12 Days of Significance (17)

By: Jonathan Lethem
December 29, 2016

One in a holiday-season series of posts that will reprint stories written — by 12 HILOBROW contributors — for the 2009–2010 SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS project. (In 2012–2013, we reprinted 12 stories by HILOBROW contributors that were also to be found in the Fantagraphics-published collection Significant Objects: 100 Extraordinary Stories About Ordinary Things.)

The following story is by Jonathan Lethem. Enjoy!




Listen, friend, forget about the bartender, you could wait all day in this dive, we might as well be invisible over here, I kid you not. Here, let me pour you a drink. No, really, I insist, it’s on me. I brought my own. Just swab out the dust and fingerprints with my shirttails, good as new. Love the way it claps down on the bar, gets your glands salivating, doesn’t it?

No, after you, I insist. My pleasure.

See that freaky little bird? That’s the state bird, my friend. The Missouri Hunt-and-Pecker. Never heard of ’em? Well, then I guess you’ve never been to Missouri, have you? Maybe passed through, didn’t get out of the car. Or changed planes in the airport, or went up in the Arch once, just to say you’d done it. But that’s not Missouri to me. St. Louis is the gateway, sure, but you want to know Missouri you need to drive a few hours into the corn, you want to visit St. Joseph, up through Maryville — skirt the Iowa border, though Iowa’s a sore point from where I sit. You need to get lost in Missouri or you never really were there in the first place. Even then you won’t be likely to meet the Hunt-and-Pecker unless you circulate a manuscript or two.

Manuscript, you heard me right. See, very few know it, because we keep it to ourselves, but Missouri is sick and silly with apprentice fictioneers, the whole state’s like one vast harrowed and furrowed MFA workshop. Why do you think the license plates call it The Show-Don’t-Tell State?

Yeah, sure, Iowa. We’re not promiscuous like them. Rather sit on a manuscript for a hundred years than publish before we’re ready. And when you really contemplate the motto’s implications… show, don’t tell… well, get me here, we’ve taken it to heart. By the time a roving Missouri critique outfit has detasseled your kernels, you better believe me you’ll have second thoughts about advancing into the marketplace. More likely cancel your subscription to Poets & Writers, renew your vows to craft. Scene, setting, voice. Look at that fugging bartender, he’d serve a wood duck in a halter-top before he so much as glanced at us.

You like that? Here’s another. Go ahead, you know you want to.

Or shut up entirely, always an option. That’s the ultimate endpoint, you know. Don’t write a word, just be a writer. We’re more than a little stoical out here on the plain, son. Write more? Write less. I strive to write less every day, some day I’ll get there. Not-telling isn’t as easy as it appears.

Lookit ’im there, cool as a flippin’ cucumber, straddling the state like nobody’s business. Crazy little red-tailed devil knows more than he’s saying too, can’t you tell? Love the way he flushes amber, then goes all transparent again. Strive to be like a windowpane, not a mirror, that’s how he makes his way through the world.

All right, I’m out of here. Here you go, you bastard! Keep the change! See, I always leave that sonuvabitch a tip — one red cent. Honest Abe, another fellow from the heartland who knew exactly when to shut up. Keep it real, friend.


SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS at HILOBROW: PROJECT:OBJECT homepage | PROJECT:OBJECT newsletter | PROJECT:OBJECT objects (Threadless shop — all profits donated to the ACLU) | POLITICAL OBJECTS series (1Q2017) | TALISMANIC OBJECTS series (2Q2017) | ILLICIT OBJECTS series (3Q2017) | LOST OBJECTS vol. 1 series (4Q2017) | FLAIR series (2Q2018) | FOSSIL series (4Q2018). 12 DAYS OF SIGNIFICANCE | 12 MORE DAYS OF SIGNIFICANCE | 12 DAYS OF SIGNIFICANCE (AGAIN) | ANOTHER 12 DAYS OF SIGNIFICANCE . ALSO SEE: SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS website | SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS collection, ed. Rob Walker and Josh Glenn (Fantagraphics, 2012) | TAKING THINGS SERIOUSLY, ed. Josh Glenn (Princeton Architectural Press, 2007) | TAKING THINGS SERIOUSLY excerpts.

CURATED SERIES at HILOBROW: UNBORED CANON by Josh Glenn | CARPE PHALLUM by Patrick Cates | MS. K by Heather Kasunick | HERE BE MONSTERS by Mister Reusch | DOWNTOWNE by Bradley Peterson | #FX by Michael Lewy | PINNED PANELS by Zack Smith | TANK UP by Tony Leone | OUTBOUND TO MONTEVIDEO by Mimi Lipson | TAKING LIBERTIES by Douglas Wolk | STERANKOISMS by Douglas Wolk | MARVEL vs. MUSEUM by Douglas Wolk | NEVER BEGIN TO SING by Damon Krukowski | WTC WTF by Douglas Wolk | COOLING OFF THE COMMOTION by Chenjerai Kumanyika | THAT’S GREAT MARVEL by Douglas Wolk | LAWS OF THE UNIVERSE by Chris Spurgeon | IMAGINARY FRIENDS by Alexandra Molotkow | UNFLOWN by Jacob Covey | ADEQUATED by Franklin Bruno | QUALITY JOE by Joe Alterio | CHICKEN LIT by Lisa Jane Persky | PINAKOTHEK by Luc Sante | ALL MY STARS by Joanne McNeil | BIGFOOT ISLAND by Michael Lewy | NOT OF THIS EARTH by Michael Lewy | ANIMAL MAGNETISM by Colin Dickey | KEEPERS by Steph Burt | AMERICA OBSCURA by Andrew Hultkrans | HEATHCLIFF, FOR WHY? by Brandi Brown | DAILY DRUMPF by Rick Pinchera | BEDROOM AIRPORT by “Parson Edwards” | INTO THE VOID by Charlie Jane Anders | WE REABSORB & ENLIVEN by Matthew Battles | BRAINIAC by Joshua Glenn | COMICALLY VINTAGE by Comically Vintage | BLDGBLOG by Geoff Manaugh | WINDS OF MAGIC by James Parker | MUSEUM OF FEMORIBILIA by Lynn Peril | ROBOTS + MONSTERS by Joe Alterio | MONSTOBER by Rick Pinchera | POP WITH A SHOTGUN by Devin McKinney | FEEDBACK by Joshua Glenn | 4CP FTW by John Hilgart | ANNOTATED GIF by Kerry Callen | FANCHILD by Adam McGovern | BOOKFUTURISM by James Bridle | NOMADBROW by Erik Davis | SCREEN TIME by Jacob Mikanowski | FALSE MACHINE by Patrick Stuart | 12 DAYS OF SIGNIFICANCE | 12 MORE DAYS OF SIGNIFICANCE | 12 DAYS OF SIGNIFICANCE (AGAIN) | ANOTHER 12 DAYS OF SIGNIFICANCE | UNBORED MANIFESTO by Joshua Glenn and Elizabeth Foy Larsen | H IS FOR HOBO by Joshua Glenn | 4CP FRIDAY by guest curators