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Thunder Pie | Stabbed In The Neck By Some Kid With A Pencil: Tiny Essays On Writing

I crank up my two box fans. I sit down in my shaky wooden chair. I rub my finger on the MacBook mouse pad thing and the screen lights up. I feel like it’s time.

Pee-Paw Decides What to Write About.

Coffee. Folgers. Or Walmart brand. Cheap coffee, with like two or three fingers of milk and a healthy/ unhealthy dose of sugar. No fake sugar substitutes for me. I don’t put those kinds of chemicals in my temple. In my body. I use Domino sugar. From Brooklyn, New York City, people. I think it’s still made there, anyway. Maybe not. Probably not. They probably closed the factory down long ago and moved their operations to some other land. It doesn’t matter. Everything transitions when you are moving through a dream.

That’s how I write though, in case you’ve been wondering. I write on Tuesday mornings, my insides slathered in cheap coffee. I’d love to see my insides, wouldn’t you? Well, I don’t mean wouldn’t you like to see my insides, but rather your own. Imagine being able to look at your real skeleton. Your thumping heart. Your dripping brain. Your stomach all laid out like a raw pot roast on the kitchen table. I’d lean in to smell it. Not yours/ I would not lean in to smell your nasty stomach! But mine… oh, I would practically kiss that bad boy with puckered lips as I imbibed a long drag of my guts. I bet they smell ironish. I bet they have that sort of ripe metallic tang that some people swear Bigfoot smells like just before you see him/her in the woods. Like bloody cucumbers. Like musky death.

I write with a jitter running through me because that’s how I like it. But if I’m being perfectly straight with you, lots of times I end up with most of a travel mug filled with cold coffee at the end of one of my writing sessions. I went in so deep, so fast, you see. If things get rolling for a writer then time stops. Coffee evaporates and coffee cups do too. It sounds hokey as hell, but ask anyone who writes a lot and they will tell you the same thing or something similar. Maybe they will describe it better, but fuck that. “Time stops” is pretty good, isn’t it? I mean, it’s alright, no? I don’t know. I guess it’s a little weak. I could do it better if I tried, I reckon.

The coffee helps though, even if it’s just the stuff I’d been slugging all morning, before I actually sit down to write. It causes my nerves to twitch and I like that when I write. I don’t want to be all comfortable. I don’t want to be cozy. I am not over here writing a letter to Grandma on a snowy afternoon in 1862. No gentle tea mist rising from a porcelain cup for me. No pondering the flakes as they silently land upon the rattling window/ no inspiration from the storm outside. What I do is: I get all jacked up on coffee and then I drive the older three kids to school. 25 miles one way. 25 miles back. No music/ no podcasts. Maybe some conversation with them on the way there, but on the way back it’s just a solid half hour or so of rubber on the road sound. Window cracked a hair hiss. Change vibrating in the cupholder, Altoids tapping in their tin. I chew on a toothpick, probably made far away. Maybe China. Maybe I chomp on a Chinese toothpick while I ride up the valley in silence, trying to figure out what I’m gonna write about. Trying to get a muse to notice me instead of someone else.

It isn’t easy. And isn’t hard either. It’s just a matter of allowing myself to exist. To open up to all possibilities. To admit to myself that I have lived a lot more than I expected this past week. I close my eyes at the wheel. I sip my coffee from my black metal travel mug and I feel the Honda gripping the road.

I search the ether for the signal. And usually nothing comes to me. So I just drive home and take a shower/ look at myself in the bathroom mirror/ carve the same old face out of fresh cliffs of steamed-up glass.

Fuck You, Pee-Paw. I scrawl that, with a clean finger, in the condensation just beneath my chin in the mirror.

Today’s topic, it turns out, is me.


Oh HELL yes.

Army Field Desk from Long Ago Cop.

I do all my writing on this brown army field desk. It’s chipped and beat up now. Her edges are worn away and you can see her thinly layered wood bones where some skin used to be. It was a gift of sorts, I guess, given to me by an old landlord when I first moved back to Pennsylvania about a decade ago. He was a cop, the landlord was, and I can’t remember why he ever gave this thing to me. But he did and I’m glad. Most people probably wouldn’t put it in their bedroom. Most people would want something fancier or nicer or whatever.

