High in the Streets

High in the Streets

by Matthew Binder

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Overview

High in the Streets by Matthew Binder

One day Lou Brown decided to kill himself. But when he sat down to craft a suicide letter, the simple act of committing words to the page was like opening up a window to his mind, allowing the whole world to shine. His book went on to become a runaway bestseller, making him a literary icon, earning him all the trappings of the American Dream. It’s now five years later and the obligations that come along with great success have robbed him of the freedom he values above all else. When Lou suspects his fiancé of an infidelity, he moves into the Frontier Motel, setting himself up for a week-long adventure where he’ll once again learn to buck convention, indulge in his honest appetites, and follow his uninhibited instincts.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781785352843
Publisher: Hunt, John Publishing
Publication date: 04/29/2016
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 256
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Matthew Binder is a former wastrel of the highest order. His work has drawn comparisons to Bret Easton Ellis, Norman Mailer, and James Salter. HIGH IN THE STREETS is his first novel.

Read an Excerpt

High in the Streets


By Matthew Binder

John Hunt Publishing Ltd.

Copyright © 2015 Matthew Binder
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-78535-284-3


CHAPTER 1

I've just moved my work desk into the master bathroom of my house. This is the last room in my home in which I haven't yet failed to accomplish work. Every other space has proven hopeless for me — too plush, too serene, too full of distractions. I'm feeling like the bathroom might just be the austere setting I need to buckle down and manifest more of my brilliance.

Unfortunately, it seems I've strained my back in the process. Every time I twist or bend left, it feels like someone is sticking me with a blazing-hot dagger. I'll have to remember to make an appointment to see my orthopedist, Dr. Hosseini. He'll fix me right up. Regardless of my ailment, the move to the bathroom needed to take place — just had to occur. When inspiration calls, you must answer. Getting my desk up that flight of stairs was an imperative.

Sitting in my bathroom office, I type the opening line: God and everything was overthrown — everyone raging in a wild, deranged dance of life. This feels like a great sentence. Such powerful, terse language, and so profound, too — future readers will be instantly smitten, critics will pile on the accolades, the sales numbers will shatter all records. The words are that exquisite!

Upon typing the sentence, I look up and am struck by the reflection of myself in the bathroom mirror. There I am, the amazing crafter of sentences, the virtuoso behind the most compelling first line in the history of literature. My God, I feel proud, never better. Also, I can't help but be overwhelmed by the sheer magnetism of my face. There is something about the natural light streaming in through the window that makes me look positively elegant. Not since Hemingway has an author exuded such physical charm. I wonder if I should go get my camera and take a picture. The shot would look fantastic on the book jacket. What a combination: a first line of prose so genteel and subtle it could only have been divinely inspired, and the most perfectly distinguished author photo on record.

An unbelievable formula for success.

It's an hour later, and I haven't typed another word. I'm stuck. Paralyzed. Terrified. How the fuck am I supposed to write a second book? A second book is nothing like a first book. A first book is simple. There is nothing to it really: one just writes about oneself. Chapter after chapter the words spew forth from your fingers and onto the page. It's as easy as breathing. As natural as fucking. The material is all there, nothing labored at all. Just sit down and type. It comes like a gift mounted on the backs of angels' wings.

Okay, sure, there is a bit of embellishing in the parts that need embellishing, but that's to be expected. Besides, the whole thing is written under a veil of fiction. Nobody actually thinks I did all those things I wrote about. If they did, I'd be brought up on charges for a litany of crimes. For instance, there's a bit in the book about how Donald, the protagonist, has a friend who suffers a terrible motorcycle accident.

The poor man is interned in a hospital for months on end. The prognosis is paralysis. He'll never walk, never play his guitar, never wipe his own ass or make love to a woman again. However, the man comes from a large family and is burdened with the love and support of countless friends. They tell him he's an inspiration, that he needs to keep fighting, and that they're holding out for a miracle. He smiles through all of this, puts on his bravest face — he doesn't want to disappoint them, break their hearts. After four months, the doctors move him into a rehabilitation clinic to begin intensive therapy.

Day after day, he's put through terribly painful exercises — torture, really. The best-case scenario is that with a lot of hard work and some luck, his ability to speak will continue to improve and someday he'll be able to swallow solid foods again.

Donald, as often as he can, takes the bus across town after the graveyard shift at his job stocking shelves at the local grocery and then waits at a nearby McDonald's for the clinic to open for visiting hours. There he sits with his friend, reading to him, telling him stories, doing whatever he can to make his friend's life a little bit more bearable.

One day, Donald arrives for his visit and his friend confesses that he truly wants to die. He says that he's not angry and that he's not afraid, but that he can't do it alone and that there is nobody else he can ask. Donald listens to his friend's pleas and is torn about what's the right thing to do. Finally, he tells his friend that he will continue to visit him every day for the next week but that he doesn't want to hear any more about the man's desire to die. Donald only wants to discuss other things on these visits, happy things, and if the friend manages this for an entire week and at the end of it still wants to die, Donald will help him.

