v280, February 2018
Internet ISSN 1555-1555, print ISSN 1068-5154
Note that in the print edition of cc&d magazine, all artwork within the pages of the book appear in black and white.
1992 (In The Balance)
This neighborhood soured, years ago
Putting a bank and ATM, here
Is like saying,
“Please cut my throat”
I transact, anyway, out driving tonight
Access to cash handed me
In a new-fashioned way I can spend it,
Pop is addled, has handed off
It’s up to me, now
Me and Crystal Pepsi
And hot, fat sandwiches
The Day of Reckoning
For refusing to live as one must
One who does not do the dance steps
Therefore merits no prize
That Day of “I can’t pay this”,
Is on its way, Headless Horseman of
What Was I Thinking,
I know damned well what,
I’m out of fucking-pop
And I was down here, by our
And I stopped at the ATM
So I can live as I choose
In a country where, to live as you choose
You do as you’re told
I never have Not proudly
And it shows
July, 1983 (Springfield, MO)
The singles group met at someone’s
Everyone else behaves the same
Game’s impossible to enjoy,
Every damned batter, every damned time
Opposing fans begin nursery school chant
They sound like that ‘Trek episode, “Miri”,
It ruins the game
It’s meant to distract the batter
It works every eighty-thousandth time,
This Is Community, at work
Everyone learned this
They do it because Others do it
Then think THEY decided upon it,
I’m sitting, hating the event
Wondering what it has to do with sex,
Wondering again, why I didn’t take the pills
Once home from Junior Prom,
Why would ya not?
Unforgiven and in an 8x6 Hell,
Why would ya not?
Everyone is linked in idiot symbiosis
I hate the fake baseball,
Once Again, I’m Quasimodo
Why was I not made of retard?
Told the wife
I did not like her hair that way.
Wrote long letters to each
of the kids
explaining what a pain in the ass
they have been.
Patted the dog on the head,
kicked him out the door.
The cat, well,
she doesn’t live here anymore.
Parked the car across the sidewalk,
put the garbage outside the bag,
cut down the neighbor’s tree,
set the lawnmower free from toil.
Stereo is as loud as it can be,
TV on the channel I choose.
Clothes are optional
sitting in my easy chair.
Called the boss,
not coming in to work,
didn’t take long to give a reason why.
Tore the fancy curtains
from the bathroom window,
nosy neighbor can really see
my business now.
Threw away all the clocks,
burned the bills needing to be paid.
Nailed some suggestions
on the door of my church.
Phoned the mayor,
phoned the council
didn’t matter to me it was three AM.
Smoked a few cigarettes,
sipped a little whiskey,
drank a lot of gin.
Spent a lot of time with the lady
down the block
not talking about the weather.
Doctor said it won’t be long,
I should start making all my amends.
I have a better idea
of how I going to spend that time.
Cherry Tavern, photography by Kyle Hemmings
David J. Thompson
This afternoon I saw Gertrude Stein
at the grocery store. I couldn’t help
but recognize her, she was taking up
a whole bench by herself like a queen
just inside the automatic doors.
She still looks like that Picasso portrait,
except much wider now with dove gray hair
cut short like a Roman Caesar and wearing
a quilted vest and heavy skirt the size of a circus tent.
I stopped short and stared straight at her,
but she refused to make eye contact.
I stood there thinking how I wanted
to ask about Hemingway and F. Scott,
and all that other Lost Generation stuff
I loved. I needed to tell her that I once lived
in Paris, too, took some photos of the building
where she lived with that big poodle
and all those fabulous guests and paintings
on the Rue de Fleurus. And had she seen
that Woody Allen movie and what did she think
of Kathy Bates’s performance?
I really wanted to know, but no matter
how long I stood there practically right in front
of her with both hands sagging full of beer
and groceries, she just kept looking past me
back into the store where I guess now
Alice, always Alice, was shopping, probably
for brownie mix. Finally, I gave up and walked
out into the bright heat of the parking lot
which reminded me that actually I had never understood
a word Stein had written, muttered to myself
that a rose is a rose is a rose is a lot of bullshit,
is a lot of bullshit, is just a lot of bullshit.
How’s He Doing These Days?
David J. Thompson
Did you go to Riverton College?
a voice asks. I look up
from the new arrivals table,
then down at my chest to check
what t-shirt I’m wearing.
I realize it’s the woman at the register
with the long gray braid and
clean scrubbed face who’s talking
to me. Yes, I tell her, class of 1978.
Oh, she says, then did you know
a guy named Gary Watkins?
I think for a second, scratch
the back of my head, then suddenly,
Yes, I answer, smiling, nodding.
Skinny red-haired guy we called Waddy.
That’s him, she tells me.
I used to play Frisbee with him
on the quad, I continue stepping closer
to her. He could throw a Frisbee
like nobody I’ve ever seen.
Yes, she replies. He was my boyfriend
in high school back on Long Island.
Jesus, that’s so weird, I say.
How’s he doing these days?
Oh, she says, and I see her shoulders sag.
He’s dead, died a few years ago
walking up some stairs at work.
The doctors said he had a bad heart.
We stare at each other silently
for a few seconds. A customer comes
between us, puts some books on the counter.
I go back to browsing, pick a book
off the shelf, but all I can think about
is how far Waddy could throw a Frisbee
and how when the breeze caught it just right,
you thought it would never come down.
Our Lives Matter
Raymond E. Strawn III
Red and blue lights flash behind me.
My hands are up.
No need to point that gun at me.
I don’t have anything sharp.
Why are you pestering me?
Am I allowed to walk these streets?
I just saw my kids, I’m on my way home.
Why are you judging me because of my clothes?
I can’t get mad or raise my voice.
If I do, they will raise a cross on some dirt,
After they bury me, six feet under.
Watching the news, makes me sick.
