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APRIL 2004

> CHRIS DICKENS, WHAT DO YOU DREAM ABOUT? | mike smith

It has become a tradition of sorts. After each of the Bean Street readings, the regular performers go down the road to Richo's, a New Albany pizza joint. If we have a featured performer, we usually talk this feature into hanging out with us. Christopher Dickens was our featured performer on Thursday, March 11. Chris comes from Evansville and is the editor of The Edward Society, an online literary magazine focusing on memoirs. He graciously allowed Adam Barrett and I to interview him for Decomposition Magazine. For that, Chris, we are grateful.

Adam had never met Chris, but coming up with questions appeared to be an easy enough task for him. The process was even easier for me because I performed with Chris at the first ever Edward Society reading in Newburgh a few months before this interview. My first encounter with Chris was at this weird little Newburgh diner, strangely similar to Richo's. Chris, his friend Jim, my wife Kristy, and myself were crammed into a small booth. The other performers we were traveling with were at the bar, thinking they were waiting for a table. We soon discovered that once you order at wherever you are sitting, you are not allowed to move. So, under the circumstances, the four of us were forced to get to know one another in this small booth or else tolerate the awkward silence that would otherwise suffocate us.

The interview that Adam and I planned had no real theme or specific line of questioning. After the interview, though, we both noticed how much the interview focuses on alcohol. The first question on our prepared list surprises Chris a bit, but he answers thoroughly nonetheless. "What do you think about the taste of alcohol?" Adam asks.

"You mean like straight, rubbing alcohol?" Chris asks, grinning. Laughter ensues. "I don't really like drinks that are too alcohol-based." Adam asks Chris what he thinks about wine coolers and we discover that he doesn't think too highly of them. He says his three favorite types of alcohol are beer, scotch, and wine. "I like alcohol a lot." Getting a bit more specific, Adam asks Chris what his favorite beeers are. "Lately it's been just like Guinness every night," Chris explains. Adam asks Chris if he enjoys the extra stout of the Draught. Chris says he hates the extra stout because it is "too stout." Chris jokes that "the regular stout is enough."

"What bars do you hang out at?" Adam asks. "You're 21, right?"

"Exactly, somewhere around there, yeah," Chris replies with a chuckle. He tells us that he only goes to one bar these days "because it's really close to my house and I eat cheap pizza."

"So you could say that you're a regular at this bar?"

Chris's eyes light up with excitement. "I am very much a regular," Chris contends. "I go in and don't say anything and they put a Guinness and a small cheese pizza in front of me." Adam asks if the people in the bar scream "Chris!" when he walks in, as if he were Norm on Cheers. Chris says he's "working on it."

After a short intermission, we move away from the subject of alcohol. Adam asks Chris about the Edward Society. "The Edward Society is about one kilobite of information on my hard drive," Chris explains somewhat apathetically. "I don't really like explaining the name," he says. "It's just an online zine for creative writing and whatever else I feel like putting on there."

With respect to the Edward Society's origins, Chris divulges that it was "complete piracy, but in a good way." By piracy, Chris explains that he solicited work from writers with already established fan bases in order to draw those fans to his site. Adam and I find this strategy fascinating. Out of nowhere, I ask Chris about his relationship with Chad Pollock. Chris doesn't know when Chad started writing. "I wasn't sent a memo or anything, but he went to China for a while and he started writing these essays that were really nice." Chris says he asked Chad to start submitting these memoirs for an on-going segment of sorts on the Edward Society. "He was down with it."

I ask Chris if he has given any thought to putting out a printed version of the Edward Society. Although he has thought about it, he cannot. "I don't have the funds." After I ask how much it would cost, Chris confesses that he really has no idea how much it would cost because he hasn't "really looked into it." As if the man were a guest on Nightline, I ask point blank and straight up, "What is Newburgh?" Chris seems a bit intimidated at this point and fires back quickly with "Evansville's smaller sibling." I ask if Newburgh "came first and Chris says that since he believes so, that would make it Evansville's "smaller, but older sibling and sometimes rival."

I change subjects rather sharply again and ask Chris, laughing through most of this questioning now because I've had too much to drink, "What are your thoughts on Burt Reynolds and the Golden Girls?" Chris seems shocked and appalled at this unorthodox interrogation.

