A Walk On the Dark Side
A Conversation with Dale Bridges
by Adam Perry for Boulder Weekly, 3/12/2015
Justice, Inc. is the debut short-story collection by former Boulder Weekly A&E editor Dale Bridges, who left the paper in 2009 to rent a tiny room on the Hill and write stories about, among other things, zombies, InstaBabies, clones made for the purpose of public executions and recreational killing sparked by conversations at Denny’s.
Bridges, who grew up in Colorado and now lives in Austin, writes about the black hearts of both men and women with both levity and vitriol. The up-and-coming satirist currently works the nightshift at a bookstore in Austin; he says the “weird customers” inspire his writing. Recently, Bridges called Boulder Weekly to talk about Justice, Inc.
Boulder Weekly: Did you start writing short stories as a kid?
Dale Bridges: Not really, no. I was really into reading but I did not grow up in an artistic family at all, so [writing] was not something that you would consider or take very seriously. So, I didn’t even really start writing until I was about ready to graduate [from the University of Northern Colorado]. I was, like, 23. They don’t even have a writing program. I was there because, honestly, it was the college I could afford. Nobody in my family had gone to a secular college, either. My dad had gone to Bible college. I didn’t really know what I was doing; I just knew I wanted to leave Yuma [Colo.], and I didn’t want to go to the Army. But that’s when I started writing, toward the end of my undergrad. Really, really terrible stories, but I started writing and knew that’s what I wanted to do.
What does your fascination with violence stem from?
I’m not sure it’s a fascination so much as it’s maybe a writing tool. Some of it is a way to grab the reader’s attention, and then some of it is just an attempt to grab a reader that’s been desensitized to violence. I do think I use [violence] as a tool to grab the reader’s attention, but I hope I do more with it than just sort of lean on it as a crutch.
You do. The story that affected me the most was “The Girlfriend.” It seemed like the only way the man who ordered the robot girlfriend knew how to commu nicate his emotions was through violence.
That one was an exploration of fantasy and control, how that can be wrong, even though there’s nothing wrong with people having fantasies. And he gets an object. It’s not a person. He doesn’t have to control his fantasies with her. And I didn’t know it was going to go that dark until I was at least halfway through the story and I realized where it was headed. That’s when I knew it was good, when I was writing and was, like, “I don’t even want to have these thoughts in my head.”
One of the big questions I had after reading just half of the book was, “Are we all inherently hateful, terrible people, or are we all just weak, confused people who aren’t in control at all?”
I think we’re all definitely capable of the worst possible behavior, and that’s an important thing to realize. As Americans, especially white Americans, most of us live a pretty cushy existence. I think that’s why shows likeBreaking Bad are popular, sort of reminding us where we’re all at. I don’t think we’re all evil; I just think we’re animals with all the instincts that come along with being animals. The harm comes when we try to elevate ourselves into something higher. You’re not going to transcend your natural, animal nature. We’re not going to become pure spirit.
A lot of the book is really funny, and a lot is really shocking, but there’s so much hate. Even in the futur istic story [“Time Warp Café”] things still suck. After finishing the book I just had to ask, “What things make Dale Bridges happy?”
[Laughs]. Pretty simple things make me happy. I’m an introvert, so nothing’s better than reading a good book. I like people one on one; it’s when they group up into like-minded groups that I get nervous. That’s when they scare me. People seem to be obsessed with happiness, and I’m such an asshole; that’s just my normal state. I was born a grumpy 70-year-old man who’s constantly telling people to stay off his lawn. And when I’m making these observations about the world I can’t understand why everybody else isn’t seeing the things I’m seeing, why they’re trying to be happy about it. At the very least we should get angry, because we know the horrible things going on in the world.
What’s an example?
We live in a perfectly nice neighborhood in Austin, and walking around I see this guy all the time. He’s standing outside of one of those “Cash for Gold” things holding a sign that says “Cash for Gold.” He just reeks of alcohol and he’s wearing a clown, rainbow wig for no apparent reason, and female breasts beneath his shirt, and an American flag wrapped around his neck as a cape. And he’s dancing there, and someone has made this poor man, who obviously doesn’t have any other options, do this thing. And this is somebody in my neighborhood who I see every day. So that’s the anger, the shocking and the dark humor and all of that. It’s right outside my door. People are like, “Where do you get these ideas?” and I say, “It’s right there, all the time.”
What effect did Boulder have on you?
I don’t think the environment is the big thing. The writer needs to find [his or her] pace and a little room to write in. And Boulder provided me with that. It was definitely a turning point in my writing. It was a really important time. Boulder provided me with the room to write in and the means to get published, and I met a lot of great writers and artists who were supportive and talked me down from a ledge when I need it. It was the place that helped me get started.