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P1030019My long essay, “What I Learned from a Cockfighter,” is now out in River Teeth 15.2*. And Nichole Reber reviews the issue, including some thoughtful words on my essay at The Review Review.

“Full of juxtapositions and subtle implications, the strands finally come together soothingly, pensively, as Bundy grapples with his entry into middle age…”

Read an excerpt from the essay below:

Hundreds of crowing cocks broadcast their territory in a never-ending loop of five notes. A concert of noise that will either drive you mad or set you smiling at nature’s harmonies. And the birds, feathers glistening like bourbon in a glass, black and red and orange, the colors of scandal and sin. They waltz as far as their tethers will allow, their beady bird eyes watching me sideways. I’m out of my element, a city kid in the country, and I step lightly.

*If you’d like to read the entire issue on your Kindle or otherwise, it’s only $3.99 at Amazon.

FrontWigOut-640x290Don’t talk here enough about music I see and like, but had a great time seeing Stephen Malkmus (former Pavement frontman) and the Jicks at Terminal West here in Atlanta. Malkmus pretty much colors within the lines of his own oeuvre, but that work has always been his and only his–original, low-fi rockers that mock the affectations of the grunge era that helped to spawn his first band and play with language and point of view (rarely his own).

His new album “Wig Out at Jagbags” is no different. Like many of his fans, he’s older, has kids, and works hard at his craft. Check out the clip from his recent show in Atlanta. Great show in a small new venue here. Even threw out a Pavement number (“Stereo”) for the nostalgia crowd. Thanks to vacantmoon for the clip.

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Illustrated by Max Currie

Kent dumped the contents of his hockey bag onto the floor: three T-shirts, one dress shirt, too small, a pair of sweats, two pairs of jeans, shorts, underwear and socks, all mostly dirty; Rushdie’s tattered and swollen Midnight’s Children; torn copies of the celebrity magazine Shukan Gendai; his dressing room star; the bottle of limited edition Kame no O sake and a half-empty bottle of cheap whiskey; seven packs of cigarettes; a pack of matches; a copper hash pipe; a pink Hello Kitty Zippo he lifted from Midori’s car; two mushy, brown bananas split open and mashed against the bottom of the bag; and one urn. He turned the clothes inside out. He  rummaged through the bag’s contents on the floor. He shook the hockey bag. He shook it again and again, until there it was, the miracle he’d hoped for: a plastic mini-baggie he’d either forgotten or never realized existed winking at him through the banana mush. The mini-baggie held a fingernail of shabu, the crystallized rock flattened into an icy powder. Kent knew two things. One: he should toss the baggie into the grimy toilet. And two: he wouldn’t. He wiped banana pulp from the baggie and shook it before him. A couple of drags would displace all of his aches and pains, clear his head, help him find Midori and pick up where they’d left off. Forget Hideo and Chieko. He’d do anything to feel better.

Kent went to the kitchen for tinfoil then returned to Midori’s room, stepping just outside the back door where he’d imagined a woman crying. He rolled the sheet of tinfoil into a thin tube. On another piece, folded in the middle to create a conduit in which to burn the powdered shabu until it became liquid, he tried to light the crystallized rock holding the Hello Kitty lighter underneath. But the air was gusty. He stepped back inside to light it again, the shabu bubbling up at him as it heated. With his tinfoil straw he inhaled then repeated the procedure three times until the shabu was gone. Within minutes his head cleared, his need for food and sleep vanished, and he didn’t care.

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Illustration by Max Currie

The shabu surged, pulled his head straight and tightened his neck, speed rushing through his bloodstream. His heart rate and blood pressure shot up, and with the second hit he felt increased focus, a familiar alertness and energy that had been absent. His nose itched and his fingertips tingled. He felt grand. And with thoughts of Midori waiting outside, he forgot about Ozman as another surge lifted his spirits and gave him an erection. Any appetite for food was erased. He’d be up all night and well into the next day.

