JOHNNY AMERICA

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

N.B.: Until recently our web server was an IBM Selectric typewriter duct-taped to a rotary telephone, and in 2019 we’re working on re-freshing and re-coding the site. Please forgive any mess or temporary incompleteness and rest assured that our full fifteen-ish years of archives and oddities will be returning throughout the new year, alongside new posts.

Also: We have minor presences on Twitter and Facebook, if that's your bag.

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Trumble’s Brother

by Brian MIHOK

Henry Trumble carried around a little void. He kept it in his pocket with his keys and spare change. He almost never took it out until his mother’s death day. When she died he spent all day in his shed. Henry didn’t know his mother well. He didn’t spend time with her or feel that he should have. But when she died he told himself, something has changed. He went out to his shed and sorted the buckets of screws, bolts, washers, metal scraps he had inherited from an old man down the street when he had died. Henry hadn’t known what to do with all the rusting pieces but when his mother died he resigned to sort them, rid them of their rust, and sell them to the hardware shop in town.

Then he dropped a bucket of screws which sounded like heavy rain on an aluminum roof. He teared up. He tried to keep his weeping to sobs. After a few minutes he sat down and looked at the scattered screws, each above their own tiny shadow created by a dim bulb hanging from the ceiling. He took everything out of his pockets and set it down with all the screws. The void lay flat and a couple of screws accidentally fell in. He had never seen anything fall into the void but now that something had he thought he might keep his keys and spare change in a different pocket. He rolled a few more screws around and they fell in too. He rolled some more in. He dumped in the rest of the screws from the bucket. He dumped in the bucket. The void grew. It wouldn’t fit in his pocket anymore but it didn’t feel any heavier than when it was small and empty. When he lifted it up above his head to look at it in the light, it shrunk down. He placed it flat on the floor and dumped in more rusting pieces. He tried to dump in his hacksaw but it didn’t fit. A small gas can fit. Then the saw fit. Then a twenty-gallon drum of sand. Then his push-mower fit. Then his workbench fit, but he almost fell in when it caught his ankle. There was very little room left in the shed and things began falling in. A ladder. A shelving unit with tools on it. The shed started to shake a little so Henry opened the door and stepped out. He closed the door behind him and things quieted down.

The next morning he looked out the window and saw that the shed was still there. He told himself he would figure out what to do about it after the funeral. At one-thirty he walked down to the cemetery where his mother was to be buried. A few people were already there and he wondered if it looked bad that he wasn’t the first one at his own mother’s funeral. He stood near the other people to make room for those who might still arrive but nobody else came. In all there were six. Four were old and didn’t seem to notice anything or they noticed everything and ignored it all. Another was a younger man, tall with brown hair. Why would a young man be at my mother’s funeral? Henry thought. This man must be my brother. My mother must have understood her mistakes with us, her first family. She must have tried her hand at another using the knowledge of her mistakes with the first as guidelines for what not to do with the second. That’s very logical. This man is my brother. Many people must have brothers they don’t know about. The sixth person was the Reverend who looked down the entire time. Even when he shook Henry’s hand he nodded and looked toward the ground.

The coffin was closed and Henry was glad it was closed. Nobody wants to see a dead person he thought. He looked into the hole in the ground. It was black but Henry knew it would be brown with dirt if a light were shined down there. It takes a lot of energy to dig a hole like that he thought. People could do a lot with voids. They could put other things society didn’t want in voids. Like broken appliances, buildings, enemies. Old things. Dead things. People could be buried in voids.

“Stop,” Henry said quietly. “Stop everything,” he said. The Reverend looked up, finally. Henry realized he didn’t know what to say next. “Never mind,” he said.

Henry tried to think of a way to get his mother’s coffin and his dead mother to the shed. He knew once he got them there the shed would fall into the void but he thought this was a worthy sacrifice. He would have to trick the Reverend. “I need some time alone with her,” he thought to say. “How much?” the Reverend would ask. “Very likely three to five hours.” Henry factored in an hour or two to secure a truck and another couple to find one or two helpers. Coffins look heavy he thought. Another hour to get back to his house, unload it, and dump it into the void. Maybe my brother would help. He hasn’t taken his eyes off the coffin. He must have come to the same conclusion I have.

