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  • If I Don't Six
  • Written by Elwood Reid
  • Format: Trade Paperback | ISBN: 9780385491204
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If I Don't Six

A Novel

Written by Elwood ReidAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Elwood Reid

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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

Elwood Reid first appeared on the literary stage with a powerful and bruising story called "What Salmon Know," which appeared in the March 1997 issue of GQ.  Here was a writer not afraid to examine the soulful underside of the American male, or the violence that accompanies disappointed dreams.  Now, in his first, extraordinary novel, Reid tells the story of Elwood Riley, a six-foot-six, 275-pound blue-collar kid whose ticket out of Cleveland is a "full ride" football scholarship to the University of Michigan.

But Riley is cursed with intelligence and an awareness of the vicious inhumanity of the college football system.  If Riley doesn't want to "six"--lose his scholarship or get maimed--he has to become a "fella," a pain-loving freak too nihilistic to care what he does to himself or others.  And after Riley encounters the alluring, mysteriously damaged Kate, his dilemma becomes ever more painful.

Elwood Reid's portrait of this world is at once blackly humorous, starkly tragic, and perfectly detailed.  With deft strokes, he portrays emotionally stunted coaches who have mastered the art of humiliating and manipulating young men, groupies attracted to the fame but undone by the shocking cruelty of the players, and the athletes themselves, who grow addicted to violence, alcohol, and steroids, too caught up in the glory of playing for Big Blue to notice they are mere meat to the coaches and the university.

In tough, spare, beautiful prose that should invite comparisons to the works of Thom Jones and Denis Johnson, Reid describes a place where young men damage their souls and their bodies in pursuit of a worthless glamor.  This is a profound, unsettling book about a familiar yet hidden world--a Greek tragedy in cleats.

Excerpt

Taylor's house is a shabby-looking, two-story box with peeling paint,  cracked windows, and a sagging front porch shaded by several small sumac  trees. We follow the music and enter the front room. Upperclassmen with  girlfriends and groupies file by and nod at us ever so slightly.  Rickety-looking card tables are scattered throughout the room, a different  drinking game at each. In the living room the couches have been pulled  back to make room for an impromptu wrestling match between Banchic and  Billy Joe Burke. Childers, Fuckhead, and Reems sit spraddle-legged on a  crooked couch while women wearing loose Michigan football sweatshirts sit  on their laps, cheering the match on. Smashed beer cups litter the floor  and skitter across the room whenever Burke breaks free from the bear hug  and charges Banchic as he tries catching his breath and drinking a beer at  the same time. I watch Nick wander around the party calling every girl he  talks to Michelle. Most of them giggle into their drinks, while others  walk away.

"Nick, what the fuck are you doing?" I ask.

"I'm going to marry a woman named Michelle. Why waste time?"

From the couch Fuckhead says, "He's been doing that all night."

The woman on Fuckhead's lap cocks her head, sniffing the air like an  antelope. I see the way Fuckhead looks at her, locking his arms around her  waist, afraid she'll spot one of the starters, dart off his lap and be  gone.

We skirt the wrestling match and stand back out of the way in the dining  room. Purty appears with two giggling blondes, one under each arm. Both of  them have dark roots, thick lips, too tight jeans, and large oversize  sweatshirts. The taller one I recognize as one of the Lady Blues, but she  stares straight through me while the other one inspects her chipped nails  and shakes her head.

I lean into Purty. "Nice run today. I wish you could've seen the people  in the stands."

We run through an awkward series of handshakes that ends in a finger  snap.

He looks at me. "You Riley, right?"

One of the girls giggles, patting his flank like a horse.

I nod, knowing he's looking at me as a bench-riding frosh, something he's  above.

"I heard the crowd," Purty says.

"He was awesome," the taller girl says.

Both squeal and shake Purty, who looks a little far off, his heavily  lidded eyes staring at something else across the room.

When I don't fill up the space with words, he tips his head at me, wading  through the crush of people, the girls trailing behind him.

Napalm rolls his eyes. "You sounded like a fucking fan, Riley. Were you  gonna offer to suck his dick next?"

"You saw it."

"Everybody did. The trick is to act like it's no big deal. That's what  we're all doing here. You see anybody else drooling over him?"

"Well . . ."

"Besides the women?"

I look around at the people, just a bunch of guys with beer cans in their  hands, laughing, punching each other on the arm every minute or so. Girls  snake through the crowd looking up into faces trying to figure out who's  who, while guys in gold chains and silk jackets make friendly with the  players, hanging on their every grunt.

I shrug my shoulders. "No."

