“Experimental Discourse” Feature: Rollin Jewett’s “Swingtown Snake”

Rollin Jewett

“Swingtown Snake” is a story that’s experimental in its style in that it plays with a traditional style and genre (40’s pulp noir) but takes place in an alternative universe where common streetwise language is interspersed with words that may sound somewhat familiar but aren’t actually words. In addition, the story’s settings are recognizable but hazily outlined so that the reader must imagine the various ramshackle locations and seamy characters, which are mostly detailed in the peculiar dialogue and descriptions. The main character’s a Raymond Chandler-esque gumshoe, a hard-boiled bottom feeder who makes his meager living “snaking”, or following people — in this case, the errant husband of a vindictive femme fatale. The story attempts to keep the reader engaged and off-kilter at the same time through the repetitive qualities of the unique language and the neo-noir-ish atmosphere conveyed in the dialogue and settings.

My definition of ‘Experimental Discourse” would be a pointed conversation about why artists need to continually challenge the artistic community, break with conventional forms and create new paradigms of expression that torpedo the doors of human perception. From a literary standpoint, part of that challenge is to keep the reader interested and engaged enough to get buy-in on the unconventional characteristics or quirks of whatever form you’re attempting. The difficulty comes when the quality of the work is so esoteric, oddball, or difficult to navigate that your audience gets frustrated and abandons the story. It’s a balancing act where the goal might be to excite, surprise, stimulate…even confuse the reader all at once to provoke a deeper thought process.

Although I have several favorite experimental writers (especially the Big B’s: Burgess, Burroughs, Bukowski), the one whose writing I’m most enamored with is Jack Kerouac. His use of language, time, space, period, setting and character is truly unique and groundbreaking. So many superlatives have been written about Kerouac, it seems redundant to even attempt to comment on his work. I revere him for the same reasons most writers do: his literary style is individualistic, vibrant, rebellious, and exciting; his stories are alive with fascinating characters, locations and situations; his descriptions of action, setting, conflict and thought processes are brilliant; but most importantly, his voice is completely singular.

Swingtown Snake

“Ocean Energy #12” by Gene Kreyd

Sure, sure…I know what you’re thinkin’. You’re thinkin’ I shoulda been a twinkie bit more savvy, right? Well, what would you have done? After all…she was a right lookin’ shape in a drape and I was spilled outta dough. Besides, I had a hot one in my heater and my fingers were twitchin’.

“How ‘bout it, Mr. Harlow?” she oozed all sultry-like.  “I’ll stake you half the kit now and the kaboodle later…when the job’s clipped.” She held out a sheaf of lettuce. I gave her the once-over, then snapped up the green stuff.

“What can you front me about your joe?” I says. “And gimme the plain without the sparkle.”

She dipped in her purse and pulled out a glossy. I veered over and spied it. Her joe, Vilo Stark, was a preeny slicker with jet hair, a thin moustache and a careless smile. It was the face of a juicer used to having his way. I winced when I saw it. There was something familiar about it. I’d seen this milkman before. But then again, Swingtown was full of bilky gigolos these days.

“Can I parker this glossy?” I says as I dipped in my case for a sparkie. I offered her one and she held up her hand. Thank zog. It was my last one.

“You can parker whatever you need,” she says with a sultry shake of her curlies. “And if you clinch the job in a wink…there’ll be something extra for ya.”

“And all I gotta do is nose out your joe?” I says. I spied her wanly, expecting a zinger.

“That’s it.” she says. She got up and swagged to the door. And what a swag it was. My jim-jim stirred with the spice of it. When she reached the knob, she wheeled and says real sugar-like, “Thanks, Harlow.” And all that was left of her was the ransom and the smack of her perfume.

Gardenia.

Zog, she was something. My orbs were full of her and I felt a wave of prickly pins at my nape. At least now I had bank for cancer-bones and chug-a-lug. And I could stake the slum-john for the month’s keep. I wasn’t sure I could ferret her man. It was an iffy gig and I was bottom snake in Swingtown…but it was the only wheel turnin’.

Before I began, I checked my heater to make sure I had a full round of burners. I might need ’em. The dame looked like oodles of heart-rend and I knew I’d better stay lost from her.

If I could.

