In 1975, there was one craft brewery in the United States; today, there are more than 2,300. Powered by millions of savvy, devoted consumers and raking in hundreds of millions annually for producers and retailers, the American craft beer movement has changed the brewing industry and the international reputation of American beer. The Rogues at the heart of the revolution upended the Big Beer giants that once seemed untouchable and forever altered the culinary habits of not only millions of Americans but millions more worldwide. Tom Acitelli chronicles this delicious story of plucky triumph in his awesomely titled The Audacity of Hops: America’s Craft Beer Revolution.
May 17, 2013 by Jason Ashlock
Move over, Björk. With the blockbuster 2 Guns (Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg) set to explode across U.S. multiplexes this summer, renegade filmmaker Baltasar Kormakur (Contraband) is about to become Iceland’s most popular cultural export. But first, the man once called the “Mayor of Reykjavik” has just released The Deep, an intimate, Icelandic film exploring survival, miracles and the perilous life of fishermen.
What constitutes a miracle?
This question runs through Icelandic director Baltasar Kormakur’s most recent film, The Deep, which chronicles the life of Gulli (played pitch perfectly by Olafur Darri Olafsson), a simple man who survives a night in the frigid North Atlantic Ocean after his ship sinks.
The Deep is based on the true story of the trawler Breki that capsized in 1984 off the coast of Iceland’s Westman Islands. Doctors speculated that Gulli, the lone survivor, stayed alive because he was, metaphorically, part seal due to his rotund frame being insulated by a remarkable amount of body fat. An object of fascination to Icelanders, Gulli quickly became a national icon and the subject of intense scientific investigation into why he didn’t die.
In a nation where the economy is tied so heavily to the fishing industry, Gulli’s miraculous story still resonates, even more so now that the country has been forced to redefine its cultural identity since the banking and finance industries precipitated Iceland’s economic collapse in 2008.
“Bankers are not our heroes. They didn’t give birth to our nation. Our fathers and grandfathers aren’t businessmen,” said Kormakur, currently in Los Angeles wrapping up post production on the blockbuster film 2 Guns.
“Our true heroes wear fishing gear and raincoats.”
Observing his country transform from one rooted in the blue collar fishing industry to one dominated by runaway capitalism, Kormakur “felt we had lost our way, so I wanted to make a movie that reminded us of who we are.”
May 16, 2013 by Jason Ashlock
The next time you find yourself enjoying a finely crafted beer, you might want to ask yourself what it took to bring that drink to your lips. Tom Acitelli, author of The Audacity of Hops: The History of America’s Craft Beer Revolution (Chicago Review Press) did more than wonder about it: He went off across America in search of the stories behind the suds.
Acitelli, the founding editor of Curbed Boston, and a contributor to The New York Times and other publications, answered a few of our questions about where to find the best beers, how Europe is catching onto America’s craft movement, and what it’s like drinking brews infused with St. John’s Wort or hot peppers.
Here are some of his insights:
Where is the heart of the American craft brewing scene?
Tom Acitelli: There are now more than 2,300 breweries in the United States, the most since the 1880s, so pinpointing a definite geographic heart might be a tad difficult. Spiritually, however, the American craft beer movement indisputably pivots on Northern California—specifically, theSan Francisco Bay Area. The oldest craft brewery still in operation (Anchor Brewery, famous for its steam beer) is in an old coffee roastery in San Francisco’s Potrero Hill neighborhood. The first startup craft brewery since Prohibition (New Albion Brewery, which went out of business in 1983) was also nearby, in Sonoma County wine country; and the nation’s second- and third-oldest brewpubs, Mendocino Brewing and Buffalo Bill’s, started just outside of San Francisco.
If someone wanted to plan a vacation entirely around tasting craft beers, where would you recommend they go?
Wonderful idea! I would recommend three locales. The first would be the San Francisco Bay Area, because of the aforementioned history and the decent public transit within the metro region. The second would beAsheville, N.C., which has been called “San Francisco East,” in no small part due to the explosive growth in craft breweries—and many of these craft breweries are plucky startups that adore visitors. (I should note: most every craft brewery has samples for guests and they’re usually free.) The final one would be Vermont. There are 27 craft breweries in the state of barely 600,000 souls—small area, beautiful environment, lots of choices.
How many beers do you think you tasted during the course of writing this book? What was the strangest, what was the best?
Believe it or not, I stayed stone sober for large portions of researching and writing this book. Part of it was for energy and part of it was because I did not want to fall in love with a particular brewery’s beer and lose a sense of objectivity. I will say this, though: I gained a new appreciation for milder, lower-alcohol beers, the kinds you can sip largely without consequence. On the other hand, I encountered plenty of so-called “extreme beers,” which can be made from all sorts of ingredients beyond the traditional barley, yeast, water and hops (I had one made with St. John’s Wort, another with hot peppers, and one that had been aged in an oak barrel with several gallons of zinfandel wine)—and they pack a huge kick that can render the next morning rather unproductive.
May 11, 2013 by Jason Ashlock
Ralphie rode in the back of Pete’s Chevy Impala, while Pete steered, and Quentin sat in the front seat next to him. They drove up and down the streets of South Philly, slow, keeping an eye on things.