Another cop beats a man, for arguing with him.
First Amendment rights.
Freedom of speech.
All I hear is how we need to act right,
Ignoring the politics.
How about the men in blue follow the rules.
Equal protection of law.
Rule of law.
We have rights too.
Or did they not teach about the Bill of Rights in the academies or at school?
That’s a good start.
Letter of the law,
Now that’s what’s up.
How about absolute instead of reasonable,
When it comes to deadly force.
How about training to defuse conflict,
Instead of gunning us down.
How about accountability and owning up.
Jail time for those who mess up.
Show us you really care, instead of covering up.
Patting me down because the color of my skin.
I wear a hoddie, that’s enough reasonable suspicion.
Wrongful convictions on the rise.
Prison and jails overflow,
Cops continue to lie.
Confessions are coerced.
They no longer read you your rights.
Being falsely arrested is no big deal,
In law enforcement’s eyes.
Judges protect their crime.
Ready to kill off the truth.
Where is the justice, where is our protection?
Who is really looking over law enforcement?
There needs to be change.
It needs to happen now.
Too many bodies are piling up.
Too many innocent ones locked up.
We all make mistakes, it happens to all of us,
But lives are on the line
And we all have to face the consequences.
How come law enforcement is immune to them.
Especially when they can carry guns, 24/7?
Niggas in America
Shake the Poet
In America we are classified into three separate groups...
the Good, the Bad...... and the Hungry
in a country of Money Matters, fatter pockets bringing in profits
And False Prophets in the cockpits of them Bombers, Domesticated Osama’s
We Speak English, the language of the slaves
Like it was made to keep Niggas singing the same tune
Ebonics is just a dialect now approved to be taught in school
So while minorities remain clueless to being stupid
We’re fluent in toxic fluids, with drunkenness in our movements
We’ve become useless to the movement, amusing to the Masters
The case is a classic act of Actors acting like Activists these Characters are Plastic Pacifists, smoke and mirrors
Magic tricks, Media Camera shit ...or so it seems....
How can our children aim high and dream
When Niggas still ‘hanging high on trees’
So Strange Fruits don’t sprout far from their root,
give them every excuse to shoot No photo booths, just negatives and proofs
Negative images... and proof of our ignorance
We are blemishes and bruises Backs beaten, bludgeoned and broken
Blacks hoping, but no one opens their focus to see how hopeless we are....
Now you wanna march, pick up arms....
A false sense of purpose.... Now you wanna BE!!!!
That disgusts me as much as the NAACP disgusts me, trust me
These are ‘Reindeer Games’
Not All Americans Can Play,
New Agenda Assassinate Colored People
Naw, we Need Answers, America Can Pray for change
But the blood of dead slaves still remains on the Chains
The blood of dead slaves stains the tracks for the Train
But new Niggas chose to hang on the Front Steps of debt
How many Men are we left, after imprisonment and death
How many times has she wept behind the lies that we’ve kept
I ain’t no Saint, but you’re always quiet when the riot comes
The type to sit in silence til the violence is done
I’m a hybrid, I didn’t wait to be knighted to start fighting
We’ve got children to pilot, and if you’re too afraid to try it
Get behind it, closed eyes won’t help you find shit
Somebody gotta keep the night lit
The price is Life... for Triumph
And not just ‘Support The Cause’ for applause....
You just started marching like a man, but you’re still showing your drawers
How can you grasp handle on a future if you’re still holding your balls
Guess we’re stuck, bout to get fucked, hunched over
Too many fools to stand up – Man Up...
Too many Brothers being gunned down....
And the sound of death and last breaths only causes souls to unrest
Dead flesh decaying, murals mounted on the pavement
Black on Black crime is just making more room on this Slave-ship
In the Eye of the Most High
Prejudice Blacks and Racists Whites look alike...
Claiming to fight for our rights but ain’t aiming at our plight
Sorrowful...... our conditions are Horrible
Yet some make the best of nothing others don stockings and resort to Pocket-Stuffing
Brothers claim to be righteous, might just be bluffing
Young, Dumb and Disrespectful
Only when an Elder looks like Master, do you call him ‘Mister’
Hard for me to see that picture
When it was a Nigga that killed my Sister
Hit her, til the bleeding stopped, til her breathing stopped
A Heathen locked down, and I’m left grieving
Wanting to be locked up to meet him, greet him and beat him until we’re even
But even for vengeance, I wouldn’t give up my Freedom
I’ve never Read “WHITE’S BLUES”
But I’ve lived with dark hues, heart bruised, blacks, blues, contused
I’ve been abused and confused
Wondering why the guys who look just like me wanted to fight me
At birth...I was the first Son of the Father, my Mother looked at highly
And I find it odd....
That the further I’ve climbed, the more I see
That there is One Nation Under God!
I’m a Black Man, African by my DNA, American by birthright
And it hurts like....
Shrapnel removed from the wound of a dying Soldier, no anesthesia
When I see my Brothers in shackles, Chains and Gold Teeth, like they’ve got amnesia...
Wanting to be ‘The Man’ in this country, when but slightly more than a half
“Three-Fifths”, assed out, behind bars or dying while his pants sag, screaming, “I hate fags”
Still I’ll die for this Flag......
Until Freedom Rings or I reach the King,
I’m His SOLDIER and He even gave His BUFFALO wings......
Now you’re having mood swings cause you blew cheese on riches, gimmicks and spirits,
Called it, “The American Dream”
Hope we can wake up from these nightmares before the next time America screams.
We seem to know a little bit about a lot, but not enough about nothing
It gets hard to hear the truth over the rumbling of stomachs
So we started starving our daughters, mentally their punished
Wanted Posters aren’t supposed to be where Niggas see that they’re wanted
A Prayer for the Prey
We’re being hunted
A problem one can’t remedy until you truly learn your enemy’s identity,
Colvin wasn’t chosen
I mean how many Sons’ have been darkened since Trayvon Martin????
