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Lyrical, unsparing, intricately woven
The Kirkus Review

“The Regular Soundtrack” Spotify Playlist »

Intro

Dave Buckhout / Fiction: The Regular, Atmosphere PressThis is a work of fiction plying the thoroughfares of alcoholism, writing, and being southern, and one man’s attempt to forcefully bend all three to support his unique spin on Victory! It could be read as a documentary, but that it peddles both fact—and—fiction in digging a deeper strata of truth. For the central figure, one Marvin Goodspeed, rapidly emerges as a moving target. A home-grown prodigy of the urban South, this Goodspeed pursues a dogged defense of ideals and liberty and hearth via his dutiful use of the pen and the bottle—the former sustaining the man, the latter the myth. We come to see all of this through the eyes of one Cyrus Cleburne. A local alternative-press journalist, it is his steadfast observation, world class eavesdropping, and even an ill-advised attempt to walk a mile in another’s duct-taped shoes that spotlight the dislocating effects that history and environment and obsessing over history and environment can have on an individual, a culture, a region. With the aid of a timely verbal ass kicking, Cleburne zeroes in and tracks Goodspeed, this author of sudden (and unwanted) renown, as he saunters and stumbles his way through the porous DMZ separating who we are and who we think we are. In the process, our central figure is revealed as the New Newer South mash-up he is, instinctually clinging to things “old” in the face of a “new” sprinting towards the next millennium. It is a strange piece of genius, or madness, or something else entire that Cleburne finds residing in a once forsaken set of urban villages away down South: an alcoholic wordsmith busy stem-winding all three into a tight braid and doing so without a glance at the mess of contradictions he racks up. Relentless in the cause of righting wrongs—perceived and, or real—we watch on in head shaking disgust (and, somehow, admiration?) as Marvin Goodspeed drags his hungover carcass out into the trenches each and every bloody day, waging his losing battle yet declaring Victory! nonetheless ~

The Regular — A Short Sample

A NEW DAWN BREAKS. The haze is fine mesh gauze. Steam loiters as it would about a geyser field. It is felt, implied, seen. The magenta sphere labors as it lifts off the muddy horizon, a new day smoldering, belabored asphalt smoking like tarpits. Flaming, festering, the daylight draws a mute breath. . . . Eyes open on this morning, a day staunch in its mid-Summer promise; August arising, mercury aspiring, sucking mist through indolent filters of humidity. It hints at the broiler to come, the fight ahead. . . . Kudzu runners claim a copse of pine, curtained vines draped as organic gothic sculpture. Fields of the weed swallow parkway buffers. Once detailed in low arbor, bounded by flagstone, they have been rendered historical beneath rotting steppes of convenience-culture litter. Urban canyons fossilize the wrapper, the bottle and can. Vine fields swallow it all. . . . WPA era stonewalls border the nearby city avenue, mortar flaking to dust. A rain-sluiced knoll erodes fat red flats baked to cracking by the vengeful southern heat. The city sidewalks, once knit of precise hexagonal blocks—once solid, unquestioned—are now upturned by the steady ambition of a century-old catalpa, fire ants boiling up from the voids of sidewalk block. . . . It is here, within this roiling stew, where the city wreaths a homegrown prodigy—a wandering guru down in the haze, hunkered within its sweat-stained penumbra.

To one Marvin Goodspeed, this here is home.

HE SHIFTS IN HIS seat atop bar stool, a lean-to-sinewy build weighed down by an epic hangover. He locks a gaze on his nemesis and stews. A nonchalant simmer boils up into something resembling a care, in the presence of one who has done him wrong.

“Damn you,” he mutters, upgrading his stare to a glare in glowering at a fifth of bourbon, one splash above empty.

“Had you dead-to-rights, fucker. Dead. To. Rights.”

He wants to pour its remains in a urinal and piss on it. It is a hate that runs deep, sinew-deep; but is in vain. There is no revenge to be had here, the beguiling spirit insured from retribution. It is the devil’s own.

