Starter Kit: Overwrought Anecdotes

Jock Jams: Hope and Memory

Ascendant-level contributor Matt Spradling // Issue 6

Listen to this song while you read this. YouTube link. Spotify link. Whatever's easiest. It's very important. Ideally, please just listen to this on repeat any time you read the newsletter, but it is also specifically relevant at this point in time.

When I was a kid, like 6-12 or so, my church hosted an Upward Basketball league. It deserves an entire article to itself, but this story concerns only one piece of that star-spangled puzzle: the run-out.

The run-out was fucking wild. In this saturday morning league, crammed into a small, two-half-court church gym that smelled like rubber and decades-old coffee and elderly relatives gathered to watch variously athletic kids thrash about, the introductions were the main event. The four teams playing in the same time slot were fetched and led into the prep room, silent in the dark like paratroopers anxiously awaiting the green light over Normandy. Through the door ahead, we'd see the lights outside go down, sending the butterflies in our gatorade-roiled stomachs into a fevered frenzy.

Then that fucking song starts blasting and you feel what it is to be alive, the flesh's fear, the visions of glory, the righteous bloodlust.

An anonymous door-warden starts going HAM on a smoke machine, obscuring the court ahead and filling the prep room with the scent of fire and mayhem. In the booth one room over, the announcer, the arbiter of our minute lives for the foreseeable future, begins his Delphic tirade which inevitably and irresistibly culminates in the calling of names. Foot by foot the line moves forward, one by one you receive the divine call to step forth, stand up and be counted amongst your peers. As the line turns the final corner, you see the doorway flashing and yawning, your friends being swept beyond, until you are three away, two away, and then you feel the desperate lack of separation between you and open space, the rush of air as your name is called but it doesn't sound like your name, it sounds like someone else who was once you but no longer exists, and you are moving despite yourself, doing the unthinkable because there is simply no alternative, your feeble body forfeit to the sound and the fury.

A fact: It's hard to see with a spotlight on you. The brilliant, strobing light falling through its color spectrum contrasted with the utter darkness. Even if it's not shining straight into your eyes, the swimming shadows and dancing edges spilling around you make it difficult to parse your surroundings. The messages your eyes send to your brain become less Edward Hopper and more Jackson Pollock.

Another fact: If your team was playing on the right-hand court, the run-out was very brief, because the benches were directly ahead. You'd kind of go past into the middle because it's hard to make a show of running ten feet. A low-risk/low-reward ordeal. Alternatively, if your team was playing on the left-hand court, your run-out was considerably more involved. This maneuver required you to emerge, find your bearings mid-stride, discern the place in the center of the court where there was a surprisingly small break in between the benches consisting of folding chairs, thread that needle, and then find an apt place to stick the landing. Let's call it high-risk/high-reward, or at least more so than the alternative. Actually, I'm not sure what the reward is in that formula, but the risk should be increasingly clear.

A final fact: Occasionally, some coaches would have cups of coffee waiting for them on their chair at the end of their bench.

Now, dear reader, kindly take these disparate facts, place them in an uncovered pot with two cups of water not quite boiling, stir until mixed, and let sit for a minute before consuming. Careful: contents may be impossible to live down.

I don't actually have too much memory of The Fall, and what remains is likely imagined in retrospect rather than genuine, like a mugging victim struggling to describe their assailant through hazy barriers of shock and adrenaline. I remember the coffee did spill on me, adding insult more so than any scalding injury, don't worry. I don't remember the immediate reaction of the room. Did I simply dip under the spotlight, there one moment and gone the next from the crowd's perspective? Or did the spotlight stay fixed to me, the crowd clearly able to watch a lanky kid just fucking eating it? Did the kids keep coming after, jumping over my bent body to avoid causing a sticky pile-up, or did the announcer fall into a stunned silence, nothing moving, just Jock Jams blasting into a still, dark gym, not quite concealing the sound of sobbing?

I remember I couldn't play at first, and I remember the hallway outside where we examined the welt on my shin that I think is still probably the worst knock I've ever had. I remember the polite applause as I eventually returned to the court mid-game. I had a job to do, after all. I remember the benches were spread much farther apart from that day on, perhaps my only lasting legacy.

To this day, I can't help but get hyped when that song comes on. But then, 20 seconds in, when the perennial and inevitable question is asked, I solemnly lower my gaze.

I wasn't ready for this.

