1. Dear Emmy,
I’m writing to you here from camp and it’s not bad at all. There are five or six people who understand and even “get” me, which I think has to be some kind of record. The directors are all very nice about the pillow-for-a-face problem. I hope against hope that this is the year that things turn around. Maybe one day I’ll wake up and discover that I have a real girl’s face, not a pillowcase with eyes and a mouth drawn on it. Or maybe at least I will wind up with a better pillowcase over my pillow. Maybe a caricature artist from the county fair will have drawn a face for it, or maybe my parents will have gone to that store in the mall and had Boogie Crackerjack’s face silkscreened onto it. Isn’t she just so gorgeous? We used to sit outside and sing her “Sup Sexy (nm u)” song all day last summer. Except for that one awful thing that happened to me with the magnifying glass and the fire, it was a lot of fun.
Anyway, there is a boy here at camp I think about a lot. His name’s Brian and he seems really sweet. He isn’t the least bit prejudiced, and he likes birds, too. He told me the other day at the lunch table that his favorite bird was a starling, which as you know is one of my top 25 or maybe even top 20 birds. He is very skinny and shy, and he is probably pretty smart. The other boys don’t get along with him, but that’s their loss. I bet I am going to marry him one day.
Well, it is getting close to bedtime so I’ll wrap this up. How are things in town? Did you get that Life Savers candy figurine you sent away for last month? Are you still working on your big story? I hope I’m a character in it, but if I am, don’t write me with a pillow-face. Maybe you could write me like Princess Pippa, like a princess character, as if I lived in a castle. There are castles in the story, right? Anyway, if there aren’t, could you please put one in there for me? I’ll write with more news about Brian and maybe one day you two can meet up.
2. Brian Powell’s father had sent him to the “Herc” Broadsides Hero Outdoor Fun and Good Sportsmanship Camp to toughen him up. The camp was marketed to the parents of disabled, mentally retarded, deranged, and otherwise “special” or “exceptional” children and was therefore more akin to Samuel Tuke’s York Retreat for the Insane than to the sort of sleepaway camp described in popular songs like “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh (A Letter from Camp).” Although it was true that Powell’s thought processes were slowly becoming obscured behind the nimbus of depression that accompanies pre-adolescence, he was still “normal” in the clinical sense and thus perhaps not the ideal camper. However, the Powell family’s checks cleared, so here he was.
It was a crushing scene. On all sides, Powell found himself surrounded by young (or possibly even old—who could say for sure?) people who were in terrible health. The lazy, uninterested college students who served as “role models” for the various rooming cabins, or “squads,” kept most of these unfortunates in a permanent state of medication-induced catatonia. “Games” between the “squads” were farcical at best, as scores were never kept, almost no actual activity took place, and each of the “teammates” received medals for what Coach Broadsides himself had referred to as “try-harding.”
Powell, who could neither run a quarter-mile nor punch his way out of a wet paper poke, was voted the “Most Outstanding Try-Harder” at the Good Sportsmanship Camp. He also, quite predictably, caught the attention of the only other able-minded camper, a young girl who had a pillow instead of a head. She had an encyclopedic knowledge of birds and was a chatterbox of truly epic proportions, and he took an immediate dislike to her.
The single noteworthy thing about the camp, at least as far as Powell was concerned, was the fact that it abutted a wilderness preserve where black bears were reputed to roam freely. He had a fascination with bears, and hoped to encounter one—from a safe distance, of course—before the summer ended.
3. So yes, okay, let me level with you: It wasn’t the mama bear’s fault. She didn’t have a fucking clue what she was doing. She was out of her mind, you know, the way any mama bear gets when she’s in estrus.
And I haven’t been doing my job as a papa bear, to be perfectly honest. How the hell could I? I’m on disability, for Christ’s sake. But look, I served this goddamn country. I was in the army for three years, until I hurt my back. Threw it out or something picking up a box. Didn’t bend at the knees and forgot to breathe. Real bad injury. Slipped disc, herniated disc, some shit like that. Whatever the chiro says. It’s in the reports.
That scumbag lawyer and I went to DIB hearings for four years, which amounted to four years I wasn’t able to work. I collected unemployment and cashed my GI benefits, but those lasted us about a year, tops. These were tough times at home, you bet. I had nineteen cubs to feed, plus the mama bear. She had to get a job of her own as a waitress, down off Route 29. I mean, this was really hard for everybody.
It’s not like I didn’t want to work. I served my country as faithfully as I could, until that day with the box and the not breathing and such. Just a bad break is what I’m talking about. And when your back hurts like that, when you’re in as much pain as I am—you can look at the records, there are lots of records, if you don’t believe me—there isn’t much you can do. I got to sitting in front of the computer, which as you know can be a very addictive thing to do.
