Andrew Madigan lives in the Hilton Hotel in Al Ain UAE, where he plays rugby, edits an Okinawa-based journal,
and works for the local government.
A Documentary of the Very Near Future
Hugh Brockden Kunstler was one of those dull, self-absorbed men who liked to flaunt his lack of commercial success, as if this
were a sign of genuine talent or depth. Or Art. Brock, that was what he liked to be called, never grew tired of talking about
himself or disparaging the great many people who were considered his superior. In other words, he was a writer. You know the
type. Unbearable and filthy, to a man.
Yes, man. The women aren't nearly so bad. They generally have the wit and self-possession to keep their dirty habits caged up
between the Acknowledgements and the Typeface Note. The scribbling men are a different breed, however. A gurgling stew of
insecurity, they plague our countryside like a swarm of incessantly shrieking cicadas. (Yes, that's a mixed metaphor. Abusio!
Catachresis! Oh well. I'm no writer, thank God.) When they aren't assigning their own "difficult" novels at state colleges in the
Middle West, leering at bright freshman girls perched in the front row, they're getting drunk in Lower East Side dives,
pathetically weeping in the laps of aging slatterns or on the acrylic shoulders of businessmen. Public humiliation. They seem to
crave it. You'd think their writing would be humiliation enough.
As he used to enjoy saying, Brock wrote literary fiction. Not that trash they sold at the supermarket, formulaic love stories for
disaffected housewives. In his compendious diary, which seems to annotate even the most ephemeral of his thoughts, Brock
discusses his work: "It was borne of the postmodern impulse, perhaps, yet it drives much deeper into this fragmented fictive
fray [note to self: reuse this phrase]. My oeuvre is, one might argue, post-postmodern, for it does exude the... cosmic sang
froid, undaunted at the horror of our post-nuclear age, in which there is no faith in the possibility of faith, in which there is no
spiritual quest, in which all of our desires are simulated and mass-produced, yet my writing takes this to the next level." It was
never quite clear what this "next level" entailed. Perhaps he was thinking of "Flay Mignon", his controversial story about a
dominatrix-cum-chef who beats Presbyterian ministers with a spatula and tenderizes meat with a cat-'-nine-tails. Who knows.
Never trust what a writer says about his own work. Or about anything else for that matter.
A review of Brock's only major work, Sole Food, a novella about technologically savvy extreme eaters, had this to say: "Kunstler
manages to convey the tedium of our virtual world through an ironic appropriation of the relentlessly boring minutia of everyday
life." Brock somehow managed to persuade himself that this was intentional.
Why all the food imagery? Maybe because Brock had been starving for so many years. This, sadly, was another sign of his
greatness, or so he said. True artists starve. They are unappreciated and they starve. They will never arrive at the appointed
hour, if they show up at all. They will say nasty things. They will lie. They groom erratically and, at dinner, they will be absent
when the check arrives. They have unusual facial hair and own but a single blazer, which they are likely to wear in combination
with just about anything, regardless of color, pattern or texture.
Speaking of attire, Brock did have one story without food in the title. "Dungaresque." It was about a man whose button-fly
jeans had a buttonhole that was too big, so the button kept slipping out. What a premise. So much comic potential, so many
embarrassing moments, so much room for tragedy. "The buttonhole had grown larger," he wrote, "when a bundle of threads,
whose function was to keep the hole snug, came loose. 'Look at the shape,' Emory thought, 'the almond-eyed beauty of my
buttonhole.' Indeed, it had the oversized, rather saggy look of a postpartum vagina." It's hard not to hate the man who wrote
that. Writers are always comparing things to other things, things which aren't at all like the first things. Rubbish.
I was there, a few years before his death, at that trendy place in the East Village where the wait staff sports genital piercings
and track marks, where they serve nothing but Thunderbird and veal sashimi in a mango confit. It all started when Jordan
Brackish, who makes radical documentaries about vegetarianism and male circumcision (you know, the one with the famous
poster, a bloody fish scaler on hospital sheets), suggested that Brock write a potboiler.
"Nothing would be easier," he'd claimed, "but I'll never sell out."
"You'll never sell, period," someone muttered. We tried to laugh discreetly and Brock pretended not to hear.
We don't know why he did it. Maybe it was to impress Jordan, though we always thought he was gay. Maybe it was to prove
something to himself. Maybe it was for the recognition. Maybe it was for the money. In any case, Brock sat down to write a juicy
bestseller. This was, I'd say, about four years ago, in the summer. He bought six reams of paper, a dozen notebooks, a case of
pens, a travel-sized coffee pot with stainless steel carafe/mug, five cartons of cigarettes (French, Gitanes), and an extra battery
pack for his laptop. He got in his car and drove north on I-95, took to the smaller roads, and pulled into the driveway of Yahoo,
the prestigious internet writer's colony where Willard Martini, the progenitor of cyberfunk, once famously coupled with Ruth
Cindy Hops under a conifer.
Brock begged and pleaded, but they wouldn't let him in so he drove to the nearest motor lodge and, with much bitterness,
began to write a steamy historical western homosexual romance, Gay Riders of the Purple Sage.
