Arthur Bradford has a thing for weirdos, a jones for the out-of synch folks we all seem to openly ignore at one point or other during the daily transit — at the street corner store when buying smokes, on the bus while leafing through a magazine, at a bagel shop when munching fluffed dough. Strangeness creeps up at the most random times, and though one isn’t expected to endure verbal assaults or a blaring scanner, Bradford makes the argument (by way of his thin short-story collection “Dogwalker”) that a walking oddity has feelings too and, with a bit of understanding, can make for some keen insight into one’s own often-wacked-out condition.
“A lot of the best stories revolve around strange people, people whose decisions and logic and circumstances are not easily understood,” said the Texas native Bradford in a recent interview. “I know that some of the things which happen in these stories are not likely, but sometimes I wonder if they are not possible in some way.”
Bradford, who has written for Esquire and the Dave-Eggers-led McSweeney’s click, wrote many of his tales around real-life anecdotes that evolved out of working at the Texas School for the Blind and residing in a cabin for several summers with five men with Down’s Syndrome.
“These experiences have definitely influenced me a lot,” Bradford said. “Like I said before, I like people who lead unusual lives, and very often a person with a disability fits into that category. Although I’ve worked in several different places, most of my experience comes from spending eight summers at a camp for adults with a wide range of disabilities.”
Gaining an initial following from Richard Linklater’s ode to Bradford (and the broken-down youth of America) in the decisive indie flick “Slacker”, the Vermont-based scribe kept the momentum high by winning a submission into the famed O. Henry Collection — the Oscars of short-story writing. In the prize-winning “Catface,” Bradford’s nameless narrator tells how the kidnapping of a litter of highly deformed puppies can lead to, errr, puppy love. “Chainsaw Apple” discerns a man’s love for carving people’s initials into apples (while they hold them in their mouths), and “Mollusks” makes one ponder the relationship between slugs, love and Pontiacs.
With all this glorification of/desensitization toward people with disabilities within the pages of “Dogwalker,” issues regarding the author’s true intent are raised. Is this exploitation, spawning behind closed-door knee-slapping, or is it sensitive vignette artistry?
“What I hope comes across most of all in my writing is a real appreciation and love for the characters,” Bradford said. “I think it does people with disabilities a disservice to portray them in a sappy or sentimental fashion, or for that matter, to avoid portraying them at all. I know these people are proud of who they are and what they are doing with their lives. It seems to me that to hide them away, avoid portraying them in fiction is the real offense.”
And to think we all bought into that “Life’s Goes On” garbage. “Let Corky flop where he may,” is Bradford’s apparent contention, one easily brought through the author’s lucid pen.
Bradford reads from “Dogwalker” tonight at the University Bookstore. The program begins at 6 p.m. and includes guitar strumming.