Hunger Mountain - Vermont College Journal of the arts

Sideways Review: From Reading to Costco

Erika Anderson
on Damascus
by Joshua Mohr.
Readings: in a Williamsburg loft, then at Chelsea’s Half King–10/2/11 and 10/3/11

~1st in a series
It all began one Sunday afternoon in October, at a writer’s loft in Williamsburg. As I crunched on the host’s sea-salted chocolate chip cookies, I listened to two writers and a singer, the latter accompanied not by Brooklyn’s ubiquitous ukulele but by the traditional guitar. Behind them, the sun set over the East River.

The second author, Joshua Mohr, read from his latest novel, Damascus. His lines were hilarious, effortlessly tweetable, and made each of us awkward-writer-types feel at home—“another goner in a world of goners.” I was just there for the cookies. I didn’t plan on buying anyone’s book.

But I spoke with Mohr after his reading—about rejection, the publishing industry, how one must “go on.” And I realized I had to buy the book. His inscription alone would be worth it. Followed by an enthusiastically scribbled JM, it was:

Hi Erika, Great chatting with you & please keep pecking away at your manuscript. We need all the smart books we can get! Keep me posted.

The next night, motivated by his charm, his straight-talk and his performance, I slid into a booth at the snuggly Half King in Chelsea, where twenty or thirty of us hunched over mediocre food and drinks. When Mohr began reading, an older couple, apparently unaware of Half King’s Monday night series, slipped out. As he continued to read, I scribbled Mohr’s phrases in the back of a book (not his): “patron saint of the hand job,” “cheeks stuffed with carbohydrates and college degrees,” and the “untapped masturbation market.”

During Q & A, Mohr said he based his character No Eyebrows—one of the “sordid cast of characters” in the San Francisco Mission District of Damascus, hairless as a consequence of chemotherapy—on a fantasy stemming from his own loss. Ten years ago, Mohr watched his father’s decline and eventual death from cancer. As much as he loved his father, Mohr harbored a secret fantasy that his father would leave, that he would walk out the door and never return, saving Mohr, his mother and his siblings from the burden of bearing witness.

Mohr plays out that fantasy in Damascus, where, in a Costco prior to his move to the Mission District, No Eyebrows comes face to face with immortality:

Costco sold things in devastating supplies, vast quantities of merchandise reassuring every customer that they would live forever.

This sentence says something so true that I want to paint it on a banner and parade it around. The twenty rolls of toilet paper, the quadruple pack of painkillers, the mounds of frozen food one can purchase wholesale assumes a life that stretches out miles and miles before us, snaking over the horizon and beyond. This trip to Costco plus a chemo-induced dizzy spell that lands him in a wheelchair propel No Eyebrows to leave his family on his own terms, to spare his wife and daughter his final days. And, via peppermint schnapps and handjobs, to spare himself.


Erika Anderson has just finished a memoir about a murder-suicide in college and holds an MFA from VCFA. She also dreams of brandishing devastating banners, either in Manhattan or Brooklyn. For more about Erika, visit with her. For more from Erika, read another sideways review and her craft essay.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Patrick Ross January 24, 2012 at 9:38 am

That Costco line really speaks to me. It makes me want to go stock up on toilet paper and painkillers, and know that I could possibly live forever, or at least last far longer than even the greatest handjob.


Cheryl Wright-Watkins January 24, 2012 at 12:47 pm

Lovely review, Erika. The Costco line is amazing. I’ve briefly thought that a trip to Costco would feel devastating to someone struggling with being alone.


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