Tuesday, August 25, 2009

sample essay

This is a high quality, personal and hysterical story by Cassie J Sneider who allowed me to reprint this and include it in WNHP Volume 4. This is meant to help give writers an idea of what I am looking for, but certainly not limited to, this example.

Extreme Close-Up

by Cassie J. Sneider

“You got that new Armored Saint album?”

I looked up from what I was doing, rubbing my temples and seeing a guy in his early thirties with glasses and a Mike Meyers in Wayne’s World mullet and baseball cap combination. At the record store, I am frequently spoken to by the customers without a formal greeting to garner my attention. It is then up to me to determine without a ‘hello’ whether or not I am being addressed. He blinked, staring emphatically in my direction.

Yes. He was talking to me.

I nodded and remembered that someone had called earlier in the day asking for that very album. I started to walk to the counter, where I thought I had left it, when he asked another question without addressing me specifically.

“Who does your work?”

This is the way one person with tattoos acknowledges those of another. Even if I am wearing a sweater, I am asked this all day, every day. I were covered in roses and barbed wire, or had an exboyfriend’s name enscripted on my neck, I might feel special, glad for the attention from a like-minded individual. Instead, I feel weird and indecent, like I have been walking around with my fly open in the children’s oncology ward. This happens so often that I’ve thought of saying things like, “Dr. Rothstein did the butt implants. Dr. Sinclair did the breast lift,” but I am genuinely surprised each time someone comments on my appearance, so I just tell the truth.

“Some guy in Connecticut,” I say, pressing my thumbs into my head, like a person in an ad for Nuprin. Little. Yellow. Different.

“That’s cool,” Wayne Campbell continues without absorbing my response. “I do my all my own stuff, and you know, sometimes it just…” He rolls up his sleeves and talks, not to me, but for his own sake, to feel alive and connected to a human being at that moment, regardless of whether or not they care or have had a headache for two days and the sound of human voices are making them want to vomit. Pugsley came with me to work today, and he sits at my feet, staring at me, then looking to the time-warped metalhead talking at me. Pugsley has been touched by every dirtbag in Ronkonkoma today, stooping to pet him with hands that smell vaguely of weed before looking for Halford on cassette.

Pugsley does not mind that the people petting him think he is a bulldog or smell like liquor. He just wants to be petted, and I have a feeling if Pugsley were human, he would be an out-of-control teen on a talk show, the kind that admits to the producers that they slept with an older man for sneakers.

“That’s a great dog, you know, how he just follows you around like that. Real fuckin’ great dog. My girlfriend had a Pomeranian- Rottweiler mix, but she took it when she left me. Fuckin’ bitch…”

I dig through the special orders, determined that once I find this Armored Saint album, the talking will end. Then I will be left alone with my migraine, to recoil from noise and rays of light like a nocturnal animal.

“I called you this morning. That was me. I hadda make sure I had enough bottles to cash in to make the money to get this fuckin’ album. So I stayed home drinking all day and then cashed ‘em in…”

In an hour, I will close the store. In an hour and five minutes, I will lay in the dark in my room, feeling like my skull has turned into a centrifuge, listening to the sound of Pugsley laying in the dark, chewing a rawhide with the methodical compulsion of someone who needs every Armored Saint album right now no matter what.

My friend Matt works at the record store, too, and we have discussed this phenomenon before, the customer who comes in reeking of alcohol, talking about how they just got laid off and their kid is in the hospital, but buys three Accept records with car change. “Don’t do it, buddy,” we want to say. “Save it for a rainy day. ‘Balls to the Wall’ will sound much sweeter once your kid is in remission.”

We take their money. We say nothing. We talk about it amongst ourselves, hoping the therapy of admission will turn us into good people.

“…and you know how that all turned out! Fuckin’ A! Hey, were you at the Twisted Sister show last night?”

This catches me off guard.


“Twisted Sister. Were you at that show?”

“Uh,” I start to laugh. “No.” My cerebral cortex shrinks and tightens. “Should I have been?” Pain shoots everywhere.

“Coulda sworn I saw you there. Great fuckin’ show. They really packed it out…”

I find the Armored Saint album. Then I am struck by the realization that I LOOK LIKE A TWISTED SISTER FAN. I look like I walk around in a denim jacket with jeans and white Reeboks. I look like I have a perm. I look like I listen to “I Wanna Rock” in a rented room, wishing I had the wherewithal and tools with which to rock, but somehow, because of conspiracy and socio-economic status, cannot.

I look down at my hands, where tattoos creep out even when I am wearing a sweater. I think about all the times someone has asked me where I get my work done. I think about how the first show I ever went to was Ratt. I see my life is a cruel full circle of irony taken a little too far, the embrace of from where and whom I have sprung that has turned into a hug of all the things I think are disgusting and laugh at. I look down at my feet, making sure this is not a bad dream, that I am still wearing shoes. I see Pugsley. If this is a bad dream, we are in this together, kicking, twitching, and whimpering in our sleep.

Pugsley wags his curled tail.

Once for a bad dream; twice if it’s real, son.

There are two sideways rotations.


“Hey, you know Johnny Wild Child?”


“Johnny Wild Child. Black hair. Bandanna. Blue eyes. Wears a leather jacket. He fuckin’ comes in here all the time.”

“Yes,” I say. “I know him. Why?” The person he was referring to bought Iron Maiden DVDs and had told me five hundred times that Al Lewis once tried to come on to his exgirlfriend in a strange mirror-within-a-mirror attempt at hitting on me. I had no idea that his name, as a forty-something year old man, was Johnny Wild Child. Now I knew.

“That’s my roommate!” We now knew the same person, which made us in the same peer group. A real connection had been forged. My brain twitched, and I closed one eye, disclosing the lightening storm of misfiring neurons in my skull.

“Look, dude, I-” I started, but was interrupted by another customer walking in the door. She had bigger hair, white eyeliner, and real roses and barbed wire curling around her bruised bicep.

“Nice doggie!” she said, bending so that eight inches of thong slid out and revealed itself. Pugsley ran back and forth under her acrylic nails, doing all the petting himself. “Hey, I know you!” she said to Wayne Campbell. “Village Pub?”

“Fuckin’ A!” he said. “Say, weren’t you at the Twisted Sister show last night?”

“Fuck, yeah! They really fuckin’ rocked it! Hey, you’re friends with Johnny Wild Child, right?”

Pugsley returned to his place at my feet. We looked at each other, me rubbing my temples, he wagging his tail in motions of two, and we counted down the hour until it was time to close down our corner of a small world. "