Johnny America

 

 


JOHNNY AMERICA

Is a little ’zine of fiction, humor, and other miscellany, published by the Moon Rabbit Drinking Club & Benevolence Society since 2003.

Photograph of Johnny America 10Photograph of Johnny America 10

Our latest zine is Johnny America # 10, a steal at three bucks from our online shop. And we have a new collection of fiction by Eli S. Evans that’ll knock your socks off: Various Stories About Specific Individuals in Particular Situations.

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Photograph of Johnny America 10Photograph of Johnny America 10

Johnny America has been bringing you fresh fiction and humor since 2003.

Our latest zine is Johnny America # 10.

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Per­son­al Reference

by

Illustration of two people at a table

Dear Hal­lan­ote,

Among the de­tri­tus, the falling leaves of sales pitch­es and char­i­ta­ble ap­peals and util­i­ty bills, like a bit of shiny gold foil at the top of a pile of rub­bish, your re­quest for a per­son­al ref­er­ence was at the top of my in­box. A name on the email sub­ject head­ing that I haven’t seen in years.

Bet­sy.

You have found me on a peace­ful morn­ing at the cof­fee shop en­joy­ing an al­mond crois­sant and a flat white, prepar­ing for yo­ga. Her name has made the calm need­ed, the mea­sured breath­ing, the con­cen­tra­tion impossible. 

Your name coun­ter­acts this. Hal­lan­ote is such a pleas­ing com­bi­na­tion of syl­la­bles, the buried words act­ing at the edge of my sub­con­scious, bleached of mean­ing and reengi­neered to pass through the blood brain bar­ri­er. The sooth­ing mur­mur of the com­mit­tee and high­ly paid con­sul­tants. A gray rock. Good work. I’m not paid to name things any­more. I imag­ine you are some­thing be­tween me­dia and tech. Maybe a work­flow tool, some­thing that claims to add thought­ful­ness to the process.

The pro­fes­sion­al part of the query is easy to dis­pense with. She will be per­fect­ly ad­e­quate for what­ev­er task is need­ed in your cor­po­rate hive. She will stand in the con­fer­ence room and eat birth­day cake with­out com­plaint. I’m sure that she meets what­ev­er qual­i­fi­ca­tions were post­ed. Whether you hire her or some­one else will de­pend on what­ev­er un­writ­ten, un­spo­ken goals and bi­as­es ex­ist at your com­pa­ny. She was beau­ti­ful when I knew her, but I am sure that won’t be a fac­tor. Not at an en­deav­or with the high-mind­ed name of Hallanote. 

You have al­so asked me to rate her char­ac­ter on a scale from 1 to 10, with ten be­ing the most re­li­able saint-like per­son in the world and one be­ing a nar­cis­sis­tic fabulist.

I haven’t worked in years. I’m no longer fa­mil­iar with the play­ers or the game. What I have man­aged to do with this time was to write a crown of son­nets. They are ter­ri­ble. One forced rhyme af­ter an­oth­er, but how many peo­ple right now, this mo­ment, among all the en­deav­ors of hu­mankind, how many are writ­ing a crown of son­nets? One, maybe, two? This is the unique perch from which you dis­turb me to pass judg­ment on my mem­o­ries of an­oth­er hu­man being. 

You should ask some­one else. Any­one else. Go to the con­ve­nience store next to her old job. Flash a pic­ture of her and ask the at­ten­dant if she were kind. And ef­fi­cient. Were her cards de­clined? That would be bet­ter in­for­ma­tion. Sure­ly, you wise and ab­stract­ly con­nect­ed ge­nius­es of the stern but warm ty­pog­ra­phy, the large ‘H’ in Hal­lan­ote like two pil­lars of sup­port to the low­er-case let­ters, know how lit­tle my words are worth. 

Per­haps some ba­sic Google search com­bined with an al­go­rithm will dis­count my words ap­pro­pri­ate­ly. Maybe there is very lit­tle at stake for her in my re­sponse. I imag­ine if she re­al­ly want­ed to do the work of Hal­lan­ote, she would have cho­sen a bet­ter per­son­al ref­er­ence. With­out con­text, you can’t know why I am such a wild­ly in­ap­pro­pri­ate choice for the bland com­ments that would re­as­sure a HR de­part­ment that they aren’t get­ting a de­spi­ca­ble boat rocker. 