After the Reverend finished Henry asked him for some time with his mother. “Of course,” the Reverend said. “Take a moment. The men won’t start until you are ready.”

“The men?” Henry said. The Reverend looked down and nodded in the direction of three men with shovels who must have walked up during the ceremony. “Okay,” Henry said defeated. He bent down and touched the coffin and wondered if there was even anything inside.

He turned to his brother and said, “we’ll have to come back tonight.” His brother nodded and wiped a tear from his eye. Henry put a hand on his brother’s shoulder. The man leaned a little away. Everything gets lost to emotion, he thought, then walked back home.

Henry went to the shed and saw that some of the floorboards had fallen into the void. The shed was arumble and stayed that way until the night. He regretted not remembering to tell his brother to bring shovels since his had fallen into the void. He went to the hardware store in town and purchased two more. He took a last look into the void, the shed really rattling and creaking now, before making his way back to the cemetery.

Henry’s arraignment lasted only a few moments. It seemed everyone was on the same side. Even his lawyer. A united fight for justice when it came to grave robbing. The judge asked Henry to explain himself. Explain why a man would do such a thing. A man with no record. With nothing. Henry turned to his lawyer who was hard at work on a hangnail. “I expected my brother to show up,” Henry said.

“Good thing he has more sense than you, sir,” the judge said. Henry was found guilty and was sentenced, through a miracle of a precedent set over a hundred years ago, to ten years in jail. Henry’s lawyer made a kind of humming sound.

Henry went to jail.

Over the course of ten years Henry kept track of many things. He ate 10,943 meals, read 758 books, wrote 2,603 letters to his brother. He addressed the letters to a “Mr. Trumble – tall with brown hair.” Since Henry had blond hair and was rarely described as tall, he hoped the post office in town would make the connection. In the letters Henry wrote mostly of mundane things mostly as so much of life in jail is mundane. There are some ghastly moments too, but the ratio of mundane to ghastly leans heavily to the former. He wrote of the few friends he had made. His closest was Angus. Angus had accidentally poured poison into the drinking water of his enemy. He had been in jail for two years when Henry was sentenced. Angus talked a lot and Henry found most things Angus said to be calming. Henry had two other friends, one named James and the other called Wilson. Wilson was also named James though nobody called him that. James wasn’t very smart but he cared a great deal for his family and Henry liked that. Wilson was a large man full of muscle who protected Henry, Angus, and James from the ghastly times.

Henry would have gotten out early on good behavior if it wasn’t for the time when Wilson was sick and couldn’t protect them. A man stole Henry’s food and attempted to make a habit of it. Angus accidentally poisoned the man but Henry was blamed. Henry wouldn’t allow Angus to admit his mistake and though he wasn’t charged with the crime, when it came time to evaluate Henry’s behavior, the poisoned man was a blotch on his record.

On his last day, Henry ate a breakfast of cold oatmeal and an overripe peach. He was given the belongings which had been taken away from him his first day. He took a bus back to town and walked four of the twelve blocks to his home. A strange glow floated above the town like a city in the distance. The boulevard inclined just as he remembered. From the Polish church Henry toward what should have been the older half of town. Only it wasn’t. Instead the older half of town had fallen into the void. A crumbling of property. A crumbling of roads. Electricity sparked for miles around. Broken power lines tugged wires back down the boulevard. A newspaper fluttered down and Henry stepped on it. The headline read “Interstate Re-Routed.” His house, his street, his neighborhood, the cemetery, his mother, all pulled in. My brother is all I have left, he thought.

An army truck pulled up behind him and a woman got out.

“How did you get past the checkpoint?” She wore army boots. Henry stood there quiet. “Please come with me. We have to get you to a safe location.” Inside the truck she ordered the driver to pull around. “Your home is probably gone if it was down there.”

“What’s happening?” Henry said.

