Author’s Note: What follows over coming weeks and months is the serialization of the second edition of my novel, Dead Tree Version. It is the first in a pop-satire series, which upon completion will consist of three novels and two novellas.
What we’re doing here is a little different. This is the second edition, but have offered to serialize it here as I re-edit it chapter by chapter. I’m aiming for a new chapter every two weeks, but may have to delay a week here and there because of my busy schedule.
The first edition was published in 2013, but I’d begun writing it off and on sometime in late 2010. It was mostly complete by late 2011, but on a whim I decided wanted to include a chapter as a comic for the Kindle Edition and decided to wait until that was complete. The original contained several severe continuity errors that I had to retcon or outright contradict in later installments in the series. I am now resolving those, so I don’t recommend running out to buy the existing editions on Amazon (although, after the serialization is complete, I’ll have to unpublish this at some point on here. Ephemera!) The rest of the series needs minor technical and grammatical edits for their second editions, so there isn’t much reason not to get the existing editions of those when the time comes.
You’ll either love it or loathe it. Or both. It will give you some insight into the lives and minds of the benighted Millennial generation. The later books explore the metaphysics and spirituality of this book in depth, and overall I see the series as ending on a worthy note with the two as-yet-incomplete books.
You may find my Amazon author page here, but note the swimming book isn’t me. I’ve been trying to get Amazon to remove that for ages.
Dead Tree Version
By Ian McLeod
Chapter 1: I Don’t Effin’ Know
John Madison Darwin typed the words “I don’t belong here” twenty-seven times on a sheet of yellow legal-paper he’d fed into his antique Underwood typewriter. It was a beautiful typewriter, recently cleaned and restored. It was once owned by an editor at The Chicago Warbler, a newspaper forgotten since the Great Depression. He knew it was owned by an editor there only because he’d bought it from the editor’s great-granddaughter at a yard-sale in Kansas City on a road-trip, along with several old issues of the ancient newspaper and a small satchel from France. He, a Chicagoan, thought it was best to repatriate the typewriter to its native land.
Darwin had no major aspirations in life, except one day to go on a particular famous comedy news-show and say something profound and shocking. That is not to say he did not once have other aspirations, it’s simply that Life had, in its inevitable way, destroyed almost everything great within him, and had left him a cynical–if mostly decent–husk of a man. He worked a tedious job as a paper-pusher for the USDA, and was, very soon, to be severed from his horrendously mediocre and, almost stereotypically bad relationship with his stereotypically hot-but-about-to-hit-the-wall girlfriend.
As he typed the words “I don’t belong here” over and over again before removing the paper, crumpling it up, and shooting it–completely unlike basketball legend Ahmed Reeves–towards the wastebasket. It was a beautiful shot, but unlike Reeves, Darwin missed–as his basketball skills were only marginally better than his writing. The paper landed at his girlfriend’s feet, whom he didn’t realize was watching the entire time. She kicked it aside. She had a stern “we need to talk” look on her face, and he said—disarming her—“You’re leaving me.”
“That’s easy. See you around.” He turned around and fed another piece of paper into his typewriter. She hadn’t left. She was fuming: he could tell from her heavy breathing and that little wheeze she made whenever she was enraged. It was annoying.
“You don’t care, do you?” she asked.
Darwin sighed. “I care too much. But you don’t, so leave.”
“You’re stifling me.”
Darwin began typing his new mantra again. “So leave.”
“You’re so…you’re not fun. We don’t go do things, and when we do, you get bored.”
“I don’t like shopping. I’d go with you to your conferences, but you haven’t ever asked me. I’d have gone to the concert with you, but I had to work. And then every time I had time to do something, you aren’t ever around. So…yeah, just leave. It hurts. But leave. I’m going to handle it well this time.”
“You’re doing better than last time,” She said with a sigh.
“Not really. Just be gone by the time I’ve broken out the Stoli.”
“Oh God, drinking again? Stop trying to make me feel guilty. I got enough of that.” She began throwing her things into a bag.
