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C.T. Ballentine

PART 1 | PART 2 | PART 3 | PART 4 | PART 5 | PART 6 | PART 7

Don't miss C.T. Ballentine in Atlanta and Birmingham March 3 and 4, where he'll read as part of THE2NDHAND's trio of events (also in Chicago) celebrating the release of installment 23 of the broadsheet. He'll be fresh from a west-coast tour he's documenting for the band 1997 and joined, variously, by THE2NDHAND editor Todd Dills, installment 23 author Toby Carroll, ATL's Jamie Allen and Birmingham's Delaine Derry Green. In part 3 of this serialized novella, Fried reached out to nemesis and muse Professor Crabtree. Herein he might be said to find a new one altogether.

The twilight of a Styrofoam subdivision, choke hold grip on everything surrounding, embarrassing, if not for the promise on the horizon of a brand new tomorrow. Fried tipped his drink to the setting sun.

Nice to know you, pal. When next we meet, it's on wholly different terms.

In the cultural vacuum of northwest suburban Chicago, options for drinking were equal parts limited and repulsive. There were the dance clubs, wherein Fried had not once found himself though he indeed had driven past their parking lots (filled with Honda Civics whose proud owners wore shiny polyester while showing off an assortment of ground lighting effects and hydraulic niceties). For the patriotic country club set there was the Wilmington, or other places just like it, independently owned and reserved primarily for the area's financial elite. But if you knew a few people on the township board, you could sit and gab local politics with them -- the sheriff's new deputy and whether his drinking was merely youthful vigor or the beginning of a long trek down alcoholism's dreary lane, the rumors circulating regarding the mayor's wife and her infidelities, likely pretenders to the mayoral bed -- and in between the soup and entree you could greet the local high school's star quarterback and ask him how his arm was feeling for the upcoming season. Fried, not one for social circles anywhere, least of all those of inbred, sterile suburbs, would never be caught dead in such an establishment. Leave the Norman Rockwell good times to someone who wanted them.

And so Fried found himself nipped away in the corner of a hotel bar, waiting for Crabtree with the traveling salesmen and other assorted characters too ugly for proper suburban life. Sure, there were plenty of better places to drink in the city, but they were invariably loud and bustling, and what Fried needed now was silence. It's fertilization for his seeds to germinate and grow. And silence was this place's stock and trade. The silence of defeat, of the good enough which, once settled, turned out to be anything but. A pathetic crew Fried was all to eager to disassociate himself from once and for all.

He'd never smiled so wide.

The bartender -- decked out in a light pink Izod polo and trim khaki pants -- was covered in a gym's worth of muscles but was, in Fried's estimation, soft. Rarely in a place like this would you be tossing desperate drunks onto the sidewalk. No, this man reigned as king of the white-collar world of emotional suppression, the etiquette of averted glances.

One of the many about to receive the creative blessings of my own mighty brain. Scrub away on those glasses, good man, soon I will burrow into your soul, rearranging everything you once knew.

Fried began sketching a new dream in his notebook, words for others to speak, to burst through the airwaves like water from an uncorked hydrant. His gin and soda was emptied, filled, and filled twice more. Looking up from his notebook, twelve pages covered already in tiny fishtail scribbles, the drink inspired Fried to seek company. Where in the hell was Crabtree? What with this waterfall, this torrent of ideas spilling too quickly for his mortal pen -- he needed to drop words into a willing ear, lest he explode. But there were only two in the bar with him at present, the softened bartender and a whispery shadow of a man covered in a fresh coat of dirt and vigor, the latter of whom had just walked in the door.

Fried approached the bartender.

"You know this one?"

The soft man shook his head from side to side.

"Wonder what his deal is?"

The bartender shrugged.

"He looks so alive."

The man crossed to a seat directly next to Fried's and took in both men with wide eyes, the three forming a loose triangle, a barroom trinity.

"You sure look excited," Fried observed.

"Sure thing," the filthy man replied.

"What gives? You meet a new woman or something?" Fried wrinkled his nose. "You sure do look like shit."

"No, no, not a new woman. My wife just died, you see, or rather I decided to leave her for dead. Exciting times for me you can be sure."

The bartender's face contorted into a picture of nausea and shame. He walked off, shaking his head, leaving Fried and the dirty man to hover in their own orbits.

"Dead, huh? I just lost a woman, myself, a loss I minded none too much. Not dead, but not good, you know what I mean."

"Well, my wife she's not really dead. I mean she was, legally and everything, but then she wasn't. I decided it was better when she was."

