Under A Broken Street Lamp
Written by: Michael Essington and David Gurz
Essex Digital Media
Middle-age can be murder. The resiliency of youth has gone. The bones have become brittle. The blows seem to sink deeper–each one making the chances of mounting a spirited attack less likely. Only stubborn pride keeps you from sinking to the mat and curling up like a fetal pig.
Pride and the legs of that girl holding up the round card. Looking at those sexy scissors circling the ring between beatings helps. “If I don’t get KO’d, I just might have a chance at that.”
No chance at all, really. But middle-age will make a man cling to his delusions. They’re a cheap substitute for hope. Like a shrunken head necklace. Made out of fake shrunken heads.
Ah, hope. I remember rotary-dialed phones that were attached to a wall. Cigarette ads on TV. Drinking Schlitz beer through a triangle you punched in the can. Being able to go to 4th-grade shit-hammered drunk.
Don’t bother looking around Under A Broken Street Lamp for any. You won’t find it. This little chapbook is antiseptically free of anything even slightly resembling it. It is cover-to-cover bummer and pain. For a natural depressive like me, lifts my spirits. Some weird counter-effect. Like giving speed to a spaz calms them down. Doom Lit picks me up.
It just so happens, the authors, Michael Essington and David Gurz are middle-aged. Coincidence? Hardly. If you need a strong downer fix, find an older dealer. They always have the strongest, most bestial brands. Middle-aged Misery can tie Teen Angst to a bunk and rawhide it like the little bitch it is.
In “Walter,” Essington has the middle-aged protagonist, desperately flailing in mid-life crisis. A loveless marriage. Unresponsive children. A growing paunch. Thinning hair.
Eventually, Walter has enough. He decides to Carpe him some Diem. Begins banging out a twenty-something Scheherazade that works in his company’s mailroom. Winds up taking her to Paris. Spends the kid’s college fund. Alienates everyone he knows.
Bold action, indeed. Not for the timid, or those hindered by the fetters of conscience or reason. Bravo, I say.
Well, Walter finally nutted up and followed his bliss, and surprise, surprise, it destroys his family life. As if those two could’ve ever co-existed. Without giving away how it all ends for Walter, let’s just say that suicide plays a big part–which sometimes, especially when you’re in a relationship with a much younger woman, is about as good an ending as you can hope for.
So that’s good.
Dave Gurz’s contribution, Dead Calm, is a cheery little tale featuring an aging punk who just wants to be left alone to drink beer and read his Bukowski, and the sociopathic, serial-killing, junkie hooker that decides to become his sexy friend.
I don’t know why this one particularly raised the hairs on the back of my neck. I guess Gurz is a good writer because I could really picture this little vignette going down. And for some reason, in my imagination, at The Desert Sands Motel on Central Avenue in Albuquerque, N.M. Back in the winter of ’98.
Well, I don’t want to ruin this ending either, so like the kids today say, “spoiler alert,” because it’s not the hooker that gets her throat slit.
Sure, that’s a refreshing change, but not enough to qualify it as a happy ending. I mean, the dude really was minding his own business. She didn’t have to kill him. She could’ve taken his wallet. Given him crabs. Told him she was pregnant. Moved in and not paid any bills.
Okay. Maybe he did get off easy.
So that’s good.
Also, subterraneans and sub-cult crawlers should enjoy Dave’s Unter Kultur references. Ol’ Gurz can get as real and grimy as a bus station handshake. Always enjoy the Gurz.
Oh, and as an added bonus, there’s a poem by Essington, “Lazarus.” A delightful ditty. The subject climbs out on a ledge to jump, but, without giving away too much, thanks to a pigeon’s needy look, decides not to. The mastery here is that by the end of the poem, Essington leaves you subtly convinced that our man, made the wrong decision. Should’ve stomped the bird, and then taken the Nestea plunge.
Now that’s good writing.
I realize this sort of fare might not be for everyone. Unrelenting sadness and desperation might not be your cup of tea, and I know that sometimes I have to be in the right mood for suicide or murder.
Just keep in mind, that often, it’s the bitterest tonic that has the strongest kick. Something having to do with alkaloids, I don’t know, but Under A Broken Street Lamp packs a pretty decent punch in the guts, and fucks nicely with the head. What’s not to love about that?
Pick it up and give it a read. Feel the sorrow drip off your elbows and pool around your shoes in big black puddles of gloom. It’s a short-read chapbook. You can hit it quick. Then shit-can it. Along with the rest of the failure, you call your life.