I woke up this morning, reached into my treasure trove of lost manuscripts and pulled out a doozy titled “Nothing is Everything” set in my hometown of Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, in 1977.
Eventually, I’ll compile these stories into one volume as I hope to do for C-U what Shep did for Hammond, Indiana, a decade earlier. Shep if you don’t know is a cat named Jean Shepherd, who I met briefly at Valparaiso University in 1970 along with Joe Heller.
The first in this autobiographical series is a black comedy titled East Village and involves Bugsy and Maarten traveling to New York City at the end of the summer in 1967 and landing in a crash pad in the East Village terrorized by a speed freak named Yukyuk.
The second, titled The Steam Tunnels, is a tragedy that takes place around the same time only set underneath Champaign-Urbana in a world that still exists today.
The third is The Stockholm Manifesto and involves my scheme to avoid the Vietnam War by relocating to Sweden for a few months.
And now we have the fourth, which takes place several years later.
After graduation from art school, Bugsy drifted around North America for a few years working odd jobs, while I went back to school and ended up with a masters in journalism. Right after I graduated, life in C-U, once a hotbed of counterculture activity, turned sour as the counterculture headshops and hangouts had already been displaced by chain stores.
My cynicism may have hit rock bottom around this time. The story about the girl-friend is 100 percent Bugsy though. I’d already written about my first real girl friend in The Stockholm Manifesto. My next story, however, could reveal one of my own tragic love affairs of 1979, a story that was rejected by The New Yorker, but with a nice note on the slip encouraging me to keep submitting.
When I put that rejection slip on display in my home office, Mark Bussell told me it looked pathetic. Soon, I’d stop writing fiction and move almost 100 percent into journalism. But I’m so happy these short stories are finally seeing the light of day, because they document a generation in a way no one else has, other than Guy Maynard, who was also there for the ride.
But you’ll have to wait until the next time I feel like dipping into my lost manuscripts file to find out what jumps out next.