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Unsolicited Edits of a Story by James Franco

Actor James Franco has published a story in Esquire. Though I’ve read stories that were once within its pages, all of which were edited by the incomparable editor, Gordon Lish, I don’t think I’ve ever read anything from Esquire while it was in Esquire. Reading Franco’s story, I knew, from the outset, that it would not make it past Lish’s careful eye. Not many stories could withstand his scrutiny, but I’d also guess that it would not make it past any editor’s eye, well, that is, except for the editor(s) at Esquire. In short, what Esquire has published amounts to a draft, a draft that’s far from fully-realized, but one that does—after removing extraneous details, redundancies, poor handling of slang and idiomatic expressions, clunky language, failed attempts at syntactical play, flawed punctuation, etc.—have some potential to be a compelling story. You’ll also find that I removed the italicized words in Franco’s story. They should be used sparingly not, as they are here, to give often weak dialogue emotional peaks and valleys. I contracted many words to facilitate speed, to make the dialogue here—which should be especially punchy—flow. My tweaks here do not make this a finished draft; they’re meant as a further step toward it. I’d like to see the dialogue made sharper, made funnier but still edgy. And another dimension I’d like to see expanded that Franco only barely develops here is the narrator’s strange, sometimes “pharmaceutical”-induced reveries.

Below I’ve included my mark-up of the text and then the “cleaned-up” version. All strikethroughs are Franco’s text, and everything in bold are my tweaks.

Just Before the Black

By James Franco

I sit in the driver’s seat of my grandfather’s old DeVille. There’s a steering wheel against me. Lunchbox sits shotgun. Air plays on my forehead like a whisper. It‘s night out and cool. Me and Joe Lunchbox, we just sit.

We’re out in front of the Palo Alto Municipal Golf Course pro shop job: a tan building with white trim. It’s where Joe Lunchbox and I work during the day.

We sit here because it’s dark here, and there are no lights outside this building. We’re stopped for no reason except that t. The night’s still going and we’re drunk, and who wants to go home, ever, and this spot is as good as any to just sit in the shadows and let life slow.

My window is cracked, just a bit, and the air plays on my forehead like a cold whisper.

I often find myself thinking about driving off the side of freeway overpasses, just plunging Grandpa’s  the old man’s old blue boat through the cement guardrail: The sculpted the barrier crumbling about me and Grandpa’s blue machine; the car like foil—a great metallic moment of metallic explosion and heavy ripping and jerking and then release: a soft, slow dive, and a burst of blue arcing color through the windshield, into a hard second of impact, just before the black. What an adventure lies behind one quick turn of the steering wheel, A a great screaming, and then, slip away.

Joe Lunchbox and I sit and stare at the wall of the building. The building’s beige tan, but the shadows make it shadow-color.

Joe Lunchbox smokes. His window is all the way down, and he breathes his smoke out the black gaping gap into the dark.

There is not much to We don’t talk much because Lunchbox is about with Joe because he’s such a moron. I don’t know what he thinks, who he is, or why he thinks he exists. I guess in some lives lived, no one tells with some people, if you don’t tell them who they are, what what to be do, they end up so you be nothing. In the olden days you were born into it, all decisions made, and you farmed until you died, or cleaned the royal toilets. I guess they didn’t have toilets. J Well, maybe they just stuck their asses out and shat in the moat. But someone had to wash out the hole.

“If you lived in the olden times, what would you do?” I ask Joe.

Joe has to think about it. He is large, and his weight spreads from his Lunchbox grunts. A deep thing, from the thick part of his throat, it could’ve come from a boar. His belly across the seat, ripples like it was a plastic sack full of liquid, rolling in layers upon itself. “Which olden times?” he asks, and it’s like a boar’s grunt, a deep thing, from the thick part of his throat.

“Like, King Arthur, with knights and horses.”

Fatass thinks.: I can hear it, rust-worn gears flaking and groaning slowly into motion, even smell it, yellow smoke emanating spiraling from his skull. “I’d be the king,” he says.

