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The Exquisite Corpse - A Journal of Letters and Life
Edited by Andrei Codrescu
ec chair poetick kultur anti-amthropomorphism
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working class sweat
the corpse reads classics letters the book of revelations and epiphanies
the making and unmaking of person
Working Class Sweat & The DTs (best band of the oughts)

Two Stories
by Doren Robbins

And here are the Coward brothers, Scott, and James, driving aimlessly in their Mulkey Industrial Rag Delivery van, Scott merrily drinking beer but James moodily sober due to the hazardous interaction with his Herbal Prozac regimen.
     It was Internet Herbal Prozac which contained, "Tanna leaves, Bitterroot, Ginseng, Caffeine, ground mummy extract, Goyana, Valerian Root, Pregestrone, adrenechrome, laxatives, strychnine and fluoride," and James was using it to medicate himself for his depression.
     Aw fuck it.
     "Give me one of them beers." James said gloomily and drank without reflection.
     James's depression was based on the hopelessness of it all. He was born twenty years previously along with his fraternal twin Scott, without the usual defenses ordinary people had. He didn't believe in God because he knew there was no God, only a random series of events which in retrospect looked like some kind of half assed destiny. He had no illusions about anything at all, therefore he had no hopes or dreams, realizing as he did that everything was random chance and dumb luck. He saw the world not as a wonderful beautiful place, but as a chaotic random nightmare, a giant boot always poised over your head to come crashing down at the first sway of the Giant Pendulum.
     Scott did not share his view and it maddened James to see Scott believing in things like ghosts and government by republic.
     "Get off it," he'd snarl. "You better wise up Scott," he'd warn but Scott would laugh, LAUGH at him. James only laughed when something nasty happened to somebody else.
     Something shifted in the back of the truck. "Look out for Sir Clement, you dick!" James said to his erratically driving twin. Both jerked their necks and glanced into the back of the truck to see their seven-year-old dachshund Sir Clement Atlee twisting a bundle of rags violently back and forth in his mouth.
     "He's pissed." Scott said.
     "Maybe we should've fed him."
     "Fuck him. Asshole. Chewed up my good Nikes."
     They pulled the rag delivery truck into the apartment parking lot. The song playing on the tape player was "Erecta" by Tekmania and its marching stomping churchy litany of growls ceased abruptly as Scott turned off the car. The lack of heavy sound jolted James, who felt jerked down to earth like a balloon on a string in a tight little fist.
     The doors squeaked like all old truck doors do and the Coward brothers each made their way to the identical blocks of low rent apartments behind the mall. Scott was dressed in wide ugly elephant bell-bottom jeans with a red velvet shirt sporting oversize collar and cuffs. James was wearing skintight black rubber pants and a silvery shirt which made his hair gel liquefy with inner heat, jeopardizing his careful coif. The Coward brother's fastidiousness was greatly mocked at the Industrial Rag Company, but the Coward brothers didn't care. They were going to get their Industrial Techno Band off the ground any day now. And FUCK everyone who ever mocked them. They would shove it all up their asses and
     "I don't see Larry's bike." Scott said.
     They went into building 2 and made their way up to apartment 75 where they gave the secret knock. There was no answer, as usual, so they went in. Sir Clement could be heard barking furiously downstairs.
     The apartment they entered, number 75, was fetid and trash strewn and populated by three guys other than themselves who sat more or less in a circle, surrounded by scraps of paper, trash, and other accoutrements. They were also surrounded by at least ten gas cans and the room reeked of gasoline.
     Scott and James said nothing because they knew nothing was expected. James tossed the bundle of rags he brought up into a corner and took his place in the circle and lit a cigarette. This had started out to be just another rag drop until the Coward brothers figured out what these guys were using the rags for.
     The room was hazy with cigarette smoke. He grabbed an oily rag and a gas can and poured the gas all over the rag. Then he held the rag against his face and inhaled as deeply as possible. Each guy had his own way of huffing gas. One guy would pour it in a cup, like coffee and sniff and savor it. Another guy would literally snort it, his face perpetually red, and his nose taking on a rotten purple sheen, like bad fruit. Most guys though, like Scott and James, just used rags and huffed.
     When the rush drained from his head, James noticed Jim was next to him talking. Jim was their schizophrenic leader and it was his apartment that they used to huff gas in. He gesticulated wildly with his cigarette and James could see that Jim had been Dumpster diving behind Social Services again and was meticulously piecing together shredded documents because he believed in his schizophrenia that they all related to him.
