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Tin Can Mental Contagion
Opening the Can: Publishing in 125,000 Easy Steps
by Gene Dillon


The booths at the diner are still the originals. I know this, because a fat man doesn't get a fuckin' break. The table is bolted to the goddamn wall and floor, so I can't shove it toward the skinny guy on the other side. They designed these booths when people weren't so fucking fat around here. I guarantee they give you a lot more wiggle room at the Cheesecake Factory, and if you still can't fit, the busboy comes out and rubs you down with nice thin layer of whipped butter and gives you a gentle shove to help wedge you in. But here, as my stomach seems to increase in volume when I bend my body in half and attempt to slide across the vinyl bench on my side of the table, it's like sticking a tennis ball into a chain link fence. That's fine for an inanimate object, but it makes me uncomfortable. I don't even feel like ordering the cheese fries.

This guy doesn't say much. Is he staring at me?

His fedora sits upside down on the table like a crumpled candy bowl, containing his massive set of keys set on a ring in the shape of a Jesus-fish. His hairline recedes farther up than my own, and he has a little bit of length to his hair in the back. His handlebar mustache is like something I haven't seen since I stopped watching professional wrestling—you know, not the curly, waxed variety, but the Fu Manchu / Harley Davidson kind. He seemed to have a cup of black coffee in his right hand before we even sat down. He's wiry, and veins bulge on the forearms reaching out from inside the roomy sleeves of his cornea-shattering purple and green Hawaiian shirt. He has about six inches of room between his chest and the edge of the table.

"What have you done?" he inquires. I stare at myself, first in the reflection of his mirrored left lens, then in the right—and back and forth again and again, as I consider the intended meaning of his question. His shades are vintage classics, straight from the highway patrol of the early eighties, betraying nothing in the eyes behind them, not even a blink, but to me, they provide a couple of miniature security mirrors with fisheye distortion, showing me every corner of the room, the table, the waitresses...

I feel guilty for no reason, like a shoplifter at a convenient store. I shrink a little, giving him the same "What?" that I would give to my old man when he knew I did something wrong.

"The book." (Duh.) "What have you done?"

"Oh. Uh..." I look around as if I'm fumbling for my notes. "I, uh, finished revising three pieces, and—"

"Send 'em out!"


"Send 'em out."

"To who?"

"To whom. I think it's whom. Hey, who the fuck uses whom in a reality sentence anymore? I highly recommend that you never use that word again, okay?" His manner is very calm and even, almost soothing. But he's all business. "Look, you'll figure out where to put the stuff. Ask around. Who do you know? Anyway, that's the easy part. The hard part is just doing it."

"Well, what's the process? I've been putting together the book and—"

"Yeah, yeah, I know. You have no idea what you're doing, and that's okay. You have to be out of your mind for going back and trying to reconstitute all the muck you've been trudging though for the last four years. But, no worries! You had to go there and face all of that and see what you've done and where you've been. Kinda scary, huh?"

"I wouldn't say that. Frustrating... Annoying... Impossible..."

"So you see that where you were is not where you are. For most humans, it's madness to go back there, but you just keep doing it all the time. That's a hidden talent. You keep going back to those places until there is nothing left to dig up, nothing left to learn. You visit a mind that is four years younger, and you can see how far you have come. You can't look at any piece the same way, you know, not after all that time has passed. And of course, you have refined your craft since then."

"I'm exhausted!" I blurt.

With a smirk of good-natured rejection, he chastises me, "Exhausted? How can you be exhausted? You haven't even been born yet!"

The conversation clanks to an abrupt halt as our waitress brings us what seems like too many plates of food. I am puzzled by the pointless use of the extra plate for the hash browns and also my rye toast, and the insistence of garnishing my breakfasts with a twisted slice of orange and a sprig of parsley. So much waste! So many plates to bring and to clear and to run through the dishwasher! I bet Charlotte could make 15% more money a night if they would just blow off the garnishes, and put the goddamn hash browns and toast on the same plate as the omelets.

My companion has ordered biscuits and gravy with 2 eggs sunny-side up. He had asked for the eggs to be placed atop the biscuits and gravy, but Charlotte brought the eggs on an extra plate, with a serving spoon, and instructed him to place the eggs up there himself, because she couldn't get Arturo to understand what the hell she was asking for. "So much waste," he audibly echoes my thoughts whilst carefully placing each egg atop the two fat mounds of greasy gray carbohydrates. He points his dirty fork at me, "You gotta get somebody to do the rest of that shit for you. Just let it go. Trust a good person to help you with it." He stabs a half of a biscuit and shoves it into his mouth, and forces out his next sentence through the crumbly paste after only the second chew, "You got a web site?"

"Yeah. I got my name. GeneDillon dot com."

"What's up there?"

"Uh... nothin' yet."

"No sweat. But get busy on that. You're gonna need it. People come looking for you, and you gotta be there."

I'm a little lost. "What about the book? Are you telling me to forget about it, and just start sending my pieces around one at a time?"

"Yes and no. I mean, no and yes. You need more exposure. You need street-cred. You need a rep. Nobody knows you except for the guy or gal who's reading this right now, or who read you here the last couple of months. Which is great, don't get me wrong. But your sphere of influence is a marble on the playground. Don't you want a whole bag of marbles? Then you can bring that bag of marbles to any other playground in the city. Maybe even the world. And one day you can trade that bag of marbles for a couple of gold bars, or a bong, or a crucifix—whatever you want! What the fuck was I talking about? Oh, yeah. You send your stuff out there to the journals and mags while you shape your book. But remember that word: shape. Your book needs a common thread, a cohesive idea. You can't get an agent to look at a first book that's just a compilation of random stories. That kind of stuff is for the somebodies. You gotta earn that. That's why you need to get your work into multiple locations. If they'll have you."

"So you think I'll be able to land an agent? How do I go about—?"

"I don't know, man. This is gonna take another year. Maybe two more years. You're startin' over, dude. But this time, you're doing it as a writer. Not just some guy who wants to write. Do you understand what I'm tellin' you?"

"You've got to be fucking kidding me..."

He wipes his mouth, the napkin shredding slightly from the stubble upon his chin. "Pay the bill, willya? I gotta take a dump."

Well... At least the food is cheap here.

I am a writer.

I'm thinking about ditching him. But I have to find another ride, and quick!
Mental Contagion
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