“Missing Athena” by Josh Green – Story 14 of Deal Me IN 2016

The Card: ♦4♦ Four of Diamonds

The Suit: For 2016, Diamonds is my suit for “contemporary Indiana authors”

The Selection: “Missing Athena” from the short story collection, “Dirtyville Rhapsodies” which I own an ecopy of and which I heard of via Melissa’s excellent blog, Avid Readers Musings. See her review of this collection here.  I picked this story because, as a Classics Minor back in my college days, I’m a sucker for any reference to the classical myths. 🙂

The Author: Now based in Atlanta, Josh Green spent enough time in Indiana to write for both the Indianapolis Monthly magzine and the Indianapolis Star newspaper. I first heard of him at a book club meeting at Bookmamas Bookstore, where author Robert Rebein – also a creative writing professor – mentioned him as one of his former students whose work I should check out. You can find him online at http://joshrgreen.com

img_6202What is Deal Me “IN” 2016? Before the start of each year, I come up with a list of 52 stories to read and assign each of them to a playing card in a standard deck. Each week, I draw a card and that is the story I read. By the end of the year (52 weeks), I’m done, and ready to start a fresh deck. (For a more detailed explanation of the Deal Me In challenge, see the sign up post. For a look at my deck of cards/story roster click here.) Since 2016 is my home state’s bicentennial, in thislegacy project seal of approval 2 year’s edition of my annual Deal Me In challenge, I’m reading only stories that have an Indiana “connection” of some kind. Deal Me “IN” is now also officially endorsed as a “Legacy Project” by The Indiana Bicentennial Commission.

Missing Athena

The Athena of this story is not the one we know from mythology. She is/was (a distinction of some importance in the story) the wife to one – and mother to the other – of the two characters in this story. We meet Hank Obelisk (love that name) and his son Joe while on a flight returning from Hank’s home town of Chicago to Atlanta, where he relocated to years ago after meeting and marrying the title character. He was a strapping young big-city fireman and she an upwardly mobile young professional. We learn of their life view a few flashbacks, after the dialog between Hank and Joe reveals that she is no longer with them, e.g. when flying over Georgia’s “black-green carpet of rolling hills and pines—down where his wife must be, somewhere.”

Frank’s relationship with Joe is the highlight of the story. Joe is a “precocious seven-year-old and only child, stores each word (of Frank’s) as undisputable fact.” Young Joe is a nervous flyer, though, and the early parts of the story detail Frank’s efforts to reassure him that “this landing” will be a good one, unlike the “last time,” which is the source of Joe’s anxiety. After the interplay between Frank and Joe, we learn via flashbacks of how Frank and Athena met and what may have become of her after her disappearance/abduction. Several times on the plane flight, father corrects son when the latter talks about Athena in the past tense. Frank hopes against hope that maybe she is still alive, been if deep down he knows she isn’t.

So at its core the story is a tragedy and maybe a chronicle of coping. The author compares Joe’s getting sick on the plane to the times he got sick shortly after His mom’s disappearance, when he got similarly ill. That nausea, though, “came from constant microwave pizzas, soda, and Twinkies—a clueless father’s specialty.” Toward the end of the story we are handed the following exchange.

“Look at that sunset,” Hank said one evening. “It’s like red sheets, ripped off the city and pulled out west.” Joe cocked his head, his eyes in philosophical squint. “I bet mom liked sunsets.” “ Likes ,” said Hank. “She likes them.

How sad.

I’ve come to enjoy the writing of Josh Green and suspect this won’t be the last of his stories that I share with the “citizens” of Bibliophilopolis.

Posts at Bibliophilopolis about other stories from Dirtville Rhapsodies:

Axis of Symmerty and The Delusional Mr. Necessary

Athena – the Goddess, that is – has graced my bookshelf for many years. Ever since Mom & Dad picked up the little statuette below on a trip to Greece about fifteen years ago.

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“Axis of Symmetry”* by Josh Green

  
*Axis of Symmetry: the idea that a line passes through something and makes the figures on both sides a mirror image of each other.

“There’s that famous scene in Scarface, the bathtub dismemberment scene, which always scared the bejesus out of my sister and me, having shown us the true underbelly of humanity. Suddenly I was living it…”

For week 36 of the 2015 Deal Me In challenge, I drew the eight of spades, leading me to Josh Green’s story “Axis of Symmetry” from his collection “Dirtyville Rhapsodies.” I’ve covered one other story from this book back in May on Bibliophilopolis – “The Delusional Mr. Necessary,” which I really enjoyed. This story was much darker and shorter. Now in its fifth year, Deal Me In is an annual short story reading challenge (explained here). My list of stories I’m reading this year, with links to those I’ve posted about thus far, may be found here.

The basic plot of this story is not a new one. It’s the details that are unique. Two recovering addicts, our narrator Peter and a math teacher named Melinda (who’s chosen poorly in terms of her husband – a quintessential jealous brute named Tony), are sharing their recovery journey together when romantic sparks fly, leading to trouble.

