Locust House Variations, A Fiction Column by Adam Gnade, “Shitstorm Tetralogy”

Part 1

On long nights sweating through a book deadline, I think of the Bob Seger song that goes, “Those drifter’s days are passed me now/I’ve got so much more to think about/Deadlines and commitments/What to leave in, what to leave out.”

I try to write my own version of that but also to say, “I was here. I existed once on this very spot. I had hopes and I had fears. I was real.”

I type for hours, and when I finish, I read it and it’s no good. It’s flat, lifeless like old cracked, sun-bleached plastic. It’s text on a screen and letters and punctuation on three sheets of paper I’ve printed out to edit. The words don’t jump off the page as if electrically charged like the books I love.

James Baldwin writes: “Music don’t begin like a song… Forget all that bullshit you hear. Music can get to BE a song, but it starts with a cry” and the words have so much truth and life they strum chords in me. They have a voice and that voice talks to you rather than lets itself be read.

Beckett writes: “Yesterday is not a milestone that has passed but a daystone on the beaten track of the years, and irremediably part of us, within us, heavy and dangerous” and I feel the weight, the trouble stirring.

Part 2

-Now a book-tour list-

-A show at Union Pool in Brooklyn with hundreds of people outside in the courtyard and at the bar. But in the room the bands play? No one’s watching but the other bands.

-Manhattan and the girl who comes to the merch table to tell me she just doesn’t get it. I ask her what she doesn’t get and she says, “Like your—your whole thing.” She waves her hand in a circle in front of my face. “I don’t get it. Is it supposed to be, like—good?”

-We have a day off on the anniversary of 9/11. The Upper East Side is all hard, cold light and wind. Parades. Cops. Construction. Caution tape flapping in the breeze.

-Then Baltimore in a basement and everyone’s high and deeply invested.

-Norfolk, Virginia, where a Navy guy comes up to me at the bar after my set to tell me I need to sing and not talk.

I’m tired and I tell him to go fuck himself.

Every time his mouth opens, I say it again. “Go fuck yourself.” “Go fuck yourself.” “Go fuck yourself.” He laughs and shakes his head and walks away.

After the Norfolk show, we swim in the Chesapeake Bay under a big butter-yellow moon with scars of light gray dents across its face.

I cut my chest on barnacles climbing out of the water onto a jetty and I’m drunk and happy and blood runs streaming down me and I feel like Odysseus.

Standing on the dark beach while the others swim, I tell one of my tourmates, “It always comes back to the Odyssey.”

He laughs and hands me a beer.

-Various Carolinas. Fall asleep in the van in one, wake up in the other. In each Carolina I play clumsy, terrible sets and people get up and leave in the middle of songs and I can’t blame them. I forget the words and stop songs before they’re done and apologize. I fumble chords and break a string three songs in or right before the end of the last song or as soon as I’ve sat down in my chair to play, and the string snaps and it startles me and I apologize apologize apologize.

-The singer of the band I’m opening for plays The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan over the van stereo while we drive and when Dylan sings, “Oh, what did you see my blue-eyed son?/and what did you see my darling young one” I think of Willy’s light blue eyes and his baby smile and I’m ripped apart and I want nothing more than to go home.

I look out the window.

Cottonfields passing.

Hazy, flashing light.

Summer’s end.

South Georgia.

Part 3

-A list of hopes—

-financial security, for starters. No more lying in bed at a million o’clock in the morning freaking out about how I’ll pay my way through life. Adding to that—money for lawyers. A larger house. A house with hallways as long as time and endless rooms and a castle wall unpassable to dreamkillers, Proud Boys, cops, robbers, mass shooters, random dumb assholes, Republican politicians, and any and all unlovable bastards.

Also—no geographical distance between myself and those I love. BIG also—immortality to whomever I want. (“Eternal life, granted to you for your sweet and loving heart,” I say like some fairy tale godmother with a shimmering wand and a triangular gown like a gold and silver Christmas tree.)

Another big one—cars that never break down. I mean, no mysterious engine lights. No flat tires. No worn-out brakes that need replacing or tiny computer chips that misfire and ruin you financially for the next 10,000 centuries or until everyone leaves Earth for Mars.

Also—glory. Days of glory, nights of it too. Mornings of glory. Glory evenings and afternoons. Midday glory. What is glory? You’ll know it when you see it. (And I hope you will. See it, I mean. “Eternal glory, granted to you for your sweet and loving heart,” and a tap of my godmother wand.)

These are my hopes, written as special request to the universe on this day, August, 25th, in the year 2022.

Part 4

-Now a list for rebuilding after the long and drawn-out shitstorm of isolation.

-Get your sense of humor back.

-Learn how to be around crowds again.

-Rebuild your courage after so many shootings.

-Goal—feel comfortable in the grocery store. I don’t know if I will ever feel comfortable in the grocery store again. I walk the aisles looking at cans of pinto beans and I map out the exits. If someone were to walk through these doors with a gun? Where will I go? Would I survive or is that beyond my control? I don’t want to die in a Target. I mean, I don’t want to die at all. Not now, not any time soon. I want to live forever but only if those I love get the same favor granted. The life/death pass. But then sometimes I think, “Well, like, y’know, science and technology are moving so fast. Maybe I could live forever. Maybe they could stick me in, like—I dunno, a machine or some weird shit or rewire my genes.” No. Someday? Maybe, but not today and not for me. When I die I will be dead. Everything that is me will be lost. Maybe that’s fine? Why is it so important to save me? Me, in a cast of billions. No, let me die. Let me be forgotten. It’s rough to think that one day all of us will be dead like everyone who came before. At least until technology solves death, the one thing we have in common is we will all die. But in a grocery store? Fuck no. I’m sick of walking out of the store with my bags, relieved there wasn’t a shooting and that I survived. Survived what? Grocery shopping. Oh my god.

Adam Gnade, author of The Internet Newspaper and Locust House