The sun sat on the horizon, below the row homes, casting deep shadows in the neighborhood.
“I need a refill,” said Ralphie, handing his empty glass to Quentin.
Quentin grabbed the bottle of Jack Daniel’s from the footwell and poured a double into Ralphie’s glass, and handed it back to him.
“I’m hungry,” said Pete. “You want to get a cheesesteak, Ralphie?”
“Not now,” said Ralphie.
“What kind of cheese do you like on your steak?” said Pete, looking at Ralphie in the rearview mirror. “Whiz, or provolone, or something else?”
“Don’t be stupid,” said Ralphie.
“Me, I love Whiz,” said Pete. “I won’t eat a steak any other way.”
“You know why they call it Whiz, don’t you?” said Ralphie.
Pete shook his head. “No, why?”
“’Cause it’s got piss in it.”
Quentin looked back at Ralphie over his shoulder, and Ralphie winked at him.
“What?” said Pete.
“Yeah,” said Ralphie. “You know when you want to take a piss, sometimes you say, I got to take a whiz? Well, that’s where they get the name from.”
“No, shit?” said Pete.
“Yeah, why do you think it’s so yellow?” said Quentin.
“Oh, man,” said Pete. “Well, I ain’t going to eat that no more!”
Ralphie and Quentin broke out laughing.
Pete started laughing with them.
“Goddamn,” said Quentin. “That’s the funniest thing I ever heard.”
“Yeah!” said Pete. “I ain’t going to eat it no more!”
Ralphie frowned. He reached forward and slapped Pete on the back of the head.
“You dimwit,” he said. “That’s not why we’re laughing.”
“It ain’t?” said Pete.
“No, you idiot,” said Ralphie. “We’re laughing ‘cause there ain’t no piss in Cheez Whiz.”
“I don’t get it,” said Pete.
Ralphie let out a sigh. “Just drive, will you?”
The car hit a bump, and whiskey splashed out of Ralphie’s glass and onto his pants.
“Jesus, Pete,” he said. “Watch where the fuck you’re going.”
“Sorry, Ralphie. I was just trying to avoid hitting a kid on a bike.”
“Well, fuck him,” said Ralphie. “You made me spill good whiskey.”
“Right,” said Pete. “Good whiskey.”
At the next corner on SouthFourth Street, a young guy in jeans and a black t-shirt flagged down the car. Pete pulled over.
“See what he wants,” said Ralphie.
Quentin rolled down his window.
“What do you want?” he said to the guy.
“I want to talk to Ralphie about a problem I got,” he said.
“Who is he?” said Ralphie.
“Tom from the neighborhood,” said Quentin. “I know him.”
Ralphie took a sip of Jack Daniel’s and rolled down his window. He waved to Tom, and Tom approached the rear door.
“What’s the problem?” said Ralphie.
“I got robbed,” said Tom. “Somebody broke into my house and stole all my money.”
“Why don’t you call the cops?”
“’Cause I stole it from somebody else,” said Tom.
Ralphie nodded. “So what do you want me to do about it?”
“Well, I know who done it,” said Tom. “Can you get the money back for me, and maybe, you know, beat the guy up some?”
Ralphie let out a sigh, thinking about it.
“You’d have to pay me in advance,” he said.
May 10, 2013 by Jason Ashlock
BY MARK T CONARD
Waking across the airport motel parking lot, Sheri-Lynn spotted two girls. She recognized them as Chrystal and Champagne, regulars at the motel. They both seemed like nice girls, Sheri-Lynn thought, even though Champagne was black.
Sheri-Lynn originally hailed from North Carolina, but she’d come up north six years ago. At the time, she thought it would be nice to have a change of scenery.
“Hi, Sheri-Lynn,” said the two girls.
They leaned up against an old Ford Escort, underneath a streetlamp. They looked sexy in their cut-off jeans and halter tops.
Sheri-Lynn said hi to them.
Chrystal said, “Where you been?”
“Oh, I had an office call,” said Sheri-Lynn. “You know that insurance salesman, the one with the funny hair, calls himself Snarky?”
“Ooh,” said Champagne, crinkling her nose. “He’s gross.”
“Yeah, I suppose,” said Sheri-Lynn.
“We were just going to have a little smoke,” said Chrystal, holding up a joint. “Care to join us?”
“Sure,” said Sheri-Lynn.
Champagne held out the lighter and lit the joint for Chrystal. She took a hit, and passed it to Champagne.
“How’ve things been around here?” said Sheri-Lynn.
“Slow,” said Chrystal, letting out the smoke. “Real slow. Some college boys wanted to pull a train, and then Mr. Allen, works for the Eagles—you know him?”
Sheri-Lynn nodded, taking the joint from Champagne.
“He had me come to his office once, after hours,” said Sheri-Lynn. “It was pretty neat being there, but the place was kind of spooky when it was deserted, and he wanted to do it on the desk. That was uncomfortable. His stapler kept poking me in the butt.”
“You have such a cute accent—‘it was pretty neat being there’,” Chrystal said, trying to imitate Sheri-Lynn.
She and Champagne laughed.