“You . . . have not conquered me,” he stutters, despite proof to the contrary. For our man ain’t lookin’ so hot. And yet beneath the pallid guise, he is flush with a smoldering inner resolve, is somehow strengthened by the futility of this fight. It is strange, dutiful. His stare projects a wish to shatter bottle glass, the nemesis behind the bar in line with its brethren. Sure of itself, he would swear it is mocking him. A yawning answers his threats. “I just do what I do. It’s just my nature, s’all.”

“Damn you,” he steams, projecting the spirit’s mocking of his empty attempt to create of it a dead soldier, the emptied portion of that bottle having signed, sealed, delivered a sidewalk awakening just that morning. A soupy haze floats his seething.

“Damn you!”

“Marv, what in the hell ya gettin’ so hot about?” Howard, barkeep / proprietor, having watched the mild madness from afar. “Nothing, not talking to you, H; just wishing ill will on that bottle ‘a bourbon did me in last night. Swear on a stack it’s tauntin’ me.”

“Talking bottles? Eustace rubbin’ off on ya? I told ya to take it eeeeaasy last night, Marv,” Howard punctuating the replay of his petition with outstretched hands, the authoritative gesture of trust me on this one. “But then ya ain’t ever been one to listen to my reason.”

“I know it. I know it. You know how I get when the parasites invade, H. Don’t care if the dude is from the alt-weekly or 20-fucking-20, gets me hot, gets me to redoubling my efforts, fightin’ em because they’re down here, in here.”

“A true warrior. Ya even make it home last night?”

“Make my home where I lie, H.”

Goodspeed stretches out his arms, an all-encompassing span. “It’s all home to me.”

“How convenient. Another’n?”

“You bet.”

Howard slides out a second screwdriver, Marvin Goodspeed’s late-morning power drink of choice. A desert thirst best describes his sucking it down. The tall cool refreshment of orange juice hides vodka’s tooth. He sets the empty glass on the bar top, exhales contentment; the drink’s mojo a timeless folk remedy. Freedom from pain guaranteed. A grin lights his vacant gaze, recollections wandering the haze soup. . . .

The sun’s cellular split from the horizon had reared up red just that morning, Goodspeed having awoken to the steaming blur on the sidewalk where he’d passed out. One could have expected disorientation / discombobulation. (“What the . . . shit, really?”) But it was not the first time, and it will not be the last. The routine of it all had made of it just another morning, the bloodshot orb having pried open slits—Goodspeed’s first glimpse of this new day.

“Well, up ‘n at ’em,” having sold himself on motivation / conviction despite the pile-on of defeats; having worked his way to his feet, having moved beyond the stonewall running the length of city avenue and puking. Only the strict regimen of devotion, dedication, and fidelity could fuel such an instinct to persist, a long foggy walk having found him here in time for opening. 11 a.m. He doesn’t even own a watch, just the timeless hallowed instinct of routine.

“Boy howdy, that there’s the stuff.” Goodspeed savors the tingle of restorative juices penetrating deep. “That there’ll restore you some faith in a hapless world.”

“Take it where ya can get it, Marv.”

“A slice of heaven on earth, tell you what.” Goodspeed and his screwdriver: perfect harmony, freedom in a glass. “How ’bout some joyful noise there, H?”

“Now you’re talking, son. FM radio or the compact-disc jukebox?” Howard, very proud of his most recent (if not so technologically recent) entertainment upgrade.

“Don’t take to music shoved down my neck with a side of the bastards’ ads.”

“Right. Of course. Well, let’s see. Got Loretta queue’d up in the jukebox.”

“That’ll do, H. That will do.”