“You always drive me to the bottle, darling.” He kept typing. “Invariably. It’s probably why I love you.” He took a turn to the sarcastic, and felt for a moment like Dick Huron in the amazing film, Are Not We All Terrified By Carolina Foxe? He typed that he felt that way on to the fresh sheet of paper. It was a good line.
“You’re so fucked up. Jesus Christ, you need a shrink.” With that, she left the room and slammed the door behind her.
“I’ll see one when you do,” He said to the lingering scent of her perfume and resumed typing “I don’t belong here” over and over.
Darwin, or as we’ll refer to him throughout the rest of this tale–Our Hero–had a demoralizing, dehumanizing day-job in a cubicle: again, a paper-pusher for a less-than-glamorous government bureaucracy. He processed reports and statistics on pork for the USDA. Pork slaughter, pork disease, pork production, bacon consumption–but all pork, pork, pork. He wished sometimes he were Jewish or Muslim for the irony, and once considered converting to either fine religion from his fourth generation Episcopalianism, but it wasn’t to be.
As he typed his mantra for the next hour or so, Our Hero pondered his job, and did not much care to go into work on Monday, so he decided he’d call in with Swine Flu. Despite his intense focus on his pointless efforts at the typewriter, he was rather distraught at his sudden breakup. He knew it was coming, but had been in denial for quite some time. He did love her—very much, in fact, but decided that this time it wasn’t going to affect him.
So Our Newly Single Hero, finally got up out of his chair, left his fourth-story flat, walked down the stairs, greeted Mrs. Lafferty—the elderly woman who lived two floors down and into whom he invariably bumped twice a week—told her he was well but she wouldn’t be seeing much more of Liz anymore (which she was happy to hear), then continued out of the apartment building, into the street, and on to Café Nostrum.
Café Nostrum was Arlington Heights’ answer to the simple law of supply and demand: there’d been a sudden influx of the lowest common denominator of the trust-fund-set: writers, artists, hipsters and indie-kids, and they needed a place to do whatever it is they did.
One of their dads was a former hippie and Vietnam Vet who, after a life changing panic attack, thought that the coffee-shop/bookstore business was a good one to be in. His son (an annoying young man called Raymond) contributed to this poor business decision as well, for Raymond begged his father to use the large settlement payout from the big Floritrexon Impotency Lawsuit to open such a business so he could be the hippest one of all.
For some reason, certain subsets of the population are compelled to congregate at coffee-shops and bookstores in order to discuss whatever music they are into that particular day, or rant about how some once-independent musician had the profound business acumen to score a recording contract, go mainstream, and make lots of money. Our Hero pondered all this as he saw his favorite barista and old friend standing outside, with a Camel in one hand and Camus in the other.
He startled her with a friendly “Hello.”
As she picked up the precious book and nicotine delivery system which gravity had momentarily claimed for its own, she said, “Hey Darwin. You snuck up on me.” Everyone called him Darwin rather than John. He didn’t know why. He might one day find out.
“I did, didn’t I?” Our Hero replied. “What’s new?”
“Douchebag came in earlier,” she said. Douchebag was the moniker imposed upon a certain Bryan Purdue, one of those orange-shaded, popped-collar-polo-sporting stereotypes who belonged anywhere but Café Nostrum. Douchebag had a thing for Carrie. Our Hero understood why: Carrie was exceptionally pretty. Too pretty to be stuck in the Chicago suburbs, anyway—but there she was. There was a problem with Douchebag’s intentions: Carrie was a lesbian. Douchebag, was of course, a douchebag who spent all his time reading Paradox’s books on how to get laid. Douchebag’s so-called “Game” had no effect whatsoever on Carrie, except the time she punched him in the nose for once telling her she was just a college girl who just ought to experiment with him sometime.
“And?” Our Hero asked about Douchebag’s return.
“He kept staring at my boobs.”
“What boobs?” Our Hero replied and made it a point to stare at her low-cut top which revealed very little, as she wasn’t particularly well-endowed. Carrie laughed—she’d known Our Hero for years: he was safe, so was she. “Did you go ape on him again?”
