Easthampton fiction writer and creative whirlwind Ben Hersey (you may know him from his old band, Viking Funeral, but you probably don’t) had a clever idea: “I got really excited about trying to tell a life story through random questions,” he tells DigBoston. Furthermore, “It’s set up as a year in the life of this character, Steve Industry, and everything is going to hell. But it’s written through a series of survey questions, like those shitty questions people used to answer on Myspace 10 years ago or so: ‘If you were a character in a horror movie, would you survive?’”
Instead of asking Ben questions about his resulting project, The Autograph of Steve Industry, now available on Magic Helicopter Press, we simply asked to excerpt a Q&A from the book. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Steve Industry …
BY BEN HERSEY
What is your least favorite thing about yourself?
I can barely even entertain the thought of how badly I have let the Celtics down. It’s family related. Every Christmas in the ’90s we got together at whoever’s house. One year, my uncle pointed his oil-scorched fingertips at my third eye and goes: “I saw it.” And: “I was fuckin involved.” And then, standing up on the couch: “That was me, Stevie!” pointing at some stretch of audience in the old Garden on the tapes of the playoff games. He’s holding a Budweiser and his shit-eating grin is Christmas-lit and weed-lit and he looks like an asshole, but we love him anyway.
The house smells like ointment in the sand despite the season. My grandmother is high, reading science fiction in the kitchen while a choir of drunk relatives do Johnny Most Christmas carols. There’s two kitchen trash barrels near the ironing board filled with Rudolph’s Dirty Punch, which consists of whateva liquors people procured for the occasion.
Later, Uncle Charlie goes: “I used my fuckin will, Stevie. Me and Donnie’s will. Well, Donnie, Me, and the rest of the firefighters and cops we used to drink with in them days.”
“Uncle Charlie, that’s the year you bled on a shamrock, no?”
“No no no no. C’mon, bud. That was ’84. I’m talking about ’86.”
“Oh, oh. ’86.”
I took it on and get sad guilt over those years I couldn’t pay attention, even now. I was there but I wasn’t. Passed out on a lobster trap in Lynn slash on the porch of a triple-decker in Everett with a coke bone in my nose, days.
“80 goddamn mutherfucking 6!” He shouted so loud I got nervous for a second like something might of actually broken in him. He was lightheaded and passed his beer from the right to the left hand so that he could cradle his temple after the scream.
From the turkey-rich dining room, my mother goes: “Fuckin shut up, Charlie! Steve’s got enough problems, leave him alone.”
Sometimes I am a dead man alive, but not now, not now. Oh god help me, not now. How does that feel to hear, reader?
To this day, Charlie loves to take it down memory lane: “One time we took Donny’s work van to the Garden and just parked it on Causeway Street, I was like, fuck it, I’m not paying twenty bucks for parking. So we musta put fifteen orange cones around it and when we left the game … having won yet a’fucking’gain … that van was still there, no shit. No tickets or nothin. Larry Fuckin Bird.” He pulls up his sleeve and shows me the softened tat: “LARRY FUCKIN BIRD.”
“Man,” he says, taking a couple of blasts from the Bud, “I miss Donny, it’s a shame.”
When you were a kid what did you want to be when you grew up?
Some mix between a cool car and Terry O’Reilly. As I got older, I got less patient. I admit to some impatience about dreams and visions. A child holding a paper bag full of cocaine. There’s your vision of the future. Welcome to Woburn! Right?
For a minute there, I wanted to burn through it all, the fabric of disdain, the ungrown walls, the baffled scallop-edged faces of these unkempt townies and never stop for nothing going a buck-twenty north on 95 one last time into the night.
My parents were fat and they called each other “Angel” and “Sweetin.” They grew and dealt minor amounts of illegal substances. There was more to them than that, I mean, they came from people who knew how to stay put. I could almost taste their saliva in the kitchen air, in the heat of yet another “Armageddin’s Pot Brownie Session.” My mother sprinkled “a few cat-turd’s worth” of shank basement weed in and through her softest batter. Easy Rider soundtrack turned up too loud for that November hour.
I blink my eyes and pass through the days.
Tonight I got out of my dark truck and started for the house. I walked for days and days. I kept turning and looking back at the truck, twelve feet away, wondering, what have I done? How could I have left it there? And then, for long stretches, I would squint at the front door in the distance, at the windows, cracks of living room wondering where I was, and what was I supposed to do when I got there.
I’m here now, older. Made it. I took off my shoes, took a shower, read a few dictionary words and meanings to my daughter before bed. Kitchen looks good. Settled in. Saundra left as soon as I got there, something about “Margaret Rockwood’s whole family.” I close my eyes and I can feel the house as it drifts in place, bumping gently against the dock of the property line. I, the minster of human song falling asleep in his permanent schooner.
Have you ever had to get a restraining order?
Not personally, nor have I ever had one brought against me, but I have seen restraining orders between people like other people see chicken fingers, like awesome blossoms at Chili’s, like a packet of hot sauce on a blind date.
A couple years ago I was the only person out of all my friends and family who didn’t have some length of restraining order in their lives. Gardenhose had one out against his mom who was mad because he moved out. Toby got one against his girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend who was throwing rocks through the windows at night. Forgsy got one against Derrick because Forgsy was saying stuff to him one night drunk about how a soldier doesn’t have to have compassion and Derrick who thinks he knows all about soldiers even though he wouldn’t enlist if his dick was on fire, didn’t agree, shouting about Civil War love letters and shit and hunting down Forgsy to make a point, threatening him with a 9-iron. Forgsy’s decision to get a restraining order was a form of wisdom I had never experienced before. A form of restraint in itself that seemed almost alien. My father had one against his mother-in-law and my mother had one against my father (no one, not even her, knows why, honestly) and yet they continued living together at the time in Danvers. My father was taking his metal detector down the beach everyday, sometimes for six or seven hours at a time, no job, except “treasure hunter.” He’d come home, my mom would tell me on the phone, with a grocery bag full of nails, buttons, and metal rods. Toby’s family had restraining orders on legions of people I didn’t know. A shadow army. Everybody was busy going to the courthouse. Down there first thing in the morning, everybody still shower-damp, fingers dipped in steaming hot French Vanillas and Hazelnuts, hair dyed and shiny to the touch. Fat judges and pale lawyers passing through crowds of stone-eyed citizens hyper-aware of the geography of their bodies, personal space and the discomfort of trying to look innocent even though they don’t really have any nice enough clothes to look innocent in. Yeah, you can tuck your t-shirt in all day buddy and you still look like a drug dealer. Everybody in variations of the same posture. Stay-the-fuck-off posture, but also I’m-not-the-problem posture. Always in that order. Occasional dudes in Bruins jerseys, eyes puffed up, double-fisting Coolattas in predawn arthritis limps. Get a court-ordered counselor, whatever you got to do. Just get the state to recognize you have limits, even though you know you don’t give a fuck about limits. Do this and things will automatically get better even if they don’t. That was, no is, the fundamental message. And when you think of it like that, it’s easy to appreciate restraint as a thing with genuine value.