Vilo Stark was a warbler in a glitzy hush-house called the “Peacock Pit.” I’d glean there outright. I knew the “Pit” from when it was a hangout for the ritzy wicked — back in the rough days. The town heavies swagged the arena like plump dandies now, but I could hold my smirk along-side ‘em. Johnny Law gave it the goose once in awhile and pocketed a fair share of boodle to look the other way. You couldn’t trust the laws no-how.

I skinked through the front door and scanned the arena. It was buzzing with trash, just as I fingered. I spied a muscley gang of jackers plying the twelve-spike table. A nosy blue-cap gave me the look-over, so I beat it to the booze vault for some red-eye.

Tank, the booze-tender, was an old chum of mine. And believe me, I didn’t have many chums in Swingtown. I ordered a lizzie and serum, no stones.

“Ain’t seen ya ‘round here much, Brock,” says Tank. “Where ya sippin?”

“Nowhere swanky like this, Tank,” I says back.  “Listen…you know this gaffer?” I flashed the glossy of Vilo Stark.

“The warbler? Ain’t spied him since day before yester,” he says. “Ever get a look at his lady-prize?”

I tipped my head.

“Some kind of sparkly thing, eh, Brock-o? Make a swell pillow.” He gave a sharp bark and laughed like a mad hyena. I laughed along just to be chumly.

“Any bulbs where I might find him?” I chanced, still chuckling. Tank poured the lizzie, not spilling a tinkle. I deep-sixed it. It burnt like coal-fire…in a good way. I ponied up for another.

“I spied him with Hardy Loco and his ilk,” says Tank.  “You know those juicers like to hang with the heavies. Makes ’em shoot like comets.” He guffed.

“Spied him with anyone…new?” I says, noodling him. Tank leaned closer. “Twixt us…I saw him smooth-talking Honeychile Wisp once upon a moon. Recent.”

“Hardy Loco’s meat patty?” I asked evenly.

“Check.” says Tank. “They seemed pretty…snug. Right before he went lost.”

I shuddered. Vilo Stark and Honeychile Wisp. Zog. You don’t sucker-talk Hardy Loco’s poodle…unless you’re lookin’ skip to the big fridge with wings on.

“And with the lady-prize he’s got at home? Bad bug-a-boo,” says Tank with a shake of his mullet. “Whaddaya want with that bilko anyhow?”

“A little convo’s all,” I says. I gulped the lizzie and tossed him a beefy shiner. “If you see him, gimme a whisper, will-ya?” He tipped his head. The nosy copper was still eyeing me, so I heeled out of there like a bye-gone cheetah.

I careened into the lit city, my brain still fan-dancing with Stark’s peach. Tank was right. She was something, all right. I tried to finger how she’d got twined with a lousy juicer like Vilo Stark. Maybe they’d met in the grades. Or maybe she’d wandered into a bistro one night and he warbled a tune soft and sugary for her. It could’ve had any number of ways and it wasn’t my job to finger it. My job was to ferret out Vilo Stark for her.

Tank had spied him swirling Honeychile Wisp. That was a tough nut. Honeychile was Hardy Loco’s poodle and Hardy Loco was king boss in Swingtown. He could blast a gigolo like Vilo Stark straight to the boneyard in a quick tick-tock. If that was the case, I’d never find him. He might already be gonzo. But it opened a curtain. I’d skink around Honey’s hideout for tit-bits and glean what I could. I lit a sparkie and tried to rid my brain-pool of the shady sharks.

Honeychile Wisp was a kittenish thing — a good time couch-dancer with the bosses and bad guys back in the old days, before Hardy Loco ruled Swingtown. I’d even couched her once upon a time. We’d had a time of it back then and she plied her trade like a pro — jacked it up right and tight. It was bad business for her to twice-around with Vilo Stark. Hardy Loco wouldn’t have it no-how.

A lead sled veered up, treads on the slab. I dipped for my heater…but a gnarly rasp stopped me in my gumshoes.

“Stow it, Harlow. Or take one in the gull.”

I stowed it.

“Get in.”

I got in the back seat of the ritzy chariot and looked over at the passenger. It was Hardy Loco – crooking a mega-blaster. I grinned chumly.