Sheri-Lynn shrugged. “I guess. I know I don’t talk like you city girls.”
“Anyways, that’s all we seen tonight,” said Chrystal. “Hardly worth leaving the house for. Might as well have stayed home and watched the Home Shopping Network.”
“Me, I like game shows,” said Sheri-Lynn.
She took a hit of the reefer, then passed it back to Chrystal.
Breathing out the smoke, Sheri-Lynn said, “Wheel—Of—Fortune!”
Champagne laughed and said, “We were talking earlier about how we got started in this business. How’d you get into it, Sheri-Lynn?”
Sheri-Lynn shrugged again. “Oh, I don’t know. I guess I was just born for it.”
“Why don’t you quit and do something else?” said Chrystal.
“I guess I just don’t know what else to do with myself. I don’t really have no ambitions to do anything in particular, so I might as well do this. Better than nothing, I guess.”
“You could be a waitress, or maybe even a hostess at a restaurant,” said Chrystal.
“Oh, shoot, I don’t think I could do anything like that,” said Sheri-Lynn.
“Maybe you could get Vanna White’s job turning letters.”
The three of them started laughing, and Sheri-Lynn blushed.
Champagne said, “Did your father love you?”
“He sure did,” said Sheri-Lynn. “He was a good Christian and tried to make me into a good Christian, so he beat me something awful, on account of my bad disposition. He beat me, and I pretended like I didn’t care any when I was younger, but I really hated it. He even broke my arm this one time. I understand now why he did it. He loved me, and there was just nothing else he could do with me. I mean, what do you do with a girl with a naturally bad disposition? You got to at least try to set her right. But, unfortunately, it didn’t take. I’ll never be a good Christian. I know that.”
“My father used to rape me,” said Champagne. “Then he’d give me presents afterwards, so I wouldn’t tell anyone.”
“What kind of presents?”
“Oh, different things,” she said. “Cute little jewelry, or bags of candy. But one time he bought me a new bike.”
“Wow,” said Chrystal. “That must’ve been nice.”
“It was,” said Champagne. “It was really nice, but it turned out to be stolen, so the cops came and took it away.”
“Shoot!” said Sheri-Lynn. “Did your daddy get in trouble?”
“Oh, no. He just told the cops that I stole it. That was the first time I got arrested.”
“Too bad about the bike,” said Chrystal.
A car pulled into the parking lot, and its headlights lit up the three girls and the Escort. It was a newish-looking Buick with out of state license plates. It parked two spaces away from the Ford.
“I guess I’m up,” said Chrystal, and she walked over to the driver’s side of the car and bent down to talk to the man.
“Neat car,” said Sheri-Lynn. “I like the color—green.”
“Yeah, and from Jersey,” said Champagne.
They watched Chrystal nod, as the man pointed towards Sheri-Lynn. Chrystal walked back to them.
“He wants you,” she said to Sheri-Lynn. “Partial to blonds, I guess.”
Sheri-Lynn walked to the car and bent down to get a look at the guy. She took him for a businessman on a trip. In his thirties, he wore glasses, had a round face, and looked nervous, like this might’ve been his first time.
“Hi, honey,” said Sheri-Lynn. “What’s your name?”
“John,” he said.
She snickered. “Well, that works out, now, don’t it?”
“No, it really is my name,” he said, trying to smile.
“Well, relax. You don’t need to be scared. What can I do for you tonight?”
“Well,” he said, lowering his voice. “I…”
“C’mon, now, don’t be shy,” she said. “You want the whole works? You want something fancy? You just want a header?”
He started nodding. “Yeah…Yeah, that’s what I want!”
“Okay, no problem at all,” she said. “That’ll cost you twenty—that okay with you?”
Normally, she’d only charge ten, but since he was out of state and probably didn’t know any better, she thought she’d see if he’d go for more.
“Oh, yeah, that’s…that’s terrific,” he said, hunching up to pull out his wallet. He handed her a twenty-dollar bill.
She put it into the little black purse she carried.
“Now scoot on over,” she said, opening the car door.
“No!” he said, pulling the door closed again. “Not here! Not out here! I paid for a room!”
She frowned. “Well, you didn’t have to go and do that. I could’ve taken care of you right here and saved you the money.”
“Well, it’s already paid for,” he said, showing her the key with the green plastic diamond attached to it. The plastic diamond read ‘10’ in white numerals.
“Ten’s right over here,” said Sheri-Lynn, pointing over her shoulder. “So just shut off your car and come with me.”
May 9, 2013 by Jason Ashlock
Late on a Saturday afternoon, Ralphie and Quentin sat in a back booth at Johnny’s Place in South Philly, drinking whiskey out of straight glasses. They’d had to move to the back, since more and more the boozehounds who always hung around the bar had started to bug Ralphie and ask him for favors.
For a few minutes, Quentin had been trying to convince Ralphie of the superiority of the Beatles over the Rolling Stones.
“I really don’t give a shit,” said Ralphie.
“Both Lennon and McCartney were great songwriters,” said Quentin. “Either one of them could write a great tune, a great lyric, and it would be a hit song.”
“So the fuck what?”