Nobody’s talking and marching, these Dogs just barking cause their dark-skinned
Still on leashes, these Leaches get paid
Still taking the ‘we belong’ thing out of the ‘right or wrong’ thing
Still a ‘black and white’ thing a ‘reason to fight’ thing
Now the soul is missing from your ‘Rainbow Coalition’
Stole the wisdom, molded prisons and left us with no pot to piss in
If we’re still living in this condition, time to get in where you fit in...
Listen...the system wasn’t designed for US to rise, just to get comfortable
Like Welfare...Hell yeah!!!
Not enough of US are working and providing, fighting and climbing
Some of US are trying; others aren’t worth the checks their writing
Aspiring to achieve......
First you must believe we can overcome this hysteria
Sometimes, you just got to get tired
of being a Nigga in America
Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr. @ Black Friday 2015. Chicago.
Michigan Ave., photography by Dr. Shmooz / Daniel S. Weinberg
Cleveland Haiku #53
A sailboat looks like
a bathtub toy
as it floats out on the lake
Cleveland Haiku #61
water, water everywhere,
too polluted to drink
i won’t let any destroy me
Linda M. Crate
i smile every time
someone calls me a brat
because i know it’s true
i am stubborn, i am fierce, and i refuse
to give in to the will of others
should i not agree;
my heart seems sown with both flowers
sometimes my tongue becomes the thorn
i will not apologize for being who i am
fought hard to become this woman
who follows the beat of her own drum ignoring
that of the world because i want higher climes than those
of even the stars
they say that the sky is the limit,
but i am
immortal as the phoenix i always rebuild myself from the
ashes of ruin and fashion chaos a compliment
because i refuse to give anyone the power to destroy me.
not your canary
Linda M. Crate
until they realize the cockroach
and every misogynist feels safe
with a caged woman by
but some of us are wild
won’t let anyone rain down on our fires
for we are oceans of erosion, we are fierce as
tsunamis, we are hotter than the sun,
and our thorns are more cutting
than those of the wild rose;
all my life people have tried to tame me or water me down
because my intensity has always alarmed them
yet i rebel against anyone who would take my wings—
i’m not a caged canary who will sing for her
i am the furious raven who will claw your eyes out for
trying to cage her
because birds were meant to fly,
and if you cannot appreciate that some women want more
than the status quo
it’s not as if you deserve eyes anyway
because clearly you’re already blind.
Linda M. Crate
march in line
swallow the status quo
seems to be the mantra the world is singing,
but i’ll have none of it;
won’t rest until every tongue of wickedness
has been defeated in the rebellion
of the war between nightmares and dreams
dreamers deserve their dreams just as artists deserve their art,
and the heart deserves to be freed of the greed and corruption
of men who think they can own other men;
my heart is too wild to agree to be
a slave to anyone—
i will never be tamed, put in their gilded cages,
or sit pretty upon their pedestals;
i will always rail and screech against their hands
will be the raven that claws out their eyes because i’m certainly
no one’s canary and my song will be for any who are
willing to hear—
i am the illusive amaranth that everyone says is false,
but i tell you as sure as the nose on your face that i am true;
it’s people who believe in lies and question nothing
that you can’t trust.
Grief Came to my Door
Camped there. Decided to stay
Would I feed the strangers? Encourage more?
Tears later, decisions made. WELCOME GRIEF IN!
Of course, she was demanding - time, energy, listening
But she had a certain way of seeing things
that fed my imagination. My days were spent with her.
Regrets? Yes! - but grief has a certain majesty/a serious quality
that gave me back both depth and significance. You see-
I have avoided death and dementia, disability and destruction
instead of assimilating them - then moved on. Tears unexpressed
coming out as rage. “Anger is an energy” quotes John Lydon
And each day dumps another disaster @ our doors. More?
Well, I invited Grief in. I listened to her stories.
She had been suffering. Once she felt she had been heard - she left
And I grieve for her. No more.
The sky has faded to indigo
and each birds’ eye matches
as they scan for prey,
I climb the hill and let
my hands hang by my sides
swinging with the slight breeze
an old tune stuck in my mind
and I make up new words,
There are no trees in sight
only tall slim girls holding hands,
their legs like branches,
faces painted with tribal markings,
their mouths drawn too large,
their smiles melting beneath the sun,
dripping down, bleeding into their
skin as they sing.
if it is a song,
it screeches and cuts the air
and causes birds to scatter,
I wonder why they are all
so intently clasping each other’s
hands, it is as if they may fall
without this man-made structure,
these puppets laugh with their eyes,
and watch as the sun sinks lower
I notice that something has touched
my leg—it is a drop of paint.
I brush my face and my hand is smeared
with their culture,
I look up to the trees – to the birds,
I want to grasp onto their hands
but my feet carry me away,
I am not a part of their circle yet.
Sedona Rock photography by Peter LaBerge
Art Wall Bird photography by John Yotko
What gives you the right
to open your mouth about
something you know nothing
or to make me feel small
Oh, freedom of speech,
freedom of ignorance too,
you’re allowed to be
You’re allowed to believe all
the lies the media feeds you
and to take it out on those
who can’t defend themselves,
those that cry in the corner
Where is the line drawn
I want you to speak your mind
But I want your mind to be your
and I want it to be a peaceful
voicing of your opinion,
a peaceful demand for
Equality, Love, Hope,
Don’t fill your hands and screens
with knives while begging for
Don’t fill your hearts with hatred
while requesting love with a bomb
Link hands with everyone and I mean
signs of hope
and upload your posts
filled with facts
and kind tweets
because we are all
just trying to live
I See Her Now
I see her now in a dark house
dressing without the light so she won’t disturb him
so she can feel her hands on the jeans
and the soft cotton of the tee shirt
as if she were blind.