She was the rea­son that I was let go and the sparked ru­mors from that fir­ing is the rea­son that I was un­able to find fur­ther em­ploy­ment in my field. Even that has turned out okay. I live a near idyl­lic ex­is­tence. Every day I wake when I please and walk down the hill on the hik­ing trail to the vil­lage that sits by the lake. They serve cof­fee at the book­store and the on­ly bar and grill in town looks out on­to the wa­ter. If I keep to my rou­tines and for­go the cap­i­tals of Eu­rope, I have enough mon­ey to die in my sleep twen­ty years from now. If my life now lacks va­ri­ety, it has made up for it in scenic ef­fi­cien­cy as I move against the back­drop of the piney hill and lake, switch­ing them just by spin­ning around. I’ve worked hard on this ver­sion of myself.

You have jumped to con­clu­sions. You think I was some kind of sex­u­al ag­gres­sor. Some­thing that the well-craft­ed poli­cies of Hal­lan­ote would have weed­ed out long ago. I was not the ogre in this sto­ry. That role be­longs to some­one else high­er up the lad­der than me. I was a vic­tim of jeal­ousy. I was fired to re­move an ob­sta­cle. Bet­sy was trou­bled by her re­la­tion­ship with this man. Who start­ed it and how ea­ger­ly it was en­tered in­to by both par­ties, how much the trap­pings of the of­fice added to his ap­peal, whether she was the first or one of many that he had plucked from the cu­bi­cles, I can on­ly spec­u­late about be­cause I have nev­er talked to him about his half of the equa­tion. You are on­ly ask­ing me to com­ment on her character. 

At hap­py hour, she com­plained about him. How she had to wait around for the least bit of at­ten­tion. How his wife had found out about an­oth­er af­fair and was watch­ing his every move. She com­plained and I wait­ed. I nod­ded and lis­tened with­out of­fer­ing judge­ment. Even­tu­al­ly, we found oth­er things to dis­cuss and that sliv­er of fake time, the hour be­tween work and home, grad­u­al­ly length­ened. I think with more time she might have fall­en in love with me. One night at her house, had it not been for an in­op­por­tune call from him, we would have been phys­i­cal. The call broke the mood. I tried not to over­hear the con­ver­sa­tion that she took be­hind the closed door of her bed­room, but I did hear my name a few times. I knew there would be trou­ble. She came out of her room with apolo­gies. At her door, she kissed me on my cheek. She dis­missed me and I walked down the hall­way and pushed the el­e­va­tor but­ton. While I was wait­ing, she came out again and kissed me for re­al. It was a lit­tle thing she gave me be­fore she gave the rest to him. 

A week lat­er. I dropped a five page love let­ter writ­ten in blank verse on Betsy’s desk, and thir­ty min­utes lat­er, I was called in­to the boss’s of­fice and fired. I could tell you about the pos­i­tive work eval­u­a­tions of the last decade. None of that mat­tered. And be­sides, every in­com­pe­tent per­son on the plan­et has a draw­er full of them. When I left the of­fice, se­cu­ri­ty joined me with a box and marched me to my cu­bi­cle. Phil and Louie stood so close to me that I could smell their com­pet­ing af­ter­shaves. I had played soft­ball with them and ate wings and drank beer with them in the am­ber glow of vic­to­ry. What­ev­er he told them that I did was ter­ri­ble. That wouldn’t let me touch my com­put­er again. No farewell email from me. 

Stand­ing on the side­walk with my box of of­fice knick-knacks at my feet, I called her and she didn’t pick up. I tried tex­ting her and I was blocked. I don’t know what she could have done but she was the on­ly oth­er per­son in the world that knew that my fir­ing wasn’t right. I want­ed her to say some­thing. I could un­der­stand if she need­ed the job, but a year lat­er she quit and what she did af­ter that, I have no idea. The boss was brought down a month lat­er by the messy end­ing of the pre­vi­ous of­fice af­fair. His wife for­ward­ed some tor­rid emails to the en­tire com­pa­ny. The af­fair was with the head of the HR de­part­ment and in­volved the shiny black con­fer­ence ta­ble in the large con­fer­ence room. I got all this from a guy in the mail­room who was sym­pa­thet­ic to me and for­ward­ed the emails. I blush when I think of the language.

