The Spill

Elliot Gallion

3.

It was that one-two combination—the Literary Scene’s Elder members’ Theory about soon-to-be-silenced cultural voices and the leaking of classified documents concerning the as-yet publicly unacknowledged End of Fun—that inspired the efforts of one Arin Joy, a well-regarded ex-journalist-turned-Post-Spill-fictionist, whose simultaneous crippling fear and giddy anticipation of the impending death of another cultural voice inspired him to join literary forces with a dozen fellow journalists-cum-Post-Spill-fictionists to collect, in a single 136-page volume, excerpts from what Joy called “aborted accounts”: pieces of literary non-fiction and long-form journalism about the Spill and the Clean-Up, including personal narratives, omniscient experiential essays, in-depth reportage and yellow-as-a-pissed-coward muckraking investigative pieces—all of which had been started but not finished, discovered but not refined: drafts trapped forever in the naked rough to die a lonely death-by-abandonment. The volume was called Joy and Friends: Voices in the Wilderness.

The aim, as Joy wrote in his foreword to the collection, was as follows:

Journalism, my first love, has died…and though my new lover, she the creature known as Fiction, has been a wonderful mate these Post-Spill years…I carry with me, like any widower, a memory of my first mistress…No man can overcome such a loss, and perhaps he shouldn’t…What remains for me are these fragments…hastily written and frustrating beyond reason, barely together and poorly strung, I admit…but they are all I have of my old lover who took so much and to whom I gave so willingly of myself. Shall I let her finally wither in the black plastic trunk beneath by writing terminal? Nay, I say…let her live, and let her memory join us in the future, however it may unfold. She is a comfort and a guiding light…And that is why my friends and I have pulled from our archives these half-written bits, these aborted accounts of what we saw and how we felt. Let our humanity keep us together, and let death be conquered by life. Join us in our remembrances, and fear not what you find (A. Joy, “Foreword”, Joy and Friends, ed. A. Joy, pp. i-vii).

Most of the excerpts in the collection were those written-and-abandoned by Literary Non-Fictionists, whose domain is certainly fact-based but far from straightforward journalistic reportage, often featuring a gussied-up vocabulary and high-pretense figurative devices and complex storytelling structures (merely hinted at in the collection, given the “aborted” nature of each excerpt); the reason for this predominance was more a function of Joy’s famously disreputable social and literary circle than any deliberate editorial choice. The following passage—written-and-abandoned by Leopold Fante, the diabetic Non-Fictionist who lost his legs both anatomical and creative in the years between the Spill and the Clean-Up and entered a life-ending coma just before the End of Fun’s declaration, and about whom an obsession with location was often observed—is an example of the collection’s more literary offerings.

The city of Soberton lays in the low-level Missouri River flood plain of Eastern Missouri, a densely-populated area that other Missourians quite-rightly call “town,” as in: “Let’s go into town and…” That sentence is most often finished with either “do some shopping” or “get some dinner”. Soberton, a county West of St. Louis, is home to the world’s longest commercial strip mall, and has more per-square-mile restaurants than anywhere else in the nation…Traveling over the highway to Soberton one sees the impressive length of the shopping center, which runs parallel to the Missouri River, like the highway. Until the mid-1960s it was all farmland owned by families whose grandfathers had traveled West to start anew, and though it’s mere local affectation, the exit and overpass where you leave the highway to do your shopping and eating is called “Boone’s Crossing,” a reference to the rugged, bear-killing pioneer of our frontier mythology. Upon seeing the stores and restaurants from afar, one doubts the trading posts or merchant’s markets were ever so sprawling…The exit at Boone’s Crossing delivers you to the main drag, Soberton Airport Road: a Los Angeles-worthy boulevard surrounded on both sides by a dense jungle of crowded franchises, a never-ending desert of black asphalt parking lots, a Rome-worthy sewage architecture and the sound of overhead airplanes, mostly single-prop leisure crafts and short-run private jets dropping for a landing at the nearby single-strip airport…keep going (and going) and hang another left, at the intersection, onto a road the name of which has, by now, become universally recognized…famously the subject of an accidental pun uttered during an early Presidential address to the nation…(‘The Spill is just another accident on our nation’s long road, but we shall pass it by’)…Long Road is of the two-lane variety, once the main thoroughfare of Gumbo Flats, Soberton’s municipal forbear, and as unassuming as small county roads come. Now it’s a transitional road, and frequently stutters, full of stalled rush hour traffic, mostly due to a bottleneck railroad crossing adjacent to a small local cemetery…no more than sixty headstones, all recently cleaned and restored…and a sign that, even now, demands privacy upon threat of a trespassing charge. Up a gravel drive that disappears into dense woods one can see the home of the cemetery’s overseer who, on that fateful morning, witnessed the beginning of a tragedy that outweighs the passing of every resident guest at his roadside graveyard…trespassing is now the least of his problems, and no doubt commonplace. Past the cemetery a mere eighty yards around a bend, at the intersection of Wildhorse Creek Road and Long, three lanes converge: traffic from the West moves over a small bridge overgrown with low-hanging trees that rise up from the creek below, a brown and narrow tributary to nowhere; from the East comes Long Road carrying travelers from the highway and the stores and restaurants still catching their breath; then there’s the traffic moving East down Wildhorse Creek Road’s long, slow decline…an Ozark hill diving into the Missouri River Valley…The decline is deceptively steep, as has been reported…most traffic accidents occur there when the driver coming down the hill fails to realize the closeness of red-lighted traffic, and plows into the unsuspecting car ahead. In spite of the natural longing for so simple an explanation as that which blames the landscape, such hopes are empty. Long Road is a normal road, and easily driven. (L. Fante, “Our Long Road,” Joy and Friends: Voices in the Wilderness, ed. Arin Joy, pp. 53-57)

