Monday, March 20, 2017

These Sardonic Funny Stories

I know nothing about John Jodzio. But I was totally bowled over by his 17 short stories in 'Knockout' (2016). For once, Kindle blurbs didn't oversell this book. It's funny, quirky, dark, sarcastic and very clever. The endings of the grim and almost-bizarre stories are abrupt, and perhaps intentionally done so. (Reviews here, here and here.)

It's tough to pick a favorite. I re-read quite a few simply because they were so delicious. Most of the characters in this book are misfits in society, and yet remain hopeful. Title story 'Knockout' tells of how a recovering drug addict and his best rehab pal Tommy learn the secret of knocking animals and people out by squeezing this spot behind the neck. They tried to steal a tiger, and how in the end his father had to shoot the tiger when it tried to maul them. The whole story says a lot of one's choice of friends, and relationship with a stern father.

'Duplex' plays out like a mini television series. It's just bizarre. The protagonist meets an unfortunate roommate Jayhole who is an erstwhile bounty-hunter and tortures everyone with his practical jokes and refuses to let them move out, to the point of handcuffing them to the bed frame. They have one weird upstairs neighbor Caruso. Strange happenings ensued. The protagonist is only free of Jayhole when his past- his ex-wife and daughter caught up with him to hound him for maintenance and child support, and he fled.

In the end, I decided the best plan of attack to survive the next few weeks was to avoid Jayhole as much as possible. To make it harder for Jayhole to keep tabs on me, I started to climb in and out of my room through my window. When I was inside my room, I used a flashlight and moved around slowly, trying not to make my floorboards creak. At first I had a hard time adjusting to the darkness, but soon I became proficient at eating soup from a bowl I couldn't see and pissing into a Snapple bottle using only the faint light of the moon.

'Our Mom-And-Pop Opium Den' ostensibly talks about the competition between opium den versus a big-box opium den. The small shop is struggling to survive, and in need of a huge amount of cash injection to pay off bills and the mortgage. However, the sub-plot also takes a look at the relationship with the protagonist and his ill father, and their regular customers who haven't gone over to the big chain Opium Depot yet. It also reveals how he refused to be cowed or bribed by Opium Depot's big boss Windom to bow out of business. The father seems to be diagnosed with Alzheimer's, and might or might not have died when he 'attacked' Opium Depot's huge balloon gorilla mascot on the roof.

Our place looks almost exactly the same as when he opened the doors thirty years ago. Red and gold walls. Silk tassels hanging from every goddamn thing. I've worked the register since I was eight and for the last twenty years I've watched hundreds of people kill themselves slowly and convincingly. It makes me sad to think I probably won't get to see our current group of regulars meet their maker too. 
My father pushes dirty sheets into the washing machine, pulls clean ones from the dryer. Outside our doors, all bets are off, but inside here, he's still a huge help to me. Inside here, he can sometimes make me forget he forgets. 

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