The Chugalug King Goes Down the Road

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Andrew Brown portrait

Excerpts from Baltimore writer Andrew Brown, from his book The Chugalug King & Other Stories, published by Passager Books in 2016. Meet Brown in a video interview.
4 minutes


Welcome to Burning Bright, a weekly podcast presenting poetry and prose from Passager.

Andy Brown says he’s glad he grew up before television, in a place where radio reception was poor but magazines and books were everywhere.

He said his writing was shaped at least in part by his grandfathers. He said, “When my paternal grandfather took me into his lap for a story, he didn’t read ‘See Spot Run.’ He read Don Quixote and Melville’s ‘Bartleby the Scrivener.’ From my other grandfather, I learned the story-telling art of the Lakota, where the maps for living always come in narrative forms.”

Here are excerpts from Andy Brown’s short story “The Chugalug King Goes Down the Road.”

The Chugalug King, as Karl Brothers called himself, never had any thoughts of his own death because, he used to joke, he knew he was immortal. He had lots of evidence to the contrary, like a preponderance of summer colds, and a walking stride that was so erect he often didn’t see irregular cracks in the sidewalks and so stumbled into the girls he was trying to impress. But these woundings were minor, and only worth mentioning because they led the King to try and ride Brandy.

Brandy, as a rodeo bull, was special. He wasn’t a killer, he was a maimer. If he got a horn in you, instead of tossing his head and throwing you, he locked his short front legs and twisted his neck, driving the horn in like a corkscrew . . .

Now, as long as I’d known him the King has played piano. His dad and mother were music teachers and when I met him in college, he was paying his way playing in a dance band and in the lounge of the Holiday Inn . . .

Everyone gathered around the chutes, and the real hands with the faces of tanned leather just shook their heads. They liked the King, and they didn’t want to see him dead. I helped King into a pair of chaps Lew Hobbs loaned him, and I tightened them where Lew was big and loosened them where Lew was slack. The King himself was thin enough to be a cowboy, but he’d never clear dried out like a long-time range hand will. As I worked to get him ready, I didn’t see much point in asking him why. When you commit, you commit, and a man doesn’t look back after that. If he looks back after saying he’ll do something, he shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.

Dave Trimble came out with a set of spurs. He wasn’t grinning. “Here,” he said. “You’re going to need these. Keep your damn legs squeezed tight and dig in your heels.”

“Thanks, man.”

“Listen,” I said. “Just because you’ve seen this done doesn’t mean you can get up and do it.
You know anything about riding?”

I wasn’t surprised when he said with his best King grin, “All I know I saw at the rodeo. Never even rode the mechanical bull, but you have to learn something playing the piano.”

That was like King, keep laughing. Keep laughing even if there wasn’t anything to laugh about.

. . .

Excerpts from Andy Brown’s short story “The Chugalug King Goes Down the Road,” from his book The Chugalug King and Other Stories.

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