Loretta Lynn lifts his dour day. Goodspeed’s grin draws a drawl. He is content here in this place. It is his place. . . . Welcome all, to the Asa Inman Blue Ribbon Buffet. Stale and stoned, it is a living apparition, its walls sealed in a film faded the color of old newspaper. One could accept Sputnik or TET as the day’s headlines, the bytes of world events mired in bar side inertia. For time (we will find) is rendered irrelevant in here, relegated to just another amongst the calcified patrons drowning a thirst or a doldrum. It is a Victory! of sorts, regulars giving time the slip, if only for an afternoon or an evening. In here, the ubiquity of the daily grind is reduced to reviled curiosity. In here, the good regulars are free from the chattel-like shadow of corporate slavery, of manipulative marketing, of the whining mosquitoes of moral judgment and the bald-faced lies of political hacks. In here, freedom reigns. This is a place where regulars can gather within environs that require no explanation, no interpretation. It is what it is and has been that way since its start as a clandestine stop for the bootlegging-trippers back in the ’20s. Hence the name; best not to advertise your sinful wares back when the Drys held sway.

Our man’s mood lightens, his rumpled brow smoothing. Loretta and vodka, works every time. He has reconciled with his near-empty tormentor, it just doing what it does. The truce will hold, for now. But so personal a slight is long remembered. Slow to anger, once burned our man’s pride tends to smolder. A wrong lives long.

Goodspeed looks beyond the nemesis and its brethren (for now), looking himself over in a wall-length mirror behind the bar. . . .

“You is one sexy devil,” he mutters with the half-cluck of a laugh, self-amusement / self-absorption favored tactics in this daily battle with time. Goodspeed raises a fingered V (as in Victory!), gains Howard’s attention. Howard nods, fixes a sequel to the empty glass and serves up the potion. It is a popular tactic. The few others at the bar—Ez, Jude, Boo, Victor, Chuck—employ similar strategies. It is their time to waste. It is freedom. It is noon.
HAVING BID HIS BRETHREN good day, Goodspeed strides up Austin Avenue. An artery dating to the neighborhood’s original design, its unkempt wilds have it coming up short of the parkway it once was. Hints of said grandeur remain: overgrown ornamentals, once precise sidewalks and flagstone medians now smothered beneath an urban jungle of vines and weeds. It is the valley of Summer. The listless air hangs as a slow smothering, full humid heat. No worries. Our man savors it, a therapeutic sauna minus the added bonus of fat naked comrades. Distant ground planes gyrate in the liquid heat. Our man walks into it unfazed, questioning the rhythms of nature as heinous a waste of time as a “yellow bottom feeder” invading his business with softball queries such as . . .

“If not quite lighting the fuse of revolution, your works want to at least shake down the establishment. That’s a crowded field; just curious if an influential figure stands out? An inspiration, that sort of thing?”

“Jim Beam, asshole.” . . . The encounter from the previous night having made it clear to our man, Goodspeed, that Victory! on that night would require steadfast dedication—a radical devoted inebriation—our man having continued . . .

“George Dickel, Jack Daniels, Evan Williams (on which he’d finally settled). How’s that? A quartet of spiritual inspirations. What, do you expect me to sit here and cough up bullet points? Disconnected contextless quotes for the masses numbed by the yellow bullshit masquerading as culture these days?”

“Just question-and-answer, man.”

“How do you know I don’t lie? For all I know, it might be ol’ Evan doing the talking for me. Could just be my subconscious talking itself into a lie so I can look myself in the mirror each day. The laudable, the appalling, in tandem, in conflict. There’s the character we are and the character we want to think we are. And you think I’m able to tell which is which? If you ever cared to notice, you’d recognize that we aren’t exactly the best arbiters of our own truth.”

“You have a following. I’m on the city beat. Just curious what makes a local of some renown tick; question-and-answer, that is all.”

“You want to know what makes me tick? It’s all around ya. Do the legwork, chump. Do your own damned digging and stop murderin’ my time, hear?”

“Crystal clear.”

