Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirty Cowboyis a 1975 Elton John album and title song. The story was inspired by that album and that period, but the story itself is its own creation. My plan is to write a story inspired by each of the 10 song titles on the album. The 2nd story in the series, Tower of Babel, came out in November 2015 and can be found in the navigation bar to the right.
Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy was published in Crack the Spine, Issue 125, September 2014.
The story can be read below or by going to the publication HERE.
Also, at the end of the story you can read my Wordsmith Interview from the same issue, or read it by going to the publication HERE.
The story also appeared in Crack the Spine's Spring 2015 print anthology, which can be purchased on AMAZON.
Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy
J. Edward Kruft
He picked me up just past Johnny’s at Fife, along a stretch of service road that ran under the freeway. He pulled up in a gold ’68 Mercury with power windows, and you derisively asked if this was really the sort of thing I was looking for. But then down came the window and he was just so damned beautiful in that white-Jesus sort of way that even you were momentarily silenced. You: the incessant, omnipresent chorus of parents and teachers and other strident finger-wagers. So I slid my bag between us on the long, chocolate brown seat and got in. Elton John was playing: “Someone Saved My Life Tonight.” You asked if that was ironic or corny or both. You asked what I was doing in a stranger’s car. And then he asked if I was a runaway, just matter-of-fact. I told him not exactly, that I wasn’t so much leaving a place as I was just maybe looking for my next one. Anyway, I was already too old to be a runaway, I told him; not a kid anymore. I unzipped my duffle bag and the head of my Westie, Toto, peeked out. Toto looked at the driver, who had said his name was Tom, and gave a little bark. Tom smiled and said the way he figured it, we were looking for a place to crash. A short while later we pulled into the driveway of a rundown Victorian with lights burning from every window. Inside there were others: some sitting around the TV watching Barney Miller; others alone in darker corners, reading or talking or eating cantaloupe chunks with chopsticks. Elton John played here, too. The album was just out – I’d seen a life-size cutout of him downtown before making for the service road. But still. You seemed to think it had meaning, like maybe it was the cold-blooded anthem of a cult. I told you to shut up, shut up and try and enjoy the fucking adventure and the warm house, and as I was thinking this, Tom kissed a girl on the sofa, a kiss with more passion than if she were a friend and not enough if she were a lover. Toto and I followed him to the kitchen where he offered me some sweet tea and a baloney sandwich; he gave Toto the half-eaten hotdog that was left on the table. We both ate hungrily and then he took us to his room. It was sparse: an iron bed with a thin white blanket made with hospital corners; The SCUM Manifesto sat upright, the only book on the sill; the walls were white except for the fine cracks in the plaster. I asked about the girl he kissed and he just said, “no worries, she gets it.” I asked if there was about to be some sort of orgy downstairs and he laughed and that made me feel like an innocent. He said most of the people in the house were members of a band, living together, jamming, recording. Screwing, but not all at once. And then from another room, maybe the same room where Elton John continued to play, an argument: something about someone needing a change, which I could actually hear in their voice. It was hard to tell if it was two men or two women or one of each. Tom left me sitting on the bed; a few moments later the yelling stopped. When Tom returned he said we’d have to share the bed as all the others were taken. I told him I could sleep on the floor, I didn’t mind, although I did mind and I wanted very much to share that little iron bed with him. He said we’d share. You said I was making bad choices again. I said goodnight. In the dark, Tom kissed me, and it resulted in a wet dream. Or, maybe the kiss itself was part of the dream, and the real kiss didn’t happen until later. Time had a way of fuzzying just then, so that it was hard to pinpoint when was the moment when things really happened; for instance, when exactly did Tom and I became lovers: the Captain and the Kid? Of course you said that wouldn’t last. But I didn’t care; I basked in living in the moment. Tom said we were soul mates and that we’d been destined to meet. He said something forceful had drawn him onto that service road, to find me. You didn’t buy that crap, just like you didn’t buy his daily invocations of love, and warned me to brace. But it didn’t matter. Because eventually, at the end of a long day of country driving in Tom’s golden car, I asked him what he thought was at the end of a road up ahead. It was an apple orchard and we got out and Tom picked two apples from the highest branch he could reach. We sat under the tree while Toto explored a patch of Scotch broom nearby. Tom said he’d been thinking, maybe I needed to start finding my way out of here. I knew he was sincere and I knew what he meant even if I didn’t know what it meant practically. You said he was giving me the brush off. But I thought he was telling me it was time to go home, just like I’d been feeling so deeply myself for awhile now, and isn’t that the very sort of understanding that makes two people soul mates? I started to say something corny: “We’ll always have Paris.” Instead I just ate my apple and let myself imagine for a long time how nice it was going to be to sleep in my own bed again.
