June 17, 2010
Northern Gothic


A shuffling, lazy-eyed conductor for New Jersey Transit is thirty-six years old, a bit older than Jesus was at the time of the Crucifixion.     


A bickering family—day-trader father, web developer mother, two spoiled children, retired grandfather—are driving to their beach house in the Hamptons.  Stopping at a rest area to gas up the BMW and buy some espressos, they overhear a report on the TV in Starbucks that a psychopath nicknamed “Mr. Normal” has been killing people up and down the Long Island Expressway.  “Turn that off, young lady,” the grandfather tells the barista, “we’re trying to drink coffee here.”  When the family arrives in Southampton, their house’s central air conditioning is broken, so they turn around and head back to Manhattan, ignoring a mysterious hitchhiker en route.


A troubled young man discovers he is in love with his sister, who then becomes pregnant by the junior manager of the local art house cinema.  The brother takes this opportunity to confess his obsession to their father, claiming conception via incest.  The father writes him a prescription for Xanax—just to see what happens.  Also, the sister was never really pregnant, it was more of a cry for attention.


It is 1832.  Sons of privilege in Congress, after passing the Indian Removal Act, lounge about at the capitol’s finest gentlemen’s club, sipping brandy and wondering what’s taking so long.


An unbearably pretentious, thirtysomething whale of a man who still lives with his mother in Bennington, Vermont, aspires to write a revisionist history defending feudal monarchy.  He is disgusted by the trappings of his modern community, especially candlepin bowling.  His exasperated mother, craving space, forces him to take a commission job selling impractical bongs at the local headshop.  He proves so adept in the position that he requires no financial aid when entering Yale’s Ph.D. program.       


Wandering through Amherst, Massachusetts, a damaged young woman depends on the kindness of strangers, and in so doing becomes quite the Ultimate Frisbee player.


In Newark, Paul Swan, a widower lawyer and father of two precocious children, must defend a black man falsely accused of rape.  A number of racists are quickly weeded out in the jury selection process.  Meanwhile, Swan’s children become obsessed with a boarded-up house in their neighborhood, telling stories about a friendly heroin addict who lives there.  But in a chance encounter, he turns out to be sober and kind of a jerk. 


On the beach at Coney Island, a poor Russian immigrant discovers a suitcase holding $2 million in cash.  He takes it to his estranged cousin, a money launderer who lives on Neptune Avenue.  They agree to split the haul fifty-fifty.  Soon the cousin’s wife gets wise and wants a cut to keep her mouth shut.  She then blabs to her hair stylist, who makes a similar request.  Eventually the $2 million is split up evenly among the neighborhood’s hundreds of Russian immigrants, and everyone learns the true meaning of Communism.


Four indoorsy, white-collar women from Philadelphia decide to spend a weekend kayaking around the Delaware Water Gap.  When they briefly come ashore to check their maps, however, a dark, banjo-toting figure emerges from a log cabin to greet them.  He is a retired park ranger and just happy to see people.


Two drifters make their way from Maine to Delaware, following a vague promise of warehouse jobs.  In their travels, they encounter many colorful East Coast characters, such as a cop who gives them a speeding ticket and a diner waitress who, when asked about the specials, points at the specials page of the menu instead of listing them out loud.  Their friendship begins to unravel as they seek out spare change for an approaching toll, raising profound questions about identity and the disorganized nature of gloveboxes.   


An overbearing mother packages her mentally unstable daughter’s treasured glass figurines and mails them to the winning eBay bidder.  She is able to do this because her daughter is out at the movies with an ideal boyfriend.


One boy tricks another into doing his chore.  He is grounded.

(Originally published in Uncle Magazine #3)

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