Currents, an Interview Series with Brian Alan Ellis (Episode 37: Nico Walker)

Nico Walker

NICO WALKER is an American author and US Army veteran who served time in prison for bank robbery. His semi-autobiographical debut novel, Cherry, was recently adapted into a film. He is married to author Rachel Rabbit White. 

My current favorite author is: Thomas Hardy. Jude the Obscure. Not my first time with Hardy. And I’d started Jude the Obscure and didn’t finish it. Or I did and simply do not remember how it ended. I used to read too much and try to read fast and really cheated myself. I was trying to catch up for the years I didn’t read. I was reading a ton, like ten hours a day, as fast as I could go. I read The Unbearable Lightness of Being in three hours one time. I remember a guy leaves his wife for his mistress and the mistress doesn’t want him. I remember the same guy, or maybe a different guy, stepped on a land mine protesting a militarized border. No, it was the photographer! Or no, it was the guy posing for the photograph. Anyway, I read it in three hours. 

My current favorite speed-reading method is: the Dr. Cobbley method. Dr. Cobbley [] was the principal of the Meadows School, an uppity grade school I went to, in Las Vegas, Nevada. I was five and six and I had to wear a clip-on tie to go. I combed my hair like Buster Keaton. We were told “Meadows” is “Las Vegas” in Spanish. The Dr. Cobbley method: you just follow your finger under the words and gradually you get better at it and can go fast.

My current memory of my mom driving me to school: …I heard many songs this way—“The Joker” by Steve Miller Band, “Shameless” by Garth Brooks, “Guitars and Cadillacs” by Dwight Yoakum. It was a lovely time. Sometimes she would get a speeding ticket while smoking cigarettes and listening to “Chasing that Neon Rainbow.” She was a cool mom who wore big Jackie O.-type sunglasses.

My current memory of my mom’s cancer: …I do not believe it was the cigarettes that got her. She was not a committed smoker. She’d smoke a third of an Ultra-Light and put it out. I suspect that chemotherapy was what killed her. She was fine til she started doing chemotherapy. She taught me a valuable lesson about doctors: don’t go near them if you can help it. 

My current memory of shitting myself at school while wearing my clip-on tie: …the teacher told us we could not make any noise, not for any reason, so I quietly shit myself. I didn’t say a word. It was a bad shit, too. It was maybe the worst shit I’ve ever taken in my life. It was like a cross between soft-served chocolate ice cream from Country Buffet and the white gravy from Cracker Barrel. It was a ghastly shit. For whatever reason I did not tell anyone I had shit myself. I did not really need to. But I made it all the way to the car without being called on it.  My mom picked me up from school, and she figured out pretty soon what all had happened. That was the kind of kid I was. I really was amazingly stupid.

My current memory of the school jungle gym: …it was maybe four feet high at its apex and made out of bars. The bars were painted green. I have no recollection of the details but I remember it obviously was either a turtle or a tortoise. The turtle was in a sandbox type of situation, and even though the school was in the middle of the desert, it was the only sandbox on the playground. There was no grass. This is a fact. Just blacktop. All the playground accoutrement was metal and unpainted. I think it was steel. It was shiny like aluminum foil and you couldn’t use the slide because you would burn your bum and your thighs too because it was the early ’90s and we didn’t wear shorts to our knees yet. The monkey bars were a flatter, unpainted metal, and there was nothing to break anybody’s fall. It was just blacktop under the monkey bars… and there were accidents. People got hurt, but it was still the early ’90s and it seemed like kids broke arms and legs and stuff all the time then… if you broke a bone, people would sign your cast and you would feel important.

My current memory of breaking my arm in the third grade involves: the first time I ever tried to rollerblade. I laid in the street for a while and cooked with my broken arm. That was the second time we lived in Las Vegas, and we lived in Henderson that time, which made the whole thing a bit more ridiculous than it might have been if, say, I’d done it at the Meadows School. Rollerblades maybe had not been invented then. I had Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles roller skates, which—obviously—were much cooler than any rollerblades ever made. They laced up. The ankles were very high, and there was a shell pattern superimposed onto the Ninja Turtle-green faux leather of the skates. Everybody thought Ninja Turtles were cool. If you did not have Ninja Turtle underwear you were a goddamn nobody.

My current memory of getting into a fight with a kid by the jungle gym involves: these girls wanting to play “Little Mermaid” and have me be the guy from The Little Mermaid. I had a sort of rival. The kid was unimpressive. He lacked imagination. And he hated me. He crashed the “Little Mermaid” game by the turtle made out of metal bars that was in the sandbox, which was actually just sand dumped onto the blacktop. Anyway, this kid and I already knew what time it was and we started to scrap. A lot of biting and hitting and stuff, rolling around, strangling each other. The “Little Mermaid” game was properly ruined. I was very angry. I used to get so angry that I would clench my jaw something terrible. I was a crappy kid. I was angry and I smelled bad. Anyway, I was pissed as hell about the other kid trying to butt into the game, and we fought and I threw a handful of sand in his eyes, point blank. So I got into trouble for that. We both had to go see Dr. Cobbley. We were both scraped up from wrestling on the blacktop in our early-’90s shorts. All our knees and elbows were skinned pretty well, and Cobbley had the nurse disinfect us with hydrogen peroxide. We said we were only playing. Cobbley did not believe us. She knew I had thrown sand in the kid’s eyes. What she didn’t know was how long the kid I’d tried to blind had been trying me. She did not appreciate that he really had had it coming to him. So she wanted to teach us a lesson. She wanted to teach us it wasn’t okay to throw sand in people’s eyes. There was a janitor at the school who was a kick-ass guy because he had a blond mullet and an eye patch. He was like Kurt Russel in Escape from New York. No one knew how he had lost his eye. Then Dr. Cobbley revealed the secret to us—he had lost his eye in a sand fight! Someone had thrown sand in his eye, just like I’d done to my enemy. This was the same lady that taught me to speed-read. She lied to us, I am pretty sure, about the janitor losing his eye in a sand fight, but she taught me how to speed-read and now I can read a book real fast and not remember a fucking thing about it.  