“You can’t be the king,” I say. “No one is king. That’s like winning the lottery.”

“If I went back, I’d be king. And I’d fuck every virgin in the kingdom.”

“You can’t be king, asshole. You can’t even be duke. The fact that you even said that shows you’re not royalty. You’re a peasant.”

“Whenever people time-travel, they go back and they are friends with the king, or they’re the king.”

“Because those are stories. When people tell stories, they’re always about the king, it’s Aristotle crap. But it’s not real.”

“Neither is time travel.”

There are very few kings, and you certainly wouldn’t be one of them. You don’t have what it takes to be king.”

“Fuck you.”

“Fuck you, Joe, you’re an Lunchbox. Fucking idiot.”

“You’re an idiot.”

“I know,” I say. And I am. I am friends with Lunchbox is a slug, and my other friends are either pigs and or wolves. I never make friends with nice things, just the All shit.

“If you were king, I’d kill myself,” I say.

Joe Lunchbox sucks off his cigarette. It looks like the point of, more like a golf tee in his fat, clenched paw. He looks at me and the b Blue shadow-smoke drifts over the gate of from his teeth like graveyard fog over a graveyard. His teeth are like busted shingles, each one climbing over the other, gray teeth next to shit-colored gums. But now I’m thinking about something else, or at least getting ready to do something else, or already doing.

“Then you better die, mofucker, cuz because I’m the k—ing round these parts.” 

He smiles with rotten teeth like busted shingles, all climbing over each other, and yellowing gray teeth next to shit-colored gums just don’t go together, and I think, Why don’t you get some braces motherfucker and brush those dang things, but I don’t really think about that too much because I’m thinking about something else, or at least getting ready to do something else, or already doing …

And b Before I even know it, or can enjoy the new look on Joe Lunchbox’s face, like a blubbery peekaboo face, so surprised, because I’m driving us right straight toward the vague beige shadow-filled wall, and I can only see and hear Joe for a second, a high-pitched thing that cracks for just a second, and for in that second I’m with Joe’s voice on a plateau in the black of space, or wherever it is that noise cracks like that and decibels live, and then it’s gone because there’s the a metalllic sound so loud and it’s how I had always planned it to be, crunching, crunch and a jerk and the front of my head is filled, yes, filled, with the cold hollowness sinus pain, that e surprise sucker punch in the nose that takes you back to childhood and there’s an immediate links you to every other time you ever had your nose hit, by a ball, by a head, by your own knee, and after the surprise it  the pain where even after the shock it doesn’t go away.

The car has gone a ways into the wall and the back tires me are screeching because my foot is still on the gas. But it ain’t going any farther. ; but I’m still there and the tires behind me are screeching because my foot is still on the gas, and the car has gone a ways into the wall but it ain’t going any farther, and I look over at Lunchbox. fat shit, and there is b Blood’s rolling out of a slice in spurting from his forehead, and some blood coming pouring out of his mouth. and I think that it’s from the head gash until I see one of those teeth is now a black gap He’s lost a tooth, and he looks like a fat something-awful: hockey-player-pumpkin-cartoon-shithead, and he says, 

“Why the fuck did you do that, Manuel?” “Fuck you did that for?”

I laugh like crazy, a l Laughter that bubbles pops out like popcorn, because he looks so fucking silly, and because my name isn’t even close to Manuel, that’s his brother’s name, his equally stupid older brother.  Joe just looks at me with that stupid look, covered in flowing while blood pops out from Lunchbox, going onto his shirt like ketchup randomness stains, so much messier and more random than I could ever plan.

But I did paint those swirls, because I drove Grandpa’s driving the old man’s car into the wall.

For six months I drove around town with that busted car. The front was smashed. I replaced the lights, but they were crooked and looked in different directions, like Peter Falk’s glass eye and real eye. I didn’t care, and they, the cops or anyone, didn’t catch me or never pulled me over. For a while.