“We’re trying to figure that out. The Army Corps of Engineers, NASA, the Pentagon, even SETI all have teams investigating. Don’t worry. We’ll figure it out.”

“Why are people in town still here?”

“It’s best not to panic people. The thing is growing reliably but slowly. We move people only when it becomes necessary.”

“I need to find my brother,” Henry said.

Henry felt less sure about certain things after being in jail so long. He spoke less. His voice was quieter. He acted less confident though he wasn’t less confident. He was hungry, which felt strange because in jail he was never hungry. Now that his void was so large and seemed to be causing so much damage he felt responsible. More responsible than he had ever felt before.

“I’ve got to see the mayor,” he said.

“Why? Friend of yours?” she said. Henry thought about it.

“He’s my best friend. When can I see him?”

“City Hall is right there. It’s a free country.” Henry hopped out of the truck. He went in and asked to see the mayor. The man at the desk said the mayor was in a meeting and that her schedule was full.

“If I were you,” the man said, “I’d get out of Dodge like others are doing. The government is coming through here and clearing out the whole town.”

“When?” Henry said.

“Anytime now. Tomorrow. Today. Now.”

“Do you know how I could find my brother?”

“Try the phone book.” The man sat back down like the conversation was over.

“That’s my void out there,” Henry said.

“Pardon me?”

“The thing out there. Swallowing everything. It’s mine.”

“Of course it is. Go right along and claim it then. Thank you for stopping by City Hall today.”

Of course, Henry was made a hero. Even nationally people knew his name for a week or two. A popular musician wrote a song inspired by Henry’s heroism, though for the sake of the song “Henry” was changed to “Harry” to rhyme with “carry,” “tally,” and to complete the slant rhyme with “sorry.” Since by the time Henry saved the town most journalists had evacuated, the reportage of what exactly happened was inconsistent. The kernel was that Henry, coming off his years of rehabilitation, having returned home to a town under threat, a town he loved, felt it his civic duty to intervene while so many others fled. This wasn’t quite right, though it was right enough. He did feel a responsibility to stop the void, but not out of a sense of duty to his fellow man. He did it because one of his few pet peeves was when someone didn’t clean up after themselves. This only grew in jail, a place where everyone is responsible for his own little plot. His modest space and belongings. Aside from the ghastly times, Henry did not altogether dislike jail. It was a mostly neat and tidy place. Everything orderly and satisfying.

So when he was able to get to “the front,” as he heard the army calling it, he did his bidding out of principle and pride. Nobody had thought to make physical contact with the void. The staggering damage it caused was reason enough to stay away. The army had even fired a missile into it, which of course only made it bigger. Henry dug both hands beneath the void. He made sure to stand on a sturdy slab of concrete, something to withstand the pressure until he could get a handle on it. He pulled up and the void lifted high. “A Physical Miracle” one headline would read. He lifted the sturdy one-piece thing and it shrunk down, its sides rushing towards his hands like marbles down a slope. In a moment the void was solely his again. The army had him quarantined just in case the but tests showed nothing and for a little while Henry felt the comfort of confinement again. He was released without the army discovering the quarter-sized void on his person.

The ordeal left much of the town a fine gravel, flat, barren. Henry was homeless and wandered the remaining streets. He ate and bathed at a soup kitchen and shelter. He slept outside as it never dipped below freezing at this latitude. He welcomed the hours of solitude though he often missed Angus, James, and Wilson. When nobody was around he took the void out of his pocket and fed it some scraps, dust, bolts, batteries, anything lying around. When it grew palm-sized he tilted it up and it shrunk back down. After a few years on the street Henry took to placing the void above his head, on a shelf or a ledge, and as in prayer spoke to it to grant him things. What he asked for was modest, that the shelter remain open, the weather keep warm, the streets clean and policed. He had few run-ins with the police. All these things the void granted him. When he took it back down and stuffed it in his pocket he did so with a slight deception. There was one wish he had yet to ask for: that his brother be well and to see him again and that they might become friends. He was keeping this wish to himself. In this way he was lying to the void through omission, something a god is often displeased with. But Henry had a sneaking suspicion that the void was no god, though it did deserve a certain level of respect and honor. Just the same he kept this one important wish for a time when there was nothing to do. When everything had aligned. Maybe a sunny day. Maybe the last day ever.

