I’M JOHNNY KNOXVILLE by Rachel Attias

…and this is The Egg Beater.

Johnny wears a chicken costume. It is a bright yellow onesie. The polyester blend of it flaps against his arms and legs as his skateboard approaches the staircase and its metal railing. There’s a chicken mask to match the outfit, and he’s wearing that, too. It’s a huge mask, like the kind a mascot wears, and he can hardly see the railing through the mesh of its eyeholes, let alone his feet or the rattling board with the loose bearing beneath him. Still, he jumps at just the right moment, and suddenly he’s grinding, plastic feathers trailing in his wake. This itself is a small miracle; he’s never been as good at skating as the other guys. But it’s short lived. Johnny’s board loses its grip and he falls onto the railing. His testicles smash against the cold steel. He lets out a crow like a rooster’s.

 

…and this is The Hard-On.

Johnny wears loose-fitting sweatpants cut into short shorts. Under his short shorts he wears a harness with a strap-on attached, so that even though his own dick is not hard it appears from the outside like his dick is indeed hard. Johnny enters many public locations with his short shorts tented into the shape of a hard-on, to see how the people will react. In the public library he stands with his hard-on resting atop a table. He pretends to read the dictionary and then he drops the dictionary on his hard-on. He screams as if this hurts. In the grocery store he pretends to peruse the produce aisle. With his hard-on, he dislodges a precarious pyramid of oranges, and makes a big show of trying to pick them all up. In the coffee shop he uses his hard-on to point at the muffin he would like to buy. Nobody at the library, the grocery store, or the coffee shop enjoys Johnny’s hard-on. In fact they all seem a little afraid.

 

…and this is The Alpine Water Ski.

Johnny wears a Speedo and special boots attached to water skis. The location scouts have found a glacial lake surrounded by tall, steep slopes. Johnny had to hike to it early this morning and his legs are tired. He walked as high up the snowy slope as he could, the crystal blue water shrinking each time he looked back. Now he sits on his frozen ass in the snow because if he stands up he will start to slide and he doesn’t know how to ski. Still, he’s got to stand up; that’s what this stunt is all about. It’s windy today, and he can hardly hear his friends shouting encouragement from below. But he can feel it. Johnny takes a deep breath. “Oh God,” he says, and stands. Right away he becomes a missile, his target, the half-frozen lake, hurtling ever closer. It hurts like a soup can up the ass when he lands in the cold, cold water.

 

…and this is The Time Machine.

Johnny wears the loose-fitting sweatpants cut into short shorts with the hard-on underneath again. This time he has also been made up with fake bruises, fake blood. He runs past crowded public places: the crowded patio of an upscale restaurant, a park with little tables where old people play chess, a rugby pitch where the players are taking a break. Johnny holds the time machine in his hands. It is an old-fashioned alarm clock with glow sticks, rose quartz crystals, and computer wires attached. He runs as if he is in a panic, as if something terrible is about to happen. “Help!” he shouts, and sets the time machine on the table at the upscale restaurant, the chess board in the park, the end of the rugby pitch. “Go back to 1987! Fix it all! Tell them I sent you!” He runs away. The diners look bewildered. His hard-on pierces the wind as he sprints around the corner and disappears.

 

and this is The Rodeo.

Johnny wears a pair of denim cutoffs with a big belt buckle, a muscle tee, and his own cowboy boots from back home. It’s not that he likes working with the bulls—he hates it, actually. They terrify him with their unpredictability. But he is the one who works with the bulls, like Dave is the one who shits in public, and Chris lets scorpions bite his dick. Theirs is a perfect balance, and each man maintains it in his own way. This bull is like all the others: it hurts like a hot brick wall when it rams him. A horn clips him in the thigh and then he is somersaulting through the air. He sees blue sky, he sees Preston and Wee Man and Danger Ehren and Chris and Bam and Jeff Tremaine and Steve-O’s upside-down and frightened faces, and he sees mud, and then he feels the bull’s horn knock all the air out of his chest as it pierces right through his heart.