I’m at work when I pass Joe Lunchbox on the way to the driving range. “Hey, Jack-O’, we doing this thing tonight?” I say. We’re friends again. Everyone calls Lunchbox Jack-O’ now because of his missing tooth. He kept the hole because he liked the look, and he stopped being mad at me after figuring he wanted the gap.

“Yeah,” he says. “Hector has the good shit.”

Everyone calls Joe Jack-O’ now because he didn’t get a replacement tooth. He kept the hole because he thought it made him unique, and he stopped being mad at me after he figured out he wanted the gap, and then we would We laugh about it now, me being so crazy as to drive ing into the a wall. and Though I’d smiled whenever he brought it up, I knew people would bring it up, but really it was a failure. just me fucking up again. If only I’d had driven right through into some other reality. , but the The DeVille was sturdy, and yes it was though busted in the front, but not really as much as it could have been, and not so much that my parents got too suspicious when I said it could’ve been worse, so it was easy to fool my folks into thinking that another car had backed into me.

Now me and Jack-O’ are driving down the dark 280 freeway. Me and fat boy Lunchbox cruising. And I think about that missing tooth, and that the gap in his smile, and how there was never a gap in that place before, and about three dimensions, and how the gap was on the inside of his mouth unless he opened his mouth and how things, shapes, folded in on themselves, and four dimensions, and if time is variable, then how do I vary it, and why do I want to? Because everything just focuses in on me and I hate it.

“If you were an Egyptian, what would you do?” I ask Joe Lunchbox.

“Don’t start this shit again, Michael.”

“Remember when you called me Manuel?” “What shit over again?”

I never called you Manuel, idiot. Whatever. I would be pharaoh.”

“No, you’re too fat. Pharaohs are skinny,” I say.

“I don’t want to be an Egyptian: pyramids and mummies and shit, and sand, and all that, fuck it, it’s boring, man. I would be an Aztec, or a Mayan, like my peeps, and I’d cut your fucking heart out, homes.”

Joe Lunchbox is Mexican. His skin is an ashy light brown and his lashes are heavier than mine, and he has short fat eyebrows and shit-brown eyes, and thick hair that flops about his fat pumpkin head.

I wish I was Mexican, or Hebrew, I mean Jewish, I mean Israeli, or Mexican Jewish, or Mexican Jewish gay, because it can be so boring being you sometimes, and if you were the most special thing like that, it could be really great, but maybe some people say the same thing about you, and you want to tell those people: “No, you’re stupid, it’s no fun being me.”

“Maybe we should try it,” I say.

Michael, I’m serious, Look, don’t do something crazy just because we’re talking about your olden-time things again, j Just let me the fuck out if that’s what you’re thinking.”

“No, man, I’m just saying that maybe those Mayans were on to  had something there. Maybe if we take cut someone’s heart out, and sacrifice it them, then something special will happen.”

I can tell that Joe is looking at me like he is Lunchbox is sitting there, trying to figure me out, and I know that he can’t figure me out because he isn’t laughing and he isn’t arguing, he is but just staring.

“Maybe we could take Hector’s heart,” I say.

Weare going to see Hector over at Foothill, the junior college where I go to night school. He lives near there and sells us shit, and wWe’re supposed to meet him in the corner of the parking lot where he sells us shit. Hector’s isn’t a scary guy, he has got a nice-guy face, but he could probably fuck somebody up if he wanted to

“Hector would fuck you up,” says Joe Lunchbox.

“Not if I stabbed him in the stomach,” I say, and I’m reaching under my seat with my left hand as I say this, and I pull out a foot-long kitchen knife and then I point it at Joe Lunchbox while I’m still driving.

“Fuck you! he says, turning white. And Michael, fuck you Mike-al!” he screams and I laugh because he has funny inflections when he gets excited.

Why do you have to be like this What’s up with you?” he says. “Why do you have to be Jack-the-Ripper a fucking psychop? Why do you have to be so crazy? I just want to buy some weed, I don’t want to and not kill anyone I don’t want to take by knifing out their heart!”