I see her bathing in the tub
where she has painted a mermaid with flowing hair.
Her own hair floats around her in shampoo and froth
but she opens her eyes to the sting of soap
afraid he will enter and push her under.
She will not leave.
Every day she looks at the windows
if I had to I could leap through
I must remember to keep my arms over my face
The basement has no exit but the stairs.
He found her there as she loaded the washer.
He put hands to her throat his fingers were light.
there were no marks when he took them down
She wonders if it happened.
At night they press close. I see them lying at ease
breath as soft as air through the summer window.
His hate stirs—she feels it flow toward her
green through the night air
She does not move. Better that he not know I know
She dreams she is dancing with a radioactive man
he is dying green shining
and because she holds him close
soft breathing to the music fallout
she too will die
and still she will not leave.
She sits on the side of the bed
her legs start running they chatter like teeth
He says to her in the emergency room
blood on her face and his face white
We cannot go on like this I will give you a divorce
He stands over her in suit and tie
only his cuff is bloody
Her head hurts when she moves it.
No she says no
I see her in the garden gathering tomatoes
scarlet in the colander and beans green translucent at the edges.
She looks toward the house. She will have to go in soon.
Her mind is full of fog her thoughts dodge in the mist.
He is waiting for his supper I will have to go in soon
Original publication is Switchgrass Review in Corpus Christi
Voodoo Doll Morning
the green-grey morning
wakes to traffic
frozen razor blades
a doctor’s blunt stethoscope
sharp pin pricks
in the voodoo doll morning
Calvin Becker (www.calvinbecker.com) is a poet, musician and singer/songwriter from Calgary, AB, Canada. His poetic works explore themes and ideals in a pithy, essentialist style exploring the depths of the human condition.
Calvin’s poems have been published in the United States and Canada. His music has been performed and played on the radio in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany.
le Monde image 075 by Aaron Wilder
I had to have
that tie to you.
I would draw your face,
since we’re apart.
I need to solve
so finally when
I got the chance
I took your photo
in the crowded room.
I know I’ll never
meet you — but
I needed to have
that record of you.
I needed proof
that you were real.
This photo is truth —
this photo is certainty.
I developed the film;
dodged and burned
out all the people
who didn’t matter —
Started printing your image
on my black and white printer.
so crystal clear
in black and white.
They say I need
independence from you,
but I made more prints
bumped up the contrast
reduced you to
mere two tone prints.
I kept printing,
everywhere I could —
until all I saw
were images of you,
and all I saw
were replicas of you.
I stared at copies
of your face...
and I wasn’t free.
That’s when I knew
that I forgot the substance
of you for me.
See YouTube video 6/11/17 of Janet Kuypers reading her poems “Xerostomia”, “Afraid of Telling The Truth” and “Fifteen Gun-Toting Tweets” at Georgetown’s “Poetry Aloud” open mic (from a Sony camera).
See YouTube video 6/11/17 of Janet Kuypers reading her poems “Xerostomia”, “Afraid of Telling The Truth” and “Fifteen Gun-Toting Tweets” at Georgetown’s “Poetry Aloud” open mic (from a Lumix camera).
See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers in her 7/1/17 poetry show “Our Cultural Independence and Achieving Global Freedom” in Austin (Lumix), with her poems
“fader, his mädchen and the Führer”,
“of independence or freedom”,
and “Utopia never happened” (with background music from Janet’s electric bass and bow, then the HA!Man of South Africa).
See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers in her 7/1/17 poetry show “Our Cultural Independence and Achieving Global Freedom” in Austin (Sony), with her poems
“fader, his mädchen and the Führer”,
“of independence or freedom”,
and “Utopia never happened” (with background music from Janet’s electric bass and bow, then the HA!Man of South Africa).
Download all of the poems from the free chapbook|
“Our Cultural Independence
and Achieving Global Freedom”
of the poems she performed in her 7/1/17 “Our Cultural Independence and Achieving Global Freedom” poetry feature/show, including both classic and new poems
“fader, his mädchen and the Führer”,
“of independence or freedom”,
and “Utopia never happened”.
See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers’ “December 2017 Book Release Reading” 12/6/17, where she reads from her book “(pheromemes) 2015-2017 show poems” her poems “our futures”, “Mapping the Way to True Love”, “Kick Someone Out”, “Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls”, “Xerostomia”, and “You Were Meant” in “Community Poetry @ Half Price Books” (L; T56).
See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers’ “December 2017 Book Release Reading” 12/6/17, where she reads from her book “(pheromemes) 2015-2017 show poems” her poems “our futures”, “Mapping the Way to True Love”, “Kick Someone Out”, “Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls”, “Xerostomia”, and “You Were Meant” in “Community Poetry @ Half Price Books” (L2500).
Utopia never happened
The last thing I remembered
was making the left-hand turn
at the car intersection
in the middle of nowhere.
There was no one for miles,
but I suddenly saw
the oncoming car
careening straight toward me.
All I could do
was slam on my brakes
and brace for impact.
But I woke in a strange bed
and I could hear health monitors.
I think I was in a hospital room,
but I had no idea where I was.
I was mortified.
I rubbed my temple,
I felt okay, maybe bruised,
so I didn’t know why I was here.
And the last thing I wanted
was doctors I didn’t know
telling me I couldn’t leave
and leaving me trapped
like a prisoner.
I’ve been trapped like this before,
I know this feeling all to well.
I just wanted to be free —
I worked all my life
to gain my independence,
to stand up for myself,
to do what was right —
and there was no way
I wanted to be placed
in a straight jacket
and trapped in a hospital again.
I was better than this.
I had to be.
I rubbed my temple
as I carefully walked
toward the closed door,
until the door opened;
a man saw me and smiled.