Illustration by John LEE.

Filed under Fiction on January 25th, 2019

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The Minus World

by Jay HOLLEY

Maria’s hair flitted across Luz’s sunburned cheek as they whispered conspiratorially on the deck of the fiberglass sloop. A steady westward wind whistled through birch trees, gained speed over the lake, then mingled the sisters’ hairs into an ephemeral brown burlap before streaming on to Georgia. Maria craned her neck to peer down at their husbands over the bow of the S.S. Saint Vincent Ferrer, so named by their plumber father for his trade’s patron saint. These husbands, Gene and Francis, were rigging up a preposterous slingshot which they planned to use to rocket cans of beer over vast stretches of cloudy blue water. Canned beer floats, for a while, Gene had told them. The women had been discussing skinny-dipping for the better part of an hour — Luz a strong advocate, Maria staunchly opposed. Maria shook her head left to right. Luz nodded more emphatically up, down, up, down.

Again, Maria protested. “I’ll concede the point but it’s, it’s just not proper.”

“Frank’s my husband,” Luz stated with the rolling voice of an orator, “and I officially grant you permission to show him your scandalous tits.”

“Please don’t, don’t,” Maria implored as Luz gripped an aluminum stanchion and pulled herself up.

Luz turned. “The clock’s ticking and our world’s finished in like three hours, little sister. I’m going to skinny-dip one last time before the fireball sweeps things clean and I hope you’ve got the nerve to join me.”

Maria took a deep breath, then nodded.

Luz unceremoniously stripped off her green bikini, stepped back for a running start, and cannonballed into the cool lake. The splash diverted Gene and Francis’s attention from their slingshot. They noted Luz’s absence, and Maria looking worriedly at the momentary dimple in the water’s surface. “Luz’s gone skinny-dipping,” she told them, “I’m sorry.” The men looked at each other; both shrugged their shoulders.

Luz resurfaced off the starboard side of the boat. The men and Maria observed as her face broke through the water, then her chest, then her steadily kicking legs. She floated on her back, grinning up at her audience.

“My wife’s skinny-dipping, Gene, and she is a fiery and fine-looking woman,” Francis observed.

“So she is, Frank,” Gene agreed quietly, then, noting that Maria was privy to their conversation, continued with added volume, “just like my wife, who shouldn’t be so modest and should join her sister for one last swim.” Gene smiled at Maria, whose face flushed red as she turned away from the men.

Gene returned to the project at hand. “Back to work?”

“Let’s get this tubing sorted, then I think we’ll be ready for a test launch.”

Francis switched on the radio and began finessing the slingshot’s tendons as Gene scribbled projectile trajectories on a paper towel. The announcer reminded them that he’d be keeping them company until the fireball sped him off the air; three hours until the shock wave would speed its way around the world to dear old South Carolina. Every time she heard the countdown, it hit Maria like a brick to the head. She stood akimbo, watching her impetuous sister glide through the peaceful water and considering the knots holding her own black bikini.

The brothers-in-law half-listened to the radio, contentedly finishing their beer-slinging contraption, shaking hands when they were satisfied.

“It is ready,” assessed Gene.

“It is ready, and it is good,” added Francis. At some unseen moment after their initial six-pack of test launches but before completion of final adjustments, Maria had joined her sister naked in the lake. Neither of the men had noticed when she’d lowered herself into the water, but they noticed now. Their wives were treading water a good twenty yards out, waving at them to send two cans of ammunition their way. The men launched eight, then swam out to meet them.

Maria gave Gene a kiss, clutched his hand, took a breath, then dove away beneath the surface as deep and fast as she could muster. When she touched bottom she righted herself and looked at her loved ones paddling above. Luz pushed her face into the water for a moment and waved one last time. It’d be happening any instant now, she knew, and Maria wanted to hold on to every millisecond of life she could.

