No plot summary can suggest the mesmerizing texture of this caustically hilarious, aggressively mordant, constantly surprising and terrifyingly fun summation of the death-by-choking-on-hubris of the American dream in the 21st Century.
An unconventional abstract experiment depicting the elusive search for meaning within a chaotic world on the verge of collapse, this challenge to readers presents a mosaic of nightmarish, post-modern prose in the form of a non-linear novel exploring the existential definition of life. Quickly unfolding into a wildly imaginative world of death metal, serial killers, absurd cultural references, and sketches involving cough syrup abuse, post-apocalyptic chaos, and self-fulfillment through drone warfare, the book explores a descent into chemical imbalance and sexual horror.
Rendered in several narrative forms, the 101 disconnected pieces within this three-act novel forms a psychedelic story arc spanning the journey of the narrator to find the meaning of life within a near-future filled with chaos and destruction, to mine the depths of his nostalgia and explore the far reaches of the imagination to find satiation and serenity that no amount of sex, drugs, money, power, fame, therapy, or consumer electronics could touch. Dodging from past to present to future, Konrath’s writing often goes meta and breaks the fourth wall, varying from between painfully honest personal narrative and grotesque dark fiction.
Atmospheres is as unnerving as it is enthralling, and is more disturbing than a cutthroat gang of genetically engineered Franz Kafka clones who’ve been spawned in petri dishes filled with PCP and fecal matter showing up at your door wearing Reagan masks and polyester leisure suits, wrestling in a wading pool filled with viscera and tapioca pudding.
ISBN: 978-0-9844223-8-8, 6×9″ 242 pages
Bio: Jon Konrath writes absurdist fiction, and has published ten books, including Rumored to Exist, The Earworm Inception, and Thunderbird. When he is not, he takes things apart, tries to play bass, and spends too much time on wikipedia reading about obsolete technology and farming methods of the 14th century. He can be found at http://rumored.com or on twitter at @jkonrath.
“This is my Vietnam,” he kept saying, to anyone who would listen. A wall of sludge and doom consumed his life, the sound of screaming children with their skin on fire and a million cattle shoved into the blades of a processing plant, butchered alive and ground into store-brand dog food. The soundtrack to his being was a single 74-minute track entitled “Smoke Big Dope And Sniff Glue And Kill Your Parents And Dismember The Corpses And Fuck Their Entrails (BT extended dance remix)” and was only available on 8-track, a limited edition of 66.6. “This is total fucking doom murder metal,” said the K-Tel late-night ad for the album, “and we take American Express! Fuck your dentist. Do it now!”
“Ice Cream! Motherfucking Ice Cream!” Every night, after his day job, he drove an old Mister Softee truck on the sidewalks, through front yards, the coolers filled with nothing but frost and freezer-burned dead flesh, bouncing opened and closed with each kid he ran over. The right-hand drive van tore apart lawns, snagged garden hoses, and plowed through flowerbeds. A loaded pistol, stolen from a policeman’s holster, sat duct-taped to the dash, ready for use. “Ice Cream! Jim Jones frozen Kool-Aid! Steal from your parents for eternal salvation! Drink the wine! Soon they’ll be here with flamethrowers!”
The horns on top of the truck blasted an unknown grind-gore album from a band called Bitch Fetus, as horrified parents pulled their kids off the streets and ran into their safe rooms to call their Blackwater home security emergency numbers and complain to their Congressmen. He knew you could rape at least two or three kids a week and get away with it, as long as you gave away enough free ice cream. Eventually, a sniper from a private security firm’s helicopter would put a bullet through his head at a hundred and fifty yards away, and the cops would tow the broken truck to the county impound lot, to later auction off to the highest bidder after they removed his corpse and hosed down some of the blood and melted fudgie bars. But that wouldn’t happen for two more years.
