I hadn’t seen Uncle Punk since the wake of a distant relative ten years before. Now he was at death’s door and I was his only visitor.
“Alright Uncle Joey, I think I’m going to go now. I…I love you.”
I wasn’t sure what compelled me to say that last part, but it felt like it was the right thing to do. His eyes opened again and so did his mouth.
“Gowanus,” he said in a strained voice.
I was shocked.
I start laughing out loud on a late night L train. A bunch of drunk people, currently not listening to their iPods with loud punk music, turn around curiously, frowning their noses with a question in their looks “Who’s laughing? Why laughter all of sudden?” Raising my eyes from the book, I look at them in appeasement, my look saying: “There’s nothing to be seen here, people, go back to your drunkenness. I am just finishing one but last short story from The Silk City Series by Eric Nelson.” They seem to have understood, nodding and moaning with boredom, they give me a look back saying: “Ah, right, just a book. We thought, maybe some action…” But I am not listening to their looks anymore because I’m reading again.
I’m in the Silk City, Paterson, NJ where a writer Eric has taken me. I’m standing on the sidewalks while a nervous mom walks by me with her 15-year old son, both in Sunday-church level of attire, headed to ask for money from her father she hasn’t spoken to in years. And I’m observing Italians hugging each other after a huge fight over a broken air conditioner because they’ve been ripped off. I’m in a hospital observing Uncle Punk hallucinating about Gowanus on his death bed…
Eric started to write these stories after his mother died. He went back, collected, recalled, dusted the memories of his childhood neighbors, his mom, the poverty, the families struggling, trying to stick together, fighting and finding each other again… All in a dreary environment of a working class of Paterson.
Having the pure punk in his heart, he started to publish the stories as what was to become an acclaimed zine series. Shortly the zines came to the attention of a publishing house and became a book. Neat. So… how did a boy with a blue collar New Jersey background without an MFA degree or any special connections publish a book again? Oh, right, he writes like a punk. He patiently plays a game with words while he scribbles into a mole skin at night, he comes to work early in order to rewrite everything on a computer. He joins a writers collective where he meets others. He volunteers at ABC No Rio zine library. He organizes Fireside Follies, a Bushwick reading series where every writer would kill to read. And right now he’s editing his next work of what he calls “satire on art and urban transplants”.
Simple. In a way.
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