“So what? So, I’ll tell you so what—the Stones are a one note band. All their songs sound the same—it’s fucking Mick Jagger prancing around, pretending like he’s some nigger, pouting his huge ugly lips, and whining.”
Ralphie sighed and took another drink of straight whiskey.
“I keep telling you,” he said, “I don’t give a fuck. The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the fucking Beach Boys, I couldn’t give a rat’s ass for any of them. They all mean shit to me.”
Quentin winced like he’d tasted something terrible. “The Beach Boys? Are you kidding me? We’re talking about the Beatles versus the Rolling Stones. The Beach Boys don’t even enter the picture.”
“Let me make it plain,” said Ralphie. “I don’t give a shit.”
Quentin frowned and took a drink of whiskey. “You’re funny, Ralphie, you know it? You don’t like any of the things everybody else likes. You know what I was thinking? That you’re sort of like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, only without the Dr. Jekyll part.”
“You say some stupid shit sometimes,” said Ralphie. “We’ve been friends a long time, but once in a while I just want to beat your fucking head in with a baseball bat.”
Quentin nodded. “Yeah, that’s kind of what I was talking about just now.”
Ralphie looked over to see a blond girl with whorish make up staring at him from across the room. She wore a jean skirt and a black tube top. Ralphie frowned.
“Who’s that?” he said to Quentin.
Quentin shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“Why’s she staring at me?”
“I don’t know that either,” said Quentin.
Ralphie waved to her to come over to the table. The girl looked around, then pointed to herself. Ralphie nodded, and the girl started across the room.
“What’s your name?” said Ralphie, as she stepped up to them.
“Sheri-Lynn,” she said, and she had a cute Southern accent.
“Where you from?” said Quentin. “Delaware?”
She shook her head. “I was born and raised in North Carolina,” she said. “I been here a few years now.”
“What do you want?” said Ralphie.
“Well,” she said. “I heard you’re the guy to come to around here, you know, when you can’t go to the cops.”
Ralphie grinned and nodded and leaned back in the seat. “What if I am?” he said.
“I was kind of wondering,” she said, looking at the floor.
“Wondering what?” said Ralphie. “Spit it out.”
“I was wondering if you wanted to be my manager.”
“You know, my pimp,” she said, glancing around.
“Shit,” said Ralphie, grinning wider. He looked at Quentin. “You imagine that? Me, a pimp?”
Quentin laughed. “Hell, yeah, you’d make a great pimp! Why don’t you do it, Ralphie?”
Ralphie looked back at the girl. “I don’t know anything about pimping.”
“There really ain’t nothing to it,” said the girl. “You just got to look out for me and make sure nobody takes advantage of me or hurts me, that kind of thing, and I give you a cut of my earnings.”
“Yeah?” said Ralphie. “How much?”
“That’d be up to you, but it’s usually about half.”
“Hey, that ain’t bad,” said Quentin.
“Plus, you get to fuck me whenever you want,” said the girl.
Ralphie looked her up and down. “Yeah, I don’t know.”
“And you can beat me if I get out of line,” she said.
“Yeah?” said Ralphie. “That’s part of the arrangement?”
She nodded. “Sure is. It’s part of the pimp/whore relationship. Has been for ages.”
“That sounds pretty good,” said Quentin.
“It’s tempting,” said Ralphie. “But I don’t think so. I got too much other shit to do right now.”
“Okay,” said the girl, hanging her head.
Ralphie let out a sigh, looking at her. “Tell you what.”
“Yeah?” she said, looking up at him.
“If anybody bothers you, just let me know. Maybe I’ll run them off for you.”
“Oh, thanks, Ralphie. Thanks.”
She hurried back to the front bar.
“I really think you ought to go into pimping,” said Quentin. “I’d give you a hand with it. I know Pete would love to help out, too.”
“Nah,” said Ralphie, waving his hand. “Too much trouble.”
“Uh-oh,” said Quentin, looking across the room. “Look who’s here.”
Ralphie glanced over to see a guy they grew up with, Sam, standing in the same spot the prostitute had been standing in, scanning the room. As soon as he spotted Ralphie, he came hurrying over.
May 8, 2013 by Jason Ashlock
On Friday night at Johnny’s Place, the usual drunks stood at the bar, both the after work part-timers, and the career boozehounds—the used up whores begging for somebody to buy them a shot, and the old guys with the yellowed skin and the rotten livers who’d sell their kids’ toys for a pint of whiskey. Sister Rachel Armageddon, a young nun from the local parish, made the rounds and gave them sermons about Jesus and God and why it’s a sin to masturbate and use contraception.
Ralphie and Marcie walked into the bar and looked around, surprised at the crowd. Ralphie spotted Quentin and Pete in a corner booth and nodded to them. He didn’t want to sit with them because he noticed that they acted stupid around Marcie. Pete always acted stupid, that’s the way he was. Ralphie figured his parents must have dropped him on his head when he was a kid, or maybe his mother had smoked a lot of crack when she was pregnant. But for some reason Quentin also acted funny whenever Marcie was around.
Ralphie directed Marcie to the end of the bar, as far away from Sister Rachel as he could manage, so that he wouldn’t have to listen to her Catholic bullshit. He called to Charlie the bartender to bring them some drinks.
