"BY ANDY JENKINS"
As a creative writer, Jenkins tends to blur the line between fiction and non-fiction with his prose. He has been published extensively in short story anthologies, both in print (Little Engines, Life & Limb) and online (Smokebox, Open Letters), with regular columns appearing in periodicals, Level (UK) and Monster Children (Australia). One of Andy's pieces is currently being made into a short film by a production company in Australia. Jenkins is the founder of the publishing company, Bend Press, where he works as the CEO, creative director, editor, head of marketing and janitor.
Andy's current book, "What Happened" (2017) is a collection of his short stories. A compendium consisting of over a dozen short yarns, four of which are featured below.
“BIG IN JAPAN”
“Jason! What’s up? New issue treating you well?”
“No one in Japan reads English.”
“We’re doing an all Japan issue.”
“Which brings me to the reason I called… can you make your article Japan-centric this time around?”
“Aaah, I’ve never been to Japan.”
“Good, good. It’s due next Monday.” Click.
Lunch was coming up, maybe I’ll go to that noodle spot in Carson and try to glean some Japanese culture.
I did. It was good. Nothing happened. Everyone was super nice and polite.
The next day I ventured out to the well-known Mitsuwa Market in Torrance. It’s a Japanese mall complete with grocery store, food court and a bookstore. The books are all in Japanese and I like the look of the Japanese characters, so I bought an edition of Bukowski’s “Women.” I couldn’t read it, of course, but it looked good.
I met him once, Charles Bukowski. Well, I saw him. At a pseudo Chinese restaurant (I know, Chinese doesn’t count) in San Pedro were we both happened to live. Truth be told, he was one of the reasons I moved to Pedro. We both ordered the buffet. When he got up to get more food, I made my way over. He was a tall man. As I walked toward the buffet I remembered how much he hated being approached. I pretended not to even notice him — much like he was doing to me. Better that way.
A few years ago, I was with my wife at a bar — some pseudo tiki place (again, not a Japanese bar) and we almost literally ran into the actor, Rob Lowe. She bumped right into him and the first words out of her mouth were, “ROB LOWE!” He turned around quickly and disappeared into the crowd.
Then there was the time when I actually talked to one of my heroes, Tom Waits. — I know, you’re not supposed to talk to them.
We were at a really large wedding. It was after the ceremony and we both somehow wound up sitting on some porch steps together. He talked to me first, so what could I do?
“Is that your kid?” he asked nodding towards my son.
“Yup. Is that your kid?”
They were “playing” on the lawn underneath a giant tree. His son was a couple years older than mine and was giving mine a hard time. I didn’t say anything… it was Tom Wait’s son after all and we were in the midst of creating a memory.
Tom casually shouted out, “Casey give the kid a break.”
They kept on playing.
This was nowhere near Japan.
It was Napa Valley.
As a 7 year-old, my mom took us from Florida to Spain for a family visit. We had a layover in London, and at some point we found ourselves on a double-decker bus. I was tired, but at every sway and bounce of the blundering vehicle, I would awaken when my head konked against the window. It must have been amusing to the other passengers.
Now, years later, I’m on the bus again. The Metro. With my car broke and my money tight, becoming a passenger was pretty much the way to go.
Every weekday morning I pay my $1.75 and take a seat in, what imagine to be, a sort of purgatory between driving a car and shuffling along the sidewalk with a shopping cart.
Every ride has its own personality. Loud, restless, contemplative… depending on the time of day, or the weather. Maybe the moon. There are old people, young people, kids, fat folks, skinny, tall, short, etc. of many different persuasions. You will hear multiple languages during one ride.
Each bus has its own smells as well. The Talcum Powder Lady. Cigarette and Sweat Guy. And today, the Old Woman whose scent could not be ignored. People opened windows, changed seats. A young black man wearing a fluorescent orange community service vest spoke up, “Smells like butt up in here!” But no one laughed. Her multiple layers of mismatched clothing, ratty finger-less gloves and matted hair demanded a sort of empathy created by ignoring her.
After a few months of riding, the novelty wears off. I yawn a lot. Once, a tiny stream of water exited my mouth, over the seat, and onto a sleeping man's exposed neck. He didn’t wake up.
People sleep. Some pretty hard. I kept an old man from falling over into the aisle. For a heartbeat, I thought he was dead.
Most folks are quiet, some talk to others, some to themselves.
“I smoked marijuana for 40 years just to put up with my husband. Bastard.”
“Excuse me! You have a bit of toilet paper coming out of your pants."
“We got the good, the bad and the ugly on here today!”
“Fuck you and your stanky ass!”
Most just sit with the 1000 mile stare.
Some listen to songs quietly through their earbuds.
At the Normandie stop, a scruffy kid in a school uniform climbed in with his phone on blast — no ear buds — playing the Ramones. Singing along. Loudly.
“HEY HO, LET’S GO! HEY HO, LET’S GO.” Repeat. Literally. The song was on repeat. “HEY HO, LET’S GO! HEY HO, LET’S GO.”
Surprisingly, no one said anything. I caught another rider’s eyes for a second and we acknowledged the absurdity of it by raising our eyebrows. The Kid held the phone to his ear and it went on and on for at least 15 minutes before people started to crack. One by one other phones started cranking up the volume in a sort of retaliation. The news, rap, metal, kid’s music… you name it. A cacophony of noise. When Bitzkrieg Bop finally got off the bus everyone clapped and laughed. It got quiet again. People went back to sleeping, reading. Staring.
The ad read;
‘84 LINCOLN TOWNCAR
fully loaded 1 ownr divrce!
low miles—$3k must drive!
“Want a beer?” he held out the Heineken he’d just opened for himself.
