Inexplicable Need

In the latest installment of my podcast, “Inexplicable Need: An Interview with Shaun Haurin,” I get into a heated discussion with a former student about how to address a former professor and also about the title of one of my favorite short story collections. I then interview Shaun Haurin, the author of the collection, and find out that I was wrong. The podcast also includes a pair of readings from the book in question, Public Displays of Affectation.

“That’s a Junkie”

Here’s another passage I cut because of the reference to Charley’s students and also because it had more to do with my own life than Charley’s. With subsequent revisions, I got increasingly better at inventing a life for Charley and separating my life from his. In terms of story, these cuts allow the narrative to move along more quickly without getting bogged down in largely irrelevant flashbacks.

“That’s a Junkie”

Instead of saying I was an Academy grad, I told my students I was from Northeast Philadelphia, which was true, to an extent. All my best beatings happened there, and it wasn’t until I started high school that my family moved out to the suburbs. I played ball for the Mayfair Shamrocks, I told my students, on rat-infested fields that were littered with broken liquor bottles and drug paraphernalia. I was an altar boy at Our Lady of Ransom, the church on Route One that was famous for looking like a flying saucer. The guy across the alley from my parents grew pot in his backyard, and my friends and I used to think his tiny arboretum was a wonderful glass clubhouse until we wandered in one day and he came storming out of his basement in sandals and a pink bathrobe, barking obscenities and wielding—we all agreed—a gun, a machete, a hatchet, a baseball bat and a golf club all at once.

We threw bottles to hear them crash and picked through piles of medical waste behind a nearby public health clinic, prizing the discarded dental tools and plaster castings of crooked teeth we found in open trash bins. We roofed each other’s toys and peed in each other’s inflatable swimming pools and ambushed each other with crab apples, and we all rode bikes our uncles had found in the trash, and one day when we were playing on Glenn Steiner’s patio, a junkie came staggering up the sidewalk, coughing up blood and tripping over his own feet. When he fell face-first in the ivy out front, Glenn ran into the house to get his mother, who came hobbling to the front door on crutches because she’d just had corns removed from her toes.

The junkie wore a yellow shirt and greasy blue sweatpants and was crying for someone named David. He had curly hair and tattered sneakers and shivered violently on Glenn Steiner’s ivy. He threw up and rolled over. He hugged himself and cried out for David again. I was six years old. Glenn was seven. We were playing on his patio, and a grown man stumbled up the block, crying like a baby.

“That’s a junkie,” Glenn’s mother said before hobbling inside to call the police. “That’s what happens when you mess with drugs.”