Saturday, May 9, 2015

Watchlist Countdown, Day 20: “Buildings Talk” by Dana Johnson

      Buildings talk. That’s the cool thing about them in case you don’t live in an apartment. It’s true: maybe I don’t really know anybody in a building of what? Three hundred lofts or something? But how do I know all the stuff I know? That’s what I’m talking about. The building’s got a big mouth. That’s how I know that Fatty Hardy lost his job and that’s how I know he lost it by trying too hard to hold on to it. The dudes in the khakis weren’t fucking around. They wanted mo money, mo money, mo money. They made Fatty Hardy the enforcer, but that was his doom. So many people said, “What do I need to pay another 200 dollars a month for? I’m out.” I saw it coming, myself. The big turn over. From my apartment window, I could see into the windows of so many empty apartments across the way, and those windows looked like eyes staring right back at me like, “What are you looking at? You’re next.”

          from “Buildings Talk” by Dana Johnson

The sad-sack fellow in the photo is Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, the doomed-by-scandal silent film star whose stellar career came to a halt after a wild party at a hotel ended with the death of a young starlet. Arbuckle was tried three separate times for the rape and manslaughter of actress Virginia Rappe who had fallen ill at a party hosted by Arbuckle at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco in September 1921; she died four days later. Arbuckle was accused of raping and accidentally killing her--and the lurid details of her death, allegedly involving a Coke bottle (not true, as it turned out), were widely printed in newspapers around the country. After the first two trials ended in hung juries, Arbuckle was acquitted in the third trial and received a formal written apology from the jury. However, despite Arbuckle's acquittal, the scandal clouded his life. Tongues wagged, his films were banned and he was publicly ostracized. What does Fatty Arbuckle have to do with Dana Johnson’s terrific story in the Watchlist anthology? Apart from the fact that the narrator nicknames his jerk of a building manager Fatty Arbuckle (later morphing that to Fatty Hardy of Laurel and Hardy fame), really not much. It’s just that I have had a long-standing, morbid fascination with the tragic career trajectory of Arbuckle and thought it was interesting that Johnson chose this persona for the character of her story’s building manager. While the whale of a guy in “Buildings Talk” doesn’t quite meet the same sad end as the silent film comedian, his presence (even in name only) on these pages is a reminder that people talk, buildings talk, foundations crack, and great structures fall in a cloud of dust and rubble.

Watchlist: 32 Short Stories by Persons of Interest, edited by Bryan Hurt, will be published by O/R Books on May 21.  The “persons of interest” contributing short stories to the anthology include Etgar Keret, Robert Coover, Aimee Bender, Jim Shepard, Alissa Nutting, Charles Yu, Cory Doctorow, David Abrams, Randa Jarrar, Katherine Karlin, Miracle Jones, Mark Irwin, T. Coraghessan Boyle, Dale Peck, Bonnie Nadzam, Lucy Corin, Chika Unigwe, Paul Di Filippo, Lincoln Michel, Dana Johnson, Mark Chiusano, Juan Pablo Villalobos, Chanelle Benz, Sean Bernard, Kelly Luce, Zhang Ran, Miles Klee, Carmen Maria Machado, Steven Hayward, Deji Bryce Olukotun, Alexis Landau and Bryan Hurt.

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