“I’m glad to see you’re doing well,”
he said, smiling,
and as I felt my blood begin to boil
I asked, “Where am I?”
And he could tell from my tone
that I shouldn’t be reckoned with,
so he laid it all out for me.
“You got away from other people with your car.
Then you were knocked out from the crash.
The driver from the other car
didn’t make it, so we flew you here.
You see, we’ve watched your work,
you’ve got a lot of talent,
and we’ve seen you fight
every step of the way
when you’ve tried to accomplish your goals.
I think you understand
how unfair the government can be,
and we know you understand
how those with the government’s mentality
will use any tactic other than reason
to stop you as well.
So we though we could
save you from that,
where you could work with your mind
and be respected again.”
I just stared at him,
but I think he saw
the look in my eyes
turn from an indicting stare
to an incredulous gaze
before I looked away in disbelief.
“I can tell you aren’t interested.
But others like you
around the world
got fed up
with fighting a system
they couldn’t beat.”
I had to stop him.
“Where am I?”
My tone was almost threatening.
“We flew you to an island
that no radar can detect,
because here you can work,
and you won’t be stopped.”
“I was able to work before,” I answered.
“And how many hoops
did you have to jump through
to do it?” he answered,
which stopped me enough
to think about all I fought
in my life, and it was usually
all to no good.
“We’ve seen your work,”
he started to say,
now more relaxed than before.
“And because of that,
we started an account for you,
for all the good you’ve done
and never been paid for before.
You can stay here with us,
with other minds open
and eager to listen.”
I stared for a moment,
knowing I was taken here,
but wondering if there was
any truth to what he was saying.
“And maybe once you see
people here, maybe you’ll see
everyone here is worthy of respect.”
He waited for me to interject.
I thought about
the goals I accomplished.
Then I thought about
how I had to fight
to get anything done.
I didn’t interject.
“You can stay here as my guest,
but I think you’ll look forward
to being here on your own.
You’ll be able to work
at what you need to do,
and you will be paid
fairly for your work.”
He paused again.
“But you need rest.
and we’ll talk
in the morning.”
And with that
he left the room.
I slowly sat down on the bed again.
In a way, it sounded like a dream come true,
being free from the suppressing forces,
having true independence to live
the way I was meant to.
I rubbed my temple again
as I lay down in bed.
I was brought here against my will,
but wait a minute,
this could be an intellectual utopia.
All I could think
was that this could be my chance
to live with others from around the world
that came to this one sacred place
where our independent wills
actually brought us all together
to be smarter,
and more free.
I closed my eyes.
I don’t know how long
my eyes were closed,
but when I opened my eyes
I was in my own bed,
with my fingers
still at my temple.
I knew this couldn’t be a dream.
But here I am.
And after I’m sure
I heard this man’s words,
I don’t want to believe
that this respect,
I can’t believe
that all of this,
this never happened.
I want to believe
that this respect,
this independence —
that this utopia
is just waiting
for me to find it.
See Facebook live video 6/24/17 of Janet Kuypers reading her poem “Utopia Never Happened” (for the Poetry Aloud open mic she couldn’t attend).
See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers in her 7/1/17 poetry show “Our Cultural Independence and Achieving Global Freedom” in Austin (Lumix), with her poems
“fader, his mädchen and the Führer”,
“of independence or freedom”,
and “Utopia never happened” (with background music from Janet’s electric bass and bow, then the HA!Man of South Africa).
See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers in her 7/1/17 poetry show “Our Cultural Independence and Achieving Global Freedom” in Austin (Sony), with her poems
“fader, his mädchen and the Führer”,
“of independence or freedom”,
and “Utopia never happened” (with background music from Janet’s electric bass and bow, then the HA!Man of South Africa).
Download all of the poems from the free chapbook|
“Our Cultural Independence
and Achieving Global Freedom”
of the poems she performed in her 7/1/17 “Our Cultural Independence and Achieving Global Freedom” poetry feature/show, including both classic and new poems
“fader, his mädchen and the Führer”,
“of independence or freedom”,
and “Utopia never happened”.
See YouTube video from 7/8/17 of Janet Kuypers reading her poems “Military Intelligence, “Big Hair and Fire Don’t Mix” and “Utopia Never Happened” in the “Poetry Aloud” open mic at the Georgetown Public Library (Lumix).
See YouTube video from 7/8/17 of Janet Kuypers reading her poems “Military Intelligence, “Big Hair and Fire Don’t Mix” and “Utopia Never Happened” in the “Poetry Aloud” open mic at the Georgetown Public Library (Sony).
See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers reading her poems “Death” and “Signs of the Times” (2 poems read for the future Oeuvre audio CD release) and “Utopia Never Happened” at Austin’s Recycled Reads 7/15/17 (this video was filmed from a Panasonic Lumix camera).
See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers reading her poems “Death” and “Signs of the Times” (2 poems read for the future Oeuvre audio CD release) and “Utopia Never Happened” at Austin’s Recycled Reads 7/15/17 (this video was filmed from a Sony camera).
Janet Kuypers has a Communications degree in News/Editorial Journalism (starting in computer science engineering studies) from the UIUC. She had the equivalent of a minor in photography and specialized in creative writing. A portrait photographer for years in the early 1990s, she was also an acquaintance rape workshop facilitator, and she started her publishing career as an editor of two literary magazines. Later she was an art director, webmaster and photographer for a few magazines for a publishing company in Chicago, and this Journalism major was even the final featured poetry performer of 15 poets with a 10 minute feature at the 2006 Society of Professional Journalism Expo’s Chicago Poetry Showcase. This certified minister was even the officiant of a wedding in 2006.
