a print literary journal

His Nibs
Alan C. Baird


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Jim Ruland
© 2004 Susannah Breslin

Jim Ruland

The Lazy Mick himself responded to pestering eMails from His Nibs:

HN: You joined the Navy at an early age. Would you recommend this course of action to young writers today?

JR: Oh, man. What a question. I'm the son of a naval officer, but I didn't have a clue when I enlisted. I got into the delayed entry program while still in high school and what I failed to understand was once you sign the dotted line, Uncle Sam owns your ass. I don't mean that in a figurative sense: you literally belong to the government. There was a rumor about a sailor who got sunburned so badly he couldn't work, and they wrote him up for destruction of Navy property.

The thing to remember is the military is a government agency that won't hesitate to put its personnel in harm's way. The service has always been an honorable means of raising one's station in life, but in my experience, most of the people considering it don't really know what they're getting into. You could make the argument that militaries are created to absorb harm so civilians won't have to, but I suspect enlisting in the Army to attend college and become a teacher was uppermost in the mind of Jessica Lynch.

I think about this question a lot because I recently completed a memoir about my experiences in the Navy. One thing that concerns me is that when the book is published, it could very well influence disaffected young men and women to enlist. While I don't romanticize the military in my book, there are some enthusiastic passages involving drinking, fighting and whoring, and to a 17-year-old kid who hates his small town/parents/self, that is the Navy. Also, the risks are a lot higher now than they were during the Reagan regime. So whenever I'm asked this question, and it happens a lot, especially at weddings and on airplanes, my answer is always an unequivocal No.

Young Ruland
Seaman Apprentice Ruland

HN: Did you write anything while serving in the military?

JR: Aside from some speed metal lyrics I composed in the fits of a crystal meth binge, I didn't write much. When sailors hear what dumb motherfuckers they are day in and day out, pretty soon they start believing it. By the time I left the Navy, I was pretty well convinced that I was too stupid to write anything. I tried to keep a journal of our six-month cruise overseas but someone confiscated it almost immediately. It had all these goofy references to the weather and stuff like that. In one place I'd written "speed 'bout 20 knots" like I was imitating the way an old seafarer might have said it, pretending I was Herman Melville or something. The guy who found the journal ripped me a new one, and rightly so, for being such a pretentious dickhead, which probably goes a long way toward explaining why I've never gotten around to reading Moby Dick.

HN: During your term of enlistment, how many tattoos did you get?

JR: None. My initial exposure to tattooing wasn't exactly pretty: Okies getting Led Zeppelin wizards tattooed on their biceps, purple panthers clawing their way up forearms, that sort of thing. One shipmate got jaundice from an Olongapo tattoo parlor in the Philippines, and his eyes turned red and his skin turned yellow, just like the descriptions of tubercular weirdoes in crime novels from the Thirties and Forties.

Pre-gaslight San Diego wasn't much better. I used to hang out with this giant skinhead who lived with his girlfriend and her brother in Ocean Beach. Technically the brother lived in his car but he was a permanent fixture in the apartment. He'd shoot up with drugs and practice sketching tattoo designs on his arms. He had all these little mirrors rigged so that he could see the skin from different angles. He'd already botched several tats--cross-eyed women and barbarians with crooked swords--that he'd inked with a jailhouse gun. So that put me off tattooing for a while.

HN: When did you get your first tattoo?

JR: I was 25 and working at a coffee shop in North Hollywood. I've averaged about one a year ever since.

HN: Do any of them have special significance?

JR: Most are in the Sailor Jerry style, and I just think they look cool. But I do have one that commemorates the attack on the USS Stark. I figure if I'm going to have all this nautical T&A tattooed all over my body, I can set aside some space for the 37 sailors who died in 1987. Other than that, I don't really go for deeper connotations. I mean what's the significance of a half-naked mermaid with huge tits?

HN: Beats me. You live in a beach community - has it turned your brain to mush, and/or decreased your literary output?