“Ahh, no thanks.” I was about to go out and test drive his mother’s car.
“You sure? I got a whole fridge full...”
“No, it’s cool. How many miles does it have?” I glance into his mirrored aviator sunglasses and see myself standing on his porch.
“I don’t know. About 85,000. Not much for an ‘84... let’s go check it out.” He came out of the doorway, hand extended. “The name’s Kevin.”
“Andy.” I shook his soft, Nerf Ball hand. I couldn’t tell if he was younger or older than me. He was in limbo, stuck in time—partially balding, but with no wrinkles and no outward physical maladies... besides a slightly protruding gut. We walk down the deteriorating wooden steps of his bungalow apartment and around the front house to the street.
“There she is.”
It’s big. A navy blue American boat. The outward condition is nice. “Hell, I’d keep it if I had the parking space — this street is just so damn crowded.” He does a sweeping motion with the beer then takes a drink, holds back a burp and thrusts out his free hand. “Here’s the key, go check it out. I’ll be here when you get back.”
“Thanks.” I walk around to the rear of the car, resisting the temptation to kick a tire. I open the trunk. Big enough for a Christmas tree it seems — there are dry pine needles everywhere. I slam it shut — solid — and walk around to the driver’s door, fumble with the keys a bit, then notice a little sticker on the window just above the lock. It illustrates the two parts of a seat belt about to click closed with the words “Get it Together” written above.
I step in. Slippery leather seats. It smells 20 years old. A clock with hands and Roman numerals. 113,000 miles, not 85. Start her up. Easy enough. Pushing my foot to the floor, the heavy machine lumbers forward, engine grumbling. Adjusting the rearview, I see him there, standing akimbo in the street, flip-flops on, draining his beer.
The hulk accelerates slowly up the hill while I force it to wake up, touching every button and knob on the dash. The hood protrudes a hundred yards. Its massive interior makes me feel like a child. But it runs good and I hate shopping. I drive back and park it. The owner’s son is nowhere to be seen. I walk up the steps to his place and knock on a partially open door. Nothing. I knock again. I peek in and am assaulted by the overwhelming stench of a hundred cats... I suddenly want the hell out of there and begin to put the key in the mailbox.
“HEY!” comes a happy voice from the depths of the apartment.
“I thought you weren’t coming back,” he chuckles. “Whadyah think?”
“It’s nice. Big.”
“Yep, American metal machine. Can’t beat ‘em.” An uncomfortable pause. “What do you do for a living, Anthony?”
Anthony. I mumble something about computers and his eyes light up. “Oh yeah? I do animation for the internet!” he exclaims. I don’t want to talk about work, I don’t want to talk to him, and I especially don’t want to enter his apartment. But I need a car. This one?
He holds his door open for me.
I stay on the porch. “Will you take $2,000 cash?”
“For the car.”
“Oh, well, I’ll have to call and ask my mom... and she’s on the East Coast right now.”
I pull out an envelope filled with 100s and give it to him. He peers into it. “But I’m sure $2,000 is okay, she’ll be glad to shake the car, it was dad’s — part of the divorce settlement.”
He forges his father’s signature on the title, hands it over, and I walk down the steps again, this time to my car. I put the key in the blue door...
GET IT TOGETHER
and drive it away.
“THERE'S A WAR OUTSIDE YOUR WINDOW”
I punched Jason Lee in the face.
Granted, it was a sort of slow-motion punch, it’s not like I kicked his ass. Not at all. But I did punch him — on the cover of a magazine. My fist, his face. It’s documented. Check the 2nd issue of Dirt. Jason probably doesn’t remember. It was years ago when he was skating for Blind and hanging out with Spike and Gonz.
I was punched in the face once as well. Just once. In High School. I say once, not because I became a bad-ass at defending myself. Just the opposite — from then on, I avoided confrontation of any kind. I didn’t like the feel of a fist touching me anywhere on my body, especially my teeth, nose or eyes. But there was this one time…
My friend, Ricky, had a shriveled left arm. He was born that way. I never gave him shit about it. Plenty of other people fucked with him, though. Those were the days way before the “Stop Bulling” campaigns. He took it. As far as I know, it didn’t bother him much, but then, we never talked about it. We never talked about anything except Devo, BMX and girls.
The bell to signal lunch was about to go off. We were sitting around a communal round table, wasting the waning minutes. I had a rubber band and was, of course, pointing it at everyone. I had no intention of letting it fly, but it released itself nonetheless and bounced right off Ricky’s glasses.
He hit me in the face with his good hand. Absolutely no hesitation. He hit me hard and fast.
As he connected, the bell rang and I ran out of the room holding my hands under my bleeding nose.
Had Ricky just channeled his anger onto my face?
It was embarrassing. I told my mom and dad I ran into a door.
Years and years later, I came close again. We were at a Dodger game in LA. A kid sitting next to me ran down to try and catch a ball thrown up into the stands by a player. He got it and returned to his seat with a huge smile on his face. We high-fived — keep in mind, his dad wasn’t there, he was off buying hot dogs or something. A few seconds later, a pudgy, stained-shirted man walked over and started hassling the kid from the row above and behind us.
“Hey, you stole that ball from my nephew. You need to give it to him.” This scared the kid badly. “Cough it up, you little thief, you don’t want to fuck with me.” I spoke up.
“Leave the kid alone. He caught the ball, it’s his, that’s how it works.”
“This is none of your business, asshole.”
My first thought was punching him in a place that’s much worse than the face. His nuts were right there at fist level. He kept on ranting and raving. I was ramping up to sock his danglies really hard. I’d never wanted to hit anyone this badly. Before I could, an usher came over and escorted him out.
I would never punch Jason in the nuts.