When the cameras have cut, Johnny is prone and blinking on the ground. He pats his thighs and his hard abs and his chest. He feels the hole there and it hurts and he is afraid. Everyone looms over him, and he pushes them away. He walks himself behind the barn and lifts his muscle tee and sees the hole, which goes all the way through, from the back to the front.  It’s jagged and pulsing with blood, and it hurts hurts hurts, and he is just standing there not knowing what to do, and he hears Steve-O’s voice like warm gravel. Steve-O has followed him behind the barn. “Oh shit,” Steve-O says. And because Steve-O is more than a friend, since he and Johnny have walked the edge of death together many times before, Johnny lets him look through the hole in his chest, straight to daylight on the other side. He should be dead, they agree. But he isn’t. “Don’t tell the others,” Johnny says, and this feels right even though he can’t say why.

 

…and this is The Lion Tamer.

Johnny wears a silk vest with no shirt underneath and a tall, tall top hat. He brandishes a stool and a whip at the lion, whose growls reverberate off the cage. This close, he can smell the lion’s breath, sour and fishy like a tuna sandwich left in the sun, and suddenly he is back at a childhood picnic in Tennessee. Stifling, heavy heat; sticky, melted ice cream; letting the bees sting him because it made his friends laugh. In the split second Johnny lets his focus go, the lion lunges. Bam screams as its teeth tear at Johnny’s throat, but even though it hurts, Johnny makes no sound. This is nothing compared to what he’s put himself through since the day with the bull.

He’s done The Shark Attack, The Flaming Sword Juggler, and The Black Mamba Make-Out on camera, all of which could have killed him ten times over, but didn’t. Off camera, in the privacy of his garage, he’s done worse: The Bone Saw, The Power Drill, The Bullet. He knows without a shadow of a doubt that he cannot die. It makes him reckless in a way everyone loves, except for Steve-O. Steve-O alone beholds him with an awesome fear. Johnny wants to say, “Be not afraid,” but something stops him. There is still, he suspects, something to be afraid of. He’s just not sure what it is.

 

…and this is How We Get the News.

Johnny doesn’t wear anything special. The news comes during a break in filming, while the guys are sitting around the folding tables drinking coffee. They flinch instinctively when Chris enters the Port-a-Potty because there’s a good chance someone’s rigged it to explode and he’ll come out covered in its contents. They all receive the text message from the Emergency Report System at the same time, the words “THIS IS NOT A DRILL” flashing across their screens. The asteroid will be here in two weeks. There is a stunned hush as Chris comes out of the bathroom and everyone silently thanks God that it didn’t explode. For a few seconds Chris is the only one who doesn’t know, and Johnny feels an insane jealousy, as if Chris’s ignorance might somehow keep him safe. Then they wrap up filming forever.

 

…and this is The End.

They have decided to be together at Johnny’s house when it happens. Each jackass has brought his family. Dave holds his wife and sons close, the Gordian knot of their arms muffling their whispers. Phil Margera sobs loudly and leans hard into April, as if he wants to push them both through the crust of the Earth. Johnny holds Steve-O’s hand in one of his and Jeff Tremaine’s in the other. “But what are you—” Steve-O starts to ask, but Johnny shakes his head. He has no answers. He nuzzles his cheek against Steve-O’s soft hair.

They all stand on the lawn and feel the sun for the last time. They watch as the big rock gets closer, the sky gets darker, the air gets colder. Then they are embracing, the big, tangled mess of them all, and Johnny feels their tears on his cheek, his neck, the hem of his T-shirt. He feels their fingers gripping him and his own fingers gripping them back. It hurts so bad. And it’s only the beginning of the hurt. Because he can’t tell them—how could he?—that when the embers have cooled and the smoke has cleared, that he will rise from the rubble, but they’ll be gone. He can’t tell them that no matter how many of his bones break, or how far his entrails smear along whatever’s left of the pavement, he will be put back together again and they won’t. He can’t tell them—because who could possibly withstand the pain of this truth—that although a wound will heal, there are some hurts that will never, ever, ever be done.


Rachel Attias hails from the Hudson River Valley of New York but has been slowly creeping west for several years. Her writing has appeared in The Portland Review, [PANK], n+1, Porter House Review, and more. A recipient of a residency at Hedgebrook, she holds an MFA from Oregon State University and is at work on her first novel and a collection of stories.

Art by Bob Schofield @anothertower

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