behind the gourd


wrote a piece for Scene on the celebrity of Jonathan Football Esq.

While ESPN is the bell cow of national sports media in obsessing over Manziel, Cleveland’s press corps has energetically contributed to the turd-hurricane of hype in their own doofy way. But, of course, in Northeast Ohio, the Browns garner intemperate amounts of attention year-round regardless of their prospects. Remember when we talked ourselves into Brady Quinn?

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note for later


This poem was posted at the odd, wonderful Orange Show in Houston, TX. I like it a lot.

when i was a boy
farmers used scarecrows
in their orange crows
many timid birds
on seeing the scarecrow
would fly away
now and then
a wise old bird
would come down
and enjoy a good fiest [sic]
using the scarecrow
as a perch
between meals
this had little significance
to me at that time
but when i got tired
of being a fool
i came to the realization
the fears of life
are nothing
but scarecrows
–vass young

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things I rode over on my bike, summer 2014

Screen Shot 2014-08-12 at 2.09.16 PM

1. extremely flattened squirrel (i think it had been a squirrel previously, anyway)
2. loose slices of ham
3. carpal-tunnel wrist brace

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descriptions of skies, running catalog

Screen Shot 2014-08-12 at 2.00.32 PM

Under midwestern clouds like great gray brains
—Denis Johnson

Clouds like headless sheep
—Margaret Atwood

Then a blood red cloud line appeared along the horizon, and grey clouds resembling cement castles with turrets, rested upon it. Yellow clouds rolled above the castles, like immense butterflies unable to find a bush upon which to light.

In a short time all turned scarlet, then purple black, then mauve. At last dark shadows crept over the earth, and all colours merged into blue, through which the stars shone.
—Jim Tully

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
—T.S. Eliot

The sun has the attenuated autumn quality of seeming to be behind several panes of glass.—David Foster Wallace (h/t to M.M.)

(…) pilot-light blue—also David Foster Wallace

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Not the straightforward bites of an honest man


More sentences/near-sentences from the sentence ritual, as previously highlighted

  • My plan was to be a sinner, not for the sin itself but to smoke God out, to show me where he was shooting from, providing he or she or it or them was actually here and not on another plane or just a story.
  • I don’t think I have any edges, and I can’t tell if I am supposed to have any.
  • Whenever someone makes me uncomfortable, I try to economically exclude them from my life​.
  • I learned the basic chords of sexuality from the swimsuit issue.
  • The kind of story that’s just philosophical possibilities extruding from some kind of soul-machine, filmed from every angle in uncomfortably high resolution, the possibilities still slimy from whatever it is that happened inside that big machine.
  • I feel like a discoloration on a sash showing where a merit badge has been ripped off.
  • Dog-paddling on dry land.
  • His voice was so deep it felt like a small ghost tumbling in my inner ear.
  • Money and used bandages feel the same.
  • Crystalline weeds of lesser churches grew at the base of the invisible cathedral; the most perfect of those crystal spears was dedicated to closely observing the natural laws of money.
  • The old fat bull lowed, his voice battered by five decades of grilled meat and light beer.
  • ​Liberty is a fuzzy idea, but it’s “pursuit of happiness” that’s the real weasel phrase.
  • The comprehension was ravenous, like locusts, sucking up knowledge and leaving behind despair.
  • ​Some people just have a special gland for lying; normals can die of dishonesty, but the elect possess a node that eats sin.​
  • I raised a herd of middle-class families, and I live by brokering their tax revenue to the authorities.
  • From the slight elevation of the off-ramp, the sprawling city looked like the work of either a distracted god or a very busy people.
  • The road was a ghost river, only to be traversed in special cladding, and only at certain speeds.
  • The screech of interplanar distortion isn’t a dealbreaker, a lot of people work closely with ghosts on an everyday basis.
  • There is a glitch in the coding of males, regarding the sentiment “if you don’t like it, then tough luck,” and its deployment in hyper-inappropriate contexts.
  • Bohemian entrepreneurs invaded, wearing the disparate lifestyles of the past 50 years all at once like a costume.
  • I was still in the habit of treating money like rain, like an act of god that I could neither cause nor prevent, but felt I could propitiate with right thinking.