Marcie wore a black skirt, black stockings, and a white shirt that was open a few buttons, so that it showed off her tits. She’d just had her hair dyed a deep red color like cooked cherries, and that pissed off Ralphie when he first saw it. She had naturally pretty chestnut brown hair, so he didn’t understand why she’d want to go and ruin it like that.
Charlie the bartender sat the drinks in front of them, and they clinked glasses like they wanted to toast something.
“Why’s she do that?” said Marcie, raising her voice, so she could be heard over the crowd.
“Who?” said Ralphie.
“The nun,” she said, nodding at Sister Rachel.
“Fuck if I know.”
“Doesn’t she know those people? Pat and Al, and Dickie—they’ll never change.”
“Wouldn’t if they could,” Ralphie said.
“That’s what I mean,” she said, almost yelling. “I’m not sure anybody can change what they really are, you know, deep inside. Those three sure can’t, so she’s wasting her time.”
“Just makes the situation worse,” said Ralphie.
“You’re right! If they can’t help being who they are, then she’s just making them feel bad by harping at them.”
Ralphie felt a tap on his shoulder and turned to see Quentin grinning like an idiot. Ralphie and Quentin had been friends since grade school, when Ralphie beat the hell out of him in a schoolyard fight and knocked out three of his teeth.
“I was hoping you guys would show up,” Quentin said.
Ralphie rolled his eyes. Quentin would never say stupid shit like that when Marcie wasn’t around.
“Hi Quentin,” said Marcie, turning to him.
“Hi Marcie. Where’d you guys eat?”
“We ate at the Oregon Diner. Ralphie got mustard on his shirt.”
She reached over and scratched at the yellow stain.
“Have anything good?” Quentin asked.
“Vichyssoise and pâté,” Ralphie said, feeling himself getting angry. “What the fuck does it matter?”
“Don’t be so grumpy,” said Marcie. “I had chicken pot pie, and it wasn’t bad. Ralphie had the chopped steak.”
Ralphie glanced at his own reflection in the mirror behind the bar and straightened his tie. The mirror was cracked and cloudy, and it distorted his reflection. He felt vaguely sick looking at himself.
“You guys want to come over and sit with us?” said Quentin, motioning towards the table.
“Maybe later,” Ralphie said.
Quentin shrugged, and turned like he was going back to the booth, but stopped. “I forgot—your father was in here earlier.”
“What?” said Ralphie.
He hadn’t seen his father in three years. He couldn’t believe that the old man would just show up like that, just appear in the neighborhood, without warning.
“Yeah,” said Quentin. “He was in here with some woman, and he asked about you.”
May 6, 2013 by Jason Ashlock
Annie walked into the saloon called Johnny’s Place, where everybody in South Philly hung out. Coming out of the bright afternoon sun, she had to let her eyes adjust to the darkness. She hated the sunlight. It hurt her eyes, gave her a headache, and made her freckle, and she fucking hated freckles. She wore her good denim skirt, a tank top, and a pair of sandals. She thought now maybe she should’ve dressed up a little more, but her black skirt, the one she wore to her mother’s funeral, was the only dressier thing she had, and that wouldn’t have looked right, not in the middle of the afternoon.
When her eyes adjusted she looked around and spotted Ralphie sitting with his friends at a table. She walked over to them, trying not to hurry, trying not to look like she was in a hurry. They laughed and joked, and she knew they’d been drinking. They didn’t even seem to notice her standing there.
Ralphie’s friend Quentin told a story about his little brother. His little brother was a retard, and Quentin told a funny story about how the kid stuck a knife in a light socket, how he shocked himself and yelled out in this funny retard way.
“You should’ve heard him!” said Quentin, and he imitated his brother yelling.
Everyone laughed hard.
“When he stuck the knife in the socket,” said Pete, “did he have smoke coming out of his hair, the way they do in cartoons?”
Quentin stared at him a moment. “Don’t be stupid,” he said.
Annie spoke up, saying, “Ralphie? Ralphie, can I talk to you?” and her voice sounded too eager. She fucking hated her voice when it sounded like that.
The guys went on drinking and joking, and Ralphie seemed to ignore her. She walked over to his side of the table and put a hand on his shoulder. “Ralphie? Can I talk to you a minute?”
Ralphie drank the whiskey in his glass and belched.
Pete nodded at her and said, “Ralphie, Annie wants to talk to you.”
Ralphie looked over at him like he’d said something stupid.
“No kidding?” he said. “How’d you fucking figure that one out?”
Quentin laughed out loud, and spit flew from his mouth.
Annie bent down close to his ear. “Ralphie, can I talk to you?” she said, this time in a warm voice, making sure he could feel her breath on his ear and neck. She fucking loved her voice when it sounded like that.
He looked up at her. “What about?”
She looked at Quentin and Pete. “It’s kind of private,” she said, using that same voice again.
He kept looking up at her, and their eyes met, and she felt his hand touch her leg. His hand slid up the inside of her leg, under the denim skirt, and she didn’t move and didn’t let her eyes move away from his. When his hand slid all the way up between her legs, he realized she wasn’t wearing any underpants and he grinned.