"My point exactly. We're all stars here. Get it? Everybody looks up to  us. I know it's fucked, but it's the truth, so let's get drunk and have  some fun."

"But we didn't do shit today except sit the bench."

"We're on the team, Riley, it doesn't matter what we did or didn't  do today."

We wade through the living room, sipping our beers and trying to blend  in. Every so often a drunk upperclassman slops an arm around us and offers  his hard-won wisdom. Most of it along the lines of "Someday, when you're a  starter . . ." or "Drink up, you dumbfucks . . . Take a look at all the  pussy."

At about eleven we're asked to sit in on a poker game. Bam Bam looks up  at us, his massive arms rippling under his sleeveless T-shirt.

"Twenty apiece," he says, pointing at a pile of chips. "You pay me."

Both of us nod and take seats. On the counter behind me Himes pounds the  buckled Formica, challenging Bates to an arm-wrestling match. Bates, who's  been lurking in what passes for a den (three lawn chairs, a milk carton  crate, two Playboy centerfolds taped to the wall and a broken  television, no picture, sound only), leaps out of his seat and rushes  Himes, saying, "You wanna piece? You wanna piece?"

Bam Bam rolls his eyes and calls Follow the Queen. Then he shuffles and  offers a cut to this nervous-looking guy who sits twisting a thin gold  ring, staring at Himes and Bates, who, as they lock wrists, begin  grunting.

Bam Bam watches the guy twist his ring a minute, before pounding the  table impatiently. "Hey, Cheswick, you gonna cut or stare at the fucking  cards?"

Cheswick runs his fingers through a spotty mustache and makes a show of  knocking the cards, pushing the deck back to Bam Bam for the deal. Behind  us, Himes grunts and groans as Bates slams his wrist to the counter  sending a Mason jar full of tobacco spit sailing to the floor where it  spills on a pile of coats. Neither of them moves to do anything about the  coats and after a minute the room fills with the warm, sweet aroma of  tobacco.

Ackley leans into me, his face scraped clean and pink like an old man,  and offers me and Napalm some whiskey out of a silver flask.

Napalm nods and Ackley pours into plastic cups.

We take our cards.

"I've got a fiver says you jock sniffers got shit," Cheswick says,  tossing a blue chip onto the table where it clatters and spins for a  moment.

I fold. Himes is standing behind me, licking his bloody knuckles from  where Bates has slammed him. I can hear his open mouth panting and for a  minute I consider telling him to fuck off.

"Hey, Himes," the Shed says. "You a housefly or something?"

Himes gapes, "Huh?"

"Back the fuck off the table."

"Sure, man," Himes says, backing off.

The Shed looks behind him. "Hey, Bates, come get your boy," he says.

Bates grabs Himes by the neck and grunts at the countertop, motioning  for Himes to stick out his arm again, this time for a beer. "If not, you  make my hit list," Bates says. "And then I have to kill you, put you out  of commission like these other brain-dead fuckers."

Himes holds out his hands to show Bates how scared he isn't.

"Okay, Rambo, strap a pair on and let's have another go," Bates says.

We pause the game and watch as Bates, who has the team record for  weighted dips, slams Himes to the countertop again. Himes mutters  something about steroids and getting lucky before ducking into the other  room.

"Anybody else?" Bates shouts at us.

"Better living through chemistry," Bam Bam says after Bates has  disappeared out the back door.

"I'm telling you, the guy's going to blow a gasket one of these days. Be  one of them burnout head cases," Shed says.

"That would be a real loss to humanity," Cheswick says. "You fags want to  play cards or talk shop? Or maybe we should watch some more arm  wrestling."

The Shed smacks Cheswick on the arms, nearly tipping him out of his  chair. "Listen to Tony fucking Vegas."

"Let's just play," Cheswick says, straightening his shirt collar.

We play and drink, Cheswick taking almost every other pot. The Shed  starts challenging us to drink and when we don't he threatens to sic Bates  on us.

After an hour or so I can't even focus on the cards with Cheswick's  idiotic chatter buzzing in my ear.

"Man," Cheswick says. "This is too fucking easy. I feel sorry for you  guys. Every time we play cards this happens and now we got new guys. Must  be the helmets. That or the steroids you guys are pumping into your asses.  But if you want to piss your money away then I guess I have  to--flush."

He snaps a royal flush down on the table to collective groans. The Shed  mumbles something about cheating, but Cheswick keeps up his banter,  rattling his chips, stroking his puny mustache. I deal Low Card in the  Hole, fold after the last card and watch as Cheswick jacks the pot up to  eighty dollars until it's just him and Bam Bam staring over their hands at  each other.