The collection’s excerpts of Literary Non-Fiction tended more toward the modifier “Literary” than the noun “Non-Fiction,” like Fante’s, and were therefore all-the-more distant from the collection’s unambiguous, ice-cold factual accounts, the kind that were known before their eradication to inflict emotional distress and, in some cases, physical harm.

After the collection’s publication, Joy and his co-conspirators undertook a series of reader surveys, and determined most of the nation’s readers were unwilling to subject themselves to such pain. The reader surveys also revealed that of all the pieces in Joy and Friends, the remnants of an article abandoned by the former big-time West Coast newspaper writer Breanna Christie, currently a resident of an institution for the criminally insane in upstate New York, contained the most facts, and was therefore the most-avoided and least-read. Christie began writing the article as an assignment soon after the Spill and endeavored for several weeks past her deadline to make it fit her own high journalistic standards, but was finally told, by the same editor who’d assigned her the story, to “get ‘em up and move ‘em on” to greener and less-distressing pastures. According to Christie’s former editor, the headline allocated to Christie’s article, had she finished it, would have read JLB TOYS RESPONSIBLE FOR SPILL, with the sub-headline TRAGIC DISASTER OF CATASTROPHIC PROPORTIONS.

by Breanna Christie

The driver of an eighteen-wheel semi truck carrying an oversized shipment of toys lost control of his vehicle yesterday morning, resulting in the spillage of over 15,000 toy units onto Long Road in Soberton, MO.

According to Soberton police, Mr. Bill Shrubbe, 54, was found dead in the wreckage. It took authorities several hours to find his body amidst the spilled toys.

The shipment of Tea Party Rex Dolls—a dinosaur toy for young girls—was headed to a JLB Toy Store in the nearby shopping center. JLB is based in the U.K. but its flagship store is located in Soberton.

According to the testimony given by Mr. Lewis Fee, the overseer of a cemetery on Long Road, the truck being driven by Shrubbe “just didn’t stop” as it approached the intersection, and “tried to right it’s course” before slamming into a guard-rail and turning over.

“Then the toys came spilling out,” Fee said.

By the time authorities arrived at the scene, the spill had already spread over both lanes of Long Road, and showed no sign of stopping. Police representatives said they have never before been faced with a circumstance of “spilled toys,” but are fairly certain it is the worst such disaster in history.

JLB CEO Anthony Wayward has so far not officially commented on the spill.

The Tea Party Rex Dolls are the highest-selling toys for girls between the age of 4-10, and used in “make-believe” tea parties. According to the JLB Toys website, the Tea Party Rex Dolls are very similar to the very popular Racer Rex Action Figures.

