POETRY & PROSE
Five Minutes of Hell with Harley Race | Thomas Crone
Nipkow Disc (1883) | Greg Ott
Rural Rhetoric | L.A. Ramsey
Knees Knock | Brett Underwood
American History | Matthew Webber
Chris | Jennifer Woods
Sound of St. Louis | Kerry Zimmerman
SOUND Photos | Dana Smith, L.A. Ramsey, and Jane Linders
American History | by Matthew Webber
The visionaries met in American History. Gary Majewski resembled Robert Plant: golden-haired, effeminate, and fond of skinny jeans. His backpack was stuffed with overdue books: Salinger, Tolkien, Kerouac, King. Thanks to chance or luck or fate, he must’ve left his pen in Introduction to Spanish. He spun around to ask some kid, the student whose last name followed his alphabetically, “Sorry to do this. You got a pen or pencil?” The kid, Patrick Mathers, resembled Keith Richards: stringy-haired, emaciated, and fond of gaudy jewelry. Also of note, he smelled like Taco Bell. His shirt was an oversized U.S. Army uniform, which he later explained was one of his father’s from ‘Nam. Patrick never said, and Gary never asked, where Patrick’s father was living at the time, and why he wasn’t living in their little part of Missouri: the Boot Heel, the Boonies, the Bottom of America’s Asshole. Also, they never discussed Patrick’s mother.
Gary’s own father was an auto mechanic, who once beat Gary’s ass
with a wrench. His mother was a painter, a poet, and a pianist,
about whom strangers often told Gary, “No way! Really? I thought she
was your twin!” His mother, Roxanne, was sixteen years older than he
was. “Your life is an accident,” she told him when she was drunk.
When Gary met Patrick, on their first day as sophomores, Roxanne’s
age was the sum of the boys’.
Gary Majewski re-sent his invitation. “Psst. Hey, new kid. Loan
me a pencil.” As a postscript, he added, “You smell that? What is
that?” lines they recycled later that August, jamming in Gary’s
cramped, door-less bedroom, the first time they tried to compose a
hit single. Both of the boys knew three chords apiece; luckily or
fatefully, they each knew different chords. Two weeks later, in
early September, they finished that first attempt at a song. The
title they came up with was, “Smells Like Burritos.”
Despite who they looked like, according to Gary’s mom, who didn’t
know their lookalikes played in different bands, they cited Kurt
Cobain as their musical idol. However, in October, when they played
in Gary’s bedroom, they sounded like “a battle of the little one-man
bands.” At least that’s what they sounded like, according to
Roxanne, who leaned against the door-less frame and sipped from a
can of Busch. “You,” she said, with slurry speech, while pointing at
and lurching toward Patrick, who played lead, “have fingers just
like a pianist.”
The visionaries spoke on the first day of school. Gary spun
completely around, waiting for a pen, a pencil, a word. “Kid, you
hard of hearing or what? Yo, what’s the deal with all this
mystique?” Neither boy knew if the word choice was correct, but both
boys, if asked, might’ve said they liked its sound. “Nothing,” said
Patrick, while reaching into his backpack. Neither boy knew why Gary
was so persistent, almost as if his words were preordained. When
Patrick passed Gary a red ballpoint pen – “Sorry it’s red,” he said.
“It’s the only one I have.” – he knocked a stolen copy of Watchmen
to the floor, exposing the lyrics to “Smells Like Teen Spirit,”
which Patrick, in his German class, had scribbled into his notebook.
“Nirvana, huh?” said Gary, while reading and mouthing the lyrics.
“You wanna start a band or what?” Sometime after Halloween, they
named it American History.
“My son, Gary, adores Nirvana,” Roxanne told Patrick on a gray
day in December. Christmas lights in Gary’s room reflected in her
eyes. Her glass, this time, was full of Bud Light. Her hand, as
always, was full of colored pills. Her speech had passed from a slur
to a seduction. “And thanks for being such a positive influence. You
really do look like you’re famous, you know? Now let me see those
musical hands.” Anyone at all could’ve walked into the bedroom.
Gary, her son, was the one who walked in.
“Those who fail to learn will not pass,” said Mr. Coffey, a.k.a.,
Mr. Coffee Breath, whose stench, near the boys, on a blue day in
August, was stronger than Patrick’s Mexican breakfast. “History may
or may not repeat itself,” the teacher told the boys, while handing
them a syllabus titled, “Welcome to American History,” which Patrick
always thought would’ve made a killer album title, “but I hope you
don’t have to repeat this class.”
Patrick Mathers barely passed. In fact, he finished with a grade
of D-minus. Over the summer, he moved, yet again, to someplace close
to the Iowa border. He never played in another band. His guitar case
grew dusty, behind his bedroom door.
Gary Majewski, the new solo artist, did not repeat the class. In
fact, he didn't return after
Christmas. To Patrick, who inspired and discovered his body of work, the splatters on his door-less frame were red, inky notes.
Matthew Webber, author, songwriter, and recovering journalist, lived in Ferguson before moving to the Milwaukee area in 2005. As evidenced by this story, he's a big fan of music and lyrics, but not necessarily Music and Lyrics, which he hasn't seen as of this writing.