She sang with acoustic bands “Mom’s Favorite Vase”, “Weeds and Flowers” and “the Second Axing”, and does music sampling. Kuypers is published in books, magazines and on the internet around 9,300 times for writing, and over 17,800 times for art work in her professional career, and has been profiled in such magazines as Nation and Discover U, won the award for a Poetry Ambassador and was nominated as Poet of the Year for 2006 by the International Society of Poets. She has also been highlighted on radio stations, including WEFT (90.1FM), WLUW (88.7FM), WSUM (91.7FM), WZRD (88.3FM), WLS (8900AM), the internet radio stations ArtistFirst dot com, chicagopoetry.com’s Poetry World Radio and Scars Internet Radio (SIR), and was even shortly on Q101 FM radio. She has also appeared on television for poetry in Nashville (in 1997), Chicago (in 1997), and northern Illinois (in a few appearances on the show for the Lake County Poets Society in 2006). Kuypers was also interviewed on her art work on Urbana’s WCIA channel 3 10 o’clock news.
She turned her writing into performance art on her own and with musical groups like Pointless Orchestra, 5D/5D, The DMJ Art Connection, Order From Chaos, Peter Bartels, Jake and Haystack, the Bastard Trio, and the JoAnne Pow!ers Trio, and starting in 2005 Kuypers ran a monthly iPodCast of her work, as well mixed JK Radio — an Internet radio station — into Scars Internet Radio (both radio stations on the Internet air 2005-2009). She even managed the Chaotic Radio show (an hour long Internet radio show 1.5 years, 2006-2007) through BZoO.org. She has performed spoken word and music across the country - in the spring of 1998 she embarked on her first national poetry tour, with featured performances, among other venues, at the Albuquerque Spoken Word Festival during the National Poetry Slam; her bands have had concerts in Chicago and in Alaska; in 2003 she hosted and performed at a weekly poetry and music open mike (called Sing Your Life), and from 2002 through 2005 was a featured performance artist, doing quarterly performance art shows with readings, music and images. Starting at this time Kuypers released a large number of CD releases currently available for sale at iTunes or amazon, including “Across the Pond”(a 3 CD set of poems by Oz Hardwick and Janet Kuypers with assorted vocals read to acoustic guitar of both Blues music and stylized Contemporary English Folk music), “Made Any Difference” (CD single of poem reading with multiple musicians), “Letting It All Out”, “What we Need in Life” (CD single by Janet Kuypers in Mom’s Favorite Vase of “What we Need in Life”, plus in guitarist Warren Peterson’s honor live recordings literally around the globe with guitarist John Yotko), “hmmm” (4 CD set), “Dobro Veče” (4 CD set), “the Stories of Women”, “Sexism and Other Stories”, “40”, “Live” (14 CD set), “an American Portrait” (Janet Kuypers/Kiki poetry to music from Jake & Haystack in Nashville), “Screeching to a Halt” (2008 CD EP of music from 5D/5D with Janet Kuypers poetry), “2 for the Price of 1” (Janet Kuypers poetry to music from Peter Bartels), “the Evolution of Performance Art” (13 CD set), “Burn Through Me” (Janet Kuypers poetry to music from The HA!Man of South Africa), “Seeing a Psychiatrist” (3 CD set), “The Things They Did To You” (Janet Kuypers poetry to music from the DMJ Art Connection), “Hope Chest in the Attic” (audio CD set), “St. Paul’s” (3 CD set), “the 2009 Poetry Game Show” (3 CD set), “Fusion” (Janet Kuypers poetry in multi CD set with Madison, WI jazz music from the Bastard Trio, the JoAnne Pow!ers Trio, and Paul Baker), “Chaos In Motion” (tracks from Internet radio shows on Chaotic Radio), “Chaotic Elements” (audio CD set for the poetry collection book and supplemental chapbooks for The Elements), “etc.” audio CD set, “Manic Depressive or Something” (Janet Kuypers poetry to music from the DMJ Art Connection), “Singular”, “Indian Flux” (Janet Kuypers poetry to music from the DMJ Art Connection), “The Chaotic Collection #01-05”, “The DMJ Art Connection Disc 1” (Janet Kuypers poetry to music from the DMJ Art Connection), “Oh.” audio CD, “Live At the Café” (3 CD set), “String Theory” (Janet Kuypers reading other people's poetry, with music from “the DMJ Art Connection), “Scars Presents WZRD radio” (2 CD set), “SIN - Scars Internet News”, “Questions in a World Without Answers”, “Conflict Contact Control”, “How Do I Get There?”, “Sing Your Life”, “Dreams”, “Changing Gears”, “The Other Side”, “Death Comes in Threes”, “the final”, “Moving Performances”, “Seeing Things Differently”, “Live At Cafe Aloha”, “the Demo Tapes” (Mom’s Favorite Vase), “Something Is Sweating” (the Second Axing), “Live In Alaska” EP (the Second Axing), “the Entropy Project”, “Tick Tock” (with 5D/5D), “Six Eleven”
“Stop. Look. Listen.”, “Stop. Look. Listen to the Music” (a compilation CD from the three bands “Mom’s Favorite Vase”, “Weeds & Flowers” and “The Second Axing”), and “Change Rearrange” (the performance art poetry CD with sampled music).
From 2010 through 2015 Kuypers also hosted the Chicago poetry open mic the Café Gallery, while also broadcasting weekly feature and open mic podcasts that were also released as YouTube videos.
