Notes on Hawaiian Shirts in the Electric Chair 9/28/2020

By Scott Laudati

It’s a strange and hopeful world I’ve woken up in on this morning my first book has gone back into print. After what seemed like four years of a deer bounding headfirst into a fifteen-lane freeway and somehow avoiding decapitation, here we are, most of us alive and still shaking from how close we went to the edge. It is a morning not unlike all those years ago when I sat in my college dorm and put the finishing touches on the original manuscript of this book, while my TV played out the horrors of the Bush Administration in real time. I had the same hope then that it would all get better soon. How wrong I was.

            But the adminstrations and Super Bowls and decades roll on. You start to realize the things you can control you should’ve been a lot better at and the things you can’t you shouldn’t have let weigh you down. There’re a lot of people you start with who don’t make it to the second pressing of your books. A lot of dogs too. And suddenly you’ve been writing for years, and you write differently now, and the nostalgia and innocence that swung through your old stuff like a Ferris wheel or a pop punk song are gone. You’re an old man. You learned how to write but you lost something feral along the way.

            The first run of Hawaiian Shirts In The Electric Chair got me through some doors but social media didn’t exist yet. Without a ton of money there was no way to get anyone to see it. So I took a job that offered the next best thing: access to famous people. I became a bellman at The Standard Hotel, and every day before my shift I would read the list of our incoming “guests”, Google any name I didn’t recognize, and see if anyone was arriving that day who could help my career. I got The Jonas Brothers to post about my book, left an unsolicited copy in Rami Malek’s suitcase, read some poems to Rose McGowan, Nick Tosches told me, “You have the face, you’ll get published”, a director used it as a prop in a Volkswagen Jetta commercial I never saw, I even gave a copy to Mike Tyson. But the closest I came was meeting William Monahan, the Academy Award winner for The Departed screenplay. We hung out, discussed ideas for future projects, and just as it all seemed to be culminating he got completely trashed in a motorcycle accident. Then that was that. I learned from them all that once you’re out of sight you’re out of mind. There are too many talented people. And most of their parents are richer than yours.

            So the book didn’t do much, but it was enough to keep me moving. I started with nothing, I wrote every single day, and then suddenly I had a book that someone else had paid to publish. That had to mean something. Now I look back at how full circle it’s all come and I’m so glad I never quit. But anyone who’s ever stuck it through long enough to get published knows quitting was never an option anyway. Writing is a lonely and grueling sport, a direct parallel to boxing, which I think is why inexplicably many of us are drawn to the sport. It’s just you, up against the ropes, you share the very few victories alone, and all the world pays attention when you get beaten. This is when the “back up plan” or the “job with a pension” routine your parents always pushed on you reassures their commitment to dissuading you from trying to make something meaningful of your life. 

            I got a very rare chance as a writer. I got a second chance to go back and fix my original work. There are many poems with subject matter I don’t agree with anymore. Decisions I made with words that I wouldn’t again with all these years of hindsight. But I decided to leave most of them alone. While the world’s taste and appetite for truth has disappeared and a culture of finger pointing and general smearing has replaced it, our past is necessary. I was a 21 year old boy with no idea of anything when I wrote most of these poems, and that’s an important voice too. I made many bad decisions, let girls go that I wish I hadn’t, kept many I shouldn’t have, called them things or painted them in a light I will always regret, didn’t speak my truth or my heart because I was too worried about fitting in, always confused, still am, and on any given day I can disappoint those who believe in me or reassure their faith.

            This book is my DNA because I had no expectations of getting published when I wrote it. It was more honest and had more freedom in it than anything else ever will or could. And now I sit here and wonder what it was all for. Did those endless nights on the New Jersey highways matter? Or puking under the gloriously oppressive sun of a  Lower East Side morning? Where did all those friends go I shared lines with around strangers’ coffee tables? Or the beds I slept in once, baptized of all fear and shame, if only for a weekend, a night, an hour? The siren is blowing for the Hasidics to turn in and tune off for the weekend, sounds like a good closing bell for these final thoughts too.

In liberty – Scott Laudati

Hawaiian Shirts in the Electric Chair REDUX is available now in paperback and ebook formats from Cephalopress. Read more here.

Order your copies here.

Scott Laudati was born in Staten Island and raised in Hazlet, New Jersey.
He is the author of books:
Bone House, Camp Winapooka, The Ever Present Collapse, and Play The Devil.

He has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize three times and won several awards for his fiction and poetry, including: The 2018 “Riggs Gold Medal Essay Award,” “The Stark Award In Fiction In Honor Of Henry R. Roth,” and the 2018 “The Jack Grapes Poetry Prize.” His work has been published by Columbia University, CUNY, The Bitter Oleander, The Rockford Review, and many others. Scott currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Visit him on social media @scottlaudati