     "I'll tell you one thing or two I'm not gonna spend my whole life running from the chalk. Chalk is a flaky thing like passion and ideas and I won't run from flaky things anymore without permission from Bob Cummings. It's all related the underground war polite war a war of politeness because nothing is as it seems everything is alive and thinking and watching and we walk around in a cloud and the cameras see everything and nothing is unspoken except in your mind. In the light of your mind. Your mind is the sky and the thoughts are lights like shooting stars. God is everywhere except when he's not. His limousine has eight wheels because the axles are too light to hold his golden robes."
Jim's eyes were pinned and the intensity of what he was saying was palatable. Encased in layers of gas fumes smoke curtains and closed windows Sir Clement's barking could be heard faintly like a ticking clock or a chirping cricket; a background noise in metonymic syncopation with the scene happening within.
     James handed the gas soaked rag to Larry who was slumped next to him. Larry took it wordlessly and inhaled, the waistband of his sweat pants heaving at his chest.
     "Where's you bike Larry?" James asked and watched while Larry lowered the rag. He was head rushing and James knew he couldn't answer him. Larry's eyes were fixed but unknowing and his face was turning a bright red. The odd thing was that he wasn't blinking. James waited until the red went down in his face and he blinked, once, twice as if in surprise.
     "It broke," he said to James sullenly.
     "Drag. You need a ride back?"
     "Hey man did you fuck that chick?" Scott asked lecherously, his face going from purple to yellow in milliseconds. "Wow that was a good rush."
     "Yes." Larry said tight-lipped. "I fucked her good."
     "You fuck yourself," Jim said intensely.
     Larry didn't like Jim's laser beam gaze. It reminded him of the stares of doctors from when he was little and then the stares of lawyers when he was not so little and robbing banks.
     The other guys in the room were in their own little worlds, each smoking like a chimney and waving gasoline soaked rags around bits of shredded paper and scotch tape.
     "What if you get one of them girl's pregnant?" James asked, lighting up a cigarette.
     "Can't happen," Larry boasted.
     "Why not?" Scott asked.
     "That's for me to know and you to find out." Larry smirked. He wasn't telling his secrets to anyone.
     "Let's go," Scott said looking at his watch. "We got two more deliveries."
     James stood up and handed Jim a gas soaked rag. Jim laid the rag over his face like a holy handkerchief, completely covering his features. Then he placed his cigarette in his lips, over the rag and puffed, inhaling the smoke through the gas soaked filter.
     "Can I still have a ride?" Larry demanded.
     "Yeah okay. You got a dollar for gas?" Scott demanded back.
     "No," Larry said, but he did have.
     "Then walk." James said.
     "Okay, I have a dollar." Larry admitted and gave Scott the ten-dollar bill he had gotten in the mail from his mother in Florida.
The clouds had come and the afternoon had gone gray while the boys were huffing gas. Scott and James walked to the delivery truck, gesturing for Larry to ride in the back, like a dog.
     "You ride in the back, like a dog.' Scott told him and Larry obeyed because he had no choice.
     "Where's your bike?" James asked him.
     "At the elementary school. I play basketball there."
     As the truck lurched toward the school, Larry hunched down in the back and tried not to be cold. His mind was pretty much blank except for the dull ache of needing to fuck something. Then he remembered his bike; his beloved bike and he felt a twinge in the pit of his stomach and a flash burn of anger. Then he remembered his humiliation last night, or had it only been a dream a horrible horrible dream. Yes, it had been a dream. He cheered up instantly. He felt warm in his chest. It hadn't really happened. Hadn't he dreamed things before that hadn't really happened? Like prison?
     Inside the truck's cab, Scott and James were in an animated dialogue.
     "I just don't think it's right to give him a ride."
     "What the fuck? It isn't our gas."
     "That's just it James. We could get our asses fired. For what?"
     "It's the right thing to do man. He's a retard. Consider it a good deed."
     "Dude, I don't need to make any good deeds, alright?"
     'Well at least we got him to agree to fight Sir Clement."
     "That should be good. We need to make some money though."
     "Well what about my ideas?"
     "Shit man I don't remember them. We were drunk."
     "Okay. There was the pussy head."
     "No you never told me that one. I would've remembered the name."
     "See a pussy head is a way to cure baldness. You take dead chicks and you transplant their bushes on bald guys."