“Okay,” he said, taking back his hand, and he scooted away from the table.
They walked together across the room, to a table away from the others. He held onto her arm, leading her as they walked. They sat down across from each other. Annie looked over at Ralphie. He was thirty or so, with red hair, redder than hers, buzzed short, and he had pale blue eyes and a full mouth. She found him very handsome. The only thing that detracted from his looks was a thick scar over his left eye, and that made him look rugged more than ugly.
“Carol beat up Cathy again,” she said, referring to her husband and her oldest daughter. “He beats me up all the time, and I don’t really give a shit anymore, but I just can’t stand it when he hits the kids.”
“Does he hit Linda too?”
Linda was her other daughter, the younger one.
“Yeah, he beats them both.”
Carol hardly ever hit Linda, but she wanted Ralphie to think he did.
“Why don’t you stop him?” he said.
“I try, but he’s so much bigger than me, Ralphie.”
She felt herself starting to cry, and she was glad that she was. She hadn’t even tried, it just sort of happened.
“Why don’t you leave him?” Ralphie said to her.
“I would,” she said, sniffling. “Only he said he’d kill me, he’d kill all three of us, if I did.”
Ralphie sat back in the chair with his hands behind his neck. “You think he’s serious?”
She nodded and wiped away a tear. “I know he is. He told me he knows a guy, and this guy drives a tow truck. What he does is, he follows you around, and when he gets you some place kind of isolated, he shoots you in your car, then takes your car to the pound and they crush it all up, and you’re never found.”
“I never heard of that,” said Ralphie, sounding impressed. “I wonder who it is.”
“I don’t know, but I know he’s serious—Carol, I mean.”
Ralphie nodded, still with his hands behind his neck. “So, what do you want me to do?”
Annie looked around, and in a low voice said, “I want you to kill him for me.”
Ralphie stared at her and leaned forward, putting his elbows on the table. “What makes you think I’d do something like that?”
“Oh, Ralphie, everybody knows about you,” she said. “I mean, you got a reputation. People in South Philly know how bad you are.”
Ralphie nodded. He seemed pleased with what she’d said. “All right. I’ll kill him, but I’m doing it for the girls.”
She smiled at him. “Thanks, Ralphie. Thanks a bunch.”
“It’s going to cost you, though.”
She nodded. “I figured that.”
“Can you get out tonight?”
She frowned, thinking about it. “I don’t know. Maybe. I might be able to use my neighbor as an excuse.”
“Well, see if you can. Get out tonight and come over to my place, and we’ll start working on that payment.”
She smiled and felt herself getting moist and warm. She would’ve fucked Ralphie for fun or for no reason at all. Making like it was a payment for services made it seem dirty, and that excited her even more.
“If you can’t get a sitter, bring the girls,” Ralphie said. “We can find something for them to do.”
Annie nodded. She liked the fact that Ralphie liked her kids. She didn’t care anything about his reputation. So long as he liked her kids, he was all right with her.
She pushed away from the table, stood up, and walked across the floor. She hoped he was watching her, but when she reached the door she turned back to look at him, and he was already sitting at the other table with his friends again and wasn’t paying any attention to her.
Quentin and Pete had ordered more whiskey and had drunk theirs but left Ralphie’s sitting by his empty chair. Ralphie sat down at the table and took a drink.
“What’d she want?” said Quentin.
“She wants me to kill Carol,” said Ralphie.
May 1, 2013 by Jason Ashlock
BY RO CUZON
In a spoon, mix some On the Road with a drop of vinegar and a squirt of water. Bring to a boil and let it cool, then add just the right amount of Catcher in the Rye. Suction through the balled up cotton of a cigarette Pulp/Noir filter. Find a vein. Inject and wait for the rush.
Junkie Love, Joe Clifford’s second novel (his third book if you include his great short-story collection Choice Cuts) is as raw and candid a story as you’ll ever experience. It’s a gritty literary memoir that reads like the fiction of a James M. Cain or Jim Thompson and will take you on a visceral trip down the darkest alleys of drug addiction.
Early in the novel, Joe wonders “how a good-looking, lapsed Catholic from Connecticut turned into a no-good, thieving junkie, homeless on the streets of San Francisco.” Junkie Love is, at least in part, the author’s attempt to answer that question. At this stage in the story, however, one of the explanations Joe offers us is that he may have read too many books.
There aren’t many possibilities left for true adventure in our world today for a rebellious young man stuck in a small town, his mind ablaze with the stories of Conrad, Melville, and the spirit of the Beats, his dreams pulsing to a rock & roll soundtrack. There are no more riverboats languidly wheel-paddling up and down the Mississippi River, and hopping freight trains across America just doesn’t have the same romantic appeal it once had before the Interstate Highway System. In theory, one can still embark on a ship across the oceans, though it is hard to imagine anything more boring that being stuck on one of these storm-proof, container-laden supertankers for weeks on end with a foreign crew.
This, I believe, is one of the numerous reasons why the world of drugs can appear so seductive to many young people. Dark and dangerous, but still romantic—at least in an 18th Century Romanticism sense—drugs represent one of the last, readily accessible roads away from conformity and a square, boring life. For kids who may not fit in with the mainstream and polite society, kids who feel they are different, special even, drugs are the ultimate fuck you.