“You said you wanted to, puta, so I’m just saying, then let’s do it!”

Don’t call me puta, bitch! And put Put down that fucking knife down! And watch the road!”

I poke the knife at him, at his fat stomach, lightly poking prick it with the tip, but he’s and make a neat hole in his wearing a puffy North Face jacket, so it doesn’t stab him.

“Stop it!”

I love driving down an There’s something about an empty dark freeway, lit up intermittently by the lights roadside lamps at the side of the road, and when I see the each lights, I think of all the like a little worlds out there, all the little animals living in their habitats out there, and how we We could just pull over and have an adventure at any one of these forgotten pockets of the world, just nothing zones, backwash refuse property in the wake of the great freeways. and I like passing all of them that, racing down the freeway, like a tunneling into through the night, and racing but still being able to carrying on a whole action scene with Joe, and Lunchbox. And I think it is like  this racing is what life is: because I am racing, and time is pushing me pushes you forward and it’s not going to stop. and I will have a few passengers in the vehicle with me, and So it’s either enjoy the scenery together, or listen to some music we both like, or maybe just have a little poking a knife game stick a pig because you want to know if the that other person someone else is really there.

We smoke with Hector and get so high. Finally he sold us some good shit. We smoke out of his mini dragon bong, out in the lightless corner of the Foothill parking lot. It’s a pretty great Out in the lightless corner of the parking lot, we smoke out of Hector’s mini dragon bong. Right by the stone “altar,” it’s the perfect spot; you just walk up the hill a little ways and it’s under some find the weeping willows, and there is a small You can hear a stream and there, brick edifices on the sides of that, and a faux altar constructed out of stones. buildings running alongside it.

We smoke more and we cough every toke. time. I think about the little The dragon that the bong is and I so wish that dragons were real, because takes wing for a second, and I thought it would might mean that none of this shit was the end of everything, because even if you were high, t This world only lets you escape a little bit, it let you escape enough that you knew to know that there could be something better, but it wouldn’t won’t let you into that better place; like standing on the Life will bring you to some cloudy threshold of heaven and seeing something so bright and tantalizing and warmy-womby-feeling but not being where you’ll see something dark and womb-like, but you won’t be able to enter, but just feeling the heat feather your face, and yYou’ll want to cry and smile, but instead you’ll just stare and because you can’t do anything.

“Hector,” I say. I am lying on the fake altar thing and staring up through one of the willows, whose its drooping, arcing branches are like jagged fissures in the sky. “Hey,” I say to Hector is who’s sitting against the base of the willow’s trunk. “Would you rather be the pope or Pablo Escobar?”

Hector doesn’t think long.

“Escobar, bitch, he gets to have all the fun.”

“Pope gets to live in the Vatican, see Michelangelo all the time,” I say.

Yeah, Escobar,” says Lunchbox. Joe. He is superhigh. He’d hogged more of the weed than Hector and I me and he is hunched like a is piled of trash against the base of the altar. His head hangs forward like droops a sleeping mule.

“Shut up, Joe Lunchbox,” I say. “You just want the knife.”

“What knife?” says Hector.

“This puta bitch wanted to cut out your heart with this knife,” I say and hold up the knife for Hector to see. It reflects a little Even in the dark there’s a dull glint.

“If you try, I will fucking kill you homes,” Hector says to Lunchbox Joe. It seems like he’s angry, but h There’s no heart in his words. He’s too tired and high to get really angry.

“I didn’t say I wanted to …” says Joe Lunchbox but he doesn’t finish.

“Fuck you, lardass,” says Hector, and Hector and I laugh. and Joe

Lunchbox shifts a little because he is with angry anger, but he’s too lazy to get up, so he just shifts around. He’s still looking at the ground, but when he says, wanted to cut out your heart, homes. That’s how I lost my tooth.”

“No,” says Hector. “You lost that because you are Jack-O’ the jackoff.”