     "Then they'd all have that little curly hair."
     "Well at least it would be hair."
     "How the fuck we supposed to make money on that dude?"
     "Well you like copyright it and shit."
     "What else you got?"
     "What about auto-erotic insurance. That's pretty self explanatory."
     "What would you cover?"
     "Well like shit like incompetence."
     "You mean incontinence?"
     "Yeah that's what I said."
     "Well dude there's always poetry."
James was silent for a moment. The truck chugged along in the cold, not quite cold enough to see your breath yet but cold enough to let you know that this was coming. It was on the way as we speak.
"Then we gotta do the poetry anthology. We can make so much money charging people to put their poems in it. Say thirty bucks a person. Make them order the books."
     "That shit's expensive to print though."
     "Dude we can do it ourselves with the computer and the Xerox machine at work. Alls we need is the poetry."
     Scott glanced backward at Larry who was siting n the bed, his face reddening in the wind.
     "Man, I don't like him."
     "Dude, he's a retard."
     " What if he tells someone we tried to rob him or rape him or some shit."
     "Dude whose he going to tell?"
     "The fuckin people in charge of retards!"
     "James, you're overreacting like shit Man. Think about it."
     "Think about what?"
     "Well he lives with his mom or some shit."
     "Yeah. So what?"
     "So we can rob them or rape them or something."
     James laughed.
     "Seriously." Scott said and James laughed again.
In the back of the truck Larry could smell fireplaces and pumpkins. It must be Halloween. He felt a pang of nostalgia but Larry didn't really know what nostalgia was. It was juts a pang, one of many and as he watched the Coward brothers talking in the cab. He felt comfortable in his outsiderness. His bike loomed into view, askew and akimbo and another pang replaced the one before it. Larry squinted into the cold wind and for a moment he was heroic. Until he realized that he was sitting in a fragrant corner of wiener dog shit.
As Scott swirled the truck impudently onto the grass of Buzz Aldrin Elementary, James turned his head to look back in the cab. He saw Larry looking at his hands in amazement and James immediately felt his heart and brain flood with panic.
     "SIR CLEMENT!" He gasped and Scott instantly knew what he was saying. Sir Clement was gone. He was nowhere. They had put Larry in the back without thinking that if the excitable wiener dog had been there he would've torn Larry apart. Instead Larry had survived and Sir Clement was gone.
     Scott slammed on the breaks, hurling Larry from the bed onto the soft well-tended grass of Buzz Aldrin Elementary, breaking his nose. Or at least bloodying it pretty damn good.
     "Sorry about that Dude." Scott said. But he didn't mean it. He was only scared Larry would sue him.
     Sir Clement Atlee was extremely annoyed and hungry and when he saw Scott and James go into the apartment building and he thought fuck this, I'm running away. Sir Clement was a highly intelligent animal, much more intelligent that anyone ever thought. He could reason and understand English and could even suss out the world with all its convolutions and troubling connotations.
     Sir Clement was sick and tired of Scott and James and had been for some time now. He was getting old, almost seven years old and Scott and James were just boys when they first became acquainted and Sir Clement still had vivid memories of their abuse. They made him so mean with their teasing that they decided to have him fight their friends. Sir Clement relished these battles because even though he was small and his legs were the size of cigar stubs the kids ran from him in fear of his frenzied barking, his total ever advancing fighting technique and the sharp sure nip of his jagged yellow teeth.
     Sir Clement especially liked fighting Larry. Larry was all gravy for Sir Clement. He owned him like Muhammad Ali owned Joe Frazier. He owned his mind and he owned his manhood. He could see in Larry's eyes, every time Scott and James gave him five dollars to fight that he was truly afraid of Sir Clement. Their battles were epic and usually well attended by a pack of young stoners and freaks. They often bet on the outcome with Sir Clement, of course, almost always being the favorite. Larry, who was, as they say, mildly retarded, only knew that he was getting five free dollars to fight a wiener dog, so he gamely tried his best, but honor was not on his agenda as much as the five bucks was and the illusion of friendship.