And they make you high.
They are of course also a trap.
Some, the lucky ones, will realize this and pull back in time. For others, it will be too late.
Joe Clifford belongs to the latter group, a young man who went to San Francisco with rock & roll dreams of making it as a musician, only to end up living on the streets, swallowed whole by a spiraling addiction to methamphetamines then heroin. Committing crimes to feed his habit, he ends up betraying and breaking the heart of everyone who ever loved him, as junkies are wont to do.
Very few people make it out of that world; fewer still end up creating art out of their experiences. Poignant, horrific, and at times uproariously funny, Junkie Love is not only a journey through hell and back but also a story of redemption and hope.
One must be careful not to glorify an addict’s ‘war stories’, Joe points out somewhere in the book. This is very true, for any junkie’s suffering is, at least originally, self-inflicted.
The fact remains that, in a roundabout, twisted, painful way ten years in the making, Joe Clifford may have achieved what he set out to do when he first hit the highway in search of adventure. “The best teacher is experience,” writes Jack Kerouac in On the Road. Joe Clifford embarked on a wild perilous trip, pushed his luck as far as it would go and almost didn’t make it back. But he did, and in the process found his identity and his own unique voice, creating music not out of notes but out of words.
Go west, young man, go west. It amazes me that Joe and I both headed that call the same year, in 1991. He was twenty-one at the time, I was twenty-two. He came from Connecticut and I from France, but we both ended up in the same place, physically and metaphorically. Although we never met back then, we lived in the same San Francisco neighborhood, and, to be sure, frequented some of the same places and characters.
Two decades later, we are both published writers. We both have families of our own.
Sometimes, real-life Noir stories have happy endings.
Ro Cuzon is the author of the Adel Destin crime series, including the critically acclaimed Under the Dixie Moon and Under the Carib Sun. Hailed by George Pelecanos, Sean Chercover, Laura Lippman, and James Sallis as a writer to watch, Ro’s novels are all available here at the Rogue Reader and at ebook retailers everywhere.
April 29, 2013 by Jason Ashlock
BY JIMMY FARRELL.
A demon puts on a scavenger hunt for a university professor, and the prize for winning is the chance to bring his daughter back from purgatory.
The one-sentence summary of Andrew Pyper’s latest novel, The Demonologist (Simon & Schuster: 304 pp., $25), doesn’t do it justice. The narrative of this Canadian native’s latest delves much deeper than one might expect from a such a high-concept thriller, and Pyper delivers an emotionally-charged, high-energy, spine-tingling story that brings you right into the mind of a skeptic faced with an unsettling truth.
Professor David Ullman, the novel’s well-educated and chronically-morose protagonist, is an odd combination of ardent atheist and scholar of biblical texts, and an enthusiast of John Milton’s Paradise Lost. When a disturbingly thin woman approaches David with an invitation to spend an all-expenses-paid weekend in Venice, he is unable to decline the generous offer. Taking his daughter Tess on the Italian excursion, he leaves her with a nanny one afternoon so that he can uphold his end of the bargain and witness whatever happening he was brought here to view.
The phenomenon – a man in a dark room, chained to a chair, with an unnatural voice and speaking of future events – horrifies David and begins immediately to corrupt his atheist beliefs. Back at his hotel and eager to return to his New York City home, David loses his daughter for a moment, only to find her on the roof of the hotel, standing on its ledge and speaking in the same unnatural voice as the man in the dark room. Just before Tess’s possessed body plummets into the Venice canal, David hears Tess’s real voice utter, find me.
The experience leaves David broken and hollow, yet determined to carry through with his daughter’s request. Armed only with a video recording he made of the man in the dark room, his mastery of the mythology of Paradise Lost, and the conviction his daughter must still be alive, David tries to interpret the signs that have begun to pop up around him–signs that suggest there are more things in heaven and earth than he had dreamed of his philosophy, signs he hopes will lead to his daughter’s safe return.
David’s journey, like Milton’s hero’s, proves circuitous and difficult, and he’s without a kind guide to show him the way to hell and back. Instead, he stumbles forward into a paranoid-filled road trip across the U.S. in which he attempts to escape the forces pursuing him, and pursue the forces that have escaped with the thing in life he loved most. Along his journey, David comes across haunting examples of the demon’s handiwork, and with the help (and occasional ridicule) of his close friend, Elaine O’Brien, he tries to find place these strange encounters inside the larger puzzle, in order to understand what the demon wants–and why it wanted Tess.
The Demonologist is filled to the brim with disturbing images, exhilarating danger, and a provocative sense of the numinous. But where Andrew Pyper really excels is in his ability to convey the thoughts and feelings swirling around in the mind of his hero. Balancing bullet-fast pacing with internal struggle, Pyper gives us a thriller that’s as cerebral as it is muscular. David’s constant melancholy–his loving an unobtainable woman, experiencing an event that puts his entire belief system into question, being instantly driven into a state of urgency at the thought of saving Tess–somehow doesn’t spiral into indulgence, but instead raises the stakes even higher. (Pyper himself addresses this tactic in his recent piece in the Wall Street Journal.)