But not me.

I like old stained very used wood. Sometimes I even think maybe I am old stained very used wood. Maybe I am made of that too. That would explain some things.

The desk has folding legs and it’s not very big, as any field desk probably ought not be, coming in at only about three feet by two feet. It isn’t really heavy either, but it’s also not ultra lite, not something you would imagine a soldier carrying around on his back just in case he wants to jot down his ‘precious memoirs’ while he’s running through the jungle being sprayed with Agent Orange.

I haven’t really talked to the fellow who gave it to me in a long time. I’m not sure if he would really care if I ever told him that I put that desk in my bedroom and I use it to write on all the time now.

I write essays, I’d tell him. About my life and stuff.

He’d probably act polite about it but not really give a shit.

Who could blame him?

I remember him though, or the version of him that I knew years ago. He was pretty sharp and pretty funny and we had some good laughs driving around his in-laws big woods. He’d pick me up at my place and off we’d go in his souped-up golf cart, drinking cans of Miller Lite in the late summer breeze. Up on the mountain, he showed me places where he had shot decent bucks. He told me stories about the debauchery of the first week of deer season and we shot some guns up around the cabin a few times, our reports echoing across the valley/ out past our road/ out over the graveyard across the main drag where, years later, I would find a wind-battered grave for a young local kid who died at the Battle of South Mountain in Maryland. That was just days before Antietam. He died just before big famous Antietam. Which means the kid never even heard of Antietam. He never even knew it happened. Or Gettysburg, for that matter. Or The Wilderness. Or Appomattox. It makes me think about things. It makes me wonder about a lot of things, a Centre County kid snuffed out like that. You could stand at a grave like that and you could understand that nothing is real if you wanted to.

I can anyway.

These days, I keep all my best Civil War books on this desk. Piled high in old wooden fruit crates I set up like book shelves, I carefully place all of my Gettysburg books here. And my regimental histories too. They are all from regiments that either me or Arle’s great-grandfathers fought in. She has more though. Motherfucker.

I clear the desk off on the days I’m set to write. I take all these other books that I have temporarily placed by my bedside (just so I can be near them, and maybe read them someday) and I pile them right there next to me on my bed. My plastic jug of melatonin, my metal box with painted scenes of London all over it, my bottle of Fuji Apple seltzer water from Walmart, a small Ziploc baggie that holds a yellowed newspaper clipping from the 1940s announcing my grandparents wedding that I keep meaning to frame: I take all of these things, every single week, and I move them off my desk onto my bed. Right in the spot where I sleep.

And then I just crank up my two box fans and put them on the floor and I sit down in my shaky wooden chair and I rub my finger on the MacBook mouse pad thing and the screen lights up and I feel like it’s time.

I feel like it’s now or never.

I feel up against a wall with no chance of getting out of this thing unless I fight back.

So I do.

I put my work boots up on this old army field desk and I move my laptop to my actual lap and I lean back in the chair and I just go down into the ground. Deep. Alone. Unafraid but scared as fuck. Look at my dumbass black metal travel mug left hanging there at the edge of the new dug hole. It looks like a stuffed prairie dog staring at you from some big city museum diorama, huh?

Swallowed by a raging sea, I find it oddly comfortable to get so lost from everything.

From everyone.

They will find my bleached bones clinging to this trusty old field desk in some lagoon some day. A kid will glare at my gull-pick’d skull and he will be horrified and enchanted at the same time. Mosquitos will be swarming his face, his eyes. All this writing will go unwritten then. But my stories will go on.

Field desk at a thrift shop.

Field desk in somebody’s garage.

I am reborn.

I am spark plug ham sandwich warm beer monkey wrench grease paint reborn once again.


“Heroes must see to their own fame. No one else will.”
– Gore Vidal

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Serge Bielanko lives in small-town Pennsylvania with an amazing wife who’s out of his league and a passel of exceptional kids who still love him even when he’s a lot. Every week, he shares his thoughts on life, relationships, parenting, baseball, music, mental health, the Civil War and whatever else is rattling around his noggin. Once in a blue Muskie Moon, he backs away from the computer, straps on a guitar and plays some rock ’n’ roll with his brother Dave and their bandmates in Marah