Alex's Weekly Restaurant Roundup

Pioneer-level contributor Alex Speed // Issue 26

Hello. It's the segment that everyone was begging me to bring back. Hundreds of thousands of requests in the Newsletter inbox. Things like:

"Alex is so smart and provides such great insight into cuisine even though one time he went way too off the rails and wrote about like a crack-dealing uncle who served biscuits and gravy out of a halfway house. It's okay though because we understand that true genius can't be contained." - Blex Spleed

And also:

"It's pretty crazy that Matt didn't include any of Alex's weekly restaurant roundups in the Best Of section of Newsletter. Do you think its because he is jealous of how good Alex is at words and how rarely he makes huge grammatical errors?" - Gibson


"It seems like Alex's articles have been getting pushed towards the bottom of each issue. Is that because he stopped doing somewhat clever things like restaurant roundup and just started using Newsletter to write out his deepest darkest thoughts because he refuses to go to therapy? It seems like maybe he should stop writing about crying listening to Phoebe Bridgers and do more of the funny ha-ha's." - Alex's mother who won't return his calls

Tons of stuff like that.

It's a little different now because the world is shut down and you can't/shouldn't be going to restaurants all willy nilly like the good ol days. I also moved to Montana so I can no longer give biting socioeconomic critiques about the dark underbelly of Austin eateries. However I can bring you all into the sprawling beauty of Montana wilderness and provide insight into the deep culinary possibilities of The Treasure State. So without further ado:

The Gas Station Where I Bought a Muffin and Coffee on My Birthday

I turned 24 on Sunday. It was the first birthday that felt noticeably different. I woke up in a trailer at the base of the Bridger mountain range aware of the weight of almost a quarter century. In classic Alex Speed fashion I decided to run from this feeling and hike up a big mountain. However, I got very lost. Getting lost in Montana backcountry is not like getting lost on the green belt, or in the parking lot of a Chili's after your fourth first date in a row stands you up and now Cheryl the Chili's waitress knows not to even bring you appetizers because you're just gonna end up ordering big mouth bites to go and trying to convince her to let you take one of the el presidente margarita shakers home. It gets scary. I accidentally hiked for 13 miles because I started in the wrong place and took a wrong connecting trail. It was my 24th birthday and I spent it lost and afraid and thirsty and lonely and wondering why I decided to do this stupid thing instead of sitting on my porch drinking Coors Lites with my dog.

To the three of you who have read my other article in which I ran away to Big Bend and hiked a big mountain under-prepared - yeah it's pretty much the same thing and I am stupid. But, and as always I have a big but, it's exactly how I wanted to spend my first day of this new year. I bit off more than I could chew and could have died in the woods by myself, but I didn't. Not because I'm like a big strong man or anything, because I very literally sat down on a tree stump and cried at one point because I felt my toenail fall off, but because I once again learned the very beautiful lesson that difficult things can be overcome. If anything it deepened the idea that life is a pattern of 1. thinking you are going to die, 2. crying, and then 3. learning how to overcome your new obstacle and become a stronger, more resilient person. Towards the end of the hike my internet kicked back in and my phone blew up with birthday wishes and people I don't remember posting on my Facebook wall. In the face of surviving another one of my very stupid decisions I felt less alone, more qualified to take on being so old I finally understand what taxes are, and that I am supposed to pay them every other year.

And then on the way home I stopped at a gas station and got a muffin and a coffee and a gatorade because I earned it and consumed them all in bed. 4 near death experiences our of 5 because Gibson ate half of the muffin when I went to the bathroom.

Top 5 Cola-Based Rituals (Presented With Author Commentary)

Google docs voyeur-level contributor Matt Spradling,
Anonymous dingo-level contributor Andrew Piotrowski // Issue 26

A couple weeks ago I was out running through Hyde Park where the heat-stroke hallucinations smell like money. It's a neighborhood that keeps you on your toes because you constantly have to choose between running on sidewalks which are trimmed for 5-foot tall people, uneven, and frequently nonexistent, or running in the road where people like to operate heavy machinery with their eyes closed. I've gotten pretty good at it in the past seven years, but thankfully covid added the intense zombie-dodging DLC to keep things fresh.

On this particular outing, I saw a child yelling on the sidewalk several houses ahead, so I crossed the street, but stayed in the street because there were zombies on the opposite sidewalk too. The aforementioned child was playing while his presumed mother watered the lawn, which at 5 in the afternoon is maybe a questionable activity, but I'm no homeowner (sobs in 27). As I passed, the yelling child hailed me without missing a beat in his yelling. He was clearly excited but also young enough that I could only make out every third or fourth word. Here is the transcript of our public yelling conversation while I was also hyperventilating:

CHILD: We (child) (child) (child) and (child) exploded!

NERVOUS YOUNG MAN: Oh yeah? Pretty cool!

C: And (child) (child) with coke and (child) (child)

NYM: Really? Coke? Yum!

C: (child) (child) (child) (child) and it exploded in my mom's face!

NYM: Oh, sounds like a fun time!

MOTHER: [stares, potentially perceiving NYM's response as an unfortunate double-entendre]

C: (child) (child) (child) (child) (child)

M: Tell him to have a good run!

C: Have a good run!

NYM: You too!

I had been considering asking the mother to have mercy on my sweaty soul and spray me with her hose so that I could feel again, but thought better of it and departed. I didn't think much about the incident at the time because I was drowning in an adrenaline wave-pool after having been forced to interact in any way with any other human, but later it struck me as curious; what was this strange child doing with coke? What had he caused to explode, and with such mirth? Was this cause for future concern? I don't like it when conflicts happen on my running route because I remember them forever like a fitful elephant. Not three blocks down from the house where this story takes place is the home of a man who yelled at me once in 2014 and I still think about it every day.

Three days later I passed this way again from across the street at roughly the same time of day, and this time went unnoticed. I heard the mother yell at the boy - apparently straight-up named Maximus - to clean up the coke before he went inside, while this Maximus wheeled about like a little dark-haired von Trapp. I stopped, and through the fog of hot death hotly thought some hot thoughts: anybody named Maximus is invariably a warlock; warlocks perform rituals; regardless of what dark purposes he was using the coke for, his trials were repetitious and clinical; therefore, this unsettling boy must be planning something nefarious, powerful, and messy, and he must be opposed lest the neighborhood fall victim to his sticky menace.

Since that day, I've devoted my clearly flourishing life to uncovering the arcane secrets locked away in the secret Coca-Cola family formula, and spilt every drop of blood, sweat, and the coke from flag-mart at my disposal so that I have a chance at winning this acidic arms race. Here are the preliminary results of my grueling studies thus far:

RITUAL NAME: "Flavor Explosion, Corrosion Erosion" COMPONENTS: Coke, Toothbrush, Stick or Rod, Gloves (optional). PURPOSE: Breathes necromantic life into malfunctioning car batteries. STEPS: Best performed before the front door of the Czech Stop in West while concerned onlookers shuffle by. Wait until the sun is at its zenith and raise the car's hood. Prop it open with a stick so that it doesn't kill you. Praise the sun (she's a good girl.) Imbue the coke with the power of the sun by holding it aloft with both hands for one minute while someone nearby plays Jimmy Buffet, mocking you with all the ways their car battery is not malfunctioning. Gently pour coke over the affected battery terminals, then thoroughly brush them. What happens then is whatever you deserve.

I am writing because I found the above account in an abandoned journal inside of a ravaged Coca-Cola factory. While the apocalypse has yet to take us into her withered bosom, I cannot help but be haunted by the interaction detailed by the uncredited author. As such, I've decided to try and continue their work to the best of my ability. Listed below is my first attempt at unlocking the mystic properties of Coca-Cola. If the ritual claims my life, so be it; I am simply recording the process in the hopes that someone else will be wiser than myself and my mysterious predecessor.

RITUAL NAME: "Flowing Path of Cola" COMPONENTS: Coke, Bamboo Shoots, Folding Fans, Snake Charmer's Flute. PURPOSE: Creates a sticky trail on the ground for multiple purposes, ex: slowing down a pursuer or attempting an army of ants. STEPS: Wait for the high heat of summer's day and align the bamboo shoots to direct the path of the Coca-Cola's flow. Gently pour, picturing the gentle tug of gravity and manifesting it in the fluid movement of the Cola. If necessary, guide gravity's hand by using the fans to motivate the Cola. As the Cola finds its path, lament to the universe the loss of this Cola as it is contaminated by the ground; this lamentation should be no shorter than three minutes but no longer than eight hours. Gently segue into a celebration as the Cola dries, leaving behind the desired viscous booby-trap. Praise the sun again.

IMPORTANT: BE S_RE N_T TO A___M__ T_I_ W_IL_ ______.............

[the rest of the note is indecipherable]

I added a ritual
Is the ruined note "be sure to drink your ovaltine"
I decided to channel Fallout 4 energy for my ritual
That's appropriate
Your turn
Oh god
Are we creating new narratives and authors for each ritual like a matroyshka doll of meta narrative or just adding to the already existing lists
Ooo, I'm going to use that line
I was thinking the former but this is your baby
What's a fancy term for squirt bottle
I don't think there is one

Dearest Sandarella,

I fear the worst. Three weeks trapped here and I have yet to find any way out of this infernal soda factory. And if I do escape, what then? I hear the buzzards call for me above the roiling wastelands beyond these walls.

In my initial searches I happened upon a journal lost to time, sticky and gnarled, like a feral child. I'm not sure what purpose it was created for, but I feel compelled to take up the fallen and, again, very sticky gauntlet of those who preceded me here, come what may. If there is no hope of escape from this labyrinth by conventional means, perhaps the darkness will grant me a boon. I record here my perverse findings and my regrettable place in this accursed matryoshka doll of meta-narrative.

RITUAL NAME: "Ignea Azalea" COMPONENTS: America's Favorite Coca-Cola, Squirting Distribution Apparatus, Azaleas or Bergenias, Live Earth. PURPOSE: Accelerates the growth of certain species of plant life to an exponential and frankly irresponsible extent. Resulting plants will be strong enough to crack foundations and smother all other plant life in the area. STEPS: Curse the Coca-Cola by first sacrificing some of it - pour it into a circle with a five-foot radius. Spin a bottle in the center of this circle, and set off in the direction the bottle points. Eventually you will find the sprouting form of a viable plant. Fill a squirty-vessel with the cursed good fluid and shake it thrice. It may now be used to fertilize plants until they grow into mighty abominations in mockery of creation and natural order. Spritz your plant of choice at morning, noon, and night.

Coca Cola Spells

Using soda for bad work

This is a haiku

Ritual name: "Turn

Enemies into Statues"

Components: Cola

Purpose: Get revenge

On the wizard who cursed me

To speak in haiku

Steps: Pour Cola on

Head of wizard who cursed me

Then hit him with can

Oh thank God, it worked. I can't believe that I've been speaking in haiku for three hundred years. Luckily I found this bizarre recipe book(?) buried in a time capsule outside of the elementary school. The plaque says it was buried forty years ago, which is weird because it seems a lot more battered than forty years would suggest. Maybe this book has a bit more of a story to it than the time capsule says it does.

Oh well, I'm not gonna worry that much about it. It looks kinda cool, I bet I could take it to Half Price Books and sell it for weed cash. God, what an amazing time we live in! I'm so happy I survived the Salem Witch trials to join a modern league of magic-users surviving in the modern era where I can sell books for weed.

I did one
It's beautiful
I'm writing the new hit YA modern fantasy series
Also I'm not gonna tell you what to do, but I feel like the last ritual needs to come full circle
Maybe the POV of the mom or kid
Well you made #4 a bit of a curveball
I made a curveball? Who the fuck is Sandarella?
I don't know

Police Evidence: Item #377802 - Entered 06-02-2036 - Journal

Partial transcription of contents:

We are close. If my brood performs the sacred rites but once more, then it shall be time. We will finally be able to take the form of that strange young man - the one the prophecies have foretold. The prophecies that said... we will need to steal his identity, so that we can... commandeer a righteous newsletter... to... ensure the protection in 16 years' time of... President Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

Here is that ritual because I forget it a lot.

RITUAL NAME: "Sweet Treat, Identity Yeet" COMPONENTS: Coke; Son; Rope; Innocent, Handsome, Ripped, Beloved, Successful Young Man/Hero. PURPOSE: A ritual to, uh, bodysnatch that handsome tall cool guy with one of our own who will masquerade as this extremely charismatic and well-endowed cool dude and eventually save the life of Mr. President Dale Earnhardt, Jr. But it will also be this rounded time travel thing where he will have been that awesome young man from the start and they are the same person but neither know it and all the math and stuff works out. It's an extremely specific ritual and to be honest we never really believed there would be a use for it. STEPS: Bind the cool awesome man with rope and use coke and mentos to waterboard him a little bit and that's actually it.

Dear Diary:

Maximus had that nightmare again last night. The one where he's a warlock who performs rituals based on different applications of Coca-Cola, then discovers and rediscovers the spellbook in different reincarnations. I'm probably letting him drink too much soda during the day. And in the morning. And before bed.

Maybe him yelling at that innocent young man on the sidewalk should have been the wake-up call my lax parenting needed.

Or maybe I just need a cigarette.

I've decided this article is now a criticism of Maximus's mother
A four-page knife wound straight to the heart of the zeitgeist