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Monday, November 23, 2015

Book Review/ Interview: Mather Schneider NEXT TIME TAKE SUNRISE (2015) 241 pages

This is long-term cabbie Mather Schneider’s first collection of short stories. Several of these stories have previously appeared in small press internet ezines including, Zygote in My Coffee, Full of Crow, Night Train, Nerve Cowboy, Horror, Sleaze and Trash and several others. The collection consists of 58 short stories and most are anecdotal in form and are narrated from the point of view of Matt Glasford, Schneider’s alter-ego, a Tucson, Arizona cab-driver. The stories are sparklingly clear and easy to read and are typically 2 to 4 pages in length. Schneider’s work is usually inspired by real people and events, although he does swap names and combine some of the stories to more effectively entertain his readers. As he told me in a recent interview which appears at the end of this review, “Well, almost all these stories are real life stories… I don’t really ‘create’ anything. I have always written like a journalist from real life, with very few things coming purely from my imagination.”

Schneider’s main strength is in creating an interesting and acutely observed array of portraits of his passengers. As in his excellent poetry collections He Took a Cab (NYQ Books, 2011) and more recently, The Small Hearts of Ants (CreateSpace 2013) the reader is a fly on the wall of Glasford’s cab. He lets us into his daily routines and shows us the full range of his clientele and the debris of his accumulated frustrations.  The life of a cab driver is fraught with boredom, unpredictability and sometimes danger. As the speaker, presumably Matt in ‘Cheerios’ explains, “Of course we never know the details of the fare before we accept it or reject it, so we never know what we’re getting into. Naturally I accept it, there’s not enough calls to ever reject one. You accept them and you take your chances, right?”

Many of his passengers are lonely and sick, both physically and mentally. Some are morbidly obese, self-obsessive, fearful, and have a litany of diseases. They tend to blame the world for their misfortunes and have a shameless sense of entitlement- that society owes them big-time. ‘A Pair To Draw To’, ‘The Will To The Smiling Soul’, ‘Thinking’s Got Nothing To Do With It’, ‘The Rest Of It’, ‘Cheerios’ and ‘Grocery Day’ are particularly effective in evoking this underworld of losers who have fallen between the cracks. Many have medical vouchers which allows them to travel free in cabs at the taxpayers’ expense. Schneider’s portraits are highly descriptive and he allows his passengers to further reveal themselves through the extensive use of direct speech.

Matt Glasford is also resents the “rich fucks” who live in their fancy houses in the foothills and the spoilt sorority bimbos from the university area. In ‘The Standard’ he scowls at the girls’ smugness, “They’d never had to work or worry in their lives, and most likely never would; their parents injected 3 grand into their bank account every month. They only knew one thing: comfort: the constant, immediate satisfaction of even their smallest wishes.” What further aggravates Matt is that they treat him with silent privileged disdain and are shitty tippers.

Schneider’s portraits of fellow cabbies are usually more sympathetic and humorous but he also likes to sink the boot into them as well. ‘Dodi’s Luck’, ‘Bob’s Big Day’, ‘Marco’s Teeth’, ‘God Didn’t Get Me No Weed’, ‘The Last Stopping Place’ and ‘Marshmallows On Everything’ are classic stories which admirably flesh out and humanise the working and domestic lives of cabbies to expose the joys and sad tragedies of their lives.

Also of prime interest to the reader are Glasford’s reactions to the day’s events as they unfold. Sometimes he steps back and tries to draw some lesson or meaning from what he experiences. Sometimes as in ‘A Pair To Draw To’, ‘The Will To A Smiling Soul’ and ‘A Day With Melanie’ the stories work towards a pithy kernel of a hard fought wisdom. Sometimes he simply wants to stop listening to the maddening opinions of his passengers and enter that “place deep inside” of him as in ‘The Cab Knows The Way’.  Perhaps most revealing of Glasford’s inner thoughts is in the short story ‘Nothing But A Human Being’ when Matt sees a few brickies building a brick wall in the heat of the day and realises he is losing it, “I looked at my hands I was softer than puppy shit. Those bricklayers weren’t even wearing gloves. And they would do it all day, even later when it was 110 degrees. Sometimes my dick went numb from sitting in the cab so long, and I had to dig my hand into my pants and stretch it out until it regained life.” He further reflects and recalls almost hitting a little girl chasing a ball the other day and realises how fragile his life is.

In the story ‘Shitty’ he drives Tyrone to his brother’s house after the breakdown of his passenger’s marriage. The fare is $85 and it leaves the guy broke and fretting for his young daughter Elizabeth. Matt shrugs unapologetically realising that his family comes first, “That’s how the game works. I didn’t like the game but if I didn’t play it I would end up sleeping in the park again.”

Some of the best stories in the collection veer away from a cab driver’s view of events. ‘Hobby’, ‘To Eat An Apricot’, ‘In Blythe’, ‘A Few Things in Life’, ‘Plasma’ and ‘Port Awful’ are all excellent short stories which show alternative perspectives and which demonstrate a greater  diversity in Schneider’s talent. To maintain the integrity of the collection, an incidental reference to a cab is included usually at the beginning or end of these stories.

