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James Simpson Archive

James Simpson

A Thousand Words: Say Uncle

July 14th, 2009
by James Simpson

ATLANTA, GA -

In photos from his youth he looked like a porcelain doll, a severely myopic puppet. When I knew him, he was in constant motion, a coiled spring: knee bouncing, fingers grasping and lighting cigarettes, eyes darting, lips moving and always talking sports. I couldn’t keep up with him though I knew I was smarter.

He was my mother’s only sibling, born when my grandmother was in her 40s, eventually becoming too much for her to care for. Back then my Uncle Billy had a sweeping range of unspecified mental issues (widely ignored by all around him), yet he possessed an eidetic memory for sports trivia. (Asperger’s Syndrome wouldn’t be recognized until 1944 and only officially named for Hans Asperger in 1981, a year after the good doctor’s death.) He was hyperactive, displayed attention deficit tendencies, was susceptible to stimulants and depressants alike. We merely called him Silly Billy, but not to his face. Billy was simply complicated.
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James Simpson

A Partial List: Flaming Shoe, Joan Jett Stare-Down, and A Drug Dealer Named Worm

June 10th, 2009
by James Simpson

ATLANTA, GA-

A main character in my upcoming novel* has feeble short-term memory. His pockets spill over with scraps of paper covered in scribbled notes like tattoos on the leathery arms of an aging biker.

A minor character fills her study with bound books chock-a-block with the lists of her daily life.

I’m not a list person, although I often write notes to myself. In the car. In the bathroom.

In a way, I guess these notes are actually lists, things to remember, yet not in list form.

The book deals with memory, history, and the chronology of a life whose gaps are filled by the most unlikely sources.

I’ve always seemed to chronicle my life by the music I was listening to at the time. I’m very aural. Aural Retentive.

Live music shows were always fun (and cheap years ago) and something stupid would usually happen.

Sometimes, magic happened.

This partial list isn’t about the highlights of my life, but rather the pleasant diversions along the thread of time stretching across my adult life.

And it’s the first list that came to mind. Looking back on it, I realize I smoked a shitload of pot in those days.

Oddly enough, I wrote this just before reading Greg Olear’s wildly entertaining Star Track post featuring the most perspicacious list I’ve read in ages. Read it if you haven’t (after you read this one!) — the man is a masterful writer. He’s Totally Killer, but everyone here knows that.

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James Simpson

You Can’t Get There From Here. Or Can You?

February 22nd, 2009
by James Simpson

ATLANTA, GA-

People are always asking me for directions.

My body language must exude confidence. Or maybe it’s my face: steel-eyed determination successfully masking utter cluelessness. Then again, maybe not, because a blind office worker once asked me to guide him to his building from Grand Central Station.

No shit.
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James Simpson

Time, the Endless Idiot, Runs Screaming ‘Round the World

February 20th, 2009
by James Simpson

ATLANTA, GA-

That’s from Carson McCullers. Time is an idiot.

Being a child of divorce from an early age, I have abandonment issues. I know — pitiful. It’s not something on which I dwell; it’s just always at the back of my battered brain. Wha’fuck. Who cares.

I hate goodbyes. Absolutely hate them. I’m no good at them.

When my dad made his weekend visits on Sundays, we’d always do something simple like play miniature golf or go to a boat show at the local arena — something cheap because his advertising business wasn’t doing so well and he couldn’t afford child support, and my mom didn’t want to press the issue. She wasn’t one for confrontation. Sunday evenings were filled with the void of his absence and the memory of our simple day together.
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James Simpson

Bronzed, Hardened, White-haired Creatures — Part 2: Remembering Kate

August 22nd, 2008
by James Simpson

ATLANTA, GA-

In our room that morning as we changed into our bathing suits, stuffing towels and Coppertone into the souvenir Pan Am flight bags our father had gotten for us on a business trip, Glen told me how it would go.

“Answer her questions, but don’t start a conversation.”

“But Dad told us what to say last week. Remember? He said when we meet her to smile and say, ‘I’m state your name, very pleased to meet you, Kate.’ ”

“Yeah, I remember,” said Glen. “You can say it, but you don’t have to mean it.”

“Okay.” I watched him put a book into the bag and then slip a small white bottle of roll-on deodorant in after it. “Why are you taking that to the beach?”

“Don’t want my pits to stink.”

“You think girls from school will be there?”

Glen’s face went red as he zipped up the bag, then mumbled, “You never know.”

“I think she’ll be tall,” I said. “Taller than Mom, probably.”