She felt the shock wave shake the water and watched the three of them fly away. The blue sky turned ashen. It’s not fair, she told herself as the lake began evaporating away from her.

Illustration by John LEE.

Filed under Fiction on January 11th, 2019

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Santo D’Alessandro Tags Himself

by Eugenio VOLPE

It’s 2am and I’m creeping on my own Facebook profile. I click through my various albums and tagged photographs. I judge myself. I check myself out. I like how I look. I like how others see me. I look fantastic with a different woman under each arm — the wives of close friends, my cousin Sofia, even my mother-in-law. It’s obvious that I have a lot to offer the world, much more than a photogenic smile and full head of wavy hair (I won’t even mention my broad shoulders). These photographs hasten a secret urge of mine. I want to impregnate a different woman on all five continents. I am a realist however. I would relinquish Antarctica and settle on Asia, Europe, and the two Americas.

On Facebook, I appear to live a terrific life, hipster theme parties and trendy art openings. More often than not, I’m the best looking guy in the frame. I can’t say the same for my wife. She’s always in the top three at least. She’s just a quality person, the coolest woman I’ve ever met, as evident by the pictures of me pulling into huge tubes at Puerto Escondido and La Nord. I’ve surfed some of the best waves that Europe and both Americas have to offer. My wife was always right there with me, taking photographs from the beach by day and denying me intercourse by night on account of TD and/or jetlag. Hotel mattresses gross her out. We’ve never been to Asia.

After tallying the ratio of my being the handsomest amongst three hundred and forty-seven tagged photographs, I arrive at the following proportion: I am the best-looking in all but three of them. In two of the photographs, I am outdone by the same Calvin Klein model posing as the live subject of some masturbatory conceptual piece at the Gagosian. In the third photograph, I am posed next to David Bowie on the corners of Lexington and 50th. Not sure if he’s actually better looking than me, but he’s David Bowie, one of the coolest men in the world, proven by his willingness to stop and take a picture with me, Santo D’Alessandro, a minor video artist. In regards to beauty, a tie always goes to the gracious superstar. Regardless, I am more than happy with the ratio. I live in New York, which isn’t Los Angeles in terms of gorgeous people, but a far cry from some Midwestern suburb. My tragic flaw is that I’m better-looking than my art. Is there a worse shortcoming?

I log out off Facebook to avoid over-thinking the question. I get up from the couch and shuffle towards the bedroom. Halfway there, I pause in front of the window to check on my plastic shopping bag. It’s still there, glowing under the streetlight. It’s been stuck in the same dogwood branch since Groundhog Day. Today is the first of spring. Every morning at exactly 7am, I shoot the plastic bag with my hi-def camcorder for ten seconds. I’ve been doing this for a month, rain or shine. When the bag finally disappears, I’m going to splice the videos together into a series of three-second fades, from bare branches to buds, to blossoms, to leaves, to foliage, and then back to bare branches. Hopefully the bag will stay put for that long. It’s a good twenty feet off the ground, safe from environmentalists and young NBA hopefuls trying to test their vertical leap. It would be something if I could capture the bag through the seasons. It would really be something if I captured the actual moment it blows free. That would make for something lovelier than even my face.

In the bedroom, my wife is sitting up against the headboard typing on her laptop. It’s a novel about me. In it, I’m average-looking and single. She’s died and left me with two daughters. We’re trying to cope without her. I begin dating an attractive gallery owner and my career finally blossoms only now I’m an insufferable asshole and alcoholic. I drown while surfing Rockaway Beach during a nor’easter. Our daughters live happily ever after as a result of my posthumous fortune.

My wife’s prose is considerably prettier than her face, and therefore might be good enough for publication, which would theoretically make it better looking than my face. She’s the true artist, and I somewhat resent her for it. I pray that her book never grows a spine. Not sure I could live with myself.

She doesn’t look up from the screen as I slip under the blankets. I lie facing the wall so the computer glare won’t keep me awake. I reach behind myself and give her a goodnight pat on the thigh. She’s too engrossed for a response.

