Missouri Shotglass

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Object No. 100 of 100

[The auction for this Significant Object, with story by Jonathan Lethem, has ended. Original price: $1. Final price: $76.]

Listen, friend, forget about the bartender, you could wait all day in this dive, we might as well be invisible over here, I kid you not. Here, let me pour you a drink. No, really, I insist, it’s on me. I brought my own. Just swab out the dust and fingerprints with my shirttails, good as new. Love the way it claps down on the bar, gets your glands salivating, doesn’t it?

No, after you, I insist. My pleasure.

See that freaky little bird? That’s the state bird, my friend. The Missouri Hunt-and-Pecker. Never heard of ’em? Well, then I guess you’ve never been to Missouri, have you? Maybe passed through, didn’t get out of the car. Or changed planes in the airport, or went up in the Arch once, just to say you’d done it. But that’s not Missouri to me. St. Louis is the gateway, sure, but you want to know Missouri you need to drive a few hours into the corn, you want to visit St. Joseph, up through Maryville — skirt the Iowa border, though Iowa’s a sore point from where I sit. You need to get lost in Missouri or you never really were there in the first place. Even then you won’t be likely to meet the Hunt-and-Pecker unless you circulate a manuscript or two.

Manuscript, you heard me right. See, very few know it, because we keep it to ourselves, but Missouri is sick and silly with apprentice fictioneers, the whole state’s like one vast harrowed and furrowed MFA workshop. Why do you think the license plates call it The Show-Don’t-Tell State?

Yeah, sure, Iowa. We’re not promiscuous like them. Rather sit on a manuscript for a hundred years than publish before we’re ready. And when you really contemplate the motto’s implications… show, don’t tell… well, get me here, we’ve taken it to heart. By the time a roving Missouri critique outfit has detasseled your kernels, you better believe me you’ll have second thoughts about advancing into the marketplace. More likely cancel your subscription to Poets & Writers, renew your vows to craft. Scene, setting, voice. Look at that fugging bartender, he’d serve a wood duck in a halter-top before he so much as glanced at us.

You like that? Here’s another. Go ahead, you know you want to.

Or shut up entirely, always an option. That’s the ultimate endpoint, you know. Don’t write a word, just be a writer. We’re more than a little stoical out here on the plain, son. Write more? Write less. I strive to write less every day, some day I’ll get there. Not-telling isn’t as easy as it appears.

Lookit ’im there, cool as a flippin’ cucumber, straddling the state like nobody’s business. Crazy little red-tailed devil knows more than he’s saying too, can’t you tell? Love the way he flushes amber, then goes all transparent again. Strive to be like a windowpane, not a mirror, that’s how he makes his way through the world.

All right, I’m out of here. Here you go, you bastard! Keep the change! See, I always leave that sonuvabitch a tip — one red cent. Honest Abe, another fellow from the heartland who knew exactly when to shut up. Keep it real, friend.


Jonathan Lethem is the author of Chronic City and seven other novels.

10 thoughts on “Missouri Shotglass

  1. I can’t believe it! We set out to publish 100 stories and sell 100 items, and now we’ve done it. Or we will have done the latter, I guess, once this auction closes next Friday. It’s been an amazing experiment. I’m glad we’re (tentatively) planning to launch a second iteration later this month… It’s great that the experiment is over, but I’m not ready to say farewell to the Significant Objects project just yet.

  2. I never learned to type (literally, my only regret), and I am often teased for my one-finger key-tapping. When a part-time “bookseller”/part-time Private Investigator teased me from the across our shared register area years ago, I sighed: “Yes, I am a ‘hunt-and-peck-er'”. He didn’t skip a beat, and informed me “I could tell just by lookin’ you’re a-huntin’ pecker!”.

    I don’t miss that job.

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