Monthly Archives: November 2013

The Supple World of Dunston Maycroft — Installment 4 (Copyright 2013)

That’s zeero SIXty three.

That was the start of it, his rapid descent into a babble only he understood, into the status of unintentional laughmonger, into unemployment. Of course the nightly and increasingly daily drinking with the president and the provost at the downtown gentlemen’s club and alone in his office didn’t hurt — didn’t hurt, that is, in terms of gently escorting him to the precipice, maybe it even wrecked some of his braincenters governing speech, who knows. Not even Tara his wife could stop that selfdestruction or even slow it. Why did he drink so much? Because the damned stuff tasted good he acknowledged without a blink, and because it felt good too, he had built up his intake gradually enough over the years to avoid the retching and the headaches of serious drunks and had remained respectable and kind, handsome polished statuesque even, never a silver hair out of place, had even modeled a few times in menswear and hardware ads this smiling DeanofStudents, the gentleman homerepairer standing beside a tablesaw one hand firmly gripping an eight foot long twobyfour the other reaching openpalmed toward the gleaming teeth of the tool made friendly by his winsome smile.

He calls the number G40 with a smile of anticipation, hears the inevitable echo billowing from the same hunched wildhaired sexagenerian in the same seat at the same table every week, Fwo-o-orty it goes, just as it goes each time Dunston calls forty, Fwo-o-orty, an ebullience, an eruption without precedent or cause, the man bellows it without even looking up from his cards, innocent as a child suddenly emitting a coo or an old man a fart, and it each time provokes a series of response from around the hall, Shuddup you old coot, that sort of thing, or Aw shut the fuck up. Dunston hears that kind of language increasingly in the college hallways and the wooded campus paths it happens even in classrooms, he’s had to mediate numerous studentstudent and even studentprofessor contumelies, he hates doing that, despises it. But then again he doesn’t have to do that anymore, he should be using past tense, the farcical scenario following the classroom catfight took care of that, it took only a few days to taste the unceremonious and bittersweet dismissal from office and campus, a cop was even called in to escort him to his car bypassing his office they called it leave of absence but surely it was a permanent dismissal, and then the banishment from his home by Tara who accused him of being a drunk and a nihilist and a wrecker of marriage life and future, to which he meekly uttered Pants damper bunny, then Buzzing crank– mealy . . . Get out of here get out she shouted, quite brutally, I’ll deposit your paychecks for as long as they send them, you can withdraw what you need, now get out of here, and he left, head hanging, he had had over the course of several days a sense that the end would come to this, such a wasted end, and now he’s resting his sodden head on pillows at a Super8 not far from the bowlingalley and Bingohall wondering whether it was the speech problem or the smell on his breath, of the vodka he’d swallowed before the catfighters were brought in all patchy and scratchy. Books Bingo scotch and Applebee’s kept him alive now, he had brought Ovid with him, and Kafka and Milton and his beloved Rembrandt’s Eyes, he should be doing some research into his speech problem, he’d seen a shrink lately but received no help, only a You can’t afford me, the fuckhead, he knows that something’s amiss in his brain but then he thinks of his world, the shambles of his experience in it, he thinks of the president of the college and his boys, all procured for him over the years by a loyal trustee, Dunston knows it but can’t prove it and never wanted to, so in a way he’s been complicit all this time, each time he thinks of it he slips into an ennui that saps him of will and he drinks, he drinks and does fifty pushups and two hundred situps and studies his handsome face deepblue eyes and perfect hair in a cracked Super8 mirror and wonders how much longer he’ll have to live.

G fortytwo he says. G G G G someone else says is that all you can call is G? The game’s rigged another voice yells. Prick a woman’s voice spits out. That’s Gee four two.

 

The Supple World of Dunston Maycroft — 3rd Installment (Copyright 2013)

The hall erupts, a dauber sails through Dr. Dunston Maycroft’s sight, he hears a clipped goddamnit a handsome graying man simply says shit a woman directly in front of him growls christalmighty I only had one more why didn’t you call my number, all around is a low din, he spots a fellow volunteer rush to the woman with her hand raised high, she’s young, skinny you could call her, glasses, loose ponytail with a network of hairstrings rampant along her forehead and ears. The volunteer reads the line of O numbers which Dunston repeats, selecting the appropriate ball for each to display to the stillgrumbling audience, That’s a Bingo he says and flushes the used balls from their holdingpen into the general hopper, the hall goes quiet save for the faint sound of shifting papercards and mild coughing. Dunston takes in the panorama with wide glassy eyes, smoke filling the air but swirling inside his head, he has a minute to himself, thinks about scotch, he’ll have to buy a bottle on the way home, there’s a party store not far from the bowling alley, he pictures it, tastes the scotch, the buzz he had cultivated at home before driving the five miles to the hall has worn off, he smells flames flashes a look of concern, catches movement distinct from hands on the table directly before his, focuses his eyes and sees only a couple of trolls, one purplefaced with orange hair the other greenfaced with periwinkle hair, things are happening kind of fast — the blonde young woman in the catfight leans over a wastebasket and pulls out handfuls of hair cursing, the president of the college the one who sleeps with juniorhigh boys says what the hell’s the matter with you Dunston those two bitches ran all over you you’ve lost control as well as your language you’ve become a laughingstock here, this institution doesn’t need that go home Dunston, you’re on leave, go home, A phylloprick Dunston said, even the president, stupefied for a second or two, almost laughed at that one . . .

