that his friend Lim first took him to, where the ducks with crispy brown skin and a thin layer of fat hang in the window next to the suckling pigs. The servers cut the duck into small pieces at the table. He eats the lacquered, shiny skin by itself, dipping it into a sugary garlic sauce between each bite. Once the skin is gone, he folds the juicy meat into tender scallion pancakes smeared with hoisin sauce. The succulent fat is what Denny likes. He likes how it renders in his mouth and keeps the tender, dark meat moist.

But Peking Duck is just Denny’s gateway dish into dim sum–Sunday dim sum in particular. He sits by himself at a four-top in the back and savors red cooked chicken feet, sucks the bones of steamed pork ribs in black bean sauce, and breathes in the sharp aroma of cuttlefish salad before taking a bite. He gobbles up steamed dumplings stuffed with pork, leeks, and Chinese celery, and digs into a platter of scallion noodles.

He sips tea. His hunger is finally satisfied.

Denny’s frame has a certain bulk. He’s one of those young men who’s supposed to be large; even if he wasn’t fat, he couldn’t physically be small. But he isn’t jiggly-fat, he’s farm-boy fat–solid. If you punched him in the gut, your fist wouldn’t sink in so much as ricochet.

Now he sits like a white Buddha and reads the Sunday Times. When he’s done, he folds the paper neatly and sets it beside his dirty plates. His large, fat fingers reach out for the silver teapot, making it look like a little girl’s toy. He tops off his tea and doesn’t add any sugar; he likes its tannic bite.

Finally, the server brings the dessert cart over to his table, full of sweet dishes. He points to three. He can’t resist the custards.

Asian Honey Ginger Fried Chicken recipe here

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features, fiction

The Hayseed

The sleek, shiny, deep-red locomotive, its coupling rods churning and drivers slipping, trying to get traction, billows out black smoke from its stack as if getting up the nerve to leave the station.

It’s a beautiful train with a long line of passenger cars trailing behind. Each car is bursting with people who, dressed in their best, are buzzing in quiet anticipation, waiting for their adventure to begin. A collective sigh goes up at the first jolt of forward motion, and a surge of no-turning-back-now adrenaline triggers manic conversations about new destinations.

Somehow, old things always look new when you see them from a different angle, and traveling by rail, rather than the usual streets and highways, is definitely different. The passengers move from one side of the car to the other, looking out the windows at their familiar city, chattering excitedly about things they’ve seen a thousand times.

The train moves beyond the edge of town as the late afternoon sun turns the sprawling farm fields golden. Not too far from the track, a farmer stops his work and looks up at the train. He leans an elbow on his pitchfork, puts his other hand on his hip, and casually crosses his ankles, as if he wants to drink it all in. Many of the passengers wave as they pass by, marveling at the farmer as if they’ve never seen a man in a field. The farmer smiles and waves back a few times. He knows most of these folks are looking at him like he’s missing out, or just some hayseed.

Truth be told, he used to travel, a lot. He’s also plenty smart, but, anymore, he couldn’t care less what anyone thinks. Not that he’s bitter–no, he’s content, happy just to stand in his field and watch a train full of people looking for the next big thing pass him by and not remotely feel like he’s missing out. Some people might wonder if he’s made a deal with the devil, but he knows different.

Before the train’s even out of sight, he turns and starts walking up the fence row to the house. His wife will have dinner about ready. The long shadows from the fence posts stretch across the ground. He carries the pitchfork over his shoulder and, this time, instead of counting the posts (since he knows there are twenty-five from here to the house), he counts the steps in between them. He likes this comfortable, predictable game.

When he gets to the barn, he goes inside, hangs the pitchfork in its place, takes a look at the veal calves, then heads for the house, passing the garden full of late-fall greens.