Yes, you’re right, there’s a great deal of temptation on there, too—“world wide web of lies” and all that. I wasn’t right physically after the bad break—not to mention I never could put my head back on straight, no matter how hard I tried—and it was in a lot of ways easier to use the computer than to deal with the mama bear. Plus, to be perfectly honest, the mama bear was so tired with work and everything that I wouldn’t have wanted to bother even if I were confident that my back would hold up.
When it comes to something like this bad break I’m talking about—you can’t even begin to figure out how exactly the real, serious problems started. Where it went wrong, I mean. I recall that there were entire weeks where I didn’t leave my home office. What I was doing in that room…well, you don’t want to know. I’m not proud of myself. And I have to admit that I didn’t have a fucking clue what was going on in that house.
The whole place was just falling to shit, I suppose. The mama bear had her own demons, and, with that camp being so close… Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to say that this was inevitable, or that there isn’t responsibility or guilt or what have you, but I do want you to understand that it wasn’t like the mama bear was a monster. We were just trying to make the best out of a bad situation, but our best wasn’t good enough.
4. Hey, “sup.” It’s your friends at the Moustache Club of America. We’re interrupting this story—one of the 150 or so we’ve written since we reopened this site back in 2009—in order to talk about something very important to us: the study of “creative writing” (properly so called, hence the “ “)
See, none of us—“us” meaning the four people involved in this literary collective or “beehive” or whatever—have any formal training in “creative writing” (properly so called, again) beyond a handful of pointless classes taken in faraway, insignificant places ranging from scenic Missoula, MT to the foothills of Virginia.
And yet, in spite of this handicap, we’ve produced a bucketload of creative writing (not properly so called, we suppose) that’s probably better than the arid narratives that deluded young men and women have wasted/are wasting thousands of dollars to “develop” in MFA programs around the country.
Which brings us to an important question: Why go to school to learn how to “creative write” at all? There’s no actual cash payoff—even if you “place” a “workshopped piece” in something like “The New Yorker,” you’re at best talking about a $5-6k “payday.” $5-6k for one small sliver of your heart and soul—and that’s assuming some risk-averse bureaucrat in “editorial” or “submissions” or whatever even takes a flyer on your work instead just publishing the latest half-assed effort from whoever won last year’s Man Booker Prize.
Of course, it’s highly doubtful that you’ll ever get that far. If you’re like almost every other would-be “literary writer,” you’re an insecure and generally quite terrible person who lives in fear of rejection and thus writes the same hackneyed story that everyone else writes, about getting divorced or getting drunk or getting depressed or getting over being depressed and thereafter getting your groove back. You worry about “plot” and “structure” and the “gun seen in Act 1 going off in Act 3.” Maybe it all works for you, and maybe your story winds up in a “prestigious review” run by, say, “Middle States University” or “The College of States University.” But that’s most assuredly the end of the line for it. Have fun adjuncting and teaching people about “plot” and “structure” and that “gun seen in Act 1 going off in Act 3.”
Or wait, maybe you do “alt” fiction, “postmodern” (“pomo”) fiction, etc. You look at some of the “masters” and write stories that amount to chopped-up, incomprehensible gibberish that nobody will ever care about because, for reasons that continue to elude you, your stories are even more incomprehensible than the ones you’re ripping off. We don’t care about you, either. Your stuff sucks.
Yet perhaps you’re in that 1337 .01% of snarky, sneering, twee douchebags who run well-funded, well-regarded minimalist websites with names like “Henry James’ World Wide Web of Miscellany” and “x*y.” You heap on the irony and insouciance, and look askance at anything that’s the least bit challenging or sad or—can it be? gracious no!—smarter than what you’re doing. It can’t be smarter than what you’re doing, because what you’re doing is the best in the world. It’s genius. It’s redolent of the five or six really good pages of A House for Mr. Biswas, by way of mid-period Tarvis Eckleston. That’s all so very cute.
The Moustache Club of America has positioned itself athwart these trends in “creative writing.” For one, there’s nothing “ironic” about the work being published here. Each story, for good or ill, is deadly serious. We also waste no time on character development, preferring instead to recycle our large cast of stock characters. Furthermore, in the interest of brevity, intricate discourses on floral morphology or taxonomy—endemic in so much of today’s “creative writing”—are omitted, as is descriptive language of almost any other sort (except in the case of a story by the Shining that was produced precisely to illustrate how problematic and unnecessary such sesquipedalian filler is).
