Souvankham Thammavongsa is the author of the story “Mani Pedi,” featured in Issue 30 of The Puritan. The story follows a tomato can boxer who has to leave the sport or inevitably suffer brain trauma. After drifting through several menial jobs, his sister recruits him for her nail salon. As his sister tells Raymond, “… they didn’t leave Laos, a bombed out country, in a war no one ever heard of, on a raft made of bamboo to have him scooping out ice cream or frying cabbages with old grease oil.”
Thammavongsa read part of “Mani Pedi” at The Puritan’s Black Friday launch party this past Friday at Toronto’s Monarch Tavern. The winners of the Thomas Morton Memorial Prize for Literary Excellence were announced (see The Puritan for details), short stories were read, and then there was dancing. The Puritan sends out its thanks to all the readers and listeners who came out to Black Friday.
Here, Souvankham Thammavongsa tells The Town Crier a little bit about the writing of “Mani Pedi.”
Town Crier: Do you have any interesting factoids you’d like to share about yourself and/or the story?
Souvankham Thammavongsa: Mitch Chuvalo was my high school History teacher. I went to York Memorial, which is on the corner of Keele Street and Eglinton West in Toronto. Mitch Chuvalo is George Chuvalo’s son.
Town Crier: What was the story influenced by?
Souvankham Thammavongsa: A few things:
My brother. He wanted to start a sign-making business like my father. He was going to call it “Chick-A-Dee Signs” and the slogan was going to be: “We do signs! Cheap! Cheap!” It was something my father said at the shop whenever someone came in the door. At first it was,“We do signs!” but then people would ask him“Cheap? Cheap?” and so after a while my father started to say “We do signs! Cheap! Cheap!” to get to the point. My brother’s slogan for his business was something that always stuck with me. My brother became a welder and it was just too good to not be in the world somewhere.
I was reading a New York Times report on nail salons. It was about the women who work there and why they stay. The kinds of health problems workers had and the chemicals and conditions they were exposed to.
There’s also watching Manny Pacquiao fight. He looks like my father. It’s too close. I can’t stand to watch a man with my father’s face get punched in the face.
I thought it would be fun to write a female character and have her not worry about being nice and kind. A woman who didn’t believe in the power of true love, but to give that to a man to believe. I also wanted to get you to love her too, as she is. It was fun to write her dialogue.
Town Crier: Tell us the best thing you’ve read lately.
Souvankham Thammavongsa: “One Arm,” by Tennessee Williams. It’s about a boxer who loses an arm and still has to use his body to make money by becoming a prostitute.
Souvankham Thammavongsa’s story “How to Pronounce Knife” was shortlisted for the 2015 Commonwealth Short Story Prize.