In addition to being published with Bernadette Miller in the short story collection book Domestic Blisters, as well as in a book of poetry turned to prose with Eric Bonholtzer in the book Duality, Kuypers has had many books of her own published: Hope Chest in the Attic, The Window, Close Cover Before Striking, (woman.) (spiral bound), Autumn Reason (novel in letter form), the Average Guy’s Guide (to Feminism), Contents Under Pressure, etc., and eventually The Key To Believing (2002 650 page novel), Changing Gears (travel journals around the United States), The Other Side (European travel book), the three collection books from 2004: Oeuvre (poetry), Exaro Versus (prose) and L’arte (art), The Boss Lady’s Editorials, The Boss Lady’s Editorials (2005 Expanded Edition), Seeing Things Differently, Change/Rearrange, Death Comes in Threes, Moving Performances, Six Eleven, Live at Cafe Aloha, Dreams, Rough Mixes, The Entropy Project, The Other Side (2006 edition), Stop., Sing Your Life, the hardcover art book (with an editorial) in cc&d v165.25, the Kuypers edition of Writings to Honour & Cherish, The Kuypers Edition: Blister and Burn, S&M, cc&d v170.5, cc&d v171.5: Living in Chaos, Tick Tock, cc&d v1273.22: Silent Screams, Taking It All In, It All Comes Down, Rising to the Surface, Galapagos, Chapter 38 (v1 and volume 1), Chapter 38 (v2 and Volume 2), Chapter 38 v3, Finally: Literature for the Snotty and Elite (Volume 1, Volume 2 and part 1 of a 3 part set), A Wake-Up Call From Tradition (part 2 of a 3 part set), (recovery), Dark Matter: the mind of Janet Kuypers , Evolution, Adolph Hitler, O .J. Simpson and U.S. Politics, the one thing the government still has no control over, (tweet), Get Your Buzz On, Janet & Jean Together, poem, Taking Poetry to the Streets, the Cana-Dixie Chi-town Union, the Written Word, Dual, Prepare Her for This, uncorrect, Living in a Big World (color interior book with art and with “Seeing a Psychiatrist”), Pulled the Trigger (part 3 of a 3 part set), Venture to the Unknown (select writings with extensive color NASA/Huubble Space Telescope images), Janet Kuypers: Enriched, She’s an Open Book, “40”, Sexism and Other Stories, the Stories of Women, Prominent Pen (Kuypers edition), Elemental, the paperback book of the 2012 Datebook (which was also released as a spiral-bound ISBN# ISSN# 2012 little spiral datebook, , Chaotic Elements, and Fusion, the (select) death poetry book Stabity Stabity Stab Stab Stab, the 2012 art book a Picture’s Worth 1,000 words (available with both b&w interior pages and full color interior pages, the shutterfly ISSN# ISBN# hardcover art book life, in color, Post-Apocalyptic, Burn Through Me, Under the Sea (photo book), the Periodic Table of Poetry, a year long Journey, Bon Voyage!, and the mini books Part of my Pain, Let me See you Stripped, Say Nothing, Give me the News, when you Dream tonight, Rape, Sexism, Life & Death (with some Slovak poetry translations), Twitterati, and 100 Haikus, that coincided with the June 2014 release of the two poetry collection books Partial Nudity and Revealed. 2017, after hr October 2015 move to Austin Texas, also witnessed the release of 2 Janet Kuypers book of poetry written in Austin, “(pheromemes) 2015-2017 poems” and a book of poetry written for her poetry features and show, “(pheromemes) 2015-2017 show poems” (and both pheromemes books are available from two printers).
Karl had known the value of that recording, when he bolted every bolt and riveted every rivet. It was all filmed as he replaced head gaskets, gauged inlet manifolds with the mass flow meter, or used the uni-syn balancer on the ultra classics. And he smiled when he saw that his son Carl just wanted to program the ancient IBM PC.
Carl’s friends thought his dad Karl was crazy. And they made fun of the sample videos.
“Your dad could have like, pre-planned the filming and showed us the important parts... I want my car to get fixed without seeing a mechanic walk up from three different angles and slide under it. Why go to your dad’s shop when he’s going to creepily archive everything he does?”
But Karl had loyal customers. They were smarter than Carl’s dumb ass friends and they wanted all the work filmed. They paid Karl to keep that footage around.
Years later, those customers put their luxury cars up for auction. By that time, Carl’s application of a machine learning library developed as his Master’s thesis solved a once intractable verification problem. It reeled through every pixel of Karl’s footage. And it validated the mechanics. When it found problems with Karl’s work, the processed video archive was even more valuable. The buyers of all cars wanted that footage, that data. And so the automotive mechanics paid Karl for filming and storage solutions, and the buyers paid to use Carl’s cloud-hosted software.
Karl’s retirement left Carl exclusively in charge.
And now Carl was an old man. He fed his dad’s footage into his new solution. And it defined his dad across all the layers of the autoencoder. It mapped Karl’s responses. It didn’t get them all right. But as Carl lay there on the 40 inch mechanics creeper and he asked KARLIX whether a 1995 Ferrari F355 supported OBDII and received an answer back
YES BUT YOU’RE GOING TO NEED THE ST5 DIAGNOSTIC SCANNER FROM THE BOTTOM SHELF OF THE RIGHTMOST CABINET IF YOU WANT TO READ THE NON-STANDARD CODES.
Carl teared up. He forgot the time of day, what year it was, if he lay under the car or floated above it. Then he asked KARLIX where he could find the ST5.
GODDAMN, QUIT IT WITH THE REPEAT QUESTIONS. I’M GOING TO BED.
And Carl told his dad goodnight. He walked to the corner wall of the garage and leaned his head against it. Behind the partition lay the 37 rooms, where Carl’s 37 clones would be. They were all named Car. They were all industrious, all productive. Naturally, as they hosted Karl’s recombinant DNA. From multiple angles within the 37 shops the cameras rolled and the cloud-based solution reeled through every pixel of each Car’s work. It informed at 60 frames per second the subtle nuances across all the layers of KARLIX. It made each response more accurate, so that every day Carl and his dad could bolt every bolt, and rivet every rivet.
Sam’s MotherArpit Rohilla
A girl had once said that I would find my muse in the mountains.
I walked down from the hotel. The path was wet. Sunlight came in beams through the coniferous trees. Sam, a local twelve year old, walked uphill in long strides, with two buckets hanging from a rod placed on his shoulder.
