Patrick O’Neil-Excerpt and Giveaway

Hey everyone,

I am super excited to post an excerpt of Patrick O’Neil’s memoir, Gun, Needle, Spoon. You know what I am even more excited about? I am giving away a signed copy! Instructions to enter the giveaway are below after the excerpt.

  Learning New Behaviors
Las Vegas, June 25, 1966

The sun bleaches out everything. Takes all the colors and mutes them into echoes of their former selves, and beats relentlessly upon whoever dares venture outside. It is the desert after all— nothing but dirt and scruffy dried plants for miles. Yet there’s a stuccoed steel and glass city built right in the middle, like some- body’s idea of a joke. Hotels, nightclubs, and casinos erupting out of the desert, their marquees and glitzy neon façades making it hard to imagine this was once an endless expanse of nothing.                                                                                                                      –
But before those fancy hotels and casinos, there’s miles of gas stations and burger joints, auto-repair shops and liquor stores. And then, off to the side of a dead-end street, next to an aging trailer park, there’s a one-story adobe motel done up in a burnt sienna trim, its rooms stretched out in a long thin row. A dull green air- conditioning unit sticking out the bottom of each window trickles rust-colored water as if each of them was slowly bleeding to death on the sidewalk.

The motel’s faded white doors and matching curtains hide whatever’s going on inside. Buicks, Oldsmobiles, Chevys, and Fords sit out front, their heavy chrome bumpers reflecting glare into your eyes as inside the temperature rises ten or more degrees. The imitation leather seats absorbing the heat, and the orange Union 76 balls on outstretched antennas seem frozen in time, not even the suggestion of a breeze out here.

Moving from the shade, you squint against the bright scorching sun. A glint of metal catches your eye. Across the flat expanse of shimmering black asphalt, a brand new galvanized chain link fence surrounds the smooth cement boarder of a kidney shaped swimming pool—its glistening turquoise water an unspoken invitation of relief from the sun’s heat.

A shiny black inner tube floating in the deep end frames the pasty, white-skinned boy lying on top with his head back, staring at the sky as his limbs dangle in the water. Lying there half conscious from the heat as the inner tube spins him around in a slow circle. A dab of freckles, a shock of red hair, his frail shoulders turning pink in the noonday sun. He turns to peel his back off the inner tube and this casual movement jackknifes his bony legs and arms together, sending his body through the center with a splash. A hand rises up out of the water attempting to grab hold of some- thing solid—but finding only air, it quickly disappears.

He plunges into the cold blue void. The motel on the edge of the desert becomes a flat swirl on the surface of the water above. He drifts slowly through the yielding liquid. Air bubbles rise as the last gasp of air rushes out and catapults upward to join the abundance of oxygen on the surface. The engulfing turquoise fades to dark blue, purple, then black.

A slight pressure on my shoulder, then a quick sensation of rising. Suddenly the heat attacks the cold numbing ache. Gasping for air, clear chlorinated water bubbles over my blue lips. Coughing as a hand pushes up against my stomach and ribcage in order to force the water out.
There’s a rush of noise in my ears. A machinelike hum interspersed with the sound of people talking.

“Oh my god, is he okay?” asks my mother, a sense of annoyed urgency in her voice.

“He’s fine,” says my father. Another push on my stomach, more water pours out of me. I feel the sun on my face and somewhere there’s the sound of a car starting.

“How long was he under?”

“I don’t know,” says my father. “But he’s all right.”

“You sure he’s okay?”

“Don’t worry, them who are meant to hang won’t drown.”

“What did you say?”

“I said he’ll be alright.”

A plane lazily glides across the sky. I feel hungry and think about a cheeseburger with pickles and that Thousand Island dressing all the burger places are now serving along with lettuce and a slice of tomato if you really want to get fancy. The towel wrapped around my shoulders feels coarse against my skin. The textured cement rough on the back of my thighs. All I can smell is chlorine, and my eyes burn. I look down, my legs dangling in the pool, and I think about being underwater and how comfortable almost dying felt.

“Can we go eat?” I ask. But no one’s there to answer me.


Photo Credit: Mark Hanford

Photo Credit: Mark Hanford

Patrick O’Neil is a former junkie bank robber and the author of the memoir, Gun Needle Spoon (Dzanc Books), and the excerpted in part French translation, Hold-Up (13e Note Editions). His writing has appeared in numerous publications, including: Juxtapoz, Salon, The Weeklings, Razorcake, The Nervous Breakdown, and Out of the Gutter. He is a contributing editor for the NYC-to-California-transplant-post-beat-pre-apocalyptic art, writing, and music anthology: Sensitive Skin Magazine. He has been nominated twice for Best of the Net, and is a regular contributor to the recovery website AfterPartyMagazine. Patrick O’Neil holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University Los Angeles, and teaches at AULA’s inspiration2publication program, and Los Angeles Valley College. He recently relocated from the glittery sleaze of Hollywood to live in LA’s monument to broken dreams, the über hip Downtown district. For more information please go to:


If that didn’t wet your appetite, I don’t know what will. You want to enter to win a copy of Gun, Needle, Spoon? Simply share this post on Twitter or Facebook and tag Arts Collide! (Tag Twitter here and Facebook here.) Giveaway ends on November 15, 2015!

Thank you all for reading!

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