We laugh.

Then we We sit for a while not saying anything. I can feel their mind-killing slimy e thoughts rubbing on smearing over me, and corroding me and killing me.

“Hector,” I say.

Yes Yeah,” he says without looking up.

“Would you rather be gay or be a girl?”

He chuckles a little. Hector can be cool, sometimes. S sometimes he is wise.

“Neither,” he says.

“Just saying,” I say. “If you had to choose because the genie said so, what which would you choose?”

Joe Lunchbox, still looking at the dark dirt, says, “Both of ’em still have to suck dick.”

“Exactly,” says Hector. And Joe Lunchbox laughs a little, a chuckling pile of trash below me.

“Would that be so bad?” I say. “Don’t you ever get jealous of those scuffed-kneed girls in pornos that get to be on their knees in the middle of all those dicks?”

Are y You fucking serious?” says Hector.

“Don’t,” says Joe Lunchbox. “This faggot’s always asking stupid questions and giving stupid answers. He don’t mean it.”

“No,” says Hector. “This faggot’s serious.” He’s looking at me now, I can tell.

“Yeah,” I say. “Don’t you like the idea of an around-the-world blowbang?”

“I like to have a girl suck my dick, but I don’t want to do it,” says Hector.

“Me neither,” says Joe, but he is mumbling mumbles Lunchbox.

“Why not?” I say. “What’s the difference?”

What’s t The difference?” says Hector. “Because I’m going in, and she is being got inside of.”

“And why is one better? Why does going inside make you better? Aren’t you like on her turf inside her, isn’t she in control of you? Like a mommy with her little baby making him feel good?”

“Because,” says Hector sits there in the dark. But he doesn’t say anything else.

On the way home Joe Lunchbox and I me are driving down the empty freeway. It’s like two-thirty in the morning and we’re still pretty high, and if when I look up toward directly at the road lights above us, I can see kaleidoscopic rainbows tie themselves up like so much ribbon building and turning on top of each other in the core of the bulbs. And I feel like I’m remembering all this from somewhere, but I’m not sure where, and everything is a little hazy, and I remember that there is an angel named Michael, and he had a flaming sword, and…I say to Joe Lunchbox, “Let’s drive the wrong way down the other side of the freeway.”

Joe is almost asleep, but he says,

Wha’” “Huh?” he says, head nodding from fatigue. And I can see the black gap just to the left of the center of his mouth.

“I’m going to go over on that the other side,” I say.

And I think of the olden times, when knights would aim huge lances at each other and you would feel that when it hit you, feel that the force of the momentum of the horses’ pumping channeled into the lance, and for a second you might know that you were really alive. And a little ways Coursing down the freeway there is a gap in the center barrier beckons and I calmly turn whirl the wheel and cross over.

 ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 

Just Before the Black

By James Franco

 

There’s a steering wheel against me. Lunchbox sits shotgun. It’s night out and cool. Air plays on my forehead like a whisper. Me and Lunchbox, we just sit.

We’re out in front of the job: a tan building with white trim. It’s where Lunchbox and I work during the day.

We sit here because it’s dark here. The night’s still going and we’re drunk, and this spot is as good as any to just sit in the shadows and let life slow.

I find myself thinking about driving off the freeway, plunging the old man’s old boat through the cement guardrail, the barrier crumbling about the car like foil—a great metallic moment of heavy ripping and jerking and then release: a soft, slow dive, and a burst of blue just before the black. One quick turn of the steering wheel, a great screaming, and then, slip away.

Lunchbox and I sit and stare at the wall of the building. The building’s tan, but the shadows make it shadow-color.

Lunchbox smokes. His window is all the way down, and he breathes his smoke into the dark.

We don’t talk much because Lunchbox is a moron. I don’t know what he thinks, who he is, or why he exists. I guess with some people if you don’t tell them who they are, what to do, they end up nothing. In the olden days you were born into it, you farmed until you died, or cleaned the royal toilets. Well, maybe they just stuck their asses out and shat in the moat. But someone had to wash out the hole.