My current memory of reading Thomas Hardy for the first time was: in the regional jail in Youngstown, Ohio. I don’t know how Hardy got to the regional jail in Youngstown, but he did. The Mayor of Casterbridge, no less. I would recommend The Mayor of Casterbridge to literally anybody. Hardy knew how to do it the proper way. 

My current favorite book is: The Long Take by Robin Robertson. I am not qualified to say much about it really. Robertson is on another level, as far as I am concerned. I haven’t been there ever, but I have heard him pacing around or whatever on the ceiling of where I stay. You can hear him cough or swear sometimes. This is a metaphor, of course. He lives in England, I think. I guess it doesn’t matter. I’m talking about somewhere else. It may only be Ondaatje hanging around up there with him. There is no heat in the winter and Ondaatje and Robertson rub their hands together to stay warm when it gets real bad and one stomps his leg from time to time. They only smoke TOP tobacco up there, regardless of whether either one of them smokes in real life or not. And they are nineteen years old forever, and they cannot ignore how they are almost invariably handled inconsiderately by others. But they give no quarter, and they ask none in return. They will make it. Unless they do not. Anyway, this book, The Long Take, is just something one has to see for oneself. One cannot describe to somebody else and do it justice. The writing is indescribably perfect. It’s a beautiful little book that takes hardly any time at all to read. I always like when that is the case.

My current favorite film is: …I’ve been watching a lot Jacque Demy films with Rachel [Rabbit White]. It’s like half of what we watch. We maybe watch one or two movies a week, if we’re lucky. Les Parapluies de Cherboug was the first of those we watched… Bay of Angels or that one would be my favorite, thinking now off the top of my head. I knew I would like Bay of Angels ahead of time, though, because before I met Rachel I had read an essay she had written on it for Garage and I loved the essay and it was the first thing I mentioned to her that wasn’t her poems, when we first were talking.

My current favorite television shows is: …I don’t watch TV shows. Sorry. Though, come to think of it, I did see some episodes of On Becoming a God in Central Florida, which I think is TV, even though it’s different than what I think of when I think of TV a show, because most TV shows are dumb and this show wasn’t dumb. Rachel is a Kirsten Dunst, I think. She was watching that Marie Antoinette movie the lady made, the other day. I hadn’t realized it til now but Rachel is a Kirsten Dunst. She likes Catherine Deneuve, too. Anyway, I liked that TV show. It was dynamic and captured a time and place well. A lot of detail in that show. There is a lack of attention to detail in many things. That’s my biggest problem with a lot of what I see these days. There isn’t an awful lot of people going out of their way to know what they’re talking about when they make stuff. They like the idea of being writers maybe and never have thought about putting in what goes into having something to say. Hence [I’d] rather watch TikTok than a film or a TV show or whatever.

My current favorite song is: “Skeleton City,” off the Rubella album Barn Burners (Muscle Beach Records). The album did 2020 perfect. I’ve probably listened to it a hundred times already. “Goodie Gumdrops,” the first track, is low-key an anthem-ass song, and it works because he’s not trying for that. There’s another one called “Kill Grid” that’s fire. It’s a solid record throughout, really. The lyrics are good. He’s got poems really, and the instruments are drum samples chopped up, with synth over it… a lot of circuit bends and things like that… kind of like Baudelaire meets Joy Division, except without guitar. It’s probably the best pop record that anybody with a dick has made in at least five years, as far as I know.

My current state of mind is: stressed out, dotting i’s and crossing t’s. I cannot wait til I’m done with the book I’m working on now. It’ll be a load off my mind.

My current chemical romance involves: Winston Reds [and] sugar-free Red Bull. I forget to drink water most times. I really need to start remembering to drink water.

My current favorite quotes are: 

“Always it’s spring and everyone’s in love and flowers pick themselves.”—E.E. Cummings

Puis qui chante : nana, comme un tas d’enfants près
De mourir, idiots doux aux chansons soudaines :
Ô Justes, nous chierons dans vos ventres de grès !
—Arthur Rimbaud

My current mode of transportation is: my feets, presently. I am between cars.

My current favorite fast food establishment is: Chick-Fil-A. I feel like I’m Kanye West, because I think I read somewhere that he likes Chick-Fil-A.

My current workout routine consists of: pull-ups, smoking, sex… in no particular order.

My current projects include: a novel I am writing.

My current hopes and dreams are: to not embarrass Rachel.


Photo credit: Joshua Atwood 

Brian Alan Ellis runs House of Vlad Press, and is the author of several books, including Sad Laughter (Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2018). His writing has appeared at Juked, Hobart, Fanzine, Monkeybicycle, Electric Literature, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Funhouse, Heavy Feather Review, and Yes Poetry, among other places. He lives in Florida.

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