YOU AND I WILL ONE DAY FEEL THE JOY OF DESTROYING AN ENTIRE BATHROOM WITH OUR BARE HANDS: An Interview with Benjamin DeVos
BRIAN ALAN ELLIS
There are a few questions I forgot to ask author Benjamin DeVos, like why he’s dressed as one of Santa’s elves in a Facebook picture, or why he’s too good to produce mix-tapes for bootleg rappers. Still, I love the humor, violence and existential malaise he brings to his writing, especially in Lord of the Game, where, with the same outsider matter-of-factness author Sam Pink utilizes to show us Chicago, DeVos displays the shiesty underbelly of Philadelphia, highlighting the city’s lowest common denominators through swollen black eyes and a rattled disposition. Seems like a sweet kid, though.
BRIAN ALAN ELLIS: Where’d you come from, man? First time I heard about you was when you submitted a funny story about working in a “fart factory” to that ill-fated Tables Without Chairs #2: Bad Job anthology, which Bud Smith and I gave up on. Did you ever place that “fart factory” story, and if not, how come?
BENJAMIN DEVOS: Ah, the fart factory. I can almost smell it now. Unfortunately, I never did place that story. I wrote it specifically for the Bad Job anthology but later considered doing a whole series of bodily function-related workplaces, like “The Sneeze Store” and “The Urination Station.” I ended up losing interest in the series though, somewhere around “The Blood Bank,” which was not your typical blood bank.
BAE: What about “The Cum Dumpster”?
BD: Thought about it, but seemed like a waste of some perfectly good cum. I’d rather figure out a way to sell it as a healthcare product. “A multivitamin in every ejaculation,” or something.
BAE: The protagonist in your latest book, Lord of the Game, smashes up the bathroom of the bar he works at, and there’s a whole scene where the boss tries getting him to admit to smashing up the bathroom, even pulling a gun on him at one point, and it’s beautiful. Have you ever smashed up a bathroom IRL?
BD: The closest I’ve gotten was when I tripped in my buddy’s bathroom and accidentally cracked his toilet seat. I was pretty drunk and probably could have caught myself, but thought that drilling my elbow into the toilet to break my fall would be more fun. It left a bruise that I couldn’t figure out how I got until a day or so later. Proud moment.
BAE: Bet it feels good to smash up a toilet. I tried smashing up a bathroom once. This band I was in had a really bad gig, like terrible, like I kept getting into shouting matches with the sound guy while on stage, in the middle of our show, so after the set I hobbled off stage (I’d rolled both my ankles during the show) and headed into the venue’s bathroom with every intention of destroying it, which isn’t a smart idea at all but that’s how I felt at the time. Shockingly, the bathroom was already destroyed. Like, there was nothing I could do to make it look any worse than it already did. I couldn’t believe it. I just stood there looking at this dilapidated bathroom while my anger settled into a kind of numb despair. I’ll never forget it.
BD: Wow. That sounds like a nightmare dream sequence. It was probably for the best that you didn’t smash up that specific bathroom since the venue would have known it was you, but it is my greatest hope in the world that both you and I will one day feel the joy of destroying an entire bathroom with our bare hands.
BAE: God willing *sigh* Anyway, Lord of the Game culminates in this crazy street fight, like something out of They Live or something. Have you ever been in a wild brawl, or a prizefight, or anything like what’s described in the book?
BD: I have only been in one real fist fight. It was when I was a freshman in high school, and it pretty much went down in the most classic way possible. We met up behind the school and duked it out until we were both exhausted and shook hands. After that, I did a few years of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, which I was pretty damn good at. I started doing tournaments almost every weekend, competing as an eighteen-year-old against dudes in their thirties who were bigger and hairier than me. My teacher wanted me to go to California to compete in the World Jiu-Jitsu Championship, but it was on the same week as my final exams so I missed it. Shortly after that I lost interest in anything athletic and started writing.