“I jawed with Tank,” says Hardy in flat audio. “You’re snaking Vilo Stark. What’s your beat, Harlow? Who’s staking ya?”

Hang that Tank — fair-weather pal. But he knew better than to josh Hardy Loco. I couldn’t bleed him for that. I was in the pocket, so I’d have to level with Hardy. No pillow biter was worth a burner in the gull.

“His lady-prize,” I says, grinning like a jackal.

Hardy grimaced. I spied he was troubled.

“What’s the shakedown, Harlow?” he says. “You juicing for money now?” The boom-stick jostled in the crook of his arm. I shrugged easily.

“Nothing like that,” I says. “Just a quick nose job, that’s all.”

He spied me with his liquid orbs.

“What’s she after?” he countered. There was a dropped silence. I couldn’t risk raging him.

“She wants his cut off jim-jim,” I says with a dirty chuckle.

That jellied him. He guffed a smidge, then started to hoot. He brayed like a jack-horse, that one. Finally, he tucked the blaster away. I eased a little.

“You find Vilo Stark…gimme a whisper. Pronto. There’ll be something extra for ya,” he says.

I blinked my cheery orbs. A little extra never hurt. Plus he’d owe me. Not bad for a day’s work. He flipped me a shiner and I pocketed it deftly. I slid to the slab and the mighty ride squealed off in smoky haze. Zog, that was a sticker. But I’d fired on all nines.

My bulb was to ferret Honey’s hideout and glean the buzz. Back in the rough days, I knew her block like the back of my fist. But that was then. I scorched my brain-pool, but all I found was shady sharks. It was down some bleak street by the Star-line bus depot was all I could finger. No easy foot, that one.

I got a funky-dangle that someone was snaking me.  Hardy Loco? A nosy siren? Maybe some jacker was tryin’ to muscle in on my lode. I lasered the shadows twice-over.  Nothing. But I couldn’t shake the feeling.

I needed Honey’s address. That was clutch. I’d have to square up with Razer Slugg. No one knew the maze-lines of Swingtown like Razer. He was my orbit. If anyone knew where I could find Honey, it’d be him. He might josh me a dicey no-go, but I’d have to shoot for it.

Razer heeled the ramshackle wharves where the guttersnipes brimmed like smelts in a can. It was iffy to foot the wharves solo, so I kept my furnace in my crook– plain-out for any maze-jacker to spy.

The wharves were dank and grungy with trash and I felt the orbs of the guttersnipes snaking my every foot. But they angled to the edges when they spied my frosty mask…and my ready heater.

A brave one skinked outta nowhere behind me with a gleamy shiv. Before I got stung, I wheeled and arched my furnace –- straight to his gull.

“Yowsa, Harlow! It’s me, Razer!” he chimed, shimmying like a whelp.

“Stow the shiv,” I says, all blunt.

He shimmied again, fingering his odds. I cricked the furnace.

“Ice it,” I says. “Ginger-like.”

He iced it.

“Ouch, Harlow…you’re a chill ruffian,” he says with a chuckle. “Got a sparkie?”

I tossed him a sparkie and he fired it, sucked a long plume and giggled.

“Iffy to solo-foot the wharves, Harlow,” he says, all chumly. “Oodles of guttersnipes and maze-jackers slinking about in the shades.” He huffed with danky sickness.

“Snap it,” I says.

“What’s the shake, Harlow? Got a ploy for ‘ol Razer?  It’ll cost ya.” he says, huffing.

I gleaned his weezy mask. I could see his ticket was punched and he was ripe for the big fridge.

“An address,” I says. “No josh.”

“Whose?” says Razer.

“Honeychile Wisp,” I says, not trifling.

“Hardy Loco’s poodle?” says Razer, wilting. “Ouch.  That’s a no-go.” He made for the shades.

“Three jacks and a deuce for it,” I says. He heeled like a dingo.

“Ouch. Hardy Loco’s bad bug-a-boo,” he says, shaking his head. “No-go.”

“Four jacks and a triad,” I says, addin’ sweetener.

“An ace and a quad…or skooch it,” says Razer. I couldn’t afford to skooch it, so I gave him the ace and quad. He clasped ‘em like a greedy chimp.

“Honeychile Wisp…” says Razer, huffing a smoky plume. He scorched his kelpy brain-pool for the address.