I have failed her so many times, in so many ways, that she has come to ask only one thing of me. No farting in the bedroom. It’s a shabby bedroom. Our bed rests on cinderblocks. Our dresser drawers are missing knobs. There are piles of books in every corner. Some piles taller than her. It’s been like this for ten years. We aren’t making any kids in here either. We aren’t even trying. It’s been like that for two years.

I don’t know why I can’t grant her the one small propriety of not passing gas. She has sacrificed everything to be with me. The only payoff is my looks. As a partner, I’m a financial liability. As a companion, I’m too self-involved. If nothing else, my wife deserves to breathe clean air. I can’t even grant her that. Perhaps it’s my way of dropping hints. She smells it almost immediately. She closes her laptop and punches me in the small of the back. I sit up and look around like I haven’t a clue.

“I don’t ask for much! Why do you insist on ruining my life?” She takes a deep breath and pinches her nose.

“I’m giving you more material for the novel.”

The computer glare renders her face in a favorable light despite the fact that she’s scowling at me.

“I can’t believe that someone of your vanity would be so foul. You complain that we never have sex yet you come in our bedroom and let one rip. Is that supposed to set the mood? Are you trying to tell me something?”

“I want to impregnate a different woman on all five continents.”

She slaps my face in a manner that is more matter-of-fact than angry.

“Just leave,” she says, breathing out of her mouth.

“Like leave leave or just leave the bedroom?”

“You decide! It’s obvious that you don’t want to be here. You’re depressed about it. I can’t deal with you anymore. Go flirt with yourself on Facebook! Just leave!”

Who am I to say no? Having already denied her so much, I roll out of bed and return to the living room. I click through my profile photos. They no longer look the same. I look superfluous, my arm around women I’ll never love. I have no business looking so ridiculously pleased with myself. My wife is right. I am depressed. I want to leave. I want to stay. Neither more than the other. Perhaps I ask for too much. Somebody has to die thoroughly disappointed. Most of us in fact. At the end of the day, how else would David Bowie feel so good about himself? I’ll always lose. I will never have a mortgage or pension. I will never have collateral. I’m not worth a single cent of alimony. I’m all debt. My only potential is outside fluttering from a dogwood branch.
I get up from the couch to check on it. It’s still there. My bag is going nowhere. The prickly buds will hold it in place until leaves fill in around it. I’ve thought of tying the bag to the branch, but that would be cheating. It would cheapen my theme of form triumphing over the aleatory perils of Time. Not that my viewers would ever know, but really, what’s the likelihood of the plastic bag remaining in the dogwood throughout the various nor’easters of October and November? Slim to none. If it does triumph by either luck or its own determination, who will believe that I didn’t have a hand in it? I’m too handsome to believe. I look like the kind of guy who would try passing pornography off as chance, as if the bored housewife just so happened to be getting out of the shower when the plumber knocked.

Just then, my wife calls me into the bedroom. “I just farted,” she says. “Come take a whiff. It smells awful.”

How I wish it were true. Nothing would please me more. In ten years, she’s never even yawned in front of me without covering her mouth. She’s too good to break her own rules. It’s a trick. One that I taught her. I often call her into the living room as if there’s something on TV that she can’t miss, a white puppy napping on a pile of freshly bleached sheets or David Bowie being interview by Charlie Rose. She’ll come sprinting in but the content never lives up to the hype in my voice. I’ve set a trap. While she’s standing in the room disappointed, I’ll ask her to pass me the remote control or carry my dirty dinner plate into the kitchen. How can she say no? She’s standing right there.

Now she’s trying the plot on me. My guess is that she wants me to crawl under the bed and look for her lip balm or perhaps set the alarm clock. The Santo D’Alessandro of her novel wouldn’t take part in such a contrivance, but I’m not that guy. I haven’t drowned yet. I’ve got a million selves and we’re all strong swimmers. She’s my best shot at land. Sink or swim, she will paint me in the best possible light, better than I look on Facebook. I’ll do whatever it takes. Even tie myself to the branch so to speak. I storm into the bedroom pretending to snort up an enthusiastic breath of stink.

Filed under Fiction on December 31st, 2018

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