I twentyone . . . that’s eye, two, one.

Dunston sighs, his voice is clear and deep, it’s plain English too, it isn’t gibberish, he can somehow speak normall here in this dingy sweaty hall redolent of bodyodors and tobacco smoke, bad breath, unwiped assholes, murky dreams, maybe this is his place after all, maybe it’s his own characteristic milieu, properly earmarked for him alone by events historical and much greater than his limitations will allow him to fathom, after all he’s met them all already, the others, the heirs of millionaires and the millionaires himself, the movers and shakers of the college community he lives in and its environs — not all the students after all ar bargirls and tabledancers — he’s met them and he’s found them wanting, the movers and shakers popping in and out of collegesponsored luncheons, saven a.m. breakfasts and evening receptions, calling at all hours to get their kids out of trouble or distress usually academic and sometimes social, not seldom criminal, he’s addresses them and he’s listened to them at their foundations in their executive meetingrooms their athletic and fellowship clubs. Lifting his eyes from the whirlstrom of pingpong balls and surveying the legions out therewith their daubers framed photos and toys he smiles, he instantly replaces the roiling disheveled hoipolloi out there with visions of the toothy smoothness, the glib mintiness of the gleaming privileged and their waxy wannabees, he hears wchoes of their refined banter about football the market the effectiveness of their capital city lobbyists, thier state reps, their gubernatorial candidate, and suddenly it’s time to call the next number to this murmuring multitude, Geethirtythree . . .

that’s number G threee three.

The pistons out there immediately set to pumping and Dunston Maycroft thinks I want a drink. And then he thinks of the three students drunk in one history classroom, a goung woman and two young men, apprehended while texting each other, couldn’t restrain their giggles, on pot and booze highs, all rules shattered with each thumbpress, more mindless pistons at work he thinks now, youthful indiscretion one of the fathers said they deserved removal from the room but not from the course, but Mr. Fleer you must understand that the professor won’t have them back he says academic decorum has been ruined he was made to feel his classroom was no more than a common tavern and that the professorstudent relationship was forever debauched he used that word, fuck the professor the father said fuck debauched, I endow a chair I’m a friend of the Secretary of Education fuck the professor, these three kids will be reinstated the words pound Dunston’s ears he looks toward the bouncy little pingpong balls sees them as words not numbers, wants to crush them in his hands wants to grind them with his molars oval tonka bona fides he said to the father, his eyes sprung wide, the father froze too, what the fuck did you say? That was the start of it. 

Oh six three

Can’t you call a goddamn B?

That’s zeero SIXty three. 

THE SUPPLE WORLD OF DUNSTON MAYCROFT — 2nd Installment (copyright 2013)

Via his quick descent into gibberishness, a process completed over only three workdays during which he witnessed changes of facial and body expressions from students colleagues staff and occasional visitors so fleeting and varied that he became dizzy, DeanofStudents Dunston Maycroft was generously furloughed, or banished, his mind vacillated between the two states, offered his continued salary plus full medical benefits to cover the cost of psychiatric care and institutionalization if need be plus transportation expenses to medical consultations plus hotel and meal costs if they were outoftown affairs — banished, the word he settled on, to a world he could reconcile himself to even less than that of the language he was so irrevocably eschewing: exchanging the language of mediation evaluation quantification recruitment statistics cliches tired jokes socialization curriculum management and reform, the language of meetings meetings meetings and more meetings for a world of TV and commerce and banality and violence rampant irrevocable and universal, a world of flashes buzzes piercing screeches and howls, barks coughs and flatulation crashing and thrashing and bingoing all around him, even Tara, even Troy his son for whom he fumbled with pingpong balls and brayed at baseball games . . .

En thirtythree. There’s a thin roll of thunder outside that almost punctuates his delivery on this Wednesday evening, but it fails to interfere with the resonance of his voice, he lets the sound sink in for four seconds, it’s clear and crisp, pleasing to his ear, all else is silence save for the faintest bips of the daubers on paper.

That’s N three three. Then,

You’re too close to the mike.