"I have no idea; I have no thoughts on that question." I press harder and force Chris to admit "that question rendered me speechless." Chris later informs us that he has "a picture of Burt Reynolds in my house on my shower curtain." Adam asks Chris if he has ever seen Smokey and the Bandit. "Actually yeah, but it's been a long time, so if there are any follow up questions I probably won't be able to answer them."

"What is the shower holster?" I ask, after hearing his friend bring it up in the background.

"It's mainly for girls because girls have so many tubes of things for girls in their shower." This shower holster was invented by his friend Shanna. Adam asks if one wears this device around their waist, the way one might wear a tool belt. "I'm working on a Beta version," Chris says enthusiastically, throwing his hands all over the place as he demonstrates a few possible uses for this shower holster. "Just imagine whipping those things out real fast."

Moving back to the Edward Society, we ask about acceptance guidelines. "If I like it, I put it up there." Chris agrees that this system is "arbitrary and cruel in a way" and that he "really likes writing rejection letters." Adam asks if Chris has ever written a rejection letter even if he liked the submitted piece, just to write the rejection letter. "Once, yeah."

Switching gears again, Adam asks Chris to explain Gallergy. Chris's ears perk up, as if finally we have moved away from the subjects of alcohol, Burt Reynolds, and shower holsters.

"Gallergy is a website for artists," Chris says. "You can sign up and it will create a website for you so you can upload your art and images and update news on there and you can change the look of your site." At this point, the free version is available while the paid version with more features is still under construction. This paid version "will cost a little bit of money, but not too much."

Chris tells us about his inner relentless "need to stay completely busy" that partly resulted in Gallergy's creation. On a more practical level, Chris tells us that he wanted to make something automated for his artist friends, who would often ask him to create online galleries for them.

"How many places have you actually lived?" Adam asks, obviously moving away from Gallergy.

"Evansville, Lafayette, New York City," he says, referring to his adult years and "as a kid, somewhere in Oklahoma, Virginia Beach, and Hendersen, Kentucky."

"So why do you write about your friends?" Adam asks, somewhat confrontationally.

"Because they're there," Chris explains, after long contemplation.

In another Nightline style question, we ask a yes or no question, stressing that it's a yes or no question. "You're a nice guy, right?"

"No," Chris says quickly. "Well, I don't know. Ask my ex-girlfriend."

We ask Chris if he writes about his enemies at all. "I only have one enemy and I don't really consider him my enemy, but I think he considers me his enemy." We press harder. "No, I have not written about him."

"Have you ever made a whiskey face?" I ask.

"Probably," Chris says in a confused manner. "I don't know what that is." Adam clarifies.

"Have you ever taken a shot of whiskey and your face contorted in ways that you never thought possible?"

"I remember the first time I drank whiskey, I was in Boston. I didn't realize the amount of alcohol that was in a small shot of whiskey. I thought it was like drinking really small shots of beer and I drank a lot of those shots. I ended up hanging out of my car in some street in downtown Boston with vomit all over the sidewalk and a family walking by in the morning." Andrew Walker leans in and high-fives Chris immediately after hearing his drunken Boston story.

Turning once again from drinking to more literary matters, Adam asks Chris why he likes to read aloud. "I don't," Chris says. "I'm terrified of it." Chris says that he's not a natural public speaker and that by performing, it is his hope that he can overcome this weakness. "It takes practice."

Adam asks Chris about the drive from Evansville to New Albany, which usually takes about two hours. Chris says the drive was amazing because "the sun was setting and there were all of these really contrasting shadows on the trees." Chris says that although "this sounds impossible, I think it only took 45 minutes to get down."

Adam leans in close and asks, "Chris Dickens, what do you dream about?"

Chris tells us about three of his dreams, all of which I find absolutely terrifying. In the first dream, someone hands Chris a corpse and he worries that someone will find him with it before he gets rid of it. He thinks this dream is about stress. The second dream features Chris watching an airplane plummet to the ground. "I have some messed up dreams, man." Possibly the strangest dream features Chris getting beheaded on a guillotine. Someone takes his head to a bar where it's served and then thrown out by a bouncer. Chris says that his friend wrongly interpreted this dream as meaning that he feels "helpless in social situations." Following this rather morbid turn in our interview, Adam asks Chris if he would ever donate his body to science. "Actually I was thinking about that recently," he says, telling us about a German man who pays people to use their dead bodies for artistic purposes. "I could use the money."

> BIOGRAPHY | about the author

Mike Smith has worn lots of shoes.