BAE: That’s fucking badass, dude. My cousins and I, when we were ten or eleven, took Taekwondo one summer on Long Island, and looking back I’m pretty sure our sensei was a cokehead ’cause one time he was real manic and he left all the students unsupervised so he could drive to the record store to purchase the Rocky III soundtrack ’cause he said he just had to hear “Eye of the Tiger,” and twenty minutes later he returned with the CD and he put it on and did this whole routine to it, but he did it in a way that looked like he didn’t give a fuck if we were there or not, like he did it just for himself. He was in the zone. It was pretty awesome.
BD: Holy shit that’s awesome. It reminds me of this time that I was over my neighbor’s house as a teenager. I was playing the video game Rock Band with him and his kids. The guy was an alcoholic, and said that he wanted to make the video game “like a real concert.” So he stumbled out, drunkenly drove to Wal-Mart, and came back with a bunch of strobe lights and a fog machine. For the rest of the night, he did vocals while we played songs from his favorite bands: Foreigner, Bon Jovi, etc. Then as he got drunker, he seemed to forget that we were there. The night ended with him breaking the Xbox.
BAE: Fuck YES. Speaking of Rock Band… I did some research (AKA I read a bio to one of your previous books) and found that you’re apparently a music producer? Like, do you produce mix-tapes for bootleg Philly rappers who distribute them out of the trunk of a car, or something?
BD: Oh god, I wish. I’m just one of those bedroom SoundCloud producers that tries to make weird-ass soundscapes and stuff like that. I actually haven’t done anything with music production in a while. I play some guitar with my roommate on occasion though.
BAE: That sounds terrible. Like, you and your roommate just sit around jamming Sublime songs?
BD: Oh, it is terrible. Doesn’t help that it usually happens after a couple of beers. No Sublime though, we play exclusively depressing songs.
BAE: Like Nick Drake stuff? Bright Eyes?
BD: Neutral Milk Hotel, Elliott Smith—all that stuff.
BAE: Yikes. Worse than I initially thought. Okay. You once wrote a book where all the characters were celebrities, like you made Ryan Gosling a serial killer or whatever, so while reading Lord of the Game, I pictured the protagonist as a Shia LaBeouf type. Did you have Shia in mind when you were writing the book, and if not, how come?
BD: I mean, there is a little Shia in all of us, but I didn’t have him in mind specifically while writing the Lord of the Game. Now that I think about it though, all of the self-talk in the book is kind of the equivalent to Shia’s “Just do it” motivational speech. I was more picturing myself as the protagonist, because I bounced around from three different jobs in less than six months and was feeling super unhinged.
BAE: What’s been the shittiest job you’ve had?
BD: Probably when I was a busser for a country club. There was a lot of old money there, and the members that came in always acted like they were entitled and treated the staff pretty bad.
BAE: Woof. What’s your day job like now?
BD: Right now I work in a kitchen as a pierogi pincher. That’s literally all I do for six hours straight, put the filling in the dough and pinch it shut.
BAE: Zen AF. Oh FYI I just simultaneously purchased kitty litter and your previous book (Madness Has a Moment and Then Vanishes Before Returning Again, Dostoyevsky Wannabe) on Amazon to qualify for free shipping, so it might say “Customers Also Purchased: Arm & Hammer 40lb Clump & Seal Platinum Multi-Cat Litter” on your book’s Amazon page. You down with that? Am I your target audience?
BD: Thanks dude, that’s awesome. I think if my book can help people get free shipping then I have done my job as an artist.
BAE: MFA in free-shipping qualification.
BD: My target audience is made up of neurotic, reclusive hoarders, so a big-ass bag of cat litter seems like the perfect companion to the book.
Benjamin DeVos is the author of Lord of the Game (Apocalypse Party) and Madness Has a Moment and Then Vanishes Before Returning Again (Dostoyevsky Wannabe). He lives in Philadelphia.
Brian Alan Ellis is the author of several books, most recently a story collection, Failure Pie in a Sadness Face, and a novel, Something to Do with Self-Hate. He lives in Florida.