Dr. Dunston Maycroft’s eyes jerk from the little numbered plastic orb, his head follows them, he hears a low din, his eyes scan the vast smoky hall like a laser in a palsied hand, he searches as if the speaker might suddenly emerge luminary and sublime from among the hundreds of players laid out before him, maybe with her — it was a woman’s voice, edgy and bonglike, which eliminates about a third of the crowd from contention — maybe with her rubberlipped mouth still gaping and her serpenteyes still glaring. Pardon me he says.

You’re sitting too close, back up a way.

Dunston spots her, she sits like formless plastic just to his left near the front, she’s got trolls pictures of grandkids a faded statue of the Virgin Supplicant at the top of her tablespace, a formidable barrier between her fifteen cards and the floor below, she sits complacent and accusatory with younger women on either side frowning at him in the same way. Dunston’s body stiffens, fuck you you old bitch is his instant reaction. How far back he asks, using his Bingo tone, two feet? three feet? six feet? his eyes flash disgust at her, his smile sweet, unctuous. He’s amazed yet again at the normal flow of his language.

Don’t be smart with her a smoky alto barks, its owner sits ten feet in front of him but before he can respond a pingpong ball pops up and he snatches it, reads it, and displays its face before a small camera that projects it onto a large screen. Gee fiftytwo he announces in his clearest baritone, that’s G fi-ive two.

The heads out there drop forward like lids on a kitchen trash can and the arms start pumping, he hears the daubing. The scotch buzz that has kept him afloat during his ordeal should last another halfhour until Jerry whatsisname takes over and he takes his break he thinks, maybe he’ll go to the adjoining bowling alley and drink a beer or two, maybe a couple of neat doublevodkas, that ought to get him through the next couple of turns, he’ll only get this one chance because after that he’ll have to work the floor on his breaks selling cards to players, god he hates that worse than the calling, he has to put up with their petty jokes and their complaints and their badgering, Hey Dunston, how’s Dunston tonight, how’s your son Dunston, is Dunston going to call me some winners tonight, Dunston hasn’t been doing a very good job so far, all from one bald old jerk dressed in jeans a tshirt and worn unlaced workboots who sits there tapping ashes into an overfilled tray presiding over fifty cards of which he plays half at a time without a dauber, Dunston wants to clench his hand and mash the guy’s face  with it, he hears a ding from the timer, a ball pops up, he grabs it, En thirtysix he says, that’s N, number three six.

Every twenty seconds Dunston Maycroft automatically presses a button and a random white ball bearing a black letter and number surges up from the maelstrom of dozens of similar balls and into a tube down which it rolls into his hand, he calls out the number and holds it between two fingers before a tiny camera that projects it onto a screen, then he deposits it into a trough with its discarded mates until the Bingo is validated and the game ends. If he dares lose himself in thought and his robotic hand hesitates for a second or two beyond the  allotted twenty the imprecations begin hurled with barbs and venom  — Hey fathead get your ass in gear or get out of here is the most polite example. So the oftchastised caller has had to discipline himself to stare at his watch and think and feel quickly and cleanly.

Oh six one. That’s zeero SIXtyone.

No DeanofStudents has ever called Bingo at Flat Street Lanes before, quite a distinction he was told, not for Flat Street Lanes but for him it was added. Dunston Maycroft is thus quite the man of distinction it seems, for neither did any DeanofStudents ever declare in the aftermath of a classroom catfight between a barwaitress and a tabledancer that suck beayver bones betextet and, when asked in suddenly profound silence to repeat the statement, pound his desk and utter suckybeaverbonesextet with a straight and stern face. Nobody had ever said such a thing, and as soon as his mind registered his words and he saw the looks on the combatants’ faces, one of them still bloody from myriad scratches, and on those of his secretary and assistant dean, he knew the end was here, the jig was up.

BINGO.

The hall erupts,

 

The Supple World of Dunston Maycroft — 1st installment (Copyright 2013)

You use the word supple to describe a body or a mind or a garden hose, but you don’t use it to name a thing like something you ate, as in I just got finished with supple and it was gourd, and you certainly don’t use gourd to describe the quality of something because gourd refers to a kind of plant, so to say in polite company I just got finished with supple and it was gourd is sure to draw laughter or quizzical looks or sneers, unless you’re a baby, in which case you probably wouldn’t have a word like gourd in your limited vocabulary. But Dunston Maycroft said things like that with a straight face because that’s the kind of thing he says — on a good day. Supple was gourd I had rose beets calyx and wise. You’d think he’d rehearsed all this paronomasia but no, it seemed to come out as easily as normal wordage from anyone else, at least in social settings and in his private imprecations, for example when driving his car or confronting TV commercials he might pound some nearby object, a steering wheel or a coffee table maybe, and spit out a resounding forking bolts must blink I’m a problem boron. How he spoke in the privacy of his own mind no one knew of course, not wife or son or colleagues or acquaintances, he no longer had close friends, and when he wrote things such as memos or letters to alumni or emailed complaints to the phone company his writing bespoke a clear mind, a confident voice, tinges of humor, and even some occasional touches of elegance.