Mind you, we don’t claim that this results in fiction that is any more readable than anything else that’s out there. We have a tiny readership, derive no material benefits from our project, and expect little besides the personal satisfaction afforded by continued productivity. But what we do claim—what we are claiming here, explicitly and for the first time—is that the Moustache Club of America is devoid of bullshit. It’s not designed to please you, your mom, the washed-up adjunct professors in your MFA program, your “indie” best friend who just loves Kurt Vonnegut and writes Kurt Vonnegut-style tales over and over again, or the aforementioned editorial bureaucrat who is always looking for the “next big thing.”
So this story—which is ostensibly about a bear attack that occurred at a summer camp for disabled children, at least insofar as we or you can determine from flash fictions 1 through 3—is actually about something else altogether: the fact that we will never compromise and write bullshit. Sure, we’ve written bad sentences, crafted stories that don’t “work” on some level or another, told jokes that fall flat—but every writer, even ones who are all about “l’art pour l’art,” is guilty of that, to a greater or lesser degree, and we put our mistakes front and center.
And if you don’t like it, don’t “get it,” think it’s ridiculous, &c.: Great. Bully for you. Go and read a post on gawker.com or thedailybeast.com or whatever people read for fun and learning nowadays. We at the Moustache Club of America have “big people” jobs, jobs that pay real money and demand a certain degree of professional competence, and thus couldn’t care less about why you think Micah the Cat isn’t funny enough or Boogie Crackerjack’s suicide seemed unrealistic. Save it for that thesis you’re allegedly writing. We’re sure it’s going to be fantastic.
5. The end of this story came quickly, unexpectedly—like one of those ten-second hurricanes that keep occurring on account of there’s so much global warming nowadays.
When it happened, Emily Twiggs was standing in front of her vanity, admiring her handiwork. Her hair, formerly a “dirty blonde” color, was now “fire engine red.” She had settled on this new hue because of an article in a glossy women’s magazine about how your hair says a lot about who you are.
Because Twiggs thought of herself as “spunky, fun, and always looking for attention,” she knew that her natural color didn’t fit. However, with red hair, her inner personality—her secret soul, as it were—would finally be able to shine.
As her eyes passed from the dye job—unprofessional to the point of seeming ludicrous, a true “bottle botch”—to those extra pounds in all the wrong places that she was still planning to lose, she thought she descried a familiar face. A familiar pillow-face, in fact—yet covered in a thin scrim so ethereal that it seemed otherworldly.
“Pillowface Jones—is that you?” Twiggs asked, turning around to confront the spectral image of her old classmate.
“Yes, Em, it’s me,” the pillow-faced specter replied, its voice tremulous and indistinct.
“Didn’t you…weren’t you…?” Twiggs began to ask.
“Uh-huh. My true love and I were ripped to shreds by a black bear.”
“I was sorry to hear that, back when I heard about it. Are you, uh—where are you now?”
“Oh, I’m living in heaven, same as all the other retarded kids from Hero Camp. Being retarded or deformed or pillow-faced means you pretty much get a free pass. Only problem is that you don’t get a working brain or a new face when you get there.”
Twiggs nodded. “Sure, okay. But why are you here in my bathroom?”
“I thought maybe we could hang out for a little bit,” the specter said. “You know, like old times.”
“No, no, god no,” Twiggs said, aghast. “We can’t do that. I’m super busy for the next few hours and days. Weeks, too.”
“I understand,” the specter replied, and she really did.
6. To sum up: every girl I’ve ever failed comes to me and tells me what I already know. Nonetheless, it’s good to hear it out of their coming out of their mouths, right? There’s a hint of sadness in their eyes and on their faces because maybe once they cared for me in some small way but now they realize what I am and always will be. I want to tear out my own heart and hand it to some girl who has a sweet smile and I want to see her either eat it or tear it to pieces. I’m not even sure what that’s symbolic for or of, if anything. I want all of this emotional pain—much of which is admittedly self-inflicted—to manifest itself physically and I want someone who once “had feelings” for me to be there when I suffer ultimately and finally. She’ll look sad because she used to care about me, of course, but it’s not really sadness so much as it’s pity. I was never an intelligent or particularly gifted person, but I could’ve had a decent enough life. Then my mind started to wander, &c. I can’t even put into words how they look while they watch me, to be honest. I can see it in my mind—remembering, that is—and it’s the worst thing I can recall or even dream up, but it’s beautiful. They’re crying and it looks real but I can tell it isn’t. Still, the fact that it’s being faked or it’s an accident or whatever is enough for me.
“This stupid book doesn’t make any sense,” said a young man studying to be some teacher of some bullshit. Maybe he was studying to be an anthropologist. Who knows or cares? You’re not reading this even if you’re reading the words. It’s all about sounds that are supposed to scare me and slamming the doors fifty times an hour.