After each ice cream/pedophilia mission, he drank a bottle of bottom-shelf bourbon or rotgut fortified wine, broke out every window in his condemned bachelor pad with a rusted tire iron, then laid down on the train tracks behind the Jiffy Lube and waited for a Conrail freight train to end it all. He didn’t know, because of a combination of stupidity and the fifth of cheap booze, that it was a spur line to the factories in the industrial parkway, and Conrail didn’t run freights at night because of some kind of budget sequester required to buy their board members new sailboats. He’d wake up from his blackout drunk, his tattered clothes smeared with axle grease, gravel dust, and the wood pesticide the county sprayed on the tracks. A massive headache would throb through his skull, his liver trashed, his back and neck on fire from having his vertebrae twisted around a set of steel rails and wooden ties all night long.
Back at his house, he’d replace the windows with some new glass he stockpiled in his basement, wipe off the puke and shit, and then shower, shave, and descend into an endless shame spiral, vowing to never again go on a pederast sex tourism trip in an ice cream truck then butt-chug five bottles of Mad Dog before laying in an active rail corridor and praying for death. Then, almost presentable, albeit still half-drunk, he drove to his day job as a high school vice principal. He’d spend seven periods busting kids, using drug dogs to sniff out lockers for toothpick joints and NoDoz pills. Zero tolerance would get you a month of in-school suspension for a single baby aspirin. No hope in dope.
“Anthony Krokus is my favorite politician,” said the drug-addled surgeon, blindly shoving forceps into the opened abdomen of a cadaver on the floor of an N train from Queens. I needed food, not a Quincy fan fiction reenactment. “Keep on rotting in the free world,” he told me, yanking out intestines like a magician pulling an endless scarf from their sleeve. I wanted to ask him for directions to a Japanese fast food place with that fuck-you fish that’s poisonous four out of five times you eat it, but got distracted by a blind guy playing Carcass songs on the accordion. He somehow wired the Bugari Armando squeeze box to play through a Russian clone distortion pedal, which was absolute genius. “This one is a little ditty from back in the day called ‘Crepitating Bowel Erosion.’” Everyone in the car ignored him. I gave up and left the train for my usual default fast food option.
Food courts with multiple fast food restaurants are the lowest common denominator explanation for the fall of man, but I still liked fueling my dopamine deficiency with an A&W frosty mug, Long John Silver fries and, KFC tenders. A man in a Colonel Sanders white suit, covered in vomit and feces, bummed for change in front the KFC in the food court on the corner of 50th and 7th Ave. “I used to own this place! It was mine! Those Yum Food cocksuckers framed me! Eleven herbs and spices pieces of shit! Give me a dollar and I’ll tell you the secret recipe!”
A thug-looking worker with fake gold teeth and arms covered in Bambi tattoos jumped out of the restaurant, wielding a four-foot long bone that looked like it came from an elephant leg. He beat the Colonel with huge Prince Fielder bat-bone swings, screaming “you never worked here, motherfucker!” Blood gushed from the old man’s split head, shooting crimson all over the filthy white suit. A group of people circled the melee, throwing wedge potatoes and leftover coleslaw at the him, some of them placing side wagers and shouting various WWE wrestling catch phrases.
I went inside and checked out the new fried rhino meal. Three pieces: 278 Weight Watcher points (boneless/skinless, sauce extra, no sides). Why not. Two meals to go, and a Diet Coke, please. And don’t bother reheating it either; it’s going to be stone cold coagulated by the time I get back to Astoria on the train.
We stayed up past midnight, me and my writing buddy Eddie, gnawing re-nuked Colonel’s rhino and watching the late news on the snowy UHF channel, a special report about how a ring of criminals stole peoples’ seeing-eye dogs and assistance animals, then butchered them and sold the meat to halal food truck vendors. The apartment’s steam radiators hissed like the soundtrack to Eraserhead as we sat captive in the deep divots of a Salvation Army reject fake-leather couch, in a room surrounded by bootleg DVDs and stacks of books on blacksmithing and nineteenth-century medicine, recent finds I pulled from the curb outside some dead dude’s house.
