On Writing ‘P.O. Box 37864’ / Craig Austin

Craig Austin discusses his story in Issue Twelve: Five Years.

This is a tale about what it feels like to be an outsider, geographically, culturally, and ultimately emotionally. It’s a story that’s materially set in the Midwestern state of Ohio but one that’s psychologically rooted in the metropolitan city of Boston, Massachusetts; a place that,much like Liverpool, exists as a state of mind as much as it does a bricks and mortar conurbation. A city that righteously defines itself as much by what it’s against as what it’s for.

The Beantown pubs and bars referenced within it, The Hub Pub, The Silvertone, are no works of fiction and I heartily recommend them to anyone who wishes to soak up the verbal sparring and after-hours hedonism of this welcoming but notoriously uncompromising city. Notably, it was while sat at the bar of The Hub Pub that one of its patrons once memorably shared with me the ethos of the Bostonian take on New York City and, most pointedly, New Yorkers: ‘We’re more like them than we’d like to admit. The main difference though is that we’re not complete fucking assholes’ 

The P.O. Box of the title belongs to the one-time postal subscriptions department of The New Yorker magazine, the one that features on the small card that would once tumble out of each copy of the magazine. It seemed to suggest a jarring disconnection from the east coast publishing titan that it’s only nominally attached to, and I was keen to explore what that might feel like for someone who had almost always struggled to feel at home anywhere. It’s why I intentionally made the ‘you’ of the story a product of the Wirral peninsula, rather than a son of Liverpool; a ‘wool’, as determined by the Scouse politburo, a man forever doomed to view life from the comparatively drab safety of life’s margins.

Though the character of Marie represents a relationship that has long since crumbled and decayed, it’s the city of Boston that acts as the more compelling representation of lost love, a fleeting period of warmth and contentment that ultimately ends in an untimely fog of compromise and regret. I like to think of the story as my own personal love letter to a city that I initially fell for in my early 20s and one that I’ve been a frequent visitor to ever since. But even given that, I made sure to factor in some of the elements of American life that I still find completely baffling. The ludicrous TV names that fail to even raise a snigger – the ‘Flip Spiceland’ referred to within was the name of an actual weather man whom I recall popping up on a New Jersey cable news channel – and perhaps most jarringly, the litany of petty rules and innate conservatism that somehow co-exist alongside a national preoccupation with undefined notions of freedom and rebellion.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to apologise to The Wirral Hundred pub in Birkenhead, the ‘machine for drinking in’ that, though unnamed, is cruelly misrepresented within this tale. It’s actually a half-decent boozer that I used to drink in a lot with my good friend Andy and his Dad, Eric, during the mid to late 90s, the period in which this story is set. Eric was a great man who is very much missed by us all and I raise my glass to him. I’m sorry for slagging your pub off, mate.