“Good. Now I’m suggestin’—strongly—that ya move along and let me be. Another’n, H. In fact, best just give me the whole damn’d bottle!”

*        So, right out of the gate a signal fact has been uncovered: Compromising his free time for the “whores of yellow journalism” is right up there with this Regular’s need for a hole-in-the-head. Duly noted. (Okay, can sense what you’re thinking: I have to read a few hundred pages devoted to a caustic drunk? Well, we warn you now that we cannot assuage that worry. For we will not unearth heroes in the pages to follow; at most, some shallow graves revealing what they will. We’re afraid that this will demand of you too, dear reader, and we do apologize for that. . . . That said, we set to work observing our specimen in his natural environs awhile. If game, let us let it all come out in the wash of, say, a few hundred pages? Trowels in hand, a sly grin—a squint-eye?—we set to the painstaking fieldwork ahead. What say? Game?)

Goodspeed dons sunglasses. It is an anonymity he’s had to work hard for of late. As we’ll find he didn’t set out to achieve fame, or status, or the endless invasions of his private drinking. It was freedom he was after.

And he is well on his way this afternoon. Having hid the haze of morning behind the ruse of firewater, he figures a good sweat couldn’t hurt either. Goodspeed sets a sturdy pace. He pounds the pavement, tacking N x NE up Bass Avenue. Beads crowd his brow. A car idles by, carving a hole through the afternoon haze. . . .

*        And so, discouraged of pursuing chump-like softball strategies, we set to the dig and a studied look at our man. It’s hard to know where to start. Waking up on a sidewalk half-drunk offers much to go on. But we can’t be let off the hook so easily, as our man would seem to imply. Simplicity masks complexity here. However, one early observation does help establish a simple / central point: Goodspeed’s every day is lived within a particular brand of irreverence, a life choice that runs against the get-up-and-go grain of this city. As mentioned, the notion of time and society’s incessant demands on it (a sprawling list featuring: “corporate slavery,” “traffic-copters,” and those “whores of yellow journalism”) are levied like a colonial tariff on the man. The tyranny! A defiant backwoodsman in the regional tradition, he is following in the steps of Scots-Irish ancestors who skedaddled for the hills, sinking roots deep on the Appalachian frontier and far from the reach of uptight lowland puritans. The hills were a place where they could pursue their time and the business of freedom as they saw fit. In Goodspeed’s case, we need only substitute Appalachian with urban and lowland with suburban, and our analogy is up to date. Out here on the urban frontier, Goodspeed can pursue his deviance from the expected norm as he sees fit. It is the pulse of heritage that drums inside his ribcage. Live free or die! A one-man Whiskey Rebellion he takes to the “pious bring down” and federal revenuer with verve.

(Be we so bold to state that after only a couple of trowels full we are already making progress? Let us err on the side of bold, folks. Onward!)

The street wanderer, Eustace, passes Goodspeed across the avenue. Shackled to some as of yet undiagnosed schism, yet to date harmless and self-reliant, he’s as much a neighborhood fixture as our man. This here is his home too. Another car passes, presents evidence for its desperate need of a new muffler. Eustace does what he does:

“This is, this is, this is da problem with da demands ‘a physics! They don’t add up ‘n get broken to bits, to bits. Bite the bullet! See?! Shut up! Just shut up! I hate you! I hate you! No! No! Man, I’m sorry. I love you, man! Hey Marvin, Marvin, will you tell ’em to shut all them damned cars off please? They’s just too loud f’me. This is all I’m askin’ of ya, man.”

“I’ll see what I can do, Eustace.”

“That’s kind ‘a ya, man. See, now why can’t you be more like Marvin?! Because I’m for war! Prick! Jerk! Asshole! I’m for peace! War! Peace! War! Peace!”