“This story’s got to be sweeps week bullshit,” I said, while picking apart the remaining tendrils of flesh from a thigh bone. “Those German Shepherd police attack dogs are all muscle and sinew. There’s not a piece of meat on there that’s tender. It’d be like eating a leather bag shawarma.” The news report droids didn’t offer any more details, and went straight to a ten-minute commercial break, at which point I threw the TV out of the window and hit a Mexican landscaping crew pulling weeds from the planters they installed to keep away the shit-spraying armies of pigeons and strung-out heroin kiddies that roamed the neighborhood trying to steal anything not bolted down for their next fix.
I met Eddie Bulgar in a writing group held behind a car wash in Long Island City every Thursday, at one of those hole-in-the-wall restaurants that cab drivers used to go. This Armenian dude named Mourad cooked vats of chili on an electric hotplate in a broom closet in the back of the car wash. He’d boil up one of those big cast-iron kettles of five-alarm chili, and if you gave him a dollar, you could stick your hands into the pot and scoop out as much as you wanted into whatever bowl or cup you brought with you. Mourad set up a picnic bench next to where they waxed and detailed cars, and let us eat handfuls of chili and talk about our writing process.
Eddie lived in his mom’s basement, worked part-time for a doggie daycare place, and wrote civil war slash fiction. He was in the process of banging out a first draft of his epic novel, The Whore of Northern Aggression. He’d spend hours talking about gay sex scenarios involving slaves and Robert E. Lee, with two or three pit bulls tied up to the picnic table, all of them fighting and drooling and trying to get in Mourad’s chili. Eddie would only skim over my drafts, giving me vague feedback like, “It’s good, but work on it more.” But I got a lot of ideas from when we hung, sitting on the couch in my apartment and watching History Channel off my bootleg cable connection, back when it was still the Hitler Channel and not the Hillbilly Channel.
“I’ve got this dude chained to the furnace in my basement,” Mourad told me one night, as I stuck my hand into the chili, wrist deep, trying to scoop as many chunks of hamburger as possible, for the protein. “Me and the other guys from the car wash have been gang-raping him for hours, beating him with chamois cloths and empty cans of Turtle Wax, but I’m thinking about cutting his head off now. It just makes more sense, you know? I’m trying to find a Wal-Mart around here to buy a chainsaw, but I’m not having much luck. I think all the liberals around here have banned Wal-Mart from opening any stores. Maybe I’ll just use a butcher knife.”
Mourad later went missing, the kind of “missing” that usually happens to Armenians with organized crime ties. Eddie would make millions publishing Abe Lincoln, Dong Slayer. I caught a MRSA infection from the chili and spent nine months in a lockdown NIH lab where they reverse-engineered rare infections for weaponization by the DoD. I spent my days accomplishing no writing, watching Baywatch Nights marathons and doing rails of ground up Cipro pills while my hospital roommate died a slow death of dysentery from a Lollapalooza toilet stall. I’m still trying to write this damn book.
Her tattoos reminded me of Russian prison surgeries, Siberian attempts at carving away the evil spirits that caused chronic headaches and cancer in the gulags. The scars of a thousand suicide attempts lined her skin, thin white slices of daddy issues and attention-seeking behavior weaved through the ink canvas. It rocketed me down the mental tangent to my own teenaged years, and made me wonder how much a class-action pain-and-suffering lawsuit against Pink Floyd would net me. Note to self: call lawyer Monday; make Roger Waters pay.
I thought her email invited me over for a caning, and got excited about the prospects of the dark and mysterious woman from the record store beating me with a stick, like I was a convicted criminal in Singapore. But when I got to her duplex apartment out on the edge of campus, I found her stirring a giant cauldron of liquified rhubarb sauce on the stove, rows and rows of glass Ball jars everywhere. Canning. “I’m not one of those obsessive doomsday preppers,” she said. “I read on Tumblr that canning is going to be next year’s knitting, and I’m not even interested in having ten years of wax beans in my cellar. I just want to be able to tell people I was doing it before it was mainstream.”