I’m go­ing to re­cuse my­self from the char­ac­ter ques­tion oth­er than to say that she didn’t sleep with him to move her­self for­ward in the com­pa­ny. Do your own math to get the num­ber be­tween 1 and 10. I imag­ine that she did it out of bore­dom. Some­times in the clock­work of my per­fect re­peat­ing day, I get bored. I know that if cer­tain op­por­tu­ni­ties pre­sent­ed them­selves to me I would take ad­van­tage of them, just to make the next mo­ments more bear­able. At thir­ty, she had just start­ed to hear mor­tal­i­ty in the blood rush­ing by her ears. I don’t blame her for re­act­ing poor­ly, and in my book, bore­dom is an ad­e­quate ex­cuse for any­thing that doesn’t hurt some­one else. Of course, I, on the sur­face of things, was hurt. And the very thing that of­fend­ed the lothario nev­er hap­pened. It was very dry kin­dling that had burned me up. 

I’m not nos­tal­gic for the re­la­tion­ships that I have had. The think­ing I spend in the sock draw­er of the past is about the women that I could have slept with. The ones where both par­ties had made some ini­tial de­c­la­ra­tion, but fate or com­mon sense stopped the pro­ceed­ings. I still think of Bet­sy oc­ca­sion­al­ly. What’s new about this decade is that some­times I don’t think about any­body. Some­times the geese honk­ing above the lake and the sun­set break­ing in­to rip­ples is enough. Hal­lan­ote, you should ask me for a char­ac­ter ref­er­ence on this lake. You should ask me about the blue un­der the blue with the re­flect­ed clouds sail­ing through. Those are adapt­ed lines from the ninth son­net in my crown. 

I know that he’s not the sub­ject of this query, but I saw the boss once more at the bar and grill. You should hire him. Ex­cept for his trou­bling lack of bound­aries, he was good at his job. He was on a va­ca­tion with his fam­i­ly. He start­ed talk­ing to me at the bar, and I could tell that he had com­plete­ly for­got­ten that he had fired me. I won­der who he thought I was. He ex­pect­ed to have all the same claims up­on me. To pon­tif­i­cate his small­est mus­ings, as­sured of my attention. 

I asked him how Bet­sy was and then the mem­o­ries were up­on him like a cave full of dis­turbed bats. He looked back at the hol­i­day card fam­i­ly that he was hid­ing from at the bar, like they were a life raft. I like to think that at that mo­ment I was of­fer­ing his soul a chance at true sal­va­tion. Just the briefest, man­gled, stut­tered, un­der his breath apol­o­gy would have been enough. My ther­a­pist said this was a grandiose thought. I don’t know. Can you feel lit­tle and grandiose at the same time? My bet­ter self says hire her, Hal­lan­ote. Hire her for God sakes. You should run to her with the news that all is forgiven. 

Cor­dial­ly, cor­dial­ly, cordially.

Send.

Filed under Fiction on May 10th, 2024

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Mark Jacobs wrote:

I en­joyed this sto­ry a lot. Mark Jacobs

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Har­ry Wo­jnows­ki Gets His Wish

by

Illustration of a living room with a window, a padded chair, and a genie's lamp.

He’d lived in Man­hat­tan his en­tire life, and he still liked the place. It was the two mil­lion oth­er Man­hat­tan­ites Har­ry couldn’t stand any more. There were just too damn many peo­ple in the city. You couldn’t get away from them, even in your own apart­ment. You heard their ar­gu­ments through the walls, smelled their spices through the vents, suf­fered their in­tru­sions when they came to bor­row your corkscrew. Every­where. Al­ways. Peo­ple. He’d had enough of them.

Which is where the ge­nie lamp came in. It was a birth­day gift from his kooky aunt Mag­gie, un­doubt­ed­ly pur­chased cheap in some dingy pawn shop. He’d prompt­ly parked it on a clos­et shelf and for­got­ten about it.

Maybe that tar­nished old hunk of junk was the an­swer to his problem. 

Har­ry re­trieved the lamp from its shelf and set to rub­bing it. Al­most im­me­di­ate­ly, a cloud of smoke be­gan pour­ing from the spout, form­ing a cloud. The cloud ex­pand­ed un­til… poof

The “ge­nie” was dressed in a cheap suit and wore a gaudy gold ring on one pudgy fin­ger. He looked like a cross be­tween a gang­ster and a per­son­al in­jury lawyer.

“What can I do ya for, boss?” 

Har­ry was skep­ti­cal. “You re­al­ly a genie?”

“Ful­ly li­censed in New York and New Jer­sey. Name’s Lou.” The ge­nie held out his hand.