Cheswick calls and flips four of a kind under Bam Bam's nose. Bam Bam  tosses his cards away and grabs him by the collar and lifts him out of his  seat.

"Take your fucking pot," he growls.

"Come on, Bam Bam," Cheswick whimpers. "It's not my fault you don't know  how to bet. You guys are lucky I didn't bring Go-Go with me, he'd have  cleaned you out hours ago."

Bam Bam shakes him once more before dropping him back to his seat. "Yeah,  but Go-Go knows how to keep his pie hole shut," Bam Bam says.

"I can't help it if I'm good," Cheswick says, raking his chips in.

After losing the last of his chips, hanging around on a small boat,  Napalm quits the game, pushing back his chair, inhaling, relieved.

"Hey, dummy, want some charity?" Cheswick asks.

Ackley starts laughing and looks at Napalm, waiting for him to say  something.

"What did you say?" Napalm asks.

The Shed leans his bucket-shaped head forward. "You're going to get  killed, Cheese Whiz. Especially if you think we're gonna protect you from  a frosh."

Cheswick clinks his chips around nervously. "I get killed, you can forget  about those extra tickets for the State game."

Napalm gets up and stands over Cheswick.

Before he can say or do anything Bam Bam says, "Here." And lashes a swift  backhand to Cheswick's nose. There is a soft crunching sound, like boots  on snow, and Cheswick's face lights up in red. "I warned you. Napalm here  would have done you worse, so consider yourself lucky."

Cheswick's eyes tear up as he tries to keep the blood pooled in his palm.  Ackley goes to the sink and gets him a tea towel dotted with tiny blue  football helmets and hands it to Cheswick, who buries his face in the  cloth.

"Fuck you," he sputters.

The Shed starts laughing beer foam all over himself.

Ackley steps between Bam Bam and Cheswick, trying to prevent any further  violence. "That was stupid, Bam Bam," he says.

Bam Bam shrugs his shoulders and begins gathering the cards. "Fuck him.  I'm sick of his big-shot mouth."

From under the blood-soaked tea towel Cheswick squeaks, "Cash me out and  give me my fucking money--I'm done playing with you retards."

Bam Bam paws through Cheswick's chips, stacking them by color, while  Cheswick sits there muttering into the bloody towel. Napalm taps me under  the table and lets out this little grin.

When we cash out I've lost sixty dollars, half of my money I have for the  month. Napalm and I go back out into the living room to watch more  wrestling, more women pressed into corners by hulking bodies, wide hands  crushing them.

Ackley comes up behind us.

"You boys ain't properly medicated just yet," he says, passing us another  bottle. "And take some of these."

He holds out a handful of pills.

"What are they?" I ask.

"A little bit of everything, fruit salad, mix and match."

I pick two blue capsules and Napalm takes a pair of yellow and black  pills.

Ackley smiles and passes the bottle again. "That's my boys."

We drink and swallow the pills. The rest of the party happens in this  whiskey/pill blur of bodies and voices. The pain in my neck increases  somehow and Ackley's there whispering in my ear how this chick's looking  at me, how she wants me. So I go over to her, pick her up and pin her to  the ceiling. Somebody cranks the music and I shake her, smiling up at her  drunkenly until I notice she's screaming and put her down only to have her  slap me and run off.

Wolfie comes up to me. "Riley, you're supposed to fuck pussy, not lift  it."

I nod and he passes me another bottle and motions for me to drink. The  last thing I remember is Ackley snubbing out cigarettes on the back of my  palm and me laughing.

"You're one of us," he says.

And me saying, "No."

* * *

I spend Sunday in bed trying to sort out the last few days: Hart's  threat, Kate's hands on my broken nose and the fact that her dad's a  coach, Cheswick bleeding into a towel, the groupies at the party and the  fucked-up shit I remember doing but not feeling.

Then I think about Heather waiting by the phone.
Elwood Reid

About Elwood Reid

Elwood Reid - If I Don't Six

Photo © Nina Egner Moore

Elwood Reid is the author of the novel If I Don't Six and the short story collection What Salmon Know. He spent two years working in Alaska as a carpenter. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Praise

Praise

A ferocious and brilliant debut novel about young men in love with violence.

Advance praise for If I Don't Six:

"A fresh new voice, compelling and possessing a fierce honesty."
--Rick Bass, author of The Sky, the Stars, the Wilderness

"Don't say you weren't warned.  This book kept me up half the night."
--Charles Baxter, author of Believers

"I have a feeling that some people are going to be real upset with Elwood Reid....If you're intoxicated with college football, this book ought to sober you up. "
--John Dufresne, author of Love Warps the Mind a Little


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