"The Kings of Misfortune"

May 24, 2018

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Sitting in a dusty cardboard box, hidden away from sight and memory, lies the 330-page manuscript of a book I wrote in the Summer of 1992. It birthed my aversion to writing that has stood with me to this day. Let me take you back to the genesis of the book and how I came to loathe its existence.

 

At seventeen, most people still live with their families. Cursed with a fate to never be normal, I found myself post-high school with a need to find alternative living arrangements. I acquired my very own apartment, and I use that term loosely. Situated directly above an exclusive restaurant specializing in five-dollar foot long sandwiches, the nickname for this residence quickly became “The Party Cave.” It was a textbook example of contrasts and contradictions. Gorgeous, real hardwood floors spanned the living room abutting right up to the worst 1973 linoleum kitchens could offer. A very large bedroom where, instead of a bed, there sat a repurposed clawfoot bathtub that held ice and kegs of beer. Large windows that, if properly cleaned, would provide ample light to display the paucity of conventional furniture. This place was designed for one thing, and that was to hold massive, multi-keg parties every single night. Gradually, I accumulated furniture using empty kegs as the structural building blocks: an artisanal sofa made up of lumber placed directly on two kegs, an art deco table produced by placing a slab of plywood on top more beer, a bookcase consisting of two by fours placed on top of two kegs, and then stacking more kegs on top of the boards repeating until I could not safely lift them without toppling my ladder also made of kegs. The Party Cave provided no creative inspiration. It reeked of sticky hop residue from the previous night. It was a place where words went to die, not to be born. Yet, this most unlikely of places, over a span of 48 hours, gave birth to the rambling musings of a deranged juvenile delinquent.

 

Strangely enough it started over a dinner of ramen noodles. Heavily influenced by malted beverages and homeopathic pharmaceuticals, my friend and I were participating in a contest to see if one of us could eat an entire pack of ramen as one long noodle. We painstakingly attempted to unravel the Gordian knot of synthetic pasta and create the perfect BFN, a Big Noodle that would stand the test of time. In the midst of this process, a searing epiphany hit me. The realization was I HAD to preserve this moment in a document that would occupy the Library of Congress, or be read in the boisterous lodge of Valhalla. This was my destiny.

 

Several hours later, I was sitting on a rickety chair procured from some dumpster in an alley adventure. The card table and coffee maker came from more conventional means, the CVS down the street. The green Olivetti typewriter was secretly snagged from my parents’ house later that night in a “theft” involving multiple attempts to pick an unlocked door. A ream of paper mysteriously appeared, its origin determined to be divine providence and tacit approval of what was about to ensue.

 

I started weaving a tale about two life-long friends. Friends who dreamed big, but did very little. The setting was Manhattan, a place I yearned to live, as it represented everything I was not: sophisticated, wealthy, diverse, and cosmopolitan. Juan ran his family’s fruit stand near the Financial District. Markus worked across the street at his family’s shoe repair store. Both found themselves in slow moments having inane discussions about things such as the possibility of eating a pack of ramen noodle soup in one noodle.

 

The story, like the proverbial package of ramen, starts to unravel and take shape. Word spread that I would not be having a party that night. Something wondrous was occurring. Like an inverted Tom Sawyer, I had to convince other people they could not contribute to this story. This was my tale. Nosy small-town interest quickly resulted in barely literate hillbillies suddenly becoming New York Times literary critics. A drunken, pimply-faced busboy proclaimed the plot to be “pedestrian.” He was quickly asked to leave.

 

Juan and Markus desired one thing above all. They wanted to be famous. Haunted by the concept they would live an existence exemplary only in the overwhelming normalcy of it all, they made a pact they would do something great. The only problem was they possessed no skills whatsoever - at least no valuable abilities to craft and shape great events. They realized the easiest way to become famous in society is to be notorious and a series of epic failures ensued.

 

The crowd watching me changed in composition and size. Some were youths who didn’t get the word there would be no festivities and were curious to see the obsessed man-child furiously typing away while producing page after page at speeds that electrons would envy. They marveled at how the words seemed to just magically appear and wanted to know what secrets the pile contained. I had a tunnel focus. The only thing that mattered was the continued cadence of the staccato strike of the typewriter keys. Like demented paradiddles, the words arrived on crisp canvas at a pace that was truly breathless to behold. The space bar became the bolt action of the mental machine gun of my brain, releasing the bullets of the next incredible sentence.

 

Gradually the audience started to realize, like Samuel Taylor Coleridge, I was in a place reserved for the truly enlightened and I was eventually left to tire away alone, pausing only to refill my coffee cup, light a cigarette, or pause to see what felt like the first sunrise of my life. For a moment, I felt as if the new day spawned the birth of the next great American novelist.

 

Then it came all crashing to a stop for I had reached the same conclusion my bumbling protagonists reached in the story. All of their hilarious failed attempts brought them to a cold, stark reality. They lacked the nerve to do truly awful things. They would never be infamous and, as the author, I was struck with the horrific realization I did not have a way to finish this story. Thirty-six hours and 260 pages had flown by with ease and enthusiasm. That was all gone. I had forsaken food, rest, and distractions in the manic articulation of the perfect story, but now faced with sobriety and exhaustion I realized I was stuck.

 

Now you will discover why I detest this manuscript; because when my two fearless and feckless heroes gave up, so did I. They strapped dynamite to the fruit stand, took it to Brighton Beach, walked it into the ocean, and blew themselves up. As I was writing the ending to this tale, I learned the true awfulness of what I had done.

 

Frantically, I started from the beginning and read what I had just created. Like Dr. Frankenstein, I discovered these words, sentences, paragraphs, and chapters were grotesque in thought and nature. Nothing was natural. Disjointed would be the nicest adjective I could provide. Like Frankenstein’s monster, it could not exist in society. Dejected, I gathered all the pages of the book and shoved it into a corner. Shortly after this marathon manic episode, I departed Kutztown for good. I dropped off the “Kings of Misfortune” on my parent’s front door step, and four hours later I found myself in Times Square. If I was not meant to be great on paper I was bound and determined to be great in real life.

 

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