Batch after batch of jar sterilization opened every pore in our skin, my body leaching toxins I’d absorbed in mid-1974. I tried to steer us toward the nearest Bukowski bar for a drink or ten, as she told me a story about one time when she fucked an entire rugby team for a sociology term paper in high school. Don’t judge, I thought. And drink plenty of water when you get home to flush out this crap. I’d exterminate the stagnant oils and residue from my dermis, but never from my brain.
We made it to the Rusty Nail, in time to watch a dozen small-faced Neanderthals circle-jerk it to a set of TVs tuned to the Special Olympics bobsledding match, all the vogue that year with the pseudo-hip and chronically obnoxious. “I’ve always wanted to teach dogs to drive trains,” she said, over the loud volume of the TV set. She stacked and restacked the empty shot glasses from the scores of drinks I bought her in hopes of anything and everything. “I heard about a guy who did it with an RV. I don’t know if he ever got it to work.” I knew the answer to the story, but didn’t have the heart to tell her. I didn’t want to lay more grief on a chick standing on the edge of the misery cliff. I also thought I had a decent chance of getting in her pants.
But I imagined gutting a basement apartment, rigging up projectors to an old PC, putting down some of those potty pads and a bowl of Milk Bones for positive reinforcement. “Microsoft had a train simulator game once,” I said. “Nothing but an on/off button, an unresponsive throttle, and four windows of slow-moving scenery.” It took longer to install than it did to play, with a EULA longer than the bible, and a lifetime of Msvcr71.dll is Missing or Not Found Error grief. You’d be driving a hundred-car load into the Elkhart switching yard, and it would blue-screen with some “PC LOAD LETTER” bullshit.
I tried buying her more libations, mimicking interest in her long conversation about Depeche Mode’s 101 concert at the Rose Bowl, how D.A. Pennebaker pulled the “I’m shooting a documentary and not a concert movie” shit and never captured a full video archive of the show. But the assholes watching the bobsled match at four in the morning started a riot involving teargas, the ultimate in chemical cock-blocking. I dodged the NYPD’s rubber bullet assault, and never got a second date out of her.
Ultrasonic modulation motherfuckers, toying with the mixtures of time and temperature. Fighting the fury, the viking abduction conspiracy. I eat the cheese from the pizza and fuck the rest, a warm rolled dough and tomato sauce womb to chafe my manhood, chunks of ham and pepperoni for your pleasure. The forgotten acupuncture needles in my forehead picked up interference from my Bluetooth keyboard as I typed forgotten cantos in pirate language (Somalian, not Captain Hook) and every line made me remember the time in fourth grade when Fat Mike shit his pants on the tilt-a-whirl and sprayed geysers of brown gold on the hillbilly county fair patrons. Solid.
Drink the blood, drink the blood, screamed the crazed shop teacher, severing his hands with the table saw and spraying down the fourth period industrial arts class with his arterial jism. “Vampires suck blood not cocks!” he yelled, right before collapsing from shock. They took up a collection and bought him a coffin at Target, with ironic sans-serif motivational slogans and a UPC code on the bottom. No assembly required. Biodegradable. Designed in Minnesota, manufactured in China. Before throwing in the dirt, a custodial worker named Boris carved the Slayer logo into the corpse’s arm and sprayed that pink industrial toilet cleaner in his eyes, just to make sure he was really dead.