“Har­ry,” Har­ry said, shaking.

“So, what’ll it be Har­ry? You got two wishes.” 

“Shouldn’t it be three?”

“This is a New York sto­ry, Har­ry, not a fairy tale. Two wish­es, take ’em or leave ’em.”

“Can I spread them out at least? Make one wish now and one later?”

“That’s al­lowed. But you’re stuck with me un­til you make the sec­ond wish. I don’t go back in the lamp un­til then. And once I go back, I’m out­ta com­mis­sion for at least a hun­dred years.”

Har­ry con­sid­ered this. For his first wish, he de­sired to find him­self on a de­sert­ed is­land where he could en­joy some soli­tude, for a change. He’d pre­fer hav­ing the is­land all to him­self, but if it was a choice be­tween one ge­nie and two mil­lion Manhattanites….

“It’s a deal.” 

He told Lou about the de­sert­ed is­land. “It should come with ameni­ties like satel­lite TV, an end­less sup­ply of high-end scotch and pre­mi­um ice cream, and all the Lee Child nov­els.” He’d use his sec­ond wish when he was ready to re­turn from this par­adise, if ever.

Lou snapped his fin­gers. “Done.”

Har­ry looked around. Apart from a new book­case full of Lee Child nov­els, noth­ing had changed. “What about the island?”

“You’re on it. Manhattan’s an is­land, tech­ni­cal­ly. I just… mod­i­fied it.”

And that’s when Har­ry no­ticed it, a sound you nev­er, ever heard in Man­hat­tan— si­lence. He drew the blind to look down on an emp­ty side­walk, a street filled with stopped cars, a city bus idling at the curb with its doors open and no pas­sen­gers. Twi­light Zone stuff.

“You didn’t.” 

Lou shrugged. “Modifying’s eas­i­er than mak­ing. You learn that quick, in this business.”

Har­ry got a gleam in his eye. His crazy sum­mon-a-ge­nie idea had ac­tu­al­ly worked. The peo­ple were gone!

Lou con­tin­ued, “Satel­lite remote’s on the side ta­ble, ice cream in the freez­er, scotch in the liquor cab­i­net, Lee Child in the book­case. Now if you’ll ex­cuse me, I could use a nap.”

In min­utes Lou was asleep on the fu­ton, snor­ing like a buzz saw. Har­ry, mean­while, pro­ceed­ed to down a pint of pre­mi­um ice cream and sev­er­al shots of high-end scotch. Then, fly­ing high on liquor, sug­ar, and the thrill of be­ing alone, he de­scend­ed in­to Man­hat­tan, and pro­claimed it his.

Over the next sev­er­al weeks, Har­ry fell in­to a rou­tine. By day he roamed the city, swig­ging scotch and rev­el­ing in his alone­ness, in the free­dom to move, the abil­i­ty to take a breath with­out feel­ing like he was com­pet­ing with two mil­lion peo­ple for the same oxy­gen. Evenings, he re­turned home to feast on ice cream, ca­ble TV, Lee Child sto­ries, and more scotch. Ex­cept for the snor­ing, Lou pret­ty much left him alone. It tru­ly was par­adise on earth, for a while. But earth­ly par­adise is hard­ly the re­al thing. It’s an im­per­fect place, where even a guy who’d had enough of peo­ple can be­gin to miss them. Sure, Har­ry had his ameni­ties, and Lou for com­pa­ny, but they weren’t quite the same thing as two mil­lion neigh­bors. To his great sur­prise, Har­ry dis­cov­ered that Man­hat­tan was a hol­low and un­sat­is­fy­ing ver­sion of it­self, ab­sent its noisy, smelly, in­tru­sive mob. Har­ry de­cid­ed it was time to bring the peo­ple home. One evening, be­tween swigs of high-end scotch, he told Lou he’d made a decision.

“I’m red­dy use my sec’n wishlou.”

The ge­nie looked up from a Lee Child nov­el. “You’re drunk, Har­ry. As your ge­nie, I ad­vise you to wait un­til your mind is clear to make your wish. You can’t un­make a wish, so you need to be sure.”

“I’m to’ly sure.”

“We’ll dis­cuss it in the morn­ing when you’re sober.” Lou said good­night, then stretched out on the fu­ton and fell in­to a deep sleep.