“If you lived in the olden times, what would you do?”

Lunchbox grunts. A deep thing, from the thick part of his throat, it could’ve come from a boar. His belly ripples like a plastic sack full of liquid, rolling in layers upon itself. “Which olden times?”

“Like, King Arthur, with knights and horses.”

Fatass thinks: rust-worn gears groaning slowly into motion, smoke spiraling from his skull. “I’d be king,” he says.

“You can’t be king,” I say. “That’s like winning the lottery.”

“If I went back, I’d be king. And I’d fuck every virgin in the kingdom.”

“You can’t be king, asshole. You can’t even be duke. The fact that you even said that shows you’re not royalty. You’re a peasant.”

“Whenever people time-travel, they go back and they are friends with the king, or they are the king.”

“Because those are stories. When people tell stories, they’re always about the king. But that’s not real.”

“Neither is time travel.”

“You don’t have what it takes to be king.”

“Fuck you.”

“Fuck you, Lunchbox. Fucking idiot.”

“You’re an idiot.”

“I know,” I say. And I am. Lunchbox is a slug, and my other friends are either pigs or wolves. All shit.

“If you were king, I’d kill myself,” I say.

Lunchbox sucks off his cigarette, more like a golf tee in his fat, clenched paw. Blue shadow-smoke drifts from his teeth like graveyard fog. His teeth are like busted shingles, each one climbing over the other, gray teeth next to shit-colored gums. But now I’m thinking about something else, or at least getting ready to do something else, or already doing.

“Then die fucker because I’m the k—”

Before I can enjoy Lunchbox’s blubbery peekaboo face, I’m driving straight toward the shadow-filled wall, and for just a second I hear a high-pitched thing, and in that second I’m in the black of space, or wherever it is noise cracks like that, and then it’s gone because there’s a metallic crunch and a jerk and the front of my head is filled, yes, filled with hollowness, that sucker punch that takes you back to childhood, links you to every other time you ever had your nose hit, by a ball, by a head, by your own knee, the pain where even after the shock it doesn’t go away.

The car has gone a ways into the wall and the back tires me are screeching because my foot is still on the gas. But it ain’t going any farther. I look over at Fatass. Blood’s spurting from his forehead, pouring out of his mouth. He’s lost a tooth, and he looks like a fat something-awful: hockey-player-pumpkin-cartoon-shithead.

“Fuck you did that for?”

Laughter pops out of me like popcorn, while blood pops out from Lunchbox, going onto his shirt like ketchup stains, so much messier and more random than I could ever plan.

But I did paint those swirls, driving the old man’s car into the wall.

For six months I drove around town with that busted car. I replaced the lights, but they were crooked, looked in different directions like Peter Falk’s glass eye and real eye. I didn’t care, and the cops never pulled me over.

I’m at work when I pass Lunchbox on the way to the driving range. “Hey, Jack-O’, we doing this thing tonight?” I say. Everyone calls Lunchbox Jack-O’ now because of his missing tooth. He kept the hole because he liked the look, and he stopped being mad at me after figuring he wanted the gap.

“Yeah,” he says. “Hector has the good shit.”

We laugh about it now, me being so crazy as to drive into a wall. Though I’d smile whenever he brought it up, I knew it was just me fucking up again. If only I’d driven through into some other reality. The DeVille was sturdy, and though busted in the front it could’ve been worse, so it was easy to fool my folks into thinking that another car had backed into me.

Now me and Jack-O’ are driving down dark 280. Me and Lunchbox cruising. And I think about the gap in his smile, and how there was never a gap in that place before, and about three dimensions, and how the gap was on the inside of his mouth unless he opened his mouth and how things, shapes, folded in on themselves, and four dimensions, and if time is variable, then how do I vary it, and why do I want to? Because everything just focuses in on me and I hate it.

