The Daily Bongo
Short Story 3
Tom Wilkerson looked down at the plate of food in front of him, reheated Thai style chicken fried rice with the chicken already picked out and eaten. Was this all that life had to offer him? Tom looked around the apartment. It was a cheap third floor apartment in a building that was filled predominately with graduate students. Most of the residents seemed to come from foreign parts and the smells of boiled potatoes and kimchi permeated the building and wafted into Tom’s apartment whenever he opened the door. The smell stuck to the furniture and his clothes, reminding Tom constantly of what could have been and what actually was. It’s not as if the smell ruined Tom’s furniture. It was hard to ruin second hand furniture purchased from the local Salvation Army store. That was Tom’s present, crap apartment, crap furniture, crap smells and a crap job working in the local post office. Tom manned the desk at the Squirrel Hill Post Office. Every day was the same, dealing with folks who were irritated at the long lines, and foreigners who could barely speak English and wanted to ship this poorly wrapped package to family in China with no consideration on how they were making Tom’s life hell.
This isn’t the way it was supposed to be. Tom was supposed to be living large: a condo in Florida and New York, trips around the world, guest appearances on “Oprah”, and money, enough money to supply him with the better things in life. Tom had a talent for writing, at least he used to. When he was in college, he was always being told what a wonderful writer he was. “Tom’s writing is marvelous,” one professor opined to his class. “When you read his work, you will all be envious of Tom’s way with words. You will wish that you had half of Tom’s skill because then you would go far, but not as far as Tom.” What was he to think? Of course, he thought that he was God’s gift to the world of post-modern literature. Tom had established himself as the premiere short story writer at CMU. There was more that Tom wanted. He knew that he had what it took to be a Great American Novelist. It was just a matter of time before he got the national recognition that he deserved.
It all started out perfectly. Tom got an agent in New York with the help of one of his professors. Boy, was the agent good, and he got Tom a deal with Random House. So Tom started work on the first of his Great American Novels. The problem started with the parties. Tom’s agent, Harry, knew all the best parties, and he took Tom around to introduce his client to the best people. That’s how Tom met Linda, one of the biggest distractions in Tom’s life. Linda was a six foot blonde Amazonian with overflowing boobs and an insatiable sexual appetite. There was no satisfying Linda, and his sex life devolved into threesomes and orgies. Those parties were something else though, and they introduced Tom to some fun people, colorful pills and thirst quenching alcohol. “Hey, I’m better than Hemingway,” Tom thought, “and if he could drink and write the stuff that he did, I should be able to do the same.” Not once did it cross Tom’s mind that maybe he should publish something first before he thought he was Hemingway, that would have meant years of hard work before pleasure.
Harry kept on harassing Tom for the draft of his novel. There just wasn’t time to write with life going on. Parties, alcohol, Linda. “Give me anything, man, just a few chapters and an outline that I could take back to Random House,” Harry begged. Tom took a two week vacation from parties to write up a few pages, make an outline and handed them to Harry. Harry had laughed after reading the first few pages. “You expect me to take this crap around to Random House. What’s the matter with you? You better get your act together.”
Tom knew better though because he knew that he had talent. Talent would always win out in the end. Look at Hemingway. Papa would booze with the best of them, and yet he wrote great stuff and managed to get published. Tom wasn’t too concerned. Fuck Harry!
After a year, Tom thought he had the Great American Novel ready in his mind. The story was about a young man who comes to New York and experiences life. Harry didn’t want anything to do with Tom at this point; and for some reason, his name was mud in the literary agency circles. That wasn’t going to stop him—it wouldn’t have stopped Papa Hemingway either. Tom sent off his manuscript directly to the publishing houses. The replies started to come back. “We don’t accept unsolicited material.” “Amateurish writing. Make some major revisions, find an agent, and then we’ll see if we want it.”
Then Linda up and left him for another man. According to Linda, he just couldn’t get it up enough to satisfy her, and she didn’t like having to clean his puke up after his week long drinking binges. The apartment was in her name, and before he knew it, Tom was out on the streets, scrounging for a job as a short order cook, sleeping on a dwindling list of friends’ couches.
His only recourse was to come back home. At first, he lived with his parents. Even they turned on him. “Get a real job. Stop living in this fantasy world that you are going to write the Great American Novel. Stop drinking. Until you shape you, you have to ship out.” That’s how Tom wound up in Squirrel Hill living in this crap apartment that cost way too much just because of its location. One of his last remaining friends worked for the Postal System, and even though Tom didn’t get as many points on his civil service exam as he should have, he managed to get the job as a mail clerk. So here the Great American Novelist sat. Eating reheated, chickenless, fried rice, sorting mail, getting paper cuts on his hands and past it as far as life was concerned. He was fucking 35 years old, and had nothing to show for it—no woman, no money, no future.
It was time to think about options. Tom hadn’t had a drink in the past six months, and he had AA to thank for that. If the future didn’t stop looking so bleak, he didn’t know how long he could maintain that record. Something has to give, but what? The first thing that Tom needed was to get something published. He had been working on some short stories, but it was hard to get the time to really work on them. The post office required some long hours, and there were days when Tom would just come home too damn tired to even think a creative thought. What he needed was money. A big wad of money, consistent money, so he could quit his job and really concentrate on writing. The only thing that came to mind was winning at Powerball, but that wasn’t very likely. What else could he do?
Tom finished his sorry meal, and then got on his computer to check his e-mail and maybe write a few lines before going to bed. “Why don’t I check out some writing jobs? Maybe I can find some freelance work writing jingles for beer commercials.” Tom opened his web browser, and started Googling for writing work. As he looked around, he noticed that Harlequin had a variety of writing opportunities and paid a decent salary of a few thousand dollars for each book. Tom looked through the samples that the publisher had online, and thought to himself, “I could write this crap. I could probably churn out a book a month or so, maybe six books a year. $7,000 six times a year would be $42,000, and that would beat his $39,500 salary with the Post Office. “Hmm, and all those wild parties with Linda would be perfect with the proper editing for the Harlequin SPICE series. Heck, I could write some soft porn, easy!”
Selling his literary soul seemed like the best solution to his current troubles, and might just keep him alive long enough to nurture his literary soul. Tom opened up Word, and started in with his first sentence: “Linda was some girl: five ten, blonde, boobs overflowing from her low cut sweaters, and an ass that just begged for some smacking.”