Listener, Take 3: Ozark Failures

Welcome to Take 3 of our Listener reaction. This week, a few of us are taking different pieces from the band Listener and writing what comes to mind. Have you checked out Take 1, and Take 2?

Today, I tackle two pieces, “Ozark Empire,” and “Failing is Not Just for Failures.”

**This is a piece of short FICTION.


They mailed his last shred of dignity to him in 2007, a severance check for two weeks pay and letter signed “cordially.” He never got up from that chin shot. It crushed him.

He ran his office like a well oiled machine, allowed himself no indulgences except for the yearly hot rod calendar that was thumb-tacked to his felt covered wall. He kept his papers at right angles, kept his email inbox clean. “These are the things valued by the corporation,” he told me once.

Dad raised me on a steady diet of do-right. “Play the part,” he said, “tie a double windsor, floss regularly, and by God, keep your blood pressure in check.” Dad was risk averse, content to blend in. He ate less than he killed and always kept a storehouse for the lean years.

We were all surprised by the layoff. It was “company wide,” the nightly news reported, but some of his co-workers had kept their cubicles. Dad didn’t fight, just cashed his check and sank into a deep chair on his back porch for ten months. His jet-black hair grew long, grew until it curled in the back. He read an old collection of Sherlock Holmes, drank a daily sixer of PBR, and watched the blue jays. He slept.

Twice a week, I brought Dad supper and we talked about politics–Dad was a hopeless republican–or the economy. One night in February he told me, “I’m thinking about calling this ‘early retirement.’ I’ve got enough, and if I draw SSI….” His voice trailed.

“You can’t just hang it up,” Dad.

“Can’t I?” He pushed carrots around with his butter knife. There was a moment of silence before he unraveled.

“I’ve been thinking, son. You gotta shake things up as hard as you can. Don’t play it down the middle, make some noise. You have to push and push and push your way up. Push until you’re so close to the top that no one can pull you down. You’ve got to take it by horns.”

He took a slug of PBR. “I just don’t have that kind of energy any more. ”

I stared at my plate, mashed my potatoes under my fork.

“You understand, son?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said. But what I wanted to say was, “I lost my best friend to sadness.”

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7 Responses to Listener, Take 3: Ozark Failures

  1. Seth, this just knocked me flat out. Damn.

  2. Kiki Malone says:

    You integrated that sadness quote like a boss! You know, Chuck Palahniuk said that he had a hard time referring to any of his novels as “fiction” because they’re all a conglomeration of his own bits and pieces. I think that’s funny in light of your adamently italicized “This is a short piece of FICTION.” I also like that you said “slug of PBR”. I like when writers use colloquial language well, and you framed this whole bit in the south with that there one verb. “Steady diet of do-right” screams Protestant work-ethic right next to all that disillusionment and you see the downfall of so much hard-earned grace. I like it. You’re writing on levels here. Peel it like an onion! Shake it up! You said a lot in a little, and you write like you know America is on her way to the back of the line. We gotta do something different before we called into queue. Jesus, the snaggle toothed Propheteer, talking about the first and last. I bet He’d like PBR.

    • onions and garlic and good tears oh my.

      this is good stuff, seth. it screams ozarks and in no stereotyped voice.

      this was such an interesting project and i love the different ways each writer approached it. erika met the listener head on and spoke to his strangeness, i attempted to mirror some of the lyric structure and went with what the song dreamed in me, and you’ve taken lyrics and built a story around them i can hear dan telling in his own, twitching, rocking voice.

      well done!

  3. It’s just what I was going to say . . . This collective? I LOVE all the strengths we bring to the table. And Seth, every time I read your “fiction”, it feels like someone I know or an experience I’ve had or an emotion I’ve felt or something I’ve seen. No, your stories are too real to be “fiction”.

    And what Malone said: “You integrated that sadness quote like a boss!!!”

  4. Okay – the old lady will chime in with – – – what the ??? I love your piece. I like the unaccompanied poem very much – but I struggled with that Ozark one when you sent it out earlier…and I still do. Sorry. :>( For me, it’s a little too assaultive aurally.

    The words to all of these have been great – when I can decipher them – and I listened to an interview with the artist and found that intriguing. Definitely niche stuff. And that last line??? Absolutely killer. I’ve lost too many friends to sadness, a few quite literally, through illness or suicide. Sigh.

    The very best part for me is to read what you all have to say in response. yeah, that’s the ticket. So, I’ll say thank you for that. And I’ll mean it, too.

  5. dan smith says:

    This is really nice, and really awesome. I can’t believe it. I’ve read some of you and your wife’s writings before, and am a fan. I had first heard of you all after I saw you get up and speak in church in fayetteville a couple years ago. Really cool Seth, thanks brother. Maybe we’ll play in Fayetteville again one of these many days and get a pbr. The ozarks are a great place.

    • sethhaines says:

      You were at the service where Amber and I “came out,” so to speak? Yeah, that was a hard and really good day for us. That’s a church with some good folks in it… like the ones who made their way to India.

      If you ever head this way, let me know. I’ll be there and hospitably grab the pbr. Love your stuff. Keep digging in.

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