“If you were an Egyptian, what would you do?” I ask Lunchbox.

“Don’t start this shit again.”

“What shit over again?”

“Whatever. I would be pharaoh.”

“No, you’re too fat. Pharaohs are skinny.”

“I don’t want to be an Egyptian: pyramids and mummies and shit, and sand, and all that, fuck it, it’s boring, man. I would be an Aztec, or a Mayan, and I’d cut your fucking heart out.”

Lunchbox is Mexican. His skin is an ashy brown and his lashes are heavier than mine, and he has short fat eyebrows and shit-brown eyes, and thick hair that flops about his fat pumpkin head.

I wish I was Mexican, or Hebrew, I mean Jewish, I mean Israeli, or Mexican Jewish, or Mexican Jewish gay, because it can be so boring being you sometimes, and if you were the most special thing like that, it could be really great, but maybe some people say the same thing about you, and you want to tell those people: “No, stupid, it’s no fun being me.”

“Maybe we should try it,” I say.

“Look, don’t do something crazy just because we’re talking about your olden-time things again. Just let me the fuck out if that’s what you’re thinking.”

“No, man, I’m just saying that maybe those Mayans had something there. Maybe if we cut someone’s heart out, sacrifice them, then something special will happen.”

Lunchbox is sitting there, trying to figure me out, and I know that he can’t do it because he isn’t laughing and he isn’t arguing, but just staring.

“Maybe we could take Hector’s heart,” I say.

We’re going to see Hector over at Foothill, where I go to night school. We’re supposed to meet him in the corner of the parking lot where he sells us shit. Hector’s got a nice-guy face, but…

“Hector would fuck you up,” says Lunchbox.

“Not if I stabbed him in the stomach,” I say, and I’m reaching under my seat with my left hand as I say this, and I pull out a foot-long kitchen knife and then I point it at Lunchbox while I’m still driving.

“Fuck you!” he says, turning white. And I laugh. “What’s up with you?” he says. “Why do you have to be a fucking psycho? I just want to buy some weed, not kill anyone by knifing out their heart!”

“You said you wanted to, so I’m just saying, then let’s do it!”

“Put down that fucking knife! And watch the road!”

I poke the knife at his fat stomach, prick it with the tip, and make a neat hole in his jacket.

“Stop it!”

There’s something about an empty dark freeway, lit up intermittently by roadside lamps, each light like a little world. We could just pull over and have an adventure at any one of these forgotten pockets of the world, just nothing zones, backwash refuse property in the wake of the great freeways. I like passing all of that, racing down the freeway, tunneling through the night, racing but still carrying on with Lunchbox. And I think this racing is what life is: time pushes you forward and it’s not going to stop. So it’s either enjoy the scenery together, listen to some music, or maybe just stick a pig because you want to know that someone else is really there.

Out in the lightless corner of the parking lot, we smoke out of Hector’s mini dragon bong. Right by the stone “altar,” it’s the perfect spot; you just walk up the hill a little ways and find the weeping willows. You can hear a stream there, brick buildings running alongside it.

We smoke more and we cough with every toke. The dragon bong takes wing for a second, and I thought it might mean the end of everything. This world only lets you escape enough to know that there’s something better, but it won’t let you into that better place. Life will bring you to some cloudy threshold where you’ll see something dark and womb-like, but you won’t be able to enter, but just feel the heat feather your face. You’ll want to cry and smile, but instead you’ll just stare because you can’t do anything.

I’m lying on the fake altar thing and staring up through one of the willows, its drooping branches jagged fissures in the sky. “Hey,” I say to Hector who’s sitting against the base of the willow’s trunk. “Would you rather be the pope or Pablo Escobar?”

“Escobar, bitch, he gets to have all the fun.”

“Pope gets to live in the Vatican, see Michelangelo all the time,” I say.

“Yeah, Escobar,” says Lunchbox. He’d hogged more of the weed than Hector and me and is piled like trash against the base of the altar. His head droops like a sleeping mule.