He smells it as soon as he opens the mud-room door–the unmistakable goodness of one of his favorite dishes: deviled veal tongue with braised mustard greens and potatoes. The smell alone is nourishing. It’s a dish that not only tastes God-damn good, but you can feel it healing your soul with every bite. He looks at his beautiful wife, hears the kids giggling in the other room, and smiles, glad that he has no other destination.

click here for the deviled veal tongue recipe

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fiction

J.R. Craves Tex-Mex

J.R. stands on the metal folding chair, stretches up on his toes, and exhales pot smoke into the air vents just to be an asshole. He jumps and lands on the floor with a resounding thud. The shaking floor is felt two apartments down by a Hispanic woman making cookies. He’s annoyed that the apartment next door was rented to some dude. He liked the hotty girl who lived there before; liked to watch her shower through the hole he made in the wall. Now it was some dick-weed kid who he already knew he didn’t like.

That’s not all he’s pissed about today, though. He can’t believe the super gave him an eviction notice. Not after the words they had at his apartment door when the super came knocking and tried to collect the rent. J.R. told him if he evicted him he would kill his wife right in front of his fucking eyes. He isn’t going to do it–kill the super’s wife; he just knows threats will get him what he wants if they make him seem scary and crazy enough.

He paces. He thinks. He gets more pissed off the more he thinks. He stomps a foot on the hard tile. He’s fidgety. He grabs the speed off the counter and shakes the last two pills from the bottle into his mouth, then quickly snaps his head from side to side, trying to crack his neck. He paces more rapidly now, in anticipation. His pulse picks up.

He grabs the ball-bat that some former tenant left in the corner and jerks open the door. He looks around the courtyard. No one’s out. He is barefoot, shirtless and lean like a feral cat. His jeans are too long, worn and stringy at the heels where he walks on them. He shuffles down the second-floor walkway, the denim scuffling against the concrete.

At the corner a sudden flurry of action catches his eye. His neighbor the dick-weed, propped in a chair outside the ground-floor laundry room, is falling backwards but catches himself, arms and legs flailing around. J.R. stops and thinks about going down and beating the living shit out of him, then thinks again, smiling at the thought that he’ll get to it at some point. He watches as the dick-weed takes an amateur swig of his beer and returns to his bout of bad foreplay with a burrito. The goop inside shoots out, all over the ugliest pair of new boots J.R. has ever seen; in fact, the burrito stains might be an improvement on the turquoise and red shit-kickers, which were reminiscent of a Nudie suit in the most God-awful way. The kid takes another chomp and more goop falls onto the foil sheet. J.R. thinks he should have left it wrapped around the burrito. You only peel back the foil and the deli paper as you go. It’s what keeps the whole thing together. But he can hear the kid moaning with each bite, like he’s getting laid.

J.R. sees the to-go bag and understands the moans. He knows the place that burrito came from, knows they’re that good–even makes the same sounds when he eats one. A stack of napkins, dozens of them, is starting to drift around in the wind. J.R.’s stomach growls. He smiles again at the ground-floor folly and his mood lightens, but he still has business to attend to.

By the time he finds himself at the super’s door, though, his plans have changed. He was wound up enough to bust a couple of ribs with a swing or two of the bat, but he’s lost the will. Instead, in what feels like a more half-assed attempt to make his point, he chucks the bat through the front window of the super’s apartment. The door flies open.

What happens next reminds J.R. of the time when he was a kid and he climbed a tree with a pocket full of rocks and started throwing them at a big, papery hornets’ nest hanging like an out-of-place Christmas ornament. Nothing happened until a rock finally punched a hole in it and the whole nest emptied, the hornets stinging relentlessly, and J.R. couldn’t get out of that tree fast enough and finally just fell.

And just like that time, J.R. ends up on his back. The second blast from the super’s shotgun knocks him over the railing and he lands on the hood of a car. He feels the hood ornament puncture his thigh. His head lays back off the side of the car, and he looks at the world upside-down. He stares at the kid with the burrito. His stomach grumbles, his eyes shut, and he imagines the smell of the mesquite smoke mingling with the lesser cuts of beef. They become a rich, tender kiss that makes him feel like he’s crossed the railroad tracks to the intoxicating land of the forbidden.

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