“No. I only threatened to gouge his eyes out and feed them to him with hot sauce. He bought a copy of Paradox’s latest book and scurried off,” She said all of this rather matter-of-factly. Our Hero called it her ‘I’m telling a kickass story voice.’
“I should buy those books.”
“Oh God…” She trailed off. “I should have asked—how’s Liz doing?”
Our Hero laughed. “She left me earlier today.”
“Bitch,” Carrie shotgun-lit a fresh pair of cigarettes—with all their full flavored goodness—and handed one to Our Hero, who accepted with the ungraceful but grateful flourish he’d learned playing Guildenstern in Hamlet back in high school. He hadn’t smoked in six months and rather enjoyed the nicotine-induced dopamine rush.
“Nah. I’m the marrying type, she’s not, no big deal.”
“You look like shit, Darwin.” Carrie observed, he was disheveled that day–his thick brown normally well-kept and trained hair was kind of unkempt.
“I feel it,” he said without much emotion.
“How’s the novel?” she asked with a shrug.
“Good. I wrote three chapters this morning.”
“What’s it about?” Carrie asked, eyebrow raised.
“Well, I scrapped the old one and I started a new one. It’s a parody of Rachel Tatum’s poem Horse-Cart Inversion.”
Carrie stared. Hard. She was incredulous. “Darwin. You’re writing a goddamn novel as a parody of a poem that repeats the same thing over and over again. I fail to believe you.”
“I don’t know how to feel about that, but I think you just turned me on a little. Maybe Douchebag was right and I was just experimen-…” Carrie suddenly thrust her hand into her pants pocket. “Oh, no, it’s just my cell on vibrate. Phew. I was worried about my identity for a second.” She read her text and one-worded a response.
“Well damn. A man can dream.” Our Hero replied, not knowing what else to say.
“Damn indeed. By the way, you look really good, despite looking like shit. Nice button down from Carpe Diem with sleeves rolled to perfection—nice jeans, and your trademark u.c. Munich glasses. Are you already on the prowl?”
“No, I just figured that a dying man ought to look good.”
“Oh God, don’t go all nihilist on me, you dumbass,” Carrie held up her index finger, indicating it’d be a moment, and turned to the door, “Hey George!”
“Yo!” called George from within. George was the barista-on-duty. He was a nerd in all the worst possible ways, and he had a grating voice which could only be described as the squeaking of an unlubricated door-hinge combined with steel girders scraping against one another whilst being banged upon by an army of two-year-olds with pots and pans.
“Clock me out, I’m gonna go get Darwin laid!” shouted Carrie, and Our Hero slapped his forehead with his palm.
“YOU NEVER GET ME LAID!” The shrill shriek of George returned. She ignored the nerd and picked up her purse. She deftly flicked what remained of her cigarette off into the shrubbery and began walking at a swift pace.
“I was going to get coffee,” Our Hero said, for no reason. “But you saved me from discussing internet memes with George. You are a saint, Carrie.”
Carrie laughed. “A nympho-lesbo-saint from hell. God, Darwin, you know the weeaboos have taken over, right? It’s been like, six weeks since your last coffee-confession.”
Our Hero ignored the obvious joke: Carrie was ex-Catholic, after all. QED. “Who the fuck are weeaboos, or do I really want to know?”
She groaned. “They’re into all that Japanese anime shit. They all think they’re artists, and they all think they’re learning Japanese, and they all think they’re going to go to Tokyo and work at Studio whateverthefuck it’s called over there. It was cool six years ago; it’s pathetic now. My dad, God damn his absent soul, was absolutely right never to buy me those Kawaii-Monsutaa no Monogatari playing cards and toys when I was a kid.”
Our Hero had no idea that “otaku” had become “weeaboo” or whatever the word was. He filed it all away under ‘useless information that might come in handy when writing a post-postmodern novel about American subculture,’ which is to say, he promptly forgot. Still he asked: “By ‘taking over,’ what do you mean?”