JR: Yes and no. To those who say there is no literary life at the shore, I remind them that Thomas Pynchon wrote a good bit of Gravity's Rainbow in Manhattan Beach. But I'm no Pynchon and when I moved there, I lived across the street from a bar and, yeah, it got to be a problem. I spent so much time in there that when I got up to go home at the end of the night, everyone would leave with me because they thought I worked there and was closing up. But since I've moved up the beach to Playa del Rey, which is less expensive and closer to the airport, I've gotten a lot more work done.

HN: Phoebe Kate Foster has written that one of your stories, Kessler Has No Lucky Pants, "breaks new literary ground by creating a narrative without a narrator, written from a POV that is not first, second or third person and is both ambiguous and specific at the same time." Did you set out to change the face of literature when you wrote this story?

JR: Isn't it great when nice people compliment your work? Unfortunately, I copped the style from James Joyce, my dark master, so I didn't really break anything.

The penultimate chapter of Ulysses is told in this mode and it's my favorite. Joyce calls the style a catechism. I used to think he was referring to the Catholic Church's preferred mode of instruction: "What are the seven sacraments?" "What are the seven deadly sins?" etc., but when I was doing research at Dublin's Royal Irish Academy Library I stumbled upon the same format in the Book of Ballymote, which dates back to the late 14th century. So it just goes to show you, whenever you think you're doing new and different things, some ancient Irish monk has already been there, done that.

HN: You were in Dublin for the 100th anniversary of Bloomsday, and documented your experiences for The Believer. If one writes about one's experiences while they're happening, doesn't that cut down on the number and quality of experiences one might possibly experience?

JR: Absolutely. I don't know how journalists do it. What made it even harder for me is that I didn't have a laptop so I wrote all my dispatches in Internet cafés, which were hot and sticky and inhabited by people with curious ideas about hygiene. More than once, I left a party early so I could write up my report. I'd say I spent about a dozen hours of my vacation in sweltering cafés. It's given me a whole new outlook on reporters and bloggers: they're insane.

HN: Why do you enjoy reading your stories out loud in front of other people?

JR: It's a performance thing. I used to co-host an open mike night and you kind of lose your fear of being up on stage when you're the one setting up the P.A. system and breaking it down again at the end of the night.

HN: Are you still organizing events like this?

JR: I recently started a reading series called Vermin on the Mount at this beautiful bar called The Mountain in L.A.'s Chinatown. I'm the host, which is even better than reading because I get to ham it up all night. I'm no John Hodgman, but I keep things interesting by raffling off books and giving away t-shirts and posters. People are generally ambivalent about readings, but they love free shit.

HN: What's the deal with your punk-rock obsession?

JR: I blame my mother. She took my brother and I to see the Ramones when we were in our early teens and I've been hooked ever since. It's like you have this rock threshold, and once you cross certain plateaus you can't go back. Hall & Oates just aren't going to cut it once you've explored The Buzzcocks. It's also a pretty effective way to prolong one's adolescence.

HN: Okay, tell the truth: whose butt did you have to kiss in order to win that NEA grant?

JR: Have I mentioned my dark master? It's a humbling, humbling thing, but weird, too, because once again the government has their hooks in me. I think I'm the only one on this year's list who doesn't have a book published. Part of me expects the NEA to call back and tell me they've made a mistake, so I'm spending the money as fast as I can. Seriously, you know what the coolest thing about it is? A classmate of mine, a terrific writer named Tammy Greenwood, who was at Northern Arizona University while I was there, also received a fellowship this year. What are the odds?

HN: Have you considered putting out a short story collection?

JR: I'm going to publish one next year with an indie press here in Los Angeles.

HN: Why not a major publisher?

JR: Because they don't want them. It's like trying to sell pork fat back to a butcher.

HN: Women seem to swoon over you. What's your secret?

JR: I don't wear deodorant or brush my teeth.

§ § §

Jim Ruland writes for the punk-rock zine Razorcake. His work recently appeared in Maisonneuve and is forthcoming in The Believer.

Alan C. Baird

His Nibs

Alan C. Baird is the coauthor of a print\web\wap project entitled 9TimeZones.com, which appeared in the Whitney Biennial. He recently moved to the desert, where he enjoys referring to himself in the third person. He now insists on being called "Foxtrots With Coyotes," and has become a caricature of his former self.

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