Goodspeed shakes his head. He understands all too well that the membrane separating us human folk from our own peculiar strains of madness is but a thin permeable veil. This legion of wanderers, harbored within the dementia of a place having evolved equal parts by-chance and by-choice. This here is home. . . . And it is home to deep heat on this afternoon. No worries. It rejuvenates our man, a good sweat helping flush the cirrhotic pallor of the binge.

Goodspeed bends up onto Washita, is heading for Highland Avenue. It’s a familiar course, just one of the dozens within this rare (anymore) collection of late-nineteenth-to-early-twentieth-century villages that we’ll come to know, and love. It is all predictable, comfortable; like the windless heat of August. . . .

*        And so, we begin a look at the environment of our man, the symbiotic interplay between character and place. Again, hard to know where to start. A locale having exalted the preacher, and moonshine-runner? An incubator for the rights of African Americans, and the Klan? A land of extremes sealed beneath a thick veneer of contradiction, at best. But for the sake of our study, let’s give it the ol’ college try. . . . This here is a land that harbors bitter memories of commercial exploitation, political tyranny and want, a history offset by a rugged (if often misplaced) pride in the ability to fight through the hardest of hardships and all that would otherwise be haunting and devastating to experience. This land, this city, they are offspring of the fabled New South. But their roots dig snug into the Old. A glance reveals the depth to which this dichotomy still drives all things. It is its kerosene, its fuel, the old and the new in tandem, in conflict. Its rending coercion often sputters in Goodspeed’s ears as little more than a background hum. But be not fooled, dear reader. For it is his fuel too; and it burns white hot. Springvale Park, home base, the grand old ward of this New South city. Once the crown jewel, it is now an amorphous in-town ‘hood hunkered within the DMZ inherent to metro areas, that zone separating the immaculate staged snapshot city leaders wish to portray from the cordoned-off beat down blocks no one outside them needs know exist. Out here lay the frontier. We need only substitute backwoods shacks amongst piney woods for moldering white-flight vacancies (the Queen Annes, the bungalow fixer-uppers) and our analogy is up to date. This city blows through busy days, a commercial circus worked like a mule but for those exerting an anonymity tooled by design. Irreverent, reticent, their defiance has been honed to perfection, out here. It is Goodspeed’s true art.

Hunger roars in with the afternoon. The truce has halted an insurrection within his queasy guts. He knows well enough to take advantage of it. Like the Arabs and Jews, it promises future conflict. But for right then the peace stands, Goodspeed unable to hate and grateful to vodka’s numbing skill (praising it as easily as he might curse it). It is the spirit’s niche talent, the ability to minimize the iron-fisted regime of Summer. The despot is being held at bay, its red flags hanging limp beneath a broiler. Just a few drinks to help deaden the aches, that’s all it takes. A little Victory! A little lunch couldn’t hurt either, the earth’s mirage melting before his steps.

He turns onto Highland Avenue and strides up to Lou’s New York Pizza at Colquitt. A calzone with vidalias will set him right. It is his time to waste. He enters, the jangling door.

“Hey y’all.”

“Hey, Marv. Sit where ya want,” greets the waitress.

“Can I bother you for a domestic-in-a-bottle?”

“Be rhat out with it, sweetheart.”
THE SUN REARS UP, an ocular orb riven from the horizon. Ascending with effort, it pries eyes to slits. Goodspeed breathes hard, exhales with an audible groan. He works massaging fingers down from temples, an exploration searching for new crevices and creases hanging from cheekbone and jaw. He pushes up facial skin into a joke pig face, releasing it, exhaling.

“Man, oh’ man. What a night.”

Goodspeed rubs his eyes with forefinger knuckles, props himself onto elbows. He takes a look at this new day. It runs through a Vaselined lens. Hard, prolonged blinks of eyelids work to clear the blur. A humid tone advocates carelessness, its haze holding weight—an ogre’s hand on the chest. He dares not fight it, lays back down, closing eyes. Damn that ogre! This morning rued as if closing time.