“Ouch!” he says finally. “233 Dungaree Rail…by the Star-line.”

“Sure?” I says. He nodded his seedy dome.

“If it’s a josh,” I warned, “Next time won’t be a sugar-walk. Follow?”

Razer chuckled and skinked off, clasping his stash and huffing in sick audio. Before he made the shades, I orbed an edgy guttersnipe crookin’ a shiv.

“Razer!” I beaked, a tick tardy.

The guttersnipe stung him in the gullet. Razer fizzled to the slab, leaking cosmic goo, then kicked off to the big fridge. I cricked my furnace and whizzed a two-burner through the guttersnipe’s dome. He frothed like a vermin, then snake-tailed Razer to the big empty.

I hoofed over to the corpses, their oozy ink tattooing the slab. I scanned a deuce of maze-jackers orbing me from the shades, eaking to get at the stash.

“Trine off,” I says and arched my furnace their way. They slunk back to the edges.

I rooted the loot from Razer’s rigid digits and dipped ‘em back in my jacket, all cozy. The maze-jackers and guttersnipes haggled me from the shadows, but they couldn’t match my furnace and we all knew it. I quick-stepped it outta there…with a full stake and the address. Zero plus nothin’ for Razer.

At twenty to twelve I was in the grid, gleaning the Star-line maze for 233 Dungaree. It was down a bleak street in a clammy junked-up zone, just as I fingered. But that’s how it sailed in Swingtown these days — ever since Hardy Loco ruled. The sirens had all turned south and you couldn’t tell a bilko from a whore-hound. Even a juicer was royal.

I hadn’t shaken the funky-dangle I was being snaked, but I couldn’t finger it. I snapped my orbs in a loopy scan but didn’t glean even a lowly maze-jacker.

233 Dungaree turned out to be Honey’s address — a festering four-decker on the outskirts of the Star-line with rabid scrats teemin ‘round the building. This was it, all right. Honey’s hideout. I orbed the poisony doorstep with a glazed glare. Vilo Stark might be right up those steps. I’d have to spy with care. If he was, I’d whisper his lady-prize and be done with it. In a wink. That meant the kaboodle and extra — all my way.

I gleaned the shades once-over. No one around. Time to claim the spades. I almost got the toe-freeze when I spied the teemin’ scrats ‘round the doorframe. Scrats gimme the tingles. I heeled up the stairs all ginger-like, kicking the rabid scrats that nipped at my yonkers. When I reached the top, I heard low voices.

It was Honeychile’s creamy audio for sure, but I couldn’t make out the joe. I skinked closer to the door and just as I was about to eye the drape, my foot trounced a chubby scrat.

It snattered loudly.

The door swung open and Vilo Stark stood there buck-raw, his jim-jim swingin’ in the wind. I cricked my furnace, but Vilo jaw-jacked me with a grand piker. I melted like a bowl of kelp.

When my brain-pool cleared, Vilo had the furnace crooked to my dome. He was wound-up tight like a digital.  Honeychile stood in the parlor, scanning my orbs for a signal.

“What’s the shake-down, Brock-o?” she says to me.

“You know this bug, sweet-ums?” says Vilo to her.

“Sure, sure,” she says. “Brock Harlow. Swingtown snake.”

“Snake?” says Vilo with ire. “Who’s staking ya, bug?”  I was still swabbin’ the cotton from my dazey brain-pool.

“No snake,” I says thinkin’ fast. “Just come ‘round for a couch dance — like in the ‘ol days…eh, Honey?” Vilo orbed Honeychile with salty vinegar. She turned violet.

“It’s a snake job, Vilo-doll,” she says to him. “I ain’t couched him in years.” Vilo was no slacker in the brain-pool. He had me fingered and he knew it.

“This is your final snake, bug,” he says to me.

He cricked-back the furnace. Maybe I wouldn’t parker them shiners after all. As I winced for the big lights-out, I spied something skirty slinkin’ up the stairs behind Vilo.

It was his lady-prize. She’d been snaking me. Then I knew what the funky-dangle was.

Gardenia.

“Stone it, Vilo,” she says with steely audio.

Vilo wheeled round and sly-orbed her. His face went ashy when he spied the mega-blaster in her crook — arched his way.