So for a week Donald makes the trip across town every morning after work and waits patiently at the McDonald's for the clinic to open for visitors. The two friends discuss past adventures, women, books, film, and God. It's a wonderfully rewarding experience for Donald, and he believes it is for his friend, too. On the last day of the week, Donald returns to the clinic. He is convinced that the time he's spent with his friend will bring about a change of heart. When Donald enters the room, the friend is lying in bed smiling. He looks more peaceful than Donald has seen him at any time during one of his visits over the past months.

"You look great, pal," Donald says to his friend. "You must have some good news to share."

Donald leans in very close to hear the response, as his friend's voice is softer and quieter than the sound of a blade of grass blowing in the wind. "I'm so grateful for this past week," the friend says. "I know what an effort it is for you to be here with me. So thank you. And you're right: I do feel good, and why shouldn't I? I've been given a tremendous gift. I get to die today with the comfort of knowing my best friend is by my side."

Donald can tell by the look in his friend's eyes that there is no talking him out of it and so he doesn't try. The two friends exchange heartfelt goodbyes and then Donald places a pillow over his friend's nose and mouth and applies the required pressure. Donald makes every effort not to cry throughout this terribly difficult ordeal. He doesn't want the sound of his grief to be the last thing his friend hears on this earth. Instead Donald tells his friend that he loves him and that he's going to a better place and that soon he'll never feel pain again. It takes only a single minute for the friend to pass, but in that minute Donald experiences more feelings of love, fear, gratitude, sadness, and joy than in the entire rest of his life combined. Afterward, Donald sneaks off the clinic's campus to elude any suspicion of wrongdoing, goes home, packs, and hitchhikes up to Big Sur to chill in silence at the New Camaldoli Monastery.

Shortly after the book's release, an interviewer asked me whether any of this scenario was autobiographical. I said, "Of course not. Doing something like that is grounds for sending a man to jail for murder." I then winked my eye at the interviewer. "You think I'd risk something like that?"

Anyhow, that first book struck a chord with the public, loud enough and hard enough to pay for this house I'm living in. And it bought me my first new foreign car too — a BMW. I can hardly believe it — a big black BMW!

It has recently come to my attention however, that I've been living a bit outside my means. I let things get a little loose — financially, that is. Sebastian, my agent, has informed me I'm nearly penniless. I've run through close to four million bucks since I took up with my fiancé, Frannie, just two short years ago. When I bought the house, Sebastian went berserk. "What the fuck do you need a three-million-dollar house for?" he asked. I assured him it was completely necessary. "My temple of love," as I put it. "Your temple of love?" he asked. "What the hell has gotten into you?" I went onto regurgitate some nonsense Frannie had filled my head with about modern architecture — about how "form follows function," and about the emphasis that architects such as Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius put on geometric shapes and simple lines, "a significant departure from the style of previous eras."

Sebastian was so angry he didn't even make an appearance at the housewarming party. How someone could miss a private performance from Stephen Malkmus of Pavement is beyond comprehension. That was my one request of Frannie for our little shindig — that I get to choose the music. Turns out, even this small wish to pick the tunes was too much. Instead, we ended up compromising, if you can call it that. Frannie hired a DJ to spin Eurotrash electro, and I booked Malkmus (I'd met him at the premier for the movie adaptation of my manuscript) to play some old favorites on his acoustic guitar. Problem was, Frannie banished Malkmus and his guitar to the garage. She didn't think it would mix well with the more sophisticated and chic atmosphere she had worked so hard to cultivate in the main house.

Truth is, I never even wanted the place. Frannie forced it on me. I was perfectly content living in the same 600-hundred-square foot, one-bedroom apartment I'd been living in before the success of the book. But when I fell in love, I fell hard, and I was ready to spend every last dollar I had to win over this lady of mine. And, as it turns out, I have. That's why it's so damn important I churn out another manuscript. Sebastian assures me it doesn't even have to be any good. He says my name on the spine alone is worth a million.

And as much as I'd like to write another masterpiece, I don't think I have it in me. The guy who wrote That's Why I Drink Every Night wouldn't even recognize this new Lou, this man of comfort, this sloth, this weakling, this privileged little piss-ant. The guy who wrote That's Why I Drink Every Night had a lust for life, a thirst for drugs and booze and women and violence. Theguy who wrote that book was high on cocaine and mushrooms and wine and whiskey. He wrote it in bathroom stalls and in bars, on park benches and under them, too; he wrote it in filth and squalor, covered in sex and reeking of sweat and blood and piss.

But not this new guy — this new me, he's got no fire in his belly. He doesn't know what it is to be hungry, to be destitute and depraved, to have the urge to murder, and cravings to die. He's content, complacent, satisfied. A man like that has no business writing a book.

I mean, fuck, what would it even be about? It certainly couldn't be about me. I've completely fallen out of love with myself, and you can't write about what you don't love. Instead of vim and vigor, I've been wallowing in security, and nobody wants to read about security.


My telephone rings.