A red light turns green. Traffic rolls up the avenue like the sleeves of the hardworking. The pack motors by, funneled waves of wind trailing pickups, diesels, fleet vehicles, a bus. The whine and decline of acceleration trails their passing. A discarded styrofoam cup jumps up and over his legs, coming to rest amongst wrapper / newspaper flotsam. Just another morning, a routine no less than reading the paper on the toilet.

Goodspeed looks up as cruiser wheels bank onto the curb. A lumbering idle introduces headlights and grill before his view. Its grumbling clamor throats dissatisfaction. The door opens. The officer’s form fills the frame. Door closed, riot club slid into hip-side eyelet, gun on the belt as the very law itself. A two-way radio clipped to shoulder-strap . . . chatter, static, chatter . . . cackling like a murder of annoyed crows.

The officer stands over him with arms crossed, shakes his head. The silhouette hovers as shape-only to the sight-stymied Goodspeed. But our man knows the shape well. It looms gloom and doom, the personification of badass cumulonimbus threatening lightning and downpours. But then, it’s still morning. Must be the city’s finest. Goodspeed leans his head back down. He grins, the half-cluck of a laugh.

“Now that I know I don’t have to call the morgue, how ’bout gettin’ up?” the officer hard-kicking Goodspeed’s sneaker. “C’mon, Marv, get y’ass up.”

He’ll receive no special favors (despite having made a name for himself). He is too real a character, too many having been forced to pick his half-dead carcass up off the sidewalk. Most all Zone 2 cops know Goodspeed by name, out here. For many a step has this Regular tread / stumbled through the remote urban wilderness. He is predictable, like the snap-clap of thunderstorms in the afternoon. . . .

* So, it seems a good point early in our slicing up the site here to mention what may come as a surprise, this potsherd emanating from the dig. . . . There was a time, not all that long ago, when our man’s day revolved around routine work-a-day ways; long hours served up in hope of the paltry raise, barrel-bottom insurance benefits, a lifetime bled on the whims of CEOs and COOs and VPs he’d never met and never would. . . . But all that had changed.

“Okay, alright, Pete. I’m just messing with ya there, Mr. Civic Duty. I’m gettin’ up, I’m rising.” Goodspeed knows all the cops by name, out here. “What’s with the club? Tryin’ to scare me straight?”

“What? No, no, just habit, s’pose; all y’all good-fer-nothings.”

Pete extends a hand, still shaking his head. Goodspeed declines the offer with gratitude. He rolls over on his side, props up to a knee. His body creaks as an old staircase under fat feet. He rises slowly. Several years of hard drink have wrung him out, muscling out the fading traits of youth. A pallor consumes him. Standing, he seems beaten, the humid broth set to stew that day’s kettle of smog. Breathing itself is enough to crowd Goodspeed’s brow with sweat. He doesn’t look so good.

“Not lookin’ so hot this morning, Marv.”

“Well, just gotta get motivated s’all. Up ‘n at ’em, right?”

Goodspeed continues to ramble in a low tone, Pete hearing something about freedom, hard work, before advising the Regular: “Why not take it on home for a while.”

Goodspeed places his hand on the officer’s shoulder, tries to focus, nods. “Ya, think I might just do that.”

“And speaking for all of us, take a shower. Ya smell like Old Parn.”

“Really? Huh. Fairly certain I didn’t piss myself last night.”

The officer grants the situation its leave, climbs back into the idling cruiser and jumps it off the curb. His right of way is smartly unquestioned.

Goodspeed, meanwhile, is about to pass out—the closing arguments of a collapsing equilibrium. Guts churning, head pounding, he moves to a terrace of the stonewall running alongside city avenue and slumps to a seat. Hands on knees, head slung heavy and slack between shoulders like a wet shirt on a laundry line. He grapples with consciousness, cursing it. Another pack of commuters motor by . . . It is 82˚ @ 7 a.m. and you are listening to The City!