(BIO as it appeared in the original publication)
J. Edward Kruft received his MFA in fiction writing from Brooklyn College. His stories have most recently appeared in Bop Dead City, Bartleby Snopes and the Eunoia Review. His favorite drink is a Manhattan, up. Recently, he’s started enjoying them with a twist of lemon instead of the traditional cherry. He lives in Astoria, NY and Asbury Park, NJ with his husband, Mike, and their Keeshond-mix rescue, Aine.
Wordsmith Interview (from Crack the Spine)
WORDSMITH INTERVIEW – J. EDWARD KRUFT
How long have you been writing? When I was in the first grade I got in trouble and was sent to my room by my mother. I spent my confinement writing a story about it on my all CAPS typewriter. In the story, a little boy runs away after being sent to his room. He is eventually found on the church steps by his frantic mother, who offers him ice cream and a complete and tear-filled pardon. I didn’t have the guts to run away myself, but it was fun to live vicariously through that other little boy. I learned early that fantasy is often preferable to reality.
Do you have a specific writing style? Pretty straight-forward realism.
Do you write full-time? In my head? Yes. In practice? No.
Tell us aboutyour work in Crack the Spine. “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy” is inspired by the Elton John song of the same name. It’s a piece of flash fiction that explores the brief relationship between two strangers, one of undisclosed (to the reader) gender. It seems a mutually-enjoyable relationship despite ominous beginnings and the presence of internalized “voices” that constantly judge, berate and warn.
Is there a main theme or message in this piece? Not everything is meant to be forever, and that’s OK. In fact, it can be just exactly what’s needed in a life’s given moment.
How long did it take you to complete “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy?” I wrote the first draft in under an hour. Then it took a week or two to tinker, with about three drafts in all.
Tell us about another project you’re working on. “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy” is the first of 10 short stories in a collection based on the 10 tracks of the 1975 Elton John album of that name. The title of each track shall be the title of each story; however, that’s not to say that the story will follow the plot contained in the lyrics. Rather, my aim is to use the title and the essence (as I see it) of the song to create an altogether original story and, ultimately, a collection that has a thread running from story to story, just as from song to song on the album.
Where can we find this collection? Alas, you’re seeing the first of this particular project.
How often do you write? I think I am always writing in my head. Putting actual pen to paper or fingers to keyboard is another matter. I do my physical writing in spurts, often going weeks in between.
Where do you write? I can write pretty much anywhere.
How many drafts do you generally go through before you consider a piece to be complete? I’ve had things published that took 20 years and endless drafts, and I’ve had things published where it was more or less ready on the first go-around. Admittedly, these are the two extremes and both are rare. Mostly, it falls somewhere in that vast in-between.
What are your thoughts on writing at a computer vs. writing longhand? I do both, although I’ve become more accustomed to the computer over time. I love nice pens and have a small collection, and I love to use them. But the reality is, I can type faster than I can write. Also, when writing longhand I have to enter it into the computer pretty quickly afterward, otherwise I can’t read my own writing.
What is your usual starting point for a piece? Sometimes it’s a character, sometimes it’s a title (as with Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirty Cowboy). Sometimes it’s a piece of dialogue heard on the subway or street. I recently published a story that begins with the sounds of sex coming from a third story window and an old woman sitting below on the porch, finally screaming in exasperation: “Maria! Stop having sex!” That was a very real scene I once witnessed and knew I had to use in a story at some point.
How do you react to editorial rejections of your work? Meh.
How do you react when one of your submissions is accepted for publication? I must admit it’s a bit thrilling. And validating, for better or for worse.
What is your best piece of advice on how to stay sane as a writer? Sanity is relative.
What is your favorite word? The right one.
Who would play you in the film of your life? Meryl Streep, because I truly believe she can play anything.
What makes you laugh? I Love Lucy.
What makes you cry? I am Italian on my mother’s side, so I can cry at just about anything.
What is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen? I’ve witnessed many beautiful sights, but the one that comes immediately to mind is watching my dog run free on a beach.
Rain or Sunshine? Both, not necessarily in equal measure.
Chocolate or Vanilla? Chocolate.
Beach or Mountains? Beach.
“No Thanks” or “I’ll have another”? I’ll have another.