“Shut up, Lunchbox,” I say. “You just want the knife.”

“What knife?” says Hector.

“This bitch wanted to cut out your heart with this knife,” I say and hold up the knife for Hector to see. Even in the dark there’s a dull glint.

“If you try, I will fucking kill you,” Hector says to Lunchbox. There’s no heart in his words. He’s too tired and high to get really angry.

“I didn’t say I wanted…” says Lunchbox.

“Fuck you, lardass,” says Hector, and Hector and I laugh.

Lunchbox shifts with anger, but he’s too lazy to get up, so he just shifts around. He’s still looking at the ground when he says, “No, Hector, this fucker is always asking me stupid questions and trying to kill me. That’s how I lost my tooth.”

“No,” says Hector. “You lost that because you are Jack-O’ the jackoff.”

We laugh.

We sit for a while not saying anything. I can feel their slimy thoughts smearing over me, corroding me and killing me.

“Hector,” I say.

“Yeah,” he says without looking up.

“Would you rather be gay or be a girl?”

He chuckles. Hector can be cool, sometimes wise.

“Neither,” he says.

“Just saying,” I say. “If you had to choose because the genie said so, which would you choose?”

Lunchbox, still looking at the dirt, says, “Both of ’em still have to suck dick.”

“Exactly,” says Hector. And Lunchbox laughs a little, a chuckling pile of trash below me.

“Would that be so bad?” I say. “Don’t you ever get jealous of those scuffed-kneed girls in pornos in the middle of all those dicks?”

“You fucking serious?” says Hector.

“Don’t,” says Lunchbox. “This faggot is always asking stupid questions and giving stupid answers. He don’t mean it.”

“No,” says Hector. “This faggot’s serious.” He’s looking at me now, I can tell.

“Yeah,” I say. “Don’t you like the idea of an around-the-world blowbang?”

“I like to have a girl suck my dick, but I don’t want to do it,” says Hector.

“Me neither,” mumbles Lunchbox.

“Why not?” I say. “What’s the difference?”

“The difference is,” says Hector, “I’m going in, and she is being got inside of.”

“And why is one better? Why does going inside make you better? Aren’t you like on her turf inside her, isn’t she in control of you? Like a mommy with her little baby making him feel good?”

Hector sits there in the dark

 

On the way home Lunchbox and me are driving down the empty freeway. It’s like two-thirty in the morning and we’re still high, and when I look up toward the lights above us, kaleidoscopic rainbows tie themselves up like so much ribbon. And I feel like I’m remembering all this from somewhere, but I’m not sure where, and everything is a little hazy, and I remember that there is an angel named Michael, and he had a flaming sword, and…I say to Lunchbox, “Let’s drive the wrong way down the other side of the freeway.”

“Huh?” he says, head nodding from fatigue. And I can see the black gap just to the left of the center of his mouth.

“I’m going to the other side,” I say.

And I think of the olden times, when knights would aim huge lances at each other and you would feel when it hit you, feel the force of the horses’ pumping channeled into the lance, and for a second you might know that you were really alive.

Coursing down the freeway a gap in the center barrier beckons and I whirl the wheel and cross over.

John Madera's fiction may be found in Conjunctions, Opium Magazine, The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing, and many other journals. His criticism may be found in American Book Review, Bookforum, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Rain Taxi: Review of Books, The Believer, The Brooklyn Rail, and many other venues. Recipient of an M.F.A. in Literary Arts from Brown University, John Madera lives in New York City, where he runs Rhizomatic and manages and edits Big Other.

4 thoughts on “Unsolicited Edits of a Story by James Franco

  1. In thirteen strikes of the page down button, roughly at .64 seconds a clip, I discovered the essence of the story to be this, “Fuck you Lunchbox.”

    I say this to everyone including myself, it’s time to stop re-writing Jesus’ Son.

  2. Because… all literary fiction should adhere to a standard (and to my ear rather cliched and alienating) stylistic bag of tricks?

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