We’re pleased to offer an excerpt from Brian Alan Ellis‘s new collection The Mustache He’s Always Wanted But Could Never Grow, available now. Reviewing the collection for CCLaP, Karl Wolff noted that “beneath the despair and kamikaze lovers, there is a stubborn, profane, but very American, humanity that animates these individuals.” Two of the stories from this collection appear below.
Jerry’s TV was stolen. I suspect his estranged wife took it. If you ask me, Jerry got off easy. My ex-wife got the kids. But this isn’t about me, it’s about Jerry. And now that his TV is gone and he can’t watch Lost, well, he’s all tore up inside.
All day I hear Jerry pacing. Through the ceiling of my apartment I hear it. I hear his slippers shuffling back and forth, back and forth. Those damn slippers. Sometimes, at night, I can hear him sobbing a little. He snores too, but he was doing that even when he had a TV.
I mean, it’s not like he has the money to replace the damn thing; his wife must’ve taken that too. In fact, I’m surprised the poor bastard still has a roof over his head—hell, with all that floorboard-walking he does, I’m surprised I still have one. Roofs aren’t cheap. Cob, our landlord, doesn’t care. Poor Jerry could fall right through the floor into my apartment, breaking both legs, and Cob still wouldn’t do shit. That’s how Cob is.
It sounds insane, but I considered having Jerry over at my place. Then I remembered: I don’t have cable. Also, my TV is busted. All it does is sit there, reflecting the image of its sorry son-of-a-bitch owner who could never fix a damn thing. Though if I was to finally get off my ass and fix it, I’d still be weary of having Jerry over. For starters, he’s messy; watching the man eat Ritz crackers will attest to that. Secondly, and for obvious reasons, I wouldn’t want that estranged wife of his, old sticky fingers, to know where I live. As for Lost, well, I’d already seen it—when it was called Gilligan’s Island.
Regardless, the series finale is only about a week away, and still no TV for Jerry—just the threat of my ceiling caving in; just a grown man sobbing. It’s a real shame. But you can’t say I didn’t try. I did.
The other day I went door to door asking all the neighbors to pitch in to help buy Jerry a new TV, but all I got was $2.63 and a lifetime of poor excuses. So to spare Jerry the embarrassment of knowing he has cheap-ass neighbors, I put the money towards buying myself a pack of smokes. Kools. As for the lifetime of poor excuses, well, there isn’t much you can do about that.
Tonight Bobby Bellini is celebrating. In fact, he is celebrating this very moment. And though it is a hellacious celebration, one his neighbors will surely phone the authorities about, there is but one missing ingredient.
So Mr. Bellini slides the record from its sleeve, places it carefully on his turntable, watches ceremoniously as the needle descends upon it, and listens to the soft hissing before Kool and the Gang come boogieing through the speakers, possessing him to sing along—“Celebrate good times, come on!”—though whatever sounds are coming from his mouth appear guttural, wretched, out of tune.
The record, in case you are wondering (surely you are), belonged to Grandma Bellini; she used to love old Kool (and his gang). In fact, Bobby wishes she had a copy to listen to now, to celebrate with, as she lay dying in the biting cold sterility of a nursing home room; her mind all or half gone; her kids thumping bibles in Texas, purchasing land in the Carolinas, or stagnating in Brooklyn or Bremen somewhere—Bobby’s family, the lot of them: rotting, limping fruit hung like ornaments from some gutted Christmas tree. All celebrating.
In a small room on a numbered avenue Bobby Bellini weeps for Grandma Bellini’s bones, wishing he could celebrate beside her—a disintegration postponement, he calls it—but he hasn’t the strength: he is captured, cornered, having to salvage what’s left of his own life.
So now, tossing in this bed-less, love-less room, walls on fire, Bobby on fire, the celebration continues—while downing a tall boy (the contents dribbling down the front of Bobby’s shirt, embarrassingly); while hitting the bong so hard his eyes turn to glass and break; while Willa, his ex-lover, his once-savior, celebrates with another in the same holy bed the two of them had once celebrated in—a bed they both slept in and loved in, a bed Bobby was content to die in.
And yes, despite this feeling of abandonment—this feeling of being some useless, unwrapped gift that nobody really wanted to begin with—Mr. Bellini will go on celebrating. He will celebrate like a mad man. Like a damn fool he will do it. He will celebrate, regardless.
It is Bobby Bellini’s celebratory right.