But when he called Bingo, even directly after consuming half a fifth of cheap scotch at the bar next to the smokefilled hall he presided over, his voice and vocabulary were as clear and distinct as a Cartesian idea. Bee 4, his rich baritone cut through the dense cigarette smoke like a dart, Number B four. Calling Bingo was something he did every Wednesday evening in a fundraising effort for his son’s highschool booster club, he hated doing it, despised it, but he loved his son Troy he attended as many school events that Troy was involved in as his work schedule allowed. Except for inarticulate cheering (he-e-eys or a-a-a-ws) during football or baseball games he kept mostly silent at his wife’s request — he had been allowed to pant and gasp and even grunt during his nights of lovemaking, back when he was allowed to make love, but not speak, not utter a word, lest the paroxysms he’d elicited during the course of his generous manipulations caresses and heavings were not the result of accumulating ecstasy but of sudden spontaneous fits of laughter. He didn’t mind keeping silent for her, back then, he was happy to comply, he had in fact grown to prefer silence, real silence that is, its steadiness, its immeasurability, its commodiousness, he could inhabit it with no inhibitions, no indignation, no judgmentmaking, no eagerness either, he listened to no music anymore, watched no television, left the house if Tara his wife had talkradio on, slept in his own cramped guestroom after Tara’s scorn demanded removal from her big queen. But every Wednesday evening he found himself inthe lowcealinged Bingo hall billowing with cigarette smoke and awash with body vapors, he wafting on the irregular respiration that rose and fell according to the sound of his amplified voice, Oh sixtysix, he’d announce to abrupt soemnity, a numbered pingpong ball between his thumb and forefinger, that’s zeero six six. He’d marvel at the resonance of his voice and watch with infinite amusement as rows of long tables set end to end suddenly seemed to become animate, heads of players bowing, arms rising and dropping, rising and dropping, like scores of pistons in precision time, but only for some seconds before they fell out of synch, one or two at a time, then more, up and down the line, without order or logic, it’s like watching the keys on a playerpiano run amok, out of the stillness some mutters, hands drop daubers in favor of smokes, the voices rise, the cigarettes bobble in corners of trundling lips droning on about grandkids or sonsabitchin husbands or naggingfucking wives or next Sunday’s service or Father Maury’s sneaky caretaker, then his amplified voice which even he admired, Gee five two, that’s G fiftytwo.

Kirkus Review — review of AT A LOSS

BOOK REVIEW

Nine short stories depict characters coping with various forms of loss, from a grieving teen boyfriend-turned-funeral-crasher to an alcoholic academic.

Short story writer Jung, here anthologized for the second time, circles themes of loss, regret, bereavement in tales — primarily set in the Great Lakes region — ranging from vignettes to longer narratives. All, however, are in the writer’s idiosyncratic prose, which includes rich imagery delivered (and sometimes obscured) in run-on sentences and interior monologues that read like poetry. In “Footfalls on the Stairway,” a former drunk marks 10 years of sobriety by pining for his fondly remembered ex-wife. Alcoholism also figures into “A Rainy Day for Daffodils”: three kids goofing off meet a well-educated bum who threw away his life for an existence of boozy vagrancy and who leaves the trio with a dubious gift of self-revelation before moving on. “The Sacred Cave,” one of the most successful shorts, invites readers to solve the riddle of Jamie Barrett, a high school footballer on a desperate mission to mourn at a funeral for a girl he actually doesn’t know; complications arise when the deceased turns out to be black, and the white teenager must come up with a plausible explanation (for us as well as for the family) for his anomalous presence. “The Moping Man” is a seemingly harmless small-town recluse who indulges an implacable hatred for his imprisoned wife by obsessively collecting and contemplating bloody Crucifixion icons. The Rod Serling-esque “A Zoo Parting” follows separate characters at a zoo who reach the climax of their personal torment at the hands of a mysterious, demonic bully. Happy endings are not Jung’s stock in trade, but “Professor Pearl’s Yelloweyed Dog” uplifts, as a jaded academic gets a boost out of rescuing an animal in peril, a sensation he well knows is purely temporary. For a collection that’s all about pain, Jung’s uneven batch still shows that people take diverse paths in reacting to anguish, including the deliberate avoidance of closure.

Those seeking Chicken Soup for the Soul homilies or tidy endings — or standard usage and grammar — should look elsewhere, as author Jung explores depths of inner pain