  • The lake sulks on the edge of the city, their relationship soured in the rich ways only available to those trapped together.
  • The sky looked like it had been mopped with dirty water, its only life a reflected creamsicle prairie of light pollution.
  • ​The fruit trees were turned inside out, their branches pulled earthward, deformed by their own productivity.​
  • On W 45th street, there is an art gallery exhibiting pictures of a fictional serial killer; on E 45th Street there’s a regular, single-serving, non-fictional murder.
  • The “business” of business school had started as a euphemism for the getting of money, but like many a load-bearing euphemism, heat and time had dappled the word with unexpected meanings and ritual.
  • We didn’t have a real priest to consecrate the host, so we put two AA batteries into a bowl of tortilla chips and sprayed holy water on the compound.
  • Some nostalgia is actually misfiled disappointment about how the present turned out.
  • One of those one dudes so old that they start to smell faintly of fried chicken.
  • We started out doomed; the trial was more just like double-checking that fate said what it said.
  • Beatles lyrics are mostly agreeable but not actually psychodynamic laws.
  • Honest self-dealing left in the fridge overnight to set into depression.
  • Trash on fire smells better than trash not on fire.
  • I will cluck my tongue so hard it’ll stop your heart, mister.
  • The economics of being a ghost are not so different from those of the living.
  • The old man died serenely in his rocking chair but not before thinking to himself “Thank God I abandoned my pursuit of sexual alchemy.”
  • His #1 concern, both as a baseball ghost and a regular ghost, was that this contract for reincarnation would just lead to more dying.
  • You can’t build a world around yourself, although you are allowed to try.
  • Try to rip pages out of your life like a notebook and you just wind up hurting yourself.
  • Fate is wrong at least half the time.​
  • The spirits that animate Meaning are kind enough to know when they need to punch someone in the dick.
  • Most things happens without intent.
  • Selfhood–beyond the literal temporal constraints of the particles of a brain–is a very perishable thing.
  • His teeth, more than regular teeth, looked like the crude wind instrument/weapon made of bones that they were.
  • She felt like cold water on a wound.
  • At first she seemed like one of those girls who was forever on the verge of tears; I later learned that there was something wrong with my eyes.
  • I didn’t say what the cup was going to overflow with.​
  • Bottom-shelf cabinetry has a habit of expressing the unsettled desperation of the lives that people with bottom-shelf cabinetry tend to have.
  • Ignore most problems and they go away; this extends to the problem of being alive.
  • Jury duty smells like cheap soap and feels like stale obligation
  • No one here is debating the artistic potential inherent in demolition derby; the issue has always been one of liability.​
  • Cars are drugs that you sit inside, instilling feelings of immortality while often providing the exact opposite.
  • The yaw between calmly letting the world go to shit and furtively speeding up that process.
  • I don’t think I’m asking all that much when I suggest that you annihilate the past and future.
  • ​Midsize Carnivore #1′s story​ has been lost to history, thanks in no small part to the efforts of Midsize Carnivore #2.
  • Stories are a good way of swapping time-acreage for postcard images of different lives, more satisfying and less annoyingly real.
  • ​The final version of his will stipulated a complex solar-powered harness that would keep his interred corpse rotating at a rate of one revolution every 24 hours.
  • The opposite of resurrection.
  • ​What are you supposed to wear when you set out to rob people as an act of moral theater?​
  • Houseplants are the sole and mute witnesses to some of the saddest shit imaginable.
  • Even the fruit in the endowed fruit bowl looked corporate and sullen.
  • Can’t two shitty, opposite things exist and have friction, without our living in the friction?
  • I don’t want to be your dog, I want to be any dog.
  • My resentments are more resilient than the shit they make space shuttles out of.
  • Clutching a bodega coffee, draped in the kind of suit they sell buy-one-get-one, earnestly deaf to a lot of life’s shittier nuances.
  • It is the nature of adult friendships to be slightly relieved when you are done hanging out with someone.
  • Injustice seemed more palatable before the invention of video cameras.
  • Sometimes I wonder which is more troublesome: the stuff between our ears, or all the other stuff.
  • Human decency is a cyclical trend, like hairstyles or polygamy
  • Catalog the insecurities, assign them in thematic bunchings to people around you, use these people as septic tanks for your fears.
  • I spend most of my time stroking my possessions to make sure they’re real.
  • I have processed all outstanding emotions and am prepared to briefly focus on imaginary people’s interior lives.
  • Home is a computer screen, mostly.
  • Sometimes I detest meaning.
  • I mistook a pile of irregular cardboard shards for a puzzle.
  • The great lie of detective fiction is that nearly every crime wants to be solved.
  • His everything felt like it had been left outside all night–clammy, its atoms drunk on sleep.
  • The fates transformed me into a garbage can to teach me some lesson but mostly life is the same.
  • I painted the word MESSINESS on my mind’s equivalent of a murder wall to help me remember.
  • Grotesque impatience is a hobby of mine.
  • There are truths that go beyond difficulty into a kind of active avoidance of comprehension; they not only bounce off your eyes but use them for a kick-turn.
  • Emotions have half-lives, and anybody who tells you otherwise is probably trouble.
  • Terry looked like a carnie, which is to say he gave the impression of being made entirely of neck muscles.
  • As a species, one of our main hobbies is lying to another, sometimes for profit, sometimes just to pass the time.
  • A penis never develops a thick skin, no matter how much you use it.
  • Dust to dust, but in that middle part we are also still dust.
  • The sound of an entire civilization staring at itself in the mirror, checking its hair, cringing at its own recorded voice.
  • Drag my soul kicking and screaming away from the well it likes to stare down.
  • In lieu of health insurance, employees will be provided with drugs that induce a mild sensation of immortality.
  • The absence of resistance is a poison.
  • Trust has to be watered and fed more than you think.