Kent glared at the mirror, searching for someone he knew. He lowered his head, pulled his glasses off and smirked. He auditioned his once popular line for the mirror. “A-re?” A familiar face scratched with fear and fatigue returned the smirk. Midori had been kind to laugh when he so wrongly tried the line on her. Perhaps there was more kindness where that came from. He squeezed Kumi’s Saint Christopher medal around his neck. She’d always worn the medal—a gift from a childhood pen pal in Peru—despite protests from photographers, handlers, and her agent. It eventually became an iconographic piece of the Kumi brand. Young girls all over Japan, with no understanding of Catholicism or saints, wore the medal, which became known as the Seinto Shi—Saint C

With his jaw clenched and his heart racing, Kent returned to the bar and Midori, who smiled and took his hand as if she had done so a thousand times before.

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Illustration by Max Currie

The woman beside him was unremarkable save for layers of makeup over an acne scarred face and an amateurish attempt to dress Tokyo. The Japanese were fond of the expression: the nail that sticks up gets hammered down. Kent guessed this woman had been hammered back into place a few times. Her eyes were shadowed in amber, eyelids brushed with glitter. Her lips painted chocolate. Her hair straight and long, frosted with streaks of vanilla and brown, the tips rust colored. Platform shoes lifted her to five feet seven inches. She smoked menthols, lipstick staining the filter, a light chocolate frosting passed from mouth to cigarette and glass. The cigarette never left her fingers, a sixth digit on her hand, practiced at remaining in flight as she smoothed her hair down or dabbed at her mouth. She held her drink with the same hand, inhaling between sips of her Calpis and vodka, tapping her ashes to the floor. When she talked, she looked over Kent’s shoulder but never at him, as if ready for someone more promising to turn up in the Club Tamarindo.

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As the show’s host prepared to segue into a commercial, they reran another clip of The Strange Bonanza. On the television, a rail-thin goof in enormous black glasses screamed, RI-CHU-MAN-SAN! as Kent’s trademark loop played: a hip-hop mash-up highlighted with beatboxing and a chorus of soulful women singing: Baby, you’re a rich man! Kent didn’t remember just when he’d abandoned any sense of control over his career, but he guessed it might’ve been when that loop was created. TV Kent dropped his head, his Lennon glasses perched at the end of his narrow Roman nose, and smiled. The audience clapped and cheered on cue.

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Life Imitates Art: Boy, seven, kills brother while copying pro wrestling moves, the newspapers reported.

The doctors explained to Kent’s dazed parents that a direct blow to the chest directly over the heart at a particular time in the heart’s cycle can produce catastrophic consequences, something called commotio cordis, a form of ventricular fibrillation. The heart’s electrical activity becomes disordered and its lower chambers contract in a rapid, unsynchronized way, allowing little or no blood to be pumped. Collapse and sudden death can follow, which it did. Such cases are rare and always tragic, he told them, sorry he couldn’t do more. If only—

For weeks, seven-year-old Kent Richman, of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, had been famous, the story rippling across the country to cries of disgust, sparking debates about the effects of television violence on children. Kent was the example de jeur for Parents Against Violence on TV, who used his case in congressional hearings and in television ads, and even tried to coax his parents into joining them on nationwide tour to promote responsible television viewing. Kent had been big in America long before he was big in Japan.

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Illustration by Max Currie

She whispered in his ear, “I found the video, Kent, the one of you and Monique in our bed.”

Kent knew the video, the one that had set his fall in motion; it had gone viral for months after someone—he’d always thought it was Ozman—sent it to the online celebrity rag Star-Gazer. Before he met Kumi, Kent might have seen the sex tape as a career milestone. It was a milestone, of course, and briefly lifted his career, but not one he welcomed.

“And I’m the one who sent it to Star-Gazer. I did that. How’s that for a fresh start?” she said.

Then she was gone.

And as if a wave of nausea swept over Tokyo soundstages, leaving him deaf and dumb behind his studio console, unable to understand what he was expected to do there, Kent could no longer perform. Where Tokyo had once been an open playground the city felt claustrophobic. He couldn’t escape his own celebrity, fame built on scandal. Wherever he went he walked in Ozman’s shadow. No script could revive his smiles, no icy concoction of methamphetamines could prop up his spirits or make him believe again in what he did for a living.

Now he wanted it all back.

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