     Sir Clement was growing tired of his tedious life in the Coward household where everyone spoke to him in either a sickly high pitched voice or with sharp menacing commands often punctuated by kicks or smacks. Sir Clement was tired of watching the same old TV shows, listening to the same old arguments between Scott, James, and their bong smoking mother Elaine. There was a time when Sir Clement and Elaine were very close and their relationship crossed many intradimensional lines, but only Sir Clement grasped this. Elaine was the clueless slave to her own urges and she used blindly whatever was nearest. It ended between them when she blew her bong smoke in his face one too many times and he snapped at her nose. Fearing he would snap off something else, she banned him from her presence unless someone else was there with them. It was just the arrangement he wanted.
     Sir Clement was sick and tired of the cheap Safeway dog food they gave him made from pulverized compressed cow bones, cardboard and various ashes and powders. He killed cats when he could catch them and ate them whole and no one knew it. He even came in the house one time with cat blood all over his mouth and Elaine had taken him to the vet because she thought he had been hit by a car.
Here in the bed of the pick up truck Sir Clement was cold and he voiced his displeasure by barking loudly; raging at the kind of world where a wiener dog can't even get some decent food and a warm place to sleep on a cold day.
     He could see the silhouettes of the gas huffers upstairs and he knew that Scott and James would be in there for a while. This made Sir Clement's temper boil and he continued to voice his displeasure in most vociferous terms.     
     "What's wrong there little fellow?"
     The voice was gentle and unexpected and Sir Clement shot his tail between his legs in an uncharacteristic gesture. Sir Clement, like all dogs, was extremely aware of people's vibes and he knew when not to like a person. The person he was looking at now, with his ears down and his tail reflexively between his legs, exuded cheerful friendly good vibes and Sir Clement released his tail and wagged it cautiously back and forth. He did not understand why he went into such a self protective mode, usually used only for big dogs and guns, but it faded as he allowed the goodness of the man to wash all around him. He opened his mouth and let his tongue air a bit. He raised his eyebrows and wagged his tail a little more enthusiastically.
     "What a good boy. You cold in there?" The man, whose name was Vern, stroked Sir Clement gently and talked in a soothing voice. Vern was fast approaching fifty but his appearance was ageless because he sported an inordinately long and luxuriant beard. However, instead of the badass ZZ Top look he was undoubtedly going for, he more resembled an elfin gnome, with big pointed ears sticking out of his Beatlish bowl hairstyle and squinty, friendly eyes darting behind ineptly repaired silver framed glasses. He was small and short and wiry which only accentuated his elfishness. He untied Sir Clement and stroked him. Sir Clement was limp and grateful. The man's touch was powerful and Sir Clement was thrilled.
     Vern picked him up and lifted him to his face. He held Sir Clement just inches from his face smiling with his eyes. Sir Clement could smell the food in Vern's beard. He wanted to snap and bite Vern in the face but he couldn't understand why. Vern was nice. He was nice and Sir Clement liked him. Way better than he liked Scott and James. Vern looked into Sir Clement's eyes and said. "I know that you can understand me. I know it all. Do you want to come home with me?"
     Sir Clement nodded yes and Vern beamed. Putting Sir Clement in his shopping cart full of Dumpster treasures. He pushed the cart underneath the window of the gas huffers and out of the apartment building parking lot and back to his trailer. Sir Clement yipped happily and smiled at Vern who smiled back. Best of friends.
     Vern's old 1979 RV was parked in an empty K-Mart parking lot with a FOR SALE sign in the window. Vern had no intention of selling his home, but he could park it there for as long as he wanted without anyone hassling him. The Kmart had closed down ten years ago and except for an occasional bingo game, the place was as deserted as the woods. Of course the woods didn't have an interstate exchange right outside, but the anonymity of the parade of rushing cars led Vern to feel that he was practically invisible.
     And he was.
     He dwelled peaceably among the whizzing cars and dispirited Bingo players, Dumpster diving and cheerfully living out his version of Walden Pond in the parking lot of an abandoned Kmart on 25th Avenue.
     Sir Clement didn't care however, the trailer was snug and cozy, and he immediately made himself at home. He wagged his tail, something he hadn't done in ages and was thrilled with heart pounding when Vern smiled and picked him up, hugging him. It had been a long time since anyone had hugged Sir Clement, except Larry, and that was just when they were in a vicious bout and Sir Clement was about to beat his ass.
     Out of habit he nipped at Vern anyway because he thought that's just what you did but he didn't mean it he really LIKED Vern. Vern didn't take it personally either, he gently set Sir Clement down on his threadbare carpeted RV floor and chuckling to himself, and after wiping away a spot of blood, began his meticulous preparations for dinner.




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