Where to begin? First, Brock sketched the narrative arc on a large piece of construction paper, which he then taped to the wall.
He drew a large red arching arrow, along which he plotted the exposition, dramatic conflict, crisis, climax and dénouement.
Dénouement. He liked saying that word. It made him feel so... continental. He smoked another Gitanes and considered the
literary merits of a beret.
Brock also made story boards, which he carefully arranged in a stolen Pet Milk carton beside the desk. He summarized each
scene on the shiny white side of the cardboard that comes with a new dress shirt. The dress shirt expenditure was inordinate,
perhaps, but Brock considered it an investment. He would soon be rich and famous.
The next step, before writing, was to make a series of index cards, each one inscribed with a rule, something to guide him
towards a marketable novel. "Likeable Characters", read the first one, which was followed by a series of equally simplistic slogans:
2. Dramatic, not Didactic.
3. Make Readers Empathize with the Protagonist and his Conflict
4. Action v. Subtext
5. No Learned References, Abstruse Themes, or Classical Allusions
6. Relate, don't Alienate (aka, heart v. head)
In this way, Brock was industrious for several days. Afterwards, when the writing began, things slowed down. He couldn't stick
to the rules, for one thing. His main character, Buff Bluestein, was loathsome even by anti-hero standards. When he wasn't
robbing the poor or insulting children, he was taunting the crippled and elderly. He also enjoyed kicking his mother (compared to
Bluestein, Mersault was a model son). According to Brock's diary, Bluestein was a symbol of the vulgarity, lawlessness and
sexual/racial integration of the frontier. He was, it seems, trying to deconstruct the mythic archetypes of the Old West. When
an editor told Brock that this had already been done, most notably by filmmaker Albert Rotman in McDougal and the Tramp, he
scoffed. "But it hasn't been done like this!" he screamed (meaning, I guess, in his post-postmodern style). "Thank God," the
critic mumbled quietly, shaking his head.
We all know what happened next. Brock couldn't write a potboiler. After a few chapters, he stopped. He had failed. He convinced
himself it was an act of integrity.
In the weeks and months that followed, Brock became obsessed with making money. Look at film, he told himself. Even if it
doesn't make big bucks at the box office, there's video, cable, network TV, airplane showings, foreign rights, Japanese TV,
product placement, merchandizing tie-ins, ad infinitum (yes, I know, but Brock did think using Latin phrases). Why can't I do
something like that?
That's when it hit him. The story he'd been chewing on for the past year or two - the satire, the one about the handicapped
orphan who overcomes adversity, rises to the top through hard work and sheer will, then is discovered to be a junkie racist, the
one about how our emotions are manipulated by superficial things like a pair of leg braces - was the perfect vehicle. What could
be more profoundly marketable than a satiric look at adversity? Everyone's tired of those weepy stories where you're supposed
to have unconditional love for the less fortunate, right? Brock had also stumbled upon the ideal narrative form: the Dramatic
Monologue. Everybody likes those.
The more Brock considered the idea, the more right it seemed. Product placement would be a cinch. Starbucks had recently
unveiled its new line of wheelchairs, braces, crutches and prostheses. We could work out a deal. What kid wouldn't want to play
with, say, the detachable leg of a scrofulous anti-hero. This novel is gold, baby! As Brock dreamed of success, he let his
imagination run wild. He figured it'd be no time before Winnie Harpo, the doyenne of American letters, begged to include
Spiritually Crippled in her book club. And he wouldn't stupidly decline, like that guy who wrote The Stipulations, Franz Jansen.
No, he'd take a huge bite out of success. That would make him a billionaire overnight, especially since Harpo had gobbled up
Barnes & Noble, Borders, The New York Times, Princeton University and Crown Books. Without the approval of her literary
Gestapo, you could hardly sell a pamphlet anymore.
When Brock finished Spiritually Crippled, he sent it off to The Manhattanite, one of the most well regarded literary magazines in
the world. They'll love it, he thought. Brock was sick of all the people who didn't "get" his writing. He didn't expect all the
dimwits in Ohio, or wherever, to understand his work, but when the right kind of people were unappreciative, that hurt. The
editor of Prairie Orchard Review, for example, said that his work-in-progress, Diehard: The Novelization, was "utter crap, in
every possible respect. No, no, no!" This genuinely bothered him. Writers have feelings too, Brock screamed aloud to himself.
We're not monsters! I'm not sure either of these assertions are true, or that Brock even believed them, but that's what he said.
