Recently, assistant editor David Rawson posed a number of questions to Benjamin Reed about his story, “Surprise Me With Something Familiar” (Spring 2007). Benjamin responded with generosity, insight, and hilarity – way more than we could have hoped for.
How does this story fit into the rest of your work?
I remember it was one of the first couple times I thought I’d written a “polished” piece. But back then I didn’t read a lot of literary journals and I had a really naive perspective of contemporary fiction. I think I judged all my manuscripts in terms of whether or not they might get accepted by Glimmer Train.
How did this story come to be?
I was a bartender for a long time, in a small, dark lounge on Red River, what used to be the very edge of downtown Austin. It was so dark, all the light was from a few dozen red venetian candles and the glowing ends of people’s cigarettes. We poured beers practically by feel, and mixed drinks by sound and texture. We hated making white Russians. Cream–really it’s half-and-half–froths when you shake it. It expands. It gets everywhere, all over your hands, the bar, the bar mats, your shirt, the upside-down glass you use to cap your shaker tin–everywhere. And after you make a white Russian you have to rinse everything extra, which clouds the blue water of the sanitatizing sink. And usually the people ordering them were amateurs, posers, or young men who over-identified with The Big Lebowski.
As such, the manager was constantly “forgetting” to buy half-and-half. So we were always being prompted to suggest a replacement. Usually this would be Bailey’s. One night, we started joking about making white Russians with breast milk. One of our bartenders had just come back to work after having a baby, and was always talking about lactating and pumping. I asked her if she would be up for a donation. Just a few ounces. She said she’d think about it. When I asked again later she replied with a decisive “No.” I assume she’d mentioned it to her husband, and he clearly did not think it was as amusing an idea as I did.