Two men in front of me at Arby’s got in an endless argument about the use of the word “titular” versus “titulary.” They looked like the kind of guys that spent most of 1995 trying to convince women they were feminists because they owned a copy of the Reality Bites soundtrack and were the target demographic for Saab auto sales in the US before they went bankrupt. I flipped through one of those free newspapers filled mostly with ads for hookers and semi-legal weed clinics. This whorehouse named Ass City always ran full-page ads, with the slogan “199 tight assholes and one loose one,” and their name always reminded me of ascites, the gastroenterological term for an accumulation of fluid in the peritoneal cavity, which is usually caused by cirrhosis of the liver. Always an odd association for a house of ill repute specializing in anal sex, but my inner monologue tends to wander.
“What happens in Kabul stays in Kabul,” he said. He remembered the shop teacher incident as he stabbed the butcher knife into the courtroom bench, over and over, doing the stab-the-spaces-between-your-fingers-without-looking knife game as he stared straight at the judge, unflinching, fearless, not listening to the prosecutor attempting to ask him questions, like exactly why he stood on Dick Clark’s grave with a machete in each hand, screaming “47% OF THE CRANES IN THE WORLD ARE CURRENTLY IN DUBAI AND NOBODY CARES” over and over until the police tackled and arrested him on aggravated landscaping charges, now a class B felony in Los Angeles County after that incident when the paparazzi kept spraying Agent Orange on the trees outside of Angelina Jolie’s house to get a look at her ass-crack through a telephoto lens. The judge would give him ten years in pound-you-in-the-ass federal prison for the trumped-up charges, which was fine anyway, because hey, taco tuesday for free, and the library had laminated copies of the Lord of the Rings books, for your jerking pleasure.
The back tire popped on the hottest day of the year, at a desolate St. Petersburg downtown square where the asphalt roads installed by a prison chain gang felt spongy like a hot chocolate brownie. He pulled over the thump-thump-thumping rental car, and watched it sink into the black muck like a bowling ball into a pit of steamy quicksand. The city square looked like one of those classic American downtowns, abandoned back in the seventies by white flight, taken over by porno theaters, rub-and-tug massage parlors, and illegal gambling rooms. Some prick with a hard on for Robert Moses got a federal grant, skimmed off 20%, and went gonzo with yuppie gentrification, replacing the shooting galleries and nudie booths with organic cupcake bakeries and raw food vegan Thai restaurants. Good luck finding a car parts store within ten miles of this shit, he thought.
He jerked off three times a day, every day, for the two weeks of the Florida vacation. He’d wake up late every morning, and plan to drive to Orlando and see the NASA headquarters where they launched all of those moon rockets back in the day, but then said fuck it because it would be easier to drop a load and watch Judge Judy reruns until dinner. He’d crank the AC to its highest setting, until the hotel suite felt like the freezer section of a high-end grocery store, and wallow in his apathy and demotivation.
He only had a single porn video on his laptop, a low-res seventeen-second loop of a woman shoving a Sargento plastic-wrapped summer sausage in her butt, saying “you wanna see this spicy dick go up my ass?” over and over. After the first few days, he didn’t even associate the masturbatory action with a sexual act; he just felt he needed to do it as part of his daily routine. He’d knock one out, jump in the pool, then walk across the street to the ice cream stand inside of a big fake fiberglass cone, last painted when Sammy Davis still had two eyes. An apathetic teenager, hair over his eyes, an Iron Maiden shirt on under the ice cream joint’s uniform shirt, would scoop out some freezer-burned mint chocolate chip for him, drop it in a cup, and take his money. By the time he got back across the street, it would be a warm, thick bowl of goo, the cold gone like his ambition to do anything for the rest of the day, or his life.
And this is what he got for braving the outside world: a blown tire in the middle of nowhere. He walked the gentrified streets, and eventually found an old-school pharmacy, face-lifted to bring in a few twenty-somethings with cash to blow. They installed one of those hipster soda fountains from the SkyMall catalog that made ten-dollar hot fudge sundaes with artisanal syrup and lactose-free milk, and kept a glass case filled with gluten-free bakery items. Other than that, the store was filled with dusty shelves of antique medicine: leech jars, cupping equipment, raw cocaine chewing gum.
