Fever Chart

Having spent most of his life medicated, electroshocked, and institutionalized, Jerome Coe finds himself homeless on the coldest night of the century — and so, with nowhere else to go, he accepts a ride out of New England from an old love’s ex-girlfriend. It doesn’t quite work out, but he makes it to New Orleans, and a new life — work, friends, and only the occasional psychotic break. What follows involves his last two chances to find real happiness (one’s from Ecuador; one sells cigarettes), the old vicious enemies that may prevent him from obtaining it, and a cast of Crescent City denizens that makes for one of the most vivid ensembles since Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces.

“Bill Cotter’s Fever Chart proves there is still fresh wit and fierce life in the American tongue. Read this book.” —Wells Tower

Fever Chart is not about the destination so much as the reckless, driving-with-your-knees journey, and Jerome Coe is an antihero for the ages.” —Texas Monthly

Excerpt from Fever Chart:

In the kitchen of my new apartment, Mr. Kline and I sat on two milk crates on either side of a paint-spattered sawhorse. I gave him a money order for $265. He handed me a house key and a mailbox key and a grody, dogeared paperback entitled Shuffle, whose cover was adorned with a photo of a Zippo-brandishing monk sitting Indian-style next to a can of gasoline. 

“Son,” said Mr. Kline, “I’ve quartered a number of you Boll dischargees before now and I have come to learn that they will occasionally, and with no alert, do themselves in, often without due regard for their surroundings.” 

Mr. Kline owned a half-dozen Section-8-friendly apartments on Onion Street in the middle of town, and was (according to Mina Purvis, the head social worker at the Boll Compound For A Variety Of Disturbances) sympathetic to the plights of the melancholy, the obsessive-compulsive, the manic, the bulimic, the merely crazed. 

“And the other, too, Jerome,” Mina had said during my Boll outtake interview, winking at me while playing cat’s cradle with the giant green rubber band that she used to hold my file together. “The other.” 

Mr. Kline stared at me. 

“I’m pretty sure I won’t be committing suicide,” I said. 

“Good, because it’s just plain rude to commit a suicide, especially a messy one. But if you just have to do it, please be tidy,” he said, stabbing a short, Band-Aided index finger at the jacket photo of the author, a certain Quentin Bohner. “I think the most neighborly way would be Pharmaceutical Method #16, the one with the nerve pills in the mashy potatoes. That’s how I’d go if I went nutso or got quadriplegized in a skidoo crash. Another good way’s Bohner’s Easily Obtainable Lethal Vapors #6. Just get schnockered and tape a plastic bag over your head. See?”

The injured finger indicated a cartoon diagram of an asexual individual on a couch, head swaddled in a trash bag. A tipped-over bottle on the floor read XXX. I’d always considered this method déclassé, but maybe it was experiencing a revival. 

“But maybe the best way is #22, same chapter. The old CO.” 

“CO?” I said. 

“Carbon monoxide. Car and hose and duct tape. See, look here at the drawing. Just run the hose from the tailpipe up to the crack, there, in the window. Tape it down snug.” 

He looked closely at the diagram. “Looks like a Pontiac,” he said. “Who wants to go in a goddam Pontiac? Christ. Well, it doesn’t matter. Got a car, son?” 

“No,” I said, a little depressed now. “No car.” 

“Well, good,” said Mr. Kline. “Cars are more trouble than they’re worth anyway, and they always crash. Anyhow, whichever one you pick, just don’t get any blood or matter on anything. And don’t stick your head in the oven. One can’t turn off an oven if one is dead.” 

Mr. Kline wrote out my lease agreement with an unsharp Sharpie. “Sign there, and there, initial there.” I signed, I initialed. “Good. Call if you have problems with the potty or the radiator.” 

“I will.” 

“And here.” He handed me two stamped postcards: one addressed to him, the other to the County Coroner. “If you decide you do want to push up your own daisies, please write down the particulars and drop them in a mailbox. There’s one up the street by the Dome Restaurant.”