In the later pages of the book, Schneider takes a new direction in his work. We enter into Matt Glasford’s family life and learn about La Josefina, his Mexican born wife and her family. A multitude of stories provide a variety of takes on his budding relationship with his wife and his growing awareness of Mexican culture. The stories are starkly auto-biographical and include the gems, ‘Love Like a Manta’, ‘No Boy Scout’, ‘The Envelopes of La Iglesia Christiana’, ‘La Suegra No Mira Aqui’ and ‘The Big House.’ In the interview which follows, Schneider says he’d like to move away from writing about cabs and focus more on Mexico, “I am tired of writing about that cab. I would love to be able to spend 6 months or so in Mexico and just write my ass off. Right now that is not financially possible. We are only able to make short trips.”

The book’s title Next Time Take Sunrise takes its name from the opening story of the collection. It is about Carlos, a brazen standover man who uses Matt’s taxi services to collect ‘protection’ money. This is an engaging, gritty story full of menace and underlying humour which showcases Schneider’s anecdotal and highly observational style. Find the original story here on Zygote:

The book’s cover was designed by Schneider and shows a driver thumbing through a zone map of Tucson. You get a good feel of the wide cross-section of the people and the strikingly different geographical areas that Schneider cruises his cab in. When he rolls down his window you can feel the oppressive desert heat and visualise the prickly pears, palo verde trees and creosote bush on the side of the road.

Schneider captures in a highly credible way anecdotal moments of a cabbie’s life. These short stories have been carefully crafted over 15 years and offer the reader a unique perspective on a worker’s life in Tucson. The writing is clear and economical and sing with a hope and yearning for a better life just around the corner.


Do you still drive a cab in Tucson? How are you finding it after 10 years or so?

Yes I still drive a cab in Tucson. I’ve been with several different companies and have always managed to make more money with each one. I’m at the best one in town now. I get sick of it but it allows me a freedom that I can’t find in any other job. Some people think I drive a cab to get story ideas, but that is not even close. I drive a cab because I can work whenever I want, I don’t have to ask permission to take days or weeks off. As long as I work one day a month I will remain eligible to work. On the other hand, if I’m desperate for money, I can work every day for a month and make some good cash. But yeah, the work itself is really monotonous after doing it so long.

How long have you been collecting these short stories for publication? How did you go about structuring the content of the book?

The stories in this book come from the last 15 years. Rewritten many times. As far as structuring it goes, I tried to put a very strong one at the beginning, and tried to connect stories that had similarities even beyond the basic theme of cab driving. Just tried to alternate short/long and serious/funny stories to make it readable. Many of the stories had nothing to do with cab driving but I inserted at least one line referring to a taxi cab in each one.

Can you discuss in detail your process of creating a short story such as, ‘The Double’ and/ or ‘Plasma’?

Well, almost all these stories are real life stories. The Double was put together from a bunch of details of daily life in a cab. I crammed them all together as if they happened to one guy during one shift, when really they happened over many months and not even to the same person. Plasma was taken from my journal when I was homeless for a few months in Tucson. It’s almost entirely true. I don’t really “create” anything. I have always written like a journalist from real life, with very few things coming purely from my imagination.

You had a difficult time getting the collection published. Can you discuss the process in which you eventually turned to CreateSpace and how professional were they in getting the job down?

The truth is I didn’t try very hard to get the book published. Many of the stories have been published, but as for the book I think I only sent it to two or three places. I just hate door-knocking and trying to find an agent and entering contests and writing “synopsis” and all that shit. A few places told me no and I said, fine, I’ll publish it, I’m sick of it sitting around here. I like self publishing, anyway. CreateSpace is really fun in my opinion. They have limited cover options, but if you know how to use Photoshop or anything about graphic design, that’s all you need to make your book look as professional as any other. I personally don’t know much about graphic design, so I just used a photo. It doesn’t look that professional, but then again I like a rough look.

In many of your later stories you mention Glasford’s Mexican born wife Josefina and how he has embraced her family and culture. Is this the direction your latest work is headed?

Yes I think that is where my work is headed. I have now a few prose pieces I’ve written about Mexico, my wife’s family, and our experiences down there. I have one story that should appear on one of Rusty Barne’s sites soon. I am tired of writing about that cab. I would love to be able to spend 6 months or so in Mexico and just write my ass off. Right now that is not financially possible. We are only able to make short trips. In fact today we were going to Puerto Penasco for the wedding of one of my wife’s nephews.

Do you have any other books in the pipeline at the moment?

I have a book of poetry that is ready. Many of the poems have been published but I’m still sending them out individually. I will probably self publish that one too, not sure. I think it is my strongest yet.

Bio: Mather Schneider is a cab driver who divides his time between Tucson and Mexico. He has 4 full length books available on Amazon and has had hundreds of poems and stories published around the small press since 1994.

Find two stories from the collection- ‘The Double’ and ‘Plasma’- in Mather Schneider’s Feature on Bold Monkey here: