“The Last American Genius”

Travis Chester sat at his plastic play table, alternating between his onward stare directions: exposed brick wall, blank news paper, exposed brick wall, blank news paper, etc. etc. He fingered his favorites red crayon, his head rested on his left palm. He was waiting for his first idea. But it wasn’t coming.

“Ugh! Dammit.”

Travis took a sip from his Grover monster apple juice box. He swished the natural sugars in his cheek, gulped them down. Another thirty seconds of nothing, which led him to crumble the box and throw across the room in a rage,

“Bukowski was so wrong! Drinking does nothing to make great art. Fuck him, and Dylan Thomas!”

The afternoon was turning into a great disappointment for Travis. Here he was: five years old, and he had failed to write the Great American Novel. His dreams as a fetus were quickly slipping away, and he felt powerless against the will of nature. “There is nothing more frustrating,” he would later tell his therapist – Mr. Bill, the stuffed giraffe – “than the disconnect between genius and art.” Yes, other children of his age worried about naps, but Travis was, “So fucking above it.”

Travis was your typical tortured kindergarten artist. He’d known he was genius when Mrs. Jane, his teacher, told him that his finger painting of a dog was “so pretty”. But it was of course after discovering the works of Berenstein and Goose that he knew he wanted to be a writer. But, like all good talent, he struggled. When he couldn’t write, he’d lie in his rocket bed for hours – clutching Killer, his plush T. Rex, and listening to the Raffi track, “When’s It’s Raining, I’m Sad” on his iPod. His mother would get concerned for obvious reasons, but then reminded herself that she fell in love with Travis’s father because of his “soft soul”. Hard for her to believe that 15 years ago, she saw James’s performance as a dancing tree ghost in The Wooster Group’s production of My Fair Lady, and their lives had never been the same. Travis had inherited James’s own introvert and sensitive tendencies. This revelation drove to cancel that order of Gummy Prozac she’d put in for her son, all while wistfully thinking, “He’s going to enchant some wonderful young girl one day!” For his birthday, she’d already bought him a Jackson Pollock color-by-the-numbers coloring book. Anything to encourage Travis’s creativity!

But none of that was going to help Travis now. His afternoon nap was upon him; and then, it would be snack time. And then, mommy came home from yoga, and daddy would eventually be home from his job selling ad space for New York Magazine; “If I don’t write something in the next 10 minutes, this whole afternoon is fucked.”

Travis took a deep breath. Told himself to stop freaking out. Just write. He pressed his crayon to the paper. “No judgments.” he thought. Out it flowed:
“Cat dog cookie house Flower sun 123456 fish wheel kitty meow meow tiger lion yellow”

“Oh my God,” Travis thought in a moment of clarity, “I’m brilliant.”


Filed under Stuff I Write

2 responses to ““The Last American Genius”

  1. I love it! I’ve been searching for modern (very) short stories for over an hour online, and this is the first one I liked. Pretty awesome

    • iammattfried

      Thanks Candace! I appreciate it. If you’d like to reprint, please feel free to contact me at my e-mail address (in the sidebar).

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