I was perusing a writer’s group the other day and came across a depressing thread. In it, an author (and I give him credit for his honesty) had collaborated with about a dozen editors and maybe 100 authors for a series of anthologies, and was relaying their abysmal sales. He concluded that everyone, when all was said and done, was going to profit about $10, and that they were pulling the series from Amazon. You heard that right, 10 bucks each. Like most authors out there, I have little respect regard for the industry, and I can understand the appeal of self-publishing. But Amazon has become a catch-all, an island of forgotten manuscripts, a pay-to-play scheme where every unknown author spends as much money on ads as he makes back in sales. It reminds me of all the poor saps who get duped into multi-level marketing schemes where, at the end of six months, the dejected housewife just trying to make an extra buck is out a couple grand (and friends who have had enough ‘party invites’), and is left with nothing but a basement full of organic scrunchies, high-dollar kitchen shears, fish oil in pill form. At all of this, the business owner in me cringes. Mothers, don’t let your sons (or daughters) grow up to sell books on Amazon.* I get it. We all want to become rich and famous and sit around getting paid handsomely plucking away on a keyboard. We've glamorized this idea of a professional writer, parked in front of our laptop on our lake home sipping coffee and struggling to come up with that killer opening (or closing) line. And oh, the struggle! Well, the struggle is real, but you won't find it lounging on a dock or sipping tea in that log cabin with open windows to the Rockies. You'll find it wiping the sleepers out of your eyes and slogging to work 5:00 AM on a Monday morning, or waking up in the middle of the night to that colicky infant who refuses to sleep, or kneeling on the grass, gently placing a bouquet of flowers and brushing aside the leaves and twigs and bird crap from that freshly sunken tombstone. Sure, we all need a break from reality – after all, we’re merely human – but there's a difference between respite and escape.
*Before all of you with books on Amazon grab your pitchforks, understand that I'm speaking in generalities, not absolutes.
A note on all issues prior to 2023
In 2023, we switched email sending services. Converting entire issues into our new sender and their formatting is a lot of work, and with our limited resources, we've decided to expedite the work by focusing on converting only the story and intro. Perhaps some day we'll get around to the rest of it, but for now, enjoy the story.
Do you remember Danny Stroehle? He appeared our freshman year - an ordinary guy in a lot of ways, except that he was a savant on the piano. Every year our school held a talent show right before Thanksgiving break, and Danny lit up the gymnasium as he sang and played Great Balls of Fire. And don’t forget, not only was he a freshman, but the new kid, all alone up there in front of the entire school. It was like a scene you’d watch in a movie, not something you witnessed from the bleachers. He got second place. Remember when they announced the dance team as the big winner? The booing. It wasn’t some orchestrated protest either, like when all those kids skipped class and marched through town because they didn’t like the new principal, Mrs. Dykstra. “Oh, she’s the worst,” they’d lament, like veterans recalling the nightmares of the Vietcong. Then they’d roll another smoke, count up the ears of their enemies and repeat that line without offering any tangible evidence. But the booing, like I said, wasn’t planned. Just some knee-jerk reaction of hundreds of teenagers appalled by a young talent getting royally screwed over. First place was awarded a hundred bucks, and hey, the dance team was in dire need of new pom poms – or so the conspiracy theory went. Anyway, I befriended Danny a few months before this travesty, when we partnered up in Global Cultures class, memorizing useless information about the Phoenicians, their sea prowess, and ability to make the color purple. We ingested a lot of useless information – names and dates, names and dates, names and dates – and no fault of our teachers, mind you. I lay the blame at the feet of the commies who wrote the curriculum. Mr. Tampir - not a commie - taught that class. He was a wrestling coach, the kind of teacher whose respect extended to and from all students – good kids, bad kids, mock protesting kids, or kids who defaced their friends’ notebooks with crudely drawn penises. Remember that? Hah! Like you could forget. Once, at the onset of said penis drawing phase, we graffitied Fat Tom’s planner, real bad. I’m not talking just a couple of squiggly pricks or sporty chubs, but wall-to-wall in bold, monster, marker renditions. At the beginning of class, Mr. Tampir would call every student up to make sure they were using their planner and award appropriate bonus points, because apparently, this is what the commies were pushing - planner usage. So Tom flips open his planner as Tampir starts calling names, and realizes in horror what we’d done. Frantically, he tries blotting out the sea of wieners, but his #2 pencil proves wholly ineffective against the might of our proud, arrogant sharpies. “Tyler,” Mr. Tampir calls, because Fat Tom’s real name isn’t Fat Tom, shocker. Tom sighs, drags himself up to Tampir’s desk, and, utterly embarrassed, lays down his planner like I imagine Robert E. Lee did the rebel flag when the South surrendered. Mr. Tampir takes one look at the planner. He doesn’t say anything, but the look on his face as that moment just drags on, it was like he was trying to decipher something incredibly complex, and for the life of him simply