An anonymous source at the flagship store in Soberton said, “The kids love these toys. They can’t imagine the world without them.” (B. Christie, “JLB TOYS RESPONSIBLE FOR SPILL,” Joy and Friends: Voices in the Wilderness, ed. Arin Joy, pp. 21-22)

As emotionally disturbing or physically painful as Christie’s unfinished article may have been, the final selection in Joy and Friends was, by all accounts, the most controversial. It came from the writing desk of none other than Omar Savides, the fringe radical who, though never convicted, was widely believed to be the perpetrator of a series of low-level residential bombings: unlawful-though-never-proven actions that earned him the nickname “The Paper Boy Bomber.” Savides had been a magazine editor infamous for taking heavy editorial risks, like permitting bad grammar in favor of opulent prose, but saw his employment terminated after the rumors of his political extremism were proven true; he later pursued Fiction to minimal success and founded an organization called the Anti-Clean-Up Society (one of many) that published little-read bi-monthly pamphlets featuring Savides’ own semi-unique brand of high-energy, low-brow rambunctious musings, the aim of which was to both titillate and outrage.

The following is the final paragraph of Savides’ essay as it appeared in the Arin Joy’s collection:

We’ve all heard the rumors. They’re scary. The government isn’t telling us what’s happening. And neither is JLB. At the risk of sounding like what my critics accuse me of being we have to consider the possibility that these rumblings are true, and if they are, or if they’re not, we need to be prepared. I want to ask a question. It is a question, I submit, that each thoughtful being in the nation has asked itself. There have been small circles, mostly along the wrongly-ignored-and-criminally-marginalized cultural fringe, many of whom I am proud to call friends and comrades, who upon fear of painful death have defiantly asked the question publicly. The President, the insipid head of our tiresome government, would blandly fight to his own boring death to ensure this vital question never reached the trembling lips of an on-air television news stooge, never became the subject of a smirk-worthy bit perpetrated by the only outlet for what used to be called “real news” we currently, unfortunately, painfully, against-our-will possess: our satirists, they-who-have-betrayed-our-trust-with-their-influence. The question is this: is it possible we’re overreacting? Is it possible, as the rumors suggest, that the Spill isn’t really as important as we’ve made it? Could it be, as none have said, that Gilda’s refusal to guide us with verse was the only guidance she saw fit to give? (O. Savides, “You Have to Ask,” Joy and Friends: Voices in the Wilderness, ed. Arin Joy, pp. 120-136)

Savides was, of course, an incendiary personality, and his affiliations were enough to deter most readers, especially those with strong beliefs of their own; furthermore, the piece itself—though never publicly acknowledged by any government authority—was rumored to be a full-length work of Post-Spill, Post-Clean-Up Nonfiction, complete with a stated purpose, the development of that purpose through example and anecdote and finally the inklings of a conclusion: what many would have called a literary miracle.

For that reason, the Savides piece contributed most directly to the scene-wide decision to first cancel any further printings of the volume, second remove it from booksellers, libraries and databases, and third undergo a nationwide campaign the chief purpose of which was to convince readers who’d physically purchased the collection to relinquish their copies in exchange for any number of alternative bestselling Post-Spill fictions: particularly those that used the Spill as a metaphor, and thus robbed it of any direct, meaningful significance. Joy and his co-conspirators—those still living—launched a short-lived anti-Scene campaign to keep their collection on bookshelves, but to their dismay and defeat an estimated 97% of the existing copies of Joy and Friends: Voices in the Wilderness were quickly returned by their owners to the original sellers, then burned to unforgiving oblivion. Some months later, Arin Joy was found dead in an alleyway in San Antonio, his clothing ragged, flesh hanging loose, boyish good looks turned a two-week jaundiced yellow by rainwater and decay: illegal substances and the requisite paraphernalia were found near his body. His death was declared an overdose. His name faded from the headlines. His fabled collection dissolved in forgotten flames.

Then, at long last, on the cloud-covered, drizzly morning of a day now ten years past the President, solemn in face and demure in motion, approached the lectern at a small liberal arts university in the Southeast and, into a microphone, admitted, his voice shaking, his sincerity above question—that the rumors were true: the Spill had, like a medieval blood-letting, drained something vital from the nation as a whole. He, the President, declared, with pointed diction—his legacy decomposing with each successive utterance, the nation’s dreams popping, aspirations dying—that the nation, per his judgment and that of his advisors, had entered a new epoch in its history: one devoid of that wonderful idea once-but-no-longer-referred-to as “fun”.

About the Work

Elliot Gallion

Elliot Gallion will graduate from Stetson University in May 2011 with a degree in English. He lives in Gumbo Flats, MO.

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