“Tony wasn’t exactly irrational at first, just pissed like any dejected asshole deserves to be. The last five years with Melinda, he’d had the caveman complex that evokes jealously whenever his woman strolls the sidewalk, shops the fancy mall, grabs a coffee before teaching math—any exposure to the outside world that couldn’t be moderated by his imposing watchfulness.”

Probably after seeing the story’s title and reading the quotation I started with you’re fearing the worst In regards to how the story ends. It’s not as bad as you might think, though. At least I didn’t think so. It IS bad though, just not in the way I was expecting. Be forewarned. For my part, I enjoy the writer’s style and plan on reading the remaining stories in this collection, either as part of Deal Me In 2016, or just “recreationally.”
  
The book may be found at Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Dirtyville-Rhapsodies-Josh-Green/dp/1937056635

  
Eight of spades image found at http://designtaxi.com/news/361382/A-Beautiful-Deck-Of-Poker-Cards-Created-By-54-Top-Artist/

“The Delusional Mr. Necessary” by Josh Green

Week 21 of Deal Me In 2015  brought me the Ace of Spades, and with it a story from Josh Green’s collection, Dirtyville Rhapsodies. The story is “The Delusional Mr. Necessary,” and is one of two stories from that collection on my roster of stories, the other being his “Axis of Symmetry.”

I have an ongoing effort to try to do a better job of keeping track of where I first hear about the stories or authors I read, and for this one I can happily say I actually know its exact “provenance.” 🙂 Back in 2013, I went to an author event at the local Bookmama’s Bookstore featuring local author Robert Rebein, who is also a creative writing professor at a local university. I asked him if any of his students had subsequently distinguished themselves in the literary world, and Josh Green was the first name he mentioned. I made a note of it and later, when my trusted Indy book blogging colleague Melissa (at Avid Reader’s Musings) posted a positive review of it, that sealed the deal and I downloaded a copy.

The story quickly staked its claim as one of my favorites of the year thus far. The Mr. Necessary of the title is Bob Necessary, a self deluded patron of a public gym. His life is, in reality, going nowhere fast. His one marketable skill is repairing video game machines. The kind of machines that “no one plays any more” though.  He lives with his mom and has probably an unnatural attachment to her. He suffers from delusions of grandeur of the highest comical order. We learn that he is also delinquent on his membership fees at the gym.

His first person narrative of the story takes place over just one night – his final visit to the gym – at least until he makes good on his overdue bill. (“If I want to come back, do I have to pay for all the months at once?”) When exiting the gym he even assumes the gym employee stationed at the front desk – who tries to be kind to him while enforcing the gym’s collection policy – is “interested” in him. She tells him “You’re so full of the wrong ideas.”  while ‘flipping her eyelashes in a final rejection.’ Bob rationalizes his expulsion from the gym saying that his mother needs lots of looking after (which made me wonder if there really was a mother – at least of a non-Norman Bates’s mom variety).

Mr. Necessary’s descriptions of the gym and it residents and politics early on in the story won me over immediately.

Spandex on me would be too boastful. On any other man downright flagrant. I prefer gray sweatsuits with high-powered elastic at the ankles. So tastefully accentuating, so perfect for jumping jacks. Nothing says watch-me-perspire like the wetted Rorschach blots that seep out the back of gray sweats.”

Observing another man in the gym (a man who he secretly calls ‘Hercules’) he says:

Hercules is wrapping up. He tufts back his locks and takes a slow cool gander at the Elliptical girls. He is sniffing my turf. In my younger days, this guy might’ve been in for a grapple, or I might’ve just kicked him in the plums. But now I take the suave approach, the high ground traveled by us more established and gentlemanly beefcakes. I let Hercules wonder and want and then drown in his own soppy bashfulness. He’s too shy to make the approach. Like the rest of us, I bet he’s hatched a thousand hypotheses about courting gym women but has acted on none. Nobody talks in these places. They just peek. They keep eyes on the fanning deltoids of the ship-shape crowd around them but never mouth a word.”

The delusional Mr. Necessary’s delusions extend to his family as well, remembering that his mother, referring to him, notes that “late bloomers bloom best,” and of his father that “Dad was a winner. And smart beyond his janitorial duties.”

I myself have spent some hours in gyms over the years (well, mostly 20 years or so ago) and a lot of the author’s characterizations rang true to me. I also admit that I’ve known some (admittedly less pathologically) delusional people in my travels. The gap between self-image and what the world at large really thinks of you can often be quite large (see the TV show “Survivor” for instance). I really enjoyed the story and look forward to reading the others in this collection.

What about you? Have you encountered many “Delusional Mr. Necessarys” in your life? In literature? The delusional do make for some interesting “unreliable narration” I must say. 🙂

Learn more about this author at his website http://joshrgreen.com .