Inside the store, a Bill Burroughs lookalike worked the pharmacy counter, shooting straight morphine into his shriveled balls. “I don’t know what a telephone smells like, son,” he drawled, a New Orleans southern accent that slowed time and light waves. “Ergo freefall light wingggssssss….” He punched his testicles over and over with a BD AutoShield™ Duo Pen needle for subcutaneous insulin injection, hacked apart and recharged with opioids, inflating his sac with cool, luscious schedule-one M.
A little juvenile delinquent ran in the store, high on glue and Ritalin, dressed in an Albuquerque Isotopes jersey. “The Queen is dead!” he yelled. “The fucking Queen is dead! Anarchy! Anarchy!” He knocked over a BreakMate Coca-Cola machine, spilling golden premix syrup all over the floor. The Burroughs doppelgänger pulled out a rusty Winchester Model 1873 rifle from the Civil War, and cranked a .44-40 round square into the kid’s head, without hesitation. “Fuckin’ junkies,” he said. “Always stealing my oxygen. Now gimme that American Express card and let’s go fill that car tire with pure black tar heroin and get it driving again.”
I sat in the upstairs dining room of the double-decker Anaheim McDonald’s, writing her a long letter that I would never mail, about why I didn’t deserve a second chance, but still wanted to beg for one. Most of us have written this letter at least once; I’d written it five times that week. I considered a WordPerfect 5.1 mail merge template document, where I could fill in the name, date, and all the stupid stuff I did to derail the relationship, and quickly laser print copies on a nice bond paper. But the hand-writing of the manifesto is the real process, the start of the downward spiral. You’ve gotta do the work.
An obese mother changed her four-year-old’s diaper on the table a few booths down, the screaming kid shooting a geyser of shit and piss in the air, which the fat cow did not clean up after she left. Across the street, the Japanese air force flew surplus Mitsubishi Zero planes in kamikaze dive attacks into the Disneyland park, each one making a precision hit against the “It’s a Small World” ride, while the pilots listened to the new Beyonce single and screamed frantically in Japanese. I’d heard about the reason behind this on the news while searching for a traffic report that morning — something about a time wormhole, an argument between the Nippon Professional Baseball League and MLB — but traffic reports and radio news are completely useless these days, unless you’re into hour-long monologues at top volume about refinancing your home or investing in gold.
In a previous lifetime, I sat in the same McDonald’s, trying to decide if I should shit or get off the pot, metaphorically speaking, with a pseudo-relationship within quick driving distance in the region. Back then, I spent every iota of waking energy trying to fuck this Venezuelan clothing designer on the wrong coast. I’d call her every day on the company’s dime, trying to luck into some phone sex while I hid under my desk at the dot-com’s cube farm full of Ivy League flunkies all killing time until their stock options vested and they could cash out. Then the NASDAQ crashed, and a middle manager per hour jumped out of the window of the 27th-floor office, raining corpses onto the Times Square tourists trying to catch a glimpse of Carson Daly and not the terminal velocity body of a hipster underwater on their equity position. I never drove to Santa Monica on that Anaheim trip, then missed my window, much like those managers missed the TKTS booth on their 300-foot swan dive.
I still have an entire folder of pornographic fantasies I wrote her, dispatches emailed on a daily basis, a quarter-million words of detailed sucking and fucking and imagined rendezvous after rendezvous, the trysts starting during the cab ride from the airport and continuing for extended weekends of marathon carnal bodily fluid exchange. And of course, years after we were both married, she found me on a John Deere social networking site and told me that she rubbed one out to my stories nightly, and if I would have flown out to LAX, I would have been in like flint. By then she looked like a female Darth Vader under the helmet, on an iron lung with a piss bucket and a claw on a stick to reach the twelfth meal of the day from her hospital bed.
I finished my letter, stuffed it in the back of a Salvador Dali choose-your-own-adventure paperback, and went back to work on my McShit sandwich meal deal.