“Sugar-frost…” he says with a plaintive wail.

“Snap it,” she says. “And ice the furnace. Pronto.”

Vilo blinked his orbs, all smarm.

“But sweet-muffin…” he says, oozing bilk.

“Ice it,” she says again. “Or else.”

“Else what?” Vilo rasped at her.

“Wanna keep your jim-jim?” she says, stony as a statue. She cricked the mega-blaster and angled it low. Vilo’s face went from silk to grape.

“Love-dove…you wouldn’t,” he says, balking.

She orbed Honeychile Wisp in her sexy drape with a blunt scowl, then let the crick fly. But no burner whizzed. She cricked twice-over. No whiz.

Her mega-burner was empty. Vilo laughed and arched his furnace.

Before he could crick-it, a burner blammed his jim-jim off. Then another baked his dome. Vilo fizzled and keeled the long way down the scratty stairs, sprayin’ his life gravy on each one.

Hardy Loco stood at the bottom, a mega-blaster plumed cottony in his crook. When Vilo finally fell stone dead at Hardy’s yonkers, the rabid scrats hoarded him. In a frenzy, they chupped his leaky corpse, husking the crust clean off his bones. Hardy lasered his lady-prize and me. His mask was blank.

But there was lit hell in those hollow orbs.

He stalked up the stairs past us, stompin’ the nervy scrats that dared chup at his yonkers. When Honeychile spied him at the stair top, she trilled fearfully, knowing who’s next.

And it weren’t us.

She slipped from the window like a fleet cobra and slammed the heavy door, clinching it.

Hardy bullied up and split the knots with his bare crooks. Oh, Honey trilled and squealed for Zog-all-mighty. But Hardy wasn’t buttered a twinkie. He’d have a shiny new poodle soon.

The dame and I quick-footed down the stairs, past the scrats that dined eagerly on Vilo Stark. I grooted my furnace outta his freezy crooks and we fleet-hoofed it into the dark maze.

As we scrambled down the avenues, a ragged guttersnipe slipped the shades and careened at me with a shiv. My furnace spat once and he slunk to the big empty, my calling card inked on his dome.

In a few ticks we were outta the Star-line maze, easing the rails to Swingtown. I orbed my lady-prize. She was a trick-fox, for sure. She’d staked me to nose out Vilo Stark, then snaked me — just to slam a burner into his jim-jim. She was a rough-go, all right.

And I was gaga.

From somewhere back in the maze, the booming thunder of a mega-blaster blammed away — slam after slam. I winced when I fingered what kinda mess Honeychile Wisp’d be after that. The sirens went speedin’ into the Star-line maze — champin’ at the bit to ferret out the buzz. By then, lady-prize and me were tamely back in Swingtown — arm-in-arm sippin’ serum in a dim dive. It wasn’t our rap any more. It was Hardy Loco’s.

And Hardy Loco ruled Swingtown.

 

About the writer:
Rollin Jewett (aka Rollin Jarrett) is an award-winning playwright, screenwriter, poet, author, actor, and singer/songwriter. His feature film screenwriting credits include the thriller “Laws of Deception” and the campy cult classic “American Vampire”. His poetry has recently appeared in Gathering Storm Magazine, Gravitas Poetry, Red Weather Magazine, Penumbra, Alluvian, Meow Meow Pow Pow and others. His short stories have been seen in Southern Fried Autopsies, Fell Beasts and Fair, Ghost Stories: An Anthology, The Haunted Traveler, Vagabonds: Anthology of the Mad Ones, Literary Heist, and Fterota Logia among others. Mr. Jewett’s plays have won several awards and have been produced Off Broadway and internationally. He lives in Holly Springs, North Carolina with his wife and son.

Image: Ocean Energy #12 by Gene Kreyd. Mixed media on canvas. 68 x 96 cm. 2017. By permission. Gene Kreyd is a Russian-born California artist. He is well-known internationally for his clothing design, films, music, and photography; however, his primary interest is and has always been painting abstract art. Kreyd exhibits across the world, and his paintings are in public and private collections in Europe, Russia, the Americas, Australia, New Zealand and Asia. Kreyd is the O:JA&L Featured Artist for April 2019.