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The Rough and Tumble Sort

We’d been sitting on that ratty floral couch in the ranch-style house in the foothills of the Ozarks for almost an hour watching re-runs of M*A*S*H on the only channel the rabbit ears could pick up. My cousin—Little Tom—was especially quiet on account of the nasty case of Chickenpox he had just gotten over.

Bit of a pussy, his dad, Big Tom, would say about it. Supposed to have that when you’re a goddamn baby, not a goddamn adolescent.

Everyone mostly agreed, but Big Tom was one of those sumbitches you hear about always makes a situation worse than it needs to be: trucker by day, gone weeks at a time hauling frozen foods from the Ozarks to Galveston, home for long stretches, too, and when he was he guzzled Coors Banquet and wore only sleeveless ‘80s band tees and cussed and loomed over that house like a big hulking beast come to terrorize us in our only refuge.

Slowly Fading Out

Wake up and don’t fall back asleep. Wake up and thank the noise which sounds like a submarine in trouble. Make your lunch and put it in the brown bag. Thought you’d be done with the brown bags after grade school? Think again. You’ve gotten too comfortable. You lack discipline. And the only remedy for this sorry state, this collection of bad habits now called Your Life is to undo the encouraging judgment of Dad and the principal and even that worthless guidance counselor who spoiled you utterly with cooing cough-drop-scented aspirations of World = Oysterism and never telling you that you were soft and lacked even the barest prospects of professional success. It’s all a big joke, a shaggy dog story whose repetitive punch line has brought you to this morning, to every morning, waking up to a blaring S.O.S. noise in order to put that sense of urgency back in you, to give you a wandering itch that never stays still enough to scratch.


Editor's Note: This story is part of Joyland's Michigan stories series. Come back throughout April for more Michigan stories.

“On the other side then” “torrential against the shape of rain”
“I met everyone on behalf of” “the child who brought me here”
“The ground caves in at spots” “and beneath the streets are
seasons” “with their own rooms” “These must be the barracks,”
“where the whole situation sleeps and speaks” “in tongues”

“A man comes to me” “with patches on his eyes”
“he has already been here” “behind me” “for years”
“He says” “ ‘Brother, it has been a long time’”
“I remember:” “this is a place” “outside of gender”
“I should not have called him ‘him’

The Hygienist

Editor's Note: This story is part of Joyland's Michigan stories series. Come back throughout April for more Michigan stories.

“Do you grind your teeth,” the Hygienist asked, but Callie didn’t answer because the Hygienist was fiddling in her mouth, and because Callie knew the Hygienist already knew about the teeth grinding. The Hygienist had taken photographs inside Callie’s mouth, and they were now blown up larger than necessary on the screen. The Hygienist had also scanned the questionnaire Callie had filled out in the waiting room. On the form, Callie had admitted to irregular flossing, so the Hygienist knew about this, too. The Hygienist knew everything.

Rhyme Game

Editor's Note: This story is part of Joyland's Michigan stories series. Come back throughout April for more Michigan stories.

Tinny Marie and her mother rattled along Halfmoon Road in the pick-up truck, heading east toward the risen sun. Bits of trash flew out of the cans and barrels in the back  a plastic bag from Spartan egg noodles, a popsicle wrapper, grocery store receipts. Tinny Marie’s mother had canceled weekly garbage service because she could save money by storing the trash until she had a truckload and then dumping it herself. The longer she saved it, the more she was getting out of her eight-dollar compactor fee. Between compactor visits, cans of garbage lined up outside the back door, waiting.

Gate Count

We were ranching a lab-owned deer farm thirty miles from the nearest highway. Most mornings were the same. Our withered rooster, Mr. Kirkaby, woke us with strained crowing, and Lenny and I got up around 5 am to feed the deer millet muffins. Lenny and I met at UIC, moved around a lot, and eventually quit our jobs and seriously considered ourselves tramps, in the most nostalgic sense.

Everything hailed from our garden, a jungle from seedling, reaching to the Paper Birch and beyond the marsh. That Sunday morning, we talked about making this job work.  Lenny resolutely set down a beer, which foamed to the table. With flexible jobs, sometimes we had beer in the morning. As we drank, the Andy-deer scratched at the glass, their electric hum filling the yard. At least, we thought it was the deer. Harold Lloyd had become horny lately, and yesterday had scratched deep lines into the deck.

Amerikana Dreaming

One day we were gypsies, and the next we were kings. We were vagrants and lust-givers, catatonic, exuberant, strung out, unhurried, and even optimistic. We thought we would celebrate each other forever.

But Jakko made it to his mattress, just before dawn, and with his hands casually grasped behind his head, he went to sleep like a bohemian Jesus and never woke up.

The BBs

Andrew Mozina's "The BBs" won second place in the 2013 SLS Literary Contest, judged by Mary Gaitskill and sponsored in part by Joyland. 

By the time she turned seventeen, Meg Shannon had come to believe that the world pretty much sucked, but with the help of friends and family you could build a little tarp-covered shack in which you could ride out the shit storms.


When the old church burned down, Father Jakobsson was forced to hold service in the abandoned movie theater.  Which would have been bad enough, even if the theater hadn't been twinned in the years before its closure.  A paper-thin partition, dressed in blue felt, dimpled by wall sconces, divided the wide house into a narrow duplex.  The acoustics were terrible, and more than once as Father Jakobsson was speaking from the low stage that passed for a pulpit, he caught members of the congregation gazing vacantly at the makeshift barrier as though wishing they were on the other side enjoying an early matinee.  Work on the new church was slow to start—there were insurance claims and zoning ordinances and fundraising issues.  At times he despaired of ever getting out of the theater, and he contemplated having the old Wurlitzer reinstalled so at least the congregation wouldn't be deprived of an organ.   Once construction began, on a new site in the lot that had formerly been occupied by th


The thing that I refer to as myself is simply an accumulation of memories: an incomplete set of sensory experiences as recorded by my personal organic data-collecting machine. All other aspects of self—my shy nature, my belief in karma, my preference for buttered asparagus with broiled fish—all result from these memories. The way one’s personality might change, for example, after recording a new set of sensory experiences during an automobile accident: the sound of another human shattering her jaw on a steering wheel, the touch of a street sign’s metal carving skin from one’s arm, the sight of a world upside-down. The smell of smoke. The way one’s beliefs might change after recording the sound of someone talking—about, for example, the inconsistencies of a sacred text.