Pyper’s novel might be properly categorized not as suspense, but as horror, a genre that has proven again and again–from Poe to James to King to Cronin–that it can marry plot with a prose that reaches a higher literary register. With The Demonologist, Pyper has won himself a place on that list.
Despite its lovely prose and thoughtful execution, we offer a word of caution before you dive headfirst into Pyper’s latest: don’t plan on getting a good night’s sleep. Between your desperate attempt to finish it in one sitting and the novel’s abundance of absolutely frightening passages, you’ll be searching for sleep as desperately as Pyper’s hero searches for answers. And it will be just as difficult to find.
April 23, 2013 by Jason Ashlock
I write crime fiction, and I also play guitar in a blues band—the kind of New York City band that plays in small, divey clubs where the sound equipment is generally awful, and sometimes hardly anybody shows up to watch you play, but you have fun anyway because you love the music so much.
Mind you, I’m not the only writer who dabbles in music. Ian Rankin once sang in a punk band called The Dancing Pigs, and Jonathan Coe played in a band known as The Peer Group. Wayne Arthurson is a drummer in an indie rock band, BeerBelly. Also, the Norwegian author Jo Nesbø is the vocalist for a rock band, Di Derre. And the big daddy of suspense and horror, Stephen King, plays in The Rock Bottom Remainders. Pete Morin plays in a rock band, but he loves the blues like I do and does blues jams. Besides the two of us, I haven’t found any other writers who are blues guys. (If anyone knows of any others, be sure to let me know.)
Now, I think there’s an interesting parallel between crime fiction and the Blues, and not just because of the dark, noirish themes that they share, though that’s important. I think there’s also a parallel in the structure of the two.
To begin, the Blues has a very regular structure. It generally consists of three chords, which are known as the I, IV, and V, played in a repeating twelve bar pattern. A common version of this is: four bars of the I, two bars of the IV, two bars of the I, one bar of the V, one bar of the IV, and two bars of the I. So the basic pattern is quite regular, though sometimes musicians will play around with it. So what makes the Blues so captivating? It’s the variations in the solos that you play over the pattern, and the basic feeling that you inject into the song. Listen to any song by Muddy Waters, or Elmore James, or Howin’ Wolf, or any of the straight blues stuff of Clapton or the Allman Brothers, or Stevie Ray Vaughan: almost all those songs fall into the twelve bar pattern, and they’re all great because of the genius of the solos, and the earth-moving feeling these guys are able to infuse into their playing.
This brings me to crime fiction. The patterns might not be quite as regimented or few as the twelve bar pattern of the Blues, but there are conventions of the genre, and there are basic plot lines. Take this one for example: A private investigator is hired by a client to…take your pick: find a missing loved one, remove a threat, get someone off his back, re-open an investigation into a death that the cops botched, etc. In the process of the investigation, the private eye himself comes under suspicion (usually of murder), and/or gets drawn into a situation where he has to perform certain actions that are illegal or immoral and that he normally wouldn’t have performed. Further, he discovers that the client has set him up from the beginning to take a fall for whatever he’s accused of. So the private eye has to keep himself out of jail and keep himself alive, and he has to bust those who were trying to set him up. This he succeeds in doing, though at the cost of something, his partner, his girlfriend, his general health, his job.
Thus in crime fiction, too, the pattern is quite regular. What makes the stories so additive? First, it’s the riffing that the writer does, which means his facility with language, his ability to grab your attention and to make the characters come alive. For example, describing a woman he just met, Marlowe, in Farwell, My Lovely, says: “It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window.” That line is genius because of the way it describes the woman (telling you more than oceans of description of her features ever could), the way it reveals Marlowe’s character, and the beautiful tension or contradiction it provides in not only a bishop who’d fall over himself for this woman, but who’d be so hot for her that he’d kick a hole in the church window because of his desire. The plot I outlined above describes many of Raymond Chandler’s novels, but they’re all terrific and endlessly re-readable because of his greatness with the language.
As with the Blues, the second element that makes crime stories so captivating is the feeling that the writer is able to bring to the story and to the language. Just as a blues solo has to move you, has to make you want to dance, or has to tear you up inside, so a crime story has to excite you, has to grab your attention, has to make you wonder what’s going to happen next. That feeling is what the great books have and the lesser ones lack. Read Chandler, Cain, or Hammett, read James Ellroy, Jim Thompson, or Elmore Leonard, some of the virtuosos of the genre. They’ve got the touch, they bring the feeling, they make the language sing, even while describing the darkest side of life.
So: a regular pattern that the artist riffs on and solos around, and a captivating feeling the artist injects into the work. This is where the Blues and crime fiction meet.
Mark T Conard is the author of the Philly Payback Series, including the novels Dark as Night and Killer’s Coda. He’s also the Chair of the Philosophy Department at Marymount Manhattan College, and the editor of numerous volumes on Noir and Philosophy. Follow him on Twitter.
May 11, 2013 by Jason Ashlock
By MARK T CONARD Ralphie rode in the back of Pete’s Chevy Impala, while Pete steered, and Quentin sat in the front seat next to …
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