These editors don't know the first thing about Literary Fiction, Brock thought to himself the next day (yes, he always thought
about his Craft in Capital Letters). He was still brooding over the POR rejection. They wouldn't recognize the Real Thing if it bit
them on the ass. What did S. Fritzgerald say? Write for the bus drivers of your own generation and the espresso vendors of the
next. What did he mean? Embrace the proletariat, that's what. So, before Brock sent off his dramatic monologue to The
Manhattanite, he tweaked it a bit. The hard-working cripple overcoming adversity and ultimately succumbing to vice became a
penniless commie transient wandering through the Dust Bowl looking for fellow travelers and good regional theater. The subtext
was the same, of course, which is all that really mattered to Brock. With serious writing, nothing truly important is on the
Short on money, Brock got a job with a temp agency while he waited for The Manhattanite to accept his work and, therefore, to
irrevocably change his life. He had no skills to speak of, though. He couldn't type, operate a fax, or use a computer. At the
assessment interview, Brock had laughed confidently:
"I can write," he told Mary, a secretary who administered the skills test and personnel questionnaire. "I am a wordsmith? What
more do you need?"
Although Mary had a number of things in mind, she didn't respond to this question. All she said was,"Please. Don't touch my
things." Brock had been fingering her knickknacks and framed pictures as if he were a buyer at an estate sale. Mary had always
considered writers a dubious lot, like everyone did, but she'd only observed them from a comfortable distance. Now that she
had one up close, she feared for her life.
Because he had no marketable skills, Brock was assigned to a vast telemarketing enterprise in Paramus. He had no idea how
undesirable such a job was, but the fancy headset convinced him that he'd been given a position of some importance. The wide
open space of the room, filled with so many discordant voices, made Brock think of the stock exchange floor. In his mind, he
was a burgeoning Captain of Industry.
In the mind of his supervisor, however, Brock was a menace. He refused to wear a tie or shave regularly. He was not prompt.
When a potential client was on the phone, Brock refused to dish out the spiel as scripted. I'm a writer, he figured. I can whip up
something much better. Yes, of course. Pretty soon, he wasn't addressing the sales pitch at all (he was ostensibly selling bulk
orders of magazines, seeds, light bulbs, pens and, now that they were collectible, issues of Lighthouse). What he did, instead,
was pitch his ideas for film and television scripts. Some of the people actually begged him to talk about Lighthouse and all things
Jehovah's Witness, anything but his writing.
Eventually, Brock was fired. He started drinking at some of the more dicey bars in the Bowery. They were cheap and filled with
"colorful characters". It was like research, he told himself. After a few weeks, however, he was banned from even the most
unruly basement dives. Probably because they're intellectually intimidated, he thought.
When Brock received a packet from The Manhattanite by registered mail, he was almost too excited to open it. Registered mail!
It must be an acceptance letter. As he tore open the envelope, he noticed a handwritten note, which was always a good sign:
Please do not submit any more of your work. Seriously. You might consider not writing again. Ever.
Regards, the Editor
Is this some type of joke? What's wrong with these people? They'd sent back the manuscript. Brock read from the opening
Johnnie Pinko was a theater-loving prole from the Midwest. He was a crippled orphan, too,
but he got over that. He scoured the Dust Bowl which, like the Gobi desert, was a vast empty
stretch of nothingness (and spiritual nothingness, too, the worst kind) looking for...
How could they reject this? It's gold, baby. Gold!
Brock went into a deep depression. He nearly gave it all up, in fact. He seriously considered throwing away the back-up copies of
his high school journals, but that would be madness. One day, scholars would need a complete edition of his works, juvenilia
and all. He also thought about getting a job, a real job, but that was only depression talking.
In the end, Brock wondered what all the fuss was about "selling out". He decided to become a prostitute, to sell his writing to
the highest bidder, no matter how insidious the content. Hollywood? Australian soap operas? Advertising? Writing "authentic"
dialogue for reality TV? Book jacket blurbs? In the end, he decided to embrace the real thing. Pornography. This is where his
career had always been heading, and he could finally admit it to himself.
Just one problem, his nom de plume. Brock wanted to keep his real name in reserve, for "serious writing", just in case it worked
out one day. (He was an eternal optimist.) Steve Adore? Johnson Biggs? Chap Hienie?
The man who started life as "Brock" began his new career with a letter to Rustler, a prominent men's weekly:
I'm an 83 year old writer who's lived a very quiet
life. Until now. Granted, I look almost identical
to actor Jon Donson and am hung quite nicely.
I've enjoyed reading your letters for many years
but never thought anything like this would
happen to me. Well, it did. I had what I thought
was a terminal case of writer's block, until Rosa
came along, all 6 feet of her. Long story short,
I entered her 7 times on the first night, a feat I
haven't been able to achieve since my 20s, and
I felt more inspired to write with each sexy
thrust. By the end, my manhood was seriously
chafed, like a wheat stalk, because of the powerful
friction. Tired though I was, I sat down at my
desk to begin writing again... - Max Rodman
That's right, legendary pornlettrist Max Rodman began life in obscurity. For years, he'd been hammering away at Literary Fiction
under his given name, Hugh Brockden Kunstler, but without success. Now it was all starting to happen.
But we know what happened next, sadly. Just six months after his first letter appeared in Rustler, at the peak of his talent,
Max Rodman was savagely murdered under mysterious circumstances. The forensics team is still removing balled up notebook
pages from his ears, throat, and other orifices. We still don't know who killed him. It could have been just about anyone. He had
so many enemies and so few admirers. He was a writer of Literary Fiction.