couldn’t conjure up even one logical explanation. He granted Tom five points and called the next student. But I’m getting ahead of myself, because that all happened second semester, and Danny Stroehle was actually in first with me. On the two days of semester tests, the teachers offered us a great liberty – letting us (gasp!) go off-campus for lunch, just like the seniors. We hitched a ride with one of our sophomore friends to Happy Joe’s for some pizza buffet, where another sophomore, Brauer, decided to just hijack a whole pizza off the buffet and schlepp it back to his redneck friends. Braur had something in common with Danny – he too played a little number for the school talent show, but where Braur lacked actual talent, he made up for in comedy. He waltzed up to the stage in his tight Levi’s with a can of dip outlined against the back pocket, holding a couple of drumsticks and a toaster. One of those redneck friends held the mic while he beat the toaster with the drumsticks and sang about how he liked toast. ~Yeaaah TOAST…I Like TOAST!~ The mic-holding redneck may have been Little Raymond, a real tough guy who once caught a fist thrown in a locker-room scuffle, forever cementing his fighting prowess. (‘Raymond? He caught a punch with his bare hand!’) I ran into the duo of Braur and Raymond sometime later. I was strolling by the fabled Senior Ledge (Oooo!) when suddenly Braur deliberately knocked the books out of my hands. “Oh, sorry about that,” he said. I rolled my eyes and gathered my belongings, but when I stood up, Little Raymond sprang into action. Raymond looked like a leprechaun, and was as spry as one, too. He just started spinning around me in circles, only instead of carrying a pot of gold, he wielded a roll of duct tape. One wrap and I was immobilized. After about 10 wraps, as I stood there, helpless and half-mummified, Mrs. Dykstra happened onto the scene and placed her hands on her hips. “All right guys, that's enough." Little Raymond spun it in reverse, and just like that, I was undone. I won’t lie – we freshmen are easily flustered, and had it continued I may have been brought to tears with embarrassment. Thankfully it didn’t. It was just a prank. ~Yeah, a prank…I like pranks!~ But back to the off-campus lunch. The caveat for allowing us the seniors' privilege of eating out in the wild blue yonder with the pizza-hoarding rednecks was that we had to be back on time. And we were. That is, all of us but Danny and Knoebel. When the pair walked in, five minutes late, you could cut the tension with a piece of toast (yeaaah TOAST!). It was such a bizarre moment, because both Danny and Andy were quite responsible, not some penis-drawing punks, mind you. Mr. Tampir offered them The Look of Disappointment. “You’ll ruin it for everyone,” he warned. Tampir was right, you know. It took a few years, but shortly after we graduated, that privilege of off-campus lunch was stripped away like first place at a talent show. Mrs. Dykstra had departed by then, so her hands were clean. At the time, I wondered if a new generation would rise up, skip class in mock protest and later regale the stories of how the new principal was the worst. Unlikely, when dealing with juniors, sophomores, and merely freshmen. Do you remember when Danny moved away, at the end of our freshman year? Came and went like a ghost. He was an enigma, the ethereal new kid who never gets a chance to plant his roots. Me and a few others went to his going away party, where we traipsed around their property, lit off some fireworks and drank Mountain Dew. Someone requested a little diddy on the piano, and after a bit of coaxing, dutifully, Danny performed. He was crazy good, like his fingers were fire and the keys kerosene, and while he worked his magic, Knoebel remarked to me, “He likes to play for people, even if he seems reluctant.” My freshman year, so vivid at times, seems like a blur, a rollercoaster, a great ball of fire that burns bright and fizzles out faster than you can say ‘prank’. Speaking of which, remember when the seniors stole the Senior Ledge (Aaaah!) – unbolted it from the wall and everything? It was a real brouhaha until word got out that Mrs. Dykstra was in on the whole thing, which pretty much killed the allure of the gag. I never understood the animosity that some students (and teachers) had for her. Once, she even let Carinder take her Mustang for a spin. As for Danny, I never saw him again. I don’t recall where he went, nor do I know what he’s doing now. I’m sure he’s out there, somewhere, maybe playing piano, maybe making a fortune. This may sound strange, but I hope not. Instead, I hope he’s doing something – anything – else. Let that Anything Else be the grind, be the battle, be the 40-hour-a-week treadmill. And then, when he arrives home, he’s greeted with a request - maybe on the weekend – where he can sit down and just play. Not for fame or fortune or even a hundred bucks at a stupid talent show, but simply for the love of it - even if, at times, he seems a bit reluctant.
About the Author Danny Hankner began penning stories about himself and his idiot friends as a teenager. Now, masquerading as an adult, he lives in Davenport, Iowa with his wife and three children, working as a master electrician for his own company. In his spare time, Dan rides and builds mountain bike trails, scrapes infinitely spawning cat hurl off the basement floor, and runs Story Unlikely, an award-winning literary magazine where he floats around self-important titles like 'Editor-in-chief'. His work has besmirched the good reputations of Downstate Story, SQ Mag, Tenth Muse, and many more unfortunate publishers, as well as being awarded semi-finalist in Writers of the Future.
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