Har­ry be­gan click­ing through the chan­nels, but he could hard­ly hear the TV over Lou’s snor­ing. “Damn I wish you’d qui’snorin,” he grumbled.

Lou, with his spe­cial ge­nie abil­i­ties, could de­tect a wish even in his sleep. He im­me­di­ate­ly stopped snor­ing, and his eyes sprang open. 

“Aw crap,” Har­ry said, re­al­iz­ing he’d screwed up. “I din’ mean that.”

“Sor­ry, Har­ry. Your fi­nal wish is grant­ed. Now it’s time for me to go. So long, boss.” Lou snapped his fin­gers, dis­ap­pear­ing in a puff of smoke just like the one he ar­rived in. 

Har­ry sighed, belched, then tipped back his bot­tle of high-end scotch, on­ly to dis­cov­er that it, too, was empty.

Filed under Fiction on April 26th, 2024

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Pol­i­tics

by

Illustration of a sheet pan with a sliver of chocolate cake left balanced on the blade of a knife.

Jen­nifer and John Jef­fer­son had two sons, Jared, ten, and James, eight. James, who pre­ferred Jim, was skilled at pro­vok­ing his broth­er who nev­er called him Jim. He called him “Jar-Head” and “Jor­rid,” and did things like putting wet wash­cloths in his bed and hid­ing vi­tal Lego pieces. To re­tal­i­ate, Jared would leave post-it notes for his broth­er with ques­tions like “How long did the Hun­dred Years War last?” and “In what state would you find In­di­ana Uni­ver­si­ty?” so he could cor­rect him. “Ac­tu­al­ly, it was a hun­dred and six­teen years.” “It’s in Penn­syl­va­nia. Look it up.” He called his lit­tle broth­er “Jim­be­cile” and “Ce­ment-Head.” Jared al­ways got per­fect grades; James didn’t. James was good at every kind of sport; Jared wasn’t. 

Jennifer’s method of deal­ing with her boys was sim­ple. The more worked-up they got, the calmer she be­came; the loud­er their voic­es, the soft­er she made hers. This worked well be­cause both boys adored her; and, though this was it­self at the root of their abra­sive ri­val­ry, nei­ther want­ed Jen­nifer to be mad at him, just at his brother.

One day, Jen­nifer baked a choco­late sheet cake. It was on the kitchen counter when the boys got home from school. They burst through the door ar­gu­ing about Ms. Pitt who had been Jared’s teacher two years be­fore and was now James’. Jared thought she was won­der­ful; James hat­ed her be­cause of how of­ten she com­pared him to his brainy broth­er. “Teacher’s pet!” he shout­ed with con­tempt. “Jim­be­cile!” Jared re­tort­ed smugly.

“Qui­et down, you two,” said Jen­nifer then gave each a long and sooth­ing hug.

The boys spot­ted the cake.

“Can I have some?” both said. Nei­ther said, “Can we have a piece?”

“It’s for dessert.”

“Aw, Mom,” whined James.

“Please?” begged James. “I’m famished.”

The boys looked at her plead­ing­ly with ex­trav­a­gant­ly wa­ter­ing mouths. “I have to run to the dry clean­ers,” said Jen­nifer, re­al­iz­ing that this wasn’t an an­swer. “Well, all right. You can each take a small piece off the side.” She laid a knife on the counter. “Be very care­ful with this.”

“I will,” said Jared. 

“Me, too,” Jim echoed. 

Bön voy­age, Ma­man,” said Jared, who was teach­ing him­self French.

Jared in­sist­ed on tak­ing the knife first on grounds of se­nior­i­ty. He cut a small slice off the left side of the cake and laid the knife down on the counter.

“Just a small piece, and be very care­ful with the knife,” he warned his brother.

Be care­ful with the knife,” James said in the falset­to he used to mock his bossy brother.

The cake was de­li­cious, moist, choco­laty in­side and on top.

James looked hard at the cake, the knife, and his brother.

“She didn’t ac­tu­al­ly say one piece.”

Jared, sur­prised by his brother’s as­tute­ness, con­sid­ered his point. “Or one time.”

“Right!”

So, each cut an­oth­er slice, one from the left, the oth­er from the right, big­ger ones this time.

Jared got the milk from the re­frig­er­a­tor. James went to the cup­board and took out two glasses.

They cut more slices, from each side. The mid­dle got nar­row­er, thin­ner, tinier, un­til scarce­ly even a sliv­er was left.

Filed under Fiction on March 29th, 2024

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