“If you’re nice to her I’ll punch you,” Glen said, tucking the towel under his arm. “Hard.”
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James Simpson

Bronzed, Hardened, White-haired Creatures: On the News of Kate’s Death — Part 1

August 21st, 2008
by James Simpson

ATLANTA, GA-

The snow was piling up outside, a white blanket six inches thick and gleaming in the moonlight, reflected up through Darla’s bedroom window. I had just finished reading a story to the girls from Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad Treasury about sledding down a steep hill. Toad, the pessimist, is leery of such a dangerous undertaking, but the eternally optimistic Frog assures him they will be safe and have lots of fun.

Flying down the hill they hit a bump and Frog falls off. Toad keeps talking as if Frog were still on the sled, but a passing crow tells him he’s talking to himself. Toad looks back at the empty sled, freaks out and quickly crashes into a snow bank. Later, he tells Frog winter is fun, but staying in bed is much better. Safer too.

“I like that one, but it makes me cold,” says Emma, hugging her shoulders. “Can you tell us a Florida story?”

“Yeah, a Florida story!” Darla says, scrunching down under the covers.

So I begin as I always do.

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James Simpson

We Whirl and Twirl Upon the Beach at the Mermaid Cottage with Aristophanes, a Talking Cheese Grater, Litigious Dogs and Dancing Crabs

August 17th, 2008
by James Simpson

ATLANTA, GA-

August.

The ass end of summer.

The time of year when I’m slogging through the drudgery of everyday life: the commuting, the second-only-to-L.A. traffic of Atlanta, the smog, the latest Mexican drug-trafficking hub that is Gwinnett County, the belligerent assholes in their giant SUVs with the faded “We’re Proud of You” and “Support Our Troops” magnetic ribbons, the tragic irony of which is no longer worth criticizing or satirizing.

I’ve always preferred the muted light of an overcast day; everything looks calm and friendly in the filtered light, which is strange since I lived in Florida for the first 28 years of my life. You’d think I’d be accustomed to sunshine. But in Florida we had afternoon thunderstorms that skuttled in from the gulf every day like clockwork. I adored those gray cumulonimbi.
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James Simpson

A Portable Snack Because We Had Neither the Time nor Money for a Moveable Feast

April 26th, 2008
by James Simpson

PARIS, FR -

“If you are lucky enough to have visited Paris as a not-so-young person, then
wherever you go for the rest of your life, even if it’s Palatka, Florida; Shangba, China; or Flint, Michigan (okay, maybe not Flint), it stays with you, for Paris
is a portable snack — but like the best snack ever: a crepe jambon et fromage on a cold day, for instance.” - JL Stankus

Montmartre

We left the windows open at night so the room was cold in the morning and the cold was good. (more…)


James Simpson

Lessons Learned in the Summer-Job Kitchen and Beyond

February 7th, 2008
by James Simpson

ATLANTA, GA-

In college I worked one summer as a line cook in a 120-seat restaurant of a small hotel in Florida.

Although I had no formal training as a cook, I was able to bypass the usual progression from dishwasher to busboy to line cook, going straight into cooking because my friend Tony Spagnolo worked on the line.

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James Simpson

The Power of The Backward Clock, and Those Ubiquitous Doughnuts

January 6th, 2008
by James Simpson

ATLANTA, GA

I’ve been thinking about the power of fiction, or the power of good writing, to transport us to another time.

A talented writer can remove us from our dreary, repetitious lives with a well-wrought scene or a fully realized character.

Or simply a single object. (more…)


James Simpson

The Rise of Suburban Vandalism, the Karmic Circle, and the Chocolate Doughnut Principle

March 4th, 2007
by James Simpson

ATLANTA, GA-

Our neighborhood is changing; it has been for the past two or three years. Especially the kids.

Land is being rezoned all around us from residential to commercial. Modest ranch-style homes on multi-acre lots are being bought up and bulldozed, replaced with strip malls containing the ubiquitous nail salons, dollar stores, carnecerias and billiard halls. I have no problem with any of these establishments, but how many of them do we need in a five-mile radius?

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James Simpson

A Toast to Toast! or The Art and Poetry of Toast (And no, I’m NOT obsessed with toast.)

January 22nd, 2007
by James Simpson

ATLANTA, GA-

I’ve been a casual toast consumer since I was a kid: Wonder Bread and Sunbeam were magical words in that long-ago suburban Florida kitchen with the orange linoleum.

Not that I worship toast or anything, but after all these years of toast consumption I realize how oblivious I’ve been (albeit blissfully) to its rich history and the hard-working professional scholars out there unearthing the truth about the toaster, without which bread would just be bread. (more…)