Kevin Sampsell Week (1): Chongo
Earlier this month saw the release of my label-brother Kevin Sampsell’s memoir A Common Pornography, which I read in the light of a late evening on a sofa I bought from a friend. I’d had big expectations and excitement about this book, which in the course of reading turned to not only the pay off of that wanting, but being stuck simultaneously by a kind of reading feeling I could have never seen coming. Herein, this week we’ll be talking about the book and other things Sampsell, including his press Future Tense Books.
Among the many wonderful things about this book, perhaps the most surprising and beautiful for me was how the period chronicled in Kevin’s book, essentially his youth, adolescence, into his current age, felt at some points so familiar, and at the same time catching me by the side of the head. Kevin’s rendering of the odd but somehow most defining moments of aging so often missed in these kinds of books is so well nailed–he doesn’t overdescribe them, or romanticize them, but lays them out in all their hairy light–calm, common, uncommon, etched.
From his obsessive collecting of select pieces of porn (which he keeps hidden in the ceiling of his parents house), to the strange ways of sexual becoming with friends and paid help, to just the air of those spaces and people that exist with us for a time and somehow are that time, all of this rendered in eerily calm and perfect sentences, sometimes somewhat like a minimal Gary Lutz, A Common Pornography is a book I will long remember for its poise, heart, and humor, and for its making of a picture of an age that no one else has nailed quite so beautifully, and singularly.
The book is made up of many 1-3 page sections, each with titles, that together follow the timeline of Kevin’s life, each of which alone makes for its own little amazing object. Here’s one to whet your bib.
The toughest kid at our school was named Chongo, and he was a short but muscular Mexican who always seemed to be suspended or doing Saturday school. He lived in the pit of this valley that ran alongside a long irrigation pipe. The pipe was connected to the ditches surrounding our neighborhood and it had a flat surface on top lined with flimsy two-by-fours. For some reason, we always called this pipe “the floons.” My friends and I would often have races on the floons. There was an element of danger whenever we did because there were big gaps where you could fall through and go into the dirty water. And if we went too far down the floons we’d be dangerously close to what we called “Chongo Country.” Other kids had told us that if you got a good look into Chongo Country, you’d see all sorts of stolen bikes and bike parts in his weed-filled yard. When Chongo had his shirt off, they said, you could see a tattoo of Pontius Pilate across his chest. We never dared to look.