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Signs on telephone poles, Cleveland summer 2014


(list in progress)

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re: a hero named Homer and the devil named Burns

In trying to stabilize the landfill, they fought erosion by planting native grasses on top and then brought in goats to eat back invasive species that were crowding out the native grasses. Coyotes and wild dogs started killing the goats, so they had to bring in Great Pyrenees sheep dogs to guard the livestock.

Did a Q&A with scholar/filmmaker/author Christine Walley about her Exit Zero projects over at the dayjob.

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Peter Pan


Drove over to the parental dacha in Cleveland Heights to do laundry. My dad has been here solo for a few days because my stepmom is in Toledo helping my grandparents interface w Galactus, eater of worlds American healthcare system. Normally this place is Pottery Barn photoshoot ready, but b/c it’s been an unsettled and unsettling and busy past week, there are a few unworn shoes scattered around the entries, and a few stray undone dishes/food sarcophagi. Specifically, there is a 9/10ths empty jar of peanut butter on the counter. Spoons encrusted with its blood lay scattered around it, like the daggers that killed Caesar. I recognized the tableau from having made my own versions of it many times, too addled or busy or otherwised to do anything but ingest something full of protein in the most direct way available. If I was a rock formation there would be a river canyon carved into me toward the peanut butter deposits.

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Kevin Cooley – Svalbard

(not actually Mansfield)

Today I drove out to a worn-out city of ~40,000 souls about an hour southwest of ​Cleveland today, with my dad as co-pilot. In my personal privately-held map of the world, Mansfield is noted for not a lot. I am aware Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall got married at a farm not far from Mansfield, the home of novelist-cum-agronomist Louis Bromfield. Most of The Shawshank Redemption was filmed at the old jail in Mansfield. The new jail is used as a jail, not as a movie set.