Carrie groaned: “They believe that Café Nostrum is an appropriate place to ‘squee.’ They are in there all the fucking time, being much louder than necessary to discuss whatever inane things they discuss,” She sighed, then in an increasingly dejected tone, “Previous generations had lead paint chips as an excuse, or mercury exposure. You’re just old enough to a maybe remember MTV being the evil empire, and you definitely remember the blue dress, you’re on the cusp. My firmly millennial weeaboo generation has no excuse. They’re starting to annoy the hipsters and literati kids–hell, at least the hipsters pay for their coffee. I’m praying for a bloodbath in which both sides lose, so that maybe—just maybe—we can get some paying customers other than The Scion’s friends. Have you ever met Parker and Douglas?” The Scion was Carrie’s moniker for Raymond, the son of Café Nostrum’s owner.
Our Hero shook his head. “Never have. You realize what small-minded people we are, right? We’re talking about people, after all.”
“Thank you Admiral Rickover,” Carrie chuckled. It was high time to change subjects. “I’m taking you out to lunch. Hungry?”
“I like the horse-cart inversion there in your statement. You assume I’m hungry, then ask,” Our Hero replied.
“Yeah, yeah. But you are hungry.”
“We’re gonna fill our bellies with spicy Cantonese, just like Mr. Wu.” Carrie said, almost solemnly as she spoke the name “Wu.”
“Johannes Wu?” Our Hero asked, which prompted them both to recite—in unison–a verse from the greatest poem of the decade:
at home, at ease—
easy to please
with plates of spicy
Of course, writing the greatest poem of the new decade was much like winning a state-fair hot-dog eating contest, only with less national media exposure. After chuckling, Our Hero suddenly remembered what “I’m taking you to lunch” really meant.
“Dammit Carrie, I’m not buying you lunch.”
“I thought I had you,” she sighed. “Fine. I’ll go hungry. I need to lose weight, anyway. I mean, look at me, I’m morbidly obese,” she tried to pinch her belly, but there wasn’t much to pinch. “I’d just puke it back up, anyway,” She feigned a deeper sigh, and her eyes began to well up with her patented fake-tears. “Darwin…stop trying to Darwin me!”
Our Hero rolled his eyes and said something sarcastic that was, in retrospect, rather lame (while still walking towards Cantonese Express, the best hole-in-the-wall on Higgins), Carrie snapped out of her playfully sorry state, and said cheerfully: “I’m really buying you food, Darwin. For the first time in how many years? I’m buying. I might even take you out for a drink after.”
“Sweet Mary, what happened?” Our Hero asked, stunned by this revelation.
“I’ve found Jesus.” Carrie replied, then laughed and said, “No, I just figured it was high time for me to pick up the check. And I won a scratch-off last Saturday. I was saving it for hookers and blow, but I think lunch with you would be better than an STD and rehab. But only slightly.”
“I’m so honored.” Our Hero said, smiling.
“I haven’t seen you really smile in months, Darwin. Hell, I haven’t seen you at all lately. Looks good. I missed it.”
“Thanks, Carrie.” The two approached the door. Our Hero held it open, like a gentleman, which resulted in an atypical curtsy from his old friend. Upon entering, Our Hero immediately recognized two of Liz’s friends, who scowled at him from across the restaurant. He smiled and waved at them and waited to be seated. He didn’t have to hear them to know what they were saying.
Carrie started to say something to them, but Our Hero cut her off: “it’s better to be thought crazy. She’ll tell everyone I am. The beauty is that people leave crazies alone.”
“You are crazy…” Carrie began, but again Our Hero interrupted.
“Shh! I’m trying to be delusional, too.”
Carrie laughed. The exceptionally pretty but inappropriately Geisha-garbed hostess walked up and apologized for the long wait. Our Hero and Carrie were soon seated and served Oolong Tea and Crab Rangoon, and proceeded to discuss The Future.
Dead Tree Version, 2nd Ed. Copyright ©2018 Ian McLeod
Reprinted with permission.