"Hello, Frannie."

"Hello, darling. How'd it go today?"

"I wrote a magnificent first sentence. Very literary."

"Yes, and then?"

"Then nothing." I go to light a cigarette and realize I've tried to fire up the wrong end. On the second try I get it right. "Oh yes, one more thing. I injured my back moving my writing desk into our bathroom."

"You've moved your desk into our bathroom?"

"It was the only room in the house I was yet to try."

"You're not obstructing access to my sink or personal effects, are you?"

"It's a very big desk."

"Don't get down, darling. Things will come together. You're a brilliant man. But I can't allow you to keep your desk in our bathroom."

"Maybe I'll try the hot tub."

"Why don't you come meet me and some friends for dinner?"

"What friends?"

"My friend Olivia and her husband."

"Who's Olivia?"

"Lou, come on, you've met Olivia several times. She's my college friend — the lawyer. She's a junior associate at the firm that represented you in that mix-up over when you pawned all the furnishings of that beach house we rented last summer."

"The woman with a cast on her arm?"

"No," she says. "Don't you remember her from my birthday party? She explained to you the difference between English and Western riding styles."

"Bicycles?"

"Horses, Lou, horses."

"No recollection."

"Lou!"

"I don't think I'm up for it. Not tonight."

"Of course you are, darling. It'll do you good. Meet us at Chaya Venice at eight."


At 7:30, I go to the liquor cabinet and open a bottle of Don Julio Real. I got turned onto the stuff from the company's founder, Don Julio. He gave me my first bottle as a gift for making a reference to the tequila in That's Why I Drink Every Night. In the book, Donald steals a bottle from behind the bar of a yacht where he's been hired to cater. He ends up locking himself in the bathroom, polishing off the whole thing. When he returns to work, the party's host confronts him about the missing bottle, and Donald throws himself overboard to evade capture.

Apparently, due to the mention, sales of Don Julio spiked. It's a $400 bottle, and I've gone through at least one a month for the past two years. My God, how money has changed me! Five years ago, I wouldn't have thought twice about licking Jose Cuervo off the floor.

I stand at the bar in the den and take three shots in succession while reading the news on my iPad. A story about a man from Albuquerque, New Mexico, catches my eye. This man was driving down the street in his car, in the middle of the day, having sex with a girl. He couldn't see because she was straddling him, and he hopped the curb and hit a telephone pole. The girl was ejected from the vehicle and sustained serious injuries. The driver fled the scene on foot but was chased down by two witnesses. They found him hiding behind a cactus, naked except a cowboy hat.

This story gets me feeling all right, and I drink two more shots in this man's honor.

I pull up to the restaurant at 8:20. I'm late, but Frannie knows that's to be expected, so I'm not concerned. It wouldn't surprise me if dinner was really at 8:30 and she just told me 8 to get me there on time. When I walk in I ask the hostess if my party has already been seated, and it has. Frannie is not as clever as I have given her credit for.

The dining room of the restaurant is large and open, with high wood ceilings from which whimsical paper lanterns dangle, the motif a hybrid of country-western and Asian. I ask the hostess about the theme and she says it's "Rustic Festive."

As I approach, Olivia and her husband are smiling. Frannie is not. The husband stands up to shake my hand and introduces himself as Doug. He's a large, well-built man with a soft, light-brown mustache and innocent-looking grey eyes. Sizing him up, I wonder if I could take him in a scrap.

I sit down next to Frannie, pick up her glass of wine, and take a big swig. "Sorry I'm late," I say. "Big accident on the 5. Traffic was backed up for a mile, so I took side streets. But that was murder too. So many lights. You know how it is."

"So, Lou," Olivia begins, "Frannie says you've begun a new novel."

I try to recall if I've met this woman before. I can't place her. She's certainly very pretty — thin figure, well-proportioned face, high cheekbones, green buttons for eyes — but I can't remember having ever met her.

"Hard to say, for certain. I might get out of that racket. Been considering some other ventures."

Frannie puts her hand on my forearm and gives me a puzzled look.

"Really, like what?" Olivia asks.

"I'm thinking of taking up arms with the Jews against the Arabs. Either that or I'll side with the Arabs against the Jews."

"Excuse me?" Doug says.

"War. I'm thinking of going to war."

"I don't understand," Olivia says.

"It's nothing," I say. "Something I'm considering."

Doug picks up his water glass, averts his eyes, and takes a sip. Olivia tears a piece of bread in two, and drops it on her plate.

"He's kidding," Frannie says. "He's not really considering going to war — are you, darling?"

"Why not?" I say. "It doesn't sound like such a bad idea. It would certainly liven things up a bit. War is not nearly the detriment to one's existence that boredom is. I mean, what else am I going to do, spend all my time driving around L.A. in my fancy car, going to restaurants, take up golf?"

"I think it would make a hell of a book," Doug says.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from High in the Streets by Matthew Binder. Copyright © 2015 Matthew Binder. Excerpted by permission of John Hunt Publishing Ltd..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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