In the swale between old jail and new jail, little herds of black angus cattle huddled, hunched over the patches of grass they found especially compelling. The outbuilding that stands in as the license plate factory in The Shawshank Redemption sits on the edge of the hollow. Fictional characters shared a respite from a fictional brutal reality on that roof, tarring in the fictional May sun and drinking fictional cold beers.

The cattle herd belongs to the prison. I only saw the cows from the vantage of the driver’s seat of a moving Honda as I wandered lost inside the back access roads of the new prison, trying to find the way to the old reformatory. We drove on a soft bend around the lip of the swale, and the cows stayed put, swishing their straight skinny black tails like eccentric metronomes. The car reached an emphatic stop sign insisting on only state vehicles past this point, please. Making the turn into a prison felt like walking into the women’s bathroom. I felt a static electricity at voluntarily wandering into a place so unhappy, so distant from my own free personhood. I liked the cows. They’re going to be slaughtered and eaten by unfree men, which probably doesn’t feel that much different than being eaten by regular folks.

We drove out to Mansfield to see an exhibition of base ball (as in, baseball played according to 19th century rules, in rough approximations of 19th century dress). They played on the front lawn of the old Ohio State Reformatory, which is always in 19th century dress. There were nearly as many ballplayers gathered as there were spectators. I was happy to have a reason to move through the world. The visiting team came from Canal Fulton, a town that’s on the Erie & Ohio Canal (hence the name). They were the Mules, and their team standard was topped with a tiny wooden mule stood atop a baseball, with a tiny wooden harness collar. There was no tiny wooden canal boat or tiny wooden world for them to inhabit.

After the base ball, we drove through the time-bleached center of Mansfield and ate time-bleahed slices of pizza. Most of the few people downtown at 4 pm on a Sunday looked uncomfortable, sitting on things not meant to be chairs, checking their cellphones frequently as if to will something to happen and take them away from there.

As we drove the 50 miles out and the same 50 miles back, we talked about the history of Ohio, the history of places and the history of people. Some of the history was just trivia; some of it was family lore. My dad told me about a bicycle. It was a Roadmaster, once owned by a relative. This relative had suffered the double disfortune of losing his job in the Depression and more or less simultaneously contracting polio. The disease left him unable to drive a manual-transmission car, but capable enough to ride a bike.

So he rode a bike to and from what work he could find. Eventually he got himself a Ford with an automatic transmission, and he didn’t need the bike anymore. The rusty old Roadmaster was handed down to my dad, but it lacked a banana seat and all other contemporary hallmarks of not being janky. Out of a desire to make the bike less janky, my grandfather sanded it down and painted it red, hand-detailing a white V on the head tube, with yellow piping separating white from red.

As we drove a silver car that my dad and stepmom gifted to me two months ago, my dad expressed a gentle but deep remorse that he hadn’t held on to that bike, not because it was an especially good bike but because of the loving work his father had put into repainting it. The hillbillies down the street wound up with it after a rummage sale.

This all loped around to the story of my grandfather’s best friend as a boy in Delta, Ohio. Robert Harms was the friend’s name. Harms was a naval fireman, serving on an LST in World War II. At the age of 19 years and 3 months, Robert Harms died in a kamikaze attack during the Battle of Leyte Gulf. He was one of at least two men named Robert Harms to die in uniform in 1944. The Robert Harms of Minnesota was 20 years old when he died in France three months earlier. My grandfather, who is 89, is not in good health. This quantum of unwelcome news that isn’t any less sad for its actuarial predictability. Once, when my dad was the age at which Robert Harms died, his appearance reminded Robert Harms’ mother of a time when Robert Harms wasn’t dead.

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you can close the book on Kelder


finally put a fork in the Van Sweringen brothers over at Belt. Please to enjoy Train Dreams, Part 3. Next assignment: Writing fiction for a while.

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