"Man, you don't make a good deal of sense. You must be hammered."

"Not at all, stone sober. Well," he giggled, "maybe not sober, but not intoxicated, at any rate."

"Whatever, you say, my man. Say, my name's Friedrich Nietzsche." Fried extended a wobbly hand. "Pleasure to meet you."

"Sure, sure." The man -- wearing a uniform, Fried noticed, not at all dissimilar to the soft bartender's, or anyone else in their particular suburban haven for that matter, aside from it's being covered in dirt -- shook Fried's hand with a quick and thorough pump and then began scanning the area behind the bar, asking aloud, "What's it take to get a drink around here? Hey, hey, bar guy!" he screamed.

"Don't worry, I'll get you." Fried slapped the bar's counter twice and whistled, which did just as little as the other man's attempts to produce a bartender. "Sorry, I don't think I caught your name."

The man looked up, a gleam in his eyes, his smile turning up to reveal twinkling teeth shining bright through the dust and dirt coating of his face. "I'm afraid I can't tell you." The man winked.

Fried puffed his chest forward with indignation. He was not one for taking guff from mildly eccentric suburban prisses. "What's the idea?"

"No, see. I can't remember," he winked again, laughing. "I got the amnesia."

"I'm afraid I don't follow."

The man leaned in close, "That's what I told the cops, anyway."

Fried's face brightened.

What a man to meet, this dangerous rebel, criminal, free of societal constraints, living a vicarious life on the edge. Surely he is set to fall soon enough, but for now, what a muse!

"So you killed your wife?"

"What? No!" The man was startled, his back stiffened, for a moment genuine hurt shone through his eyes. "No, not at all. The wife thing's a long story, better not to get into it, but let's just say, more or less, that the situation with her led to my being kidnapped."

"Kidnapped! Amazing!"

"Quiet, will you." The man's whisper was strained and loud through his teeth. He looked from side to side.

"Right. Sorry." Fried leaned in conspiratorially. "But why get you kidnapped?"

The man shrugged. "Who knows? Something about her current whereabouts. Purportedly, to save her, from what, who knows? Who cares? I don't." His whisper dropped. "She was unfaithful. Out with another man."

Fried frowned thinking of Madeline, slinking to the foyer, on exotic calls with his replacement, breaking an innocent heart with big eyes and inevitable pity, crushing him with the spinning stone of inevitability. "That really sucks, I'm sorry."

"Oh, don't worry," the man tossed his hands flippantly. "It's not your fault, and frankly I don't really care that much anymore. It's like I said, as far as I'm concerned, she's dead."

"Oh, right."

"Cause she used to be, like I said."


"But now I'm nobody, and I can be anything I want. It's amazing."

"Because of the amnesia."


"But you don't have amnesia?"

"No, of course not. I mean not medically or anything. In a sense I suppose I might. I mean I have forgotten who I am as in who I used to be, who I was. I might have the same name, but then again, for all it matters I might not. It makes no difference either way. What I do know, is that I used to be a shell of a man, now I am a full man, alive and invigorated." The man flexed his muscles above his head like a bodybuilder. Both he and Fried laughed.

"But then you told the cops that you had this amnesia, that you couldn't remember, not just the man you used to be, but your name, your address and vitals, correct?"

"Yeah, that's about right."

"I don't get it." Fried leaned back on his barstool. "Why bother?"

The man shrugged. "I'm tired of dealing with the hassles of old me. There was paperwork I'd have to fill out, the kidnapping, mortgages I'm tired of paying, heartburn and headaches I'm tired of having, a recently resurrected wife I'd like never to see again. So," he laid out his hands like a platter, as if offering his answer for Fried's inspection, "I developed amnesia." He laughed and winked again.

Fried giggled, "This is absolutely brilliant!" He clapped his hands together like a child.

"I guess so." The man beamed uncomfortably in the praise, as if trying it on like a new coat and tie. "I guess it's all right."

"Oh, it's more than all right, it's wonderful. Coming into a dump like this, one never expects to find anyone with a story. Let alone one as intriguing as yours. You might be making it all up, but then if you are, maybe we should work together, you and I. You'll need a new job for your new life."

"And what is it, my dear Friedrich, umm, I forget..."


"Right, Nietzsche. Weird name."

"It's German."

"Well, what is it you do, Friedrich Nietzsche of Germany?"

"I write for television."

PART 1 | PART 2 | PART 3 | PART 4 | PART 5 | PART 6 | PART 7

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