He smiled. He had fair skin and straight, black hair. He was thin. I pat him on his back.
Right then, a short but bulky kid ran down besides us. If he went any faster, he might slip. This was Sam’s elder brother.
“He’s gone to study,” Sam said. He put the buckets down.
“He loves to study,” I said.
Sam stared valley side. Sunlight fell on his face. The sun was halfway up the mountains and the clouds were golden.
“Beautiful?” I said.
Sam thought about it. He said, “I guess. I see this daily.”
“Only my second time at a hill station,” I said.
“You must like this, right?”
“I don’t know.”
Sam smiled and said, “The tourists love mountains.”
I shrugged. We strolled up. His buckets were both half filled and I offered to lift them.
Sam frowned and shook his head. “There’s this man who can’t lift water. He’s an adult. He did not work when he was a kid. Do you believe it?”
“Is he sick?”
“I don’t think so. But I want to be strong when I grow.”
“And big?” I said.
“Yes. The girls only go for the big guys.”
I am 5 ft 9 inches myself. I laughed. “What do you know about girls?”
“I know,” he said and smiled. “But you won’t tell anyone.”
“You put your pee-pee in a girl’s butt,” he said in a hushed tone and with raised eye brows.
I laughed. “But where did you hear that?”
We reached his house, small and blue, and his mother stood outside. Sam stayed silent.
She hung clothes to dry. I saw all the colours in them and maroon dominated. Water dripped from them and the sunlight made them glimmer as they moved in the breeze.
She smiled at us. She had curly hair which she tied but some of it found a way to fall on her forehead. She was thin like Sam. She was a widow.
Women here look young, I thought.
Sam and his mother went in and I strolled out.
The sun climbed up and the green of the mountains got bright. I thought about things I could write about, and about things I could have written about but no longer had the zest to do so. I thought about the worthless things I had written.
The houses in the valley below were colourful like the clothes in Sam’s house. I stood at an edge and spotted the yellow hotel I had stayed in five years ago.
The trees rustled. I shivered and sighed.
Sam came and stood beside me.
“Sam is not an Indian name,” I said.
Sam shrugged. The sun was sharp.
I removed my sweater and we sat down. “Maybe I will end this trip.” I said.
“Really? You said you were here for a year,” he said and kept looking at me.
“I really cannot do what I had come here to do.”
Sam looked as if he thought through a math question with watery eyes. “Why can’t you do it here?”
I shrugged and looked at the yellow hotel. I said, “Someone once said that this is a nice place to write. But maybe not for me.” I frowned. The sky was clear.
“Was it a girl?” Sam said.
I nodded. “Girls, eh?”
“Girls,” Sam said and sighed. He drew with his finger on the ground. “But maybe you have not really tried to write something good. Like, try really hard.”
I pressed my lips together.
“My mother thinks my brother studies, but he drinks,” Sam said. He peered down the valley. The air ruffled his hair, and he clenched his face. Some sunlight fell on it but not on his eyes.
“How old is he?” I said.
“Don’t you drink – well, never too much,” I said. My voice was hoarse. The sand had been eroded except for around the tree roots, so it looked as if the trees sat on small, sand thrones. “I don’t think I would work well in Delhi either. Noisy place.” I picked up a stone, pulled back as far as I could and threw it.
“Mom says not to throw them,” Sam said.
The hill was vacant. The sun washed it orange. I picked up another stone and threw.
Sam picked one up and threw. We laughed.
When we stopped, Sam said, “Please take me to Delhi with you. I don’t like it here.” His girlish voice stammered.
That midnight I sat with a cigarette. I had promised a girl, 5 years ago, that I would never light one again.
But the end glowed in the dark. I took a puff. It tasted familiar but bad. I put it out and threw it out of the balcony.
I wrote about Sam, and though I couldn’t write half as much as when I had met this girl in a yellow hotel, I smiled when I finished. My hands were tired. I leaned forward.
The edges of the mountains were black, but otherwise silver fog shrouded them and shined in the moonlight. The distant mountains faded and the horizon was unclear.
I kept looking, for something I would never find here, or ever anywhere.
The next morning, I did not get my coffee first but went out to buy a pen. The sky was still dark. The shops might be closed but I wanted to walk.
Sam’s mother stood outside her house.
I stopped. We looked at each other.
Her elder son drank and she didn’t know. The younger hated the place.
Could she not just be another woman who smelled of icy rivers as well? Maybe she too laughed like wind chimes, and maybe she too talked such that I would want to move into a yellow house with her and live happily ever after.
But I just smiled politely and walked away.
Arpit Rohilla Bio
Arpit Rohilla is a 20-year-old writer from Rohtak, India, and he loves ideal-staring outside a window. He also loves football. But, for the most part, he loves watching. He loves watching a new place, a new tree, a new dog, or even a new absolutely-destroying skill-move by Eden Hazard. He supports Chelsea FC. He adores John Terry.
1/20/15 (from the India haiku series), on twitter
don’t drink their water,
never show legs or shoulders.
or go out at night
Tuesday in Los Angeles
The aspiring actor with the Africa-shaped mole above his eyelid adjusts the switch on the machine that looks like an alarm clock from Back to the Future. He describes it as a “looking glass into consciousness.” I grip the two metallic cylinders. He tells me to think about something I hate about myself. I think about the two teenage girls who bolted down the red-carpet hallway, after he asked the blueberry-blonde girl the same question. I think about how our tour guide had become my tour guide.
An hour earlier, I watch Tom and Victoria share a salmon avocado roll.
It is two hours until the UCB theatre opens. Los Angeles is awash in college undergraduates and thirty-something-year-old hipsters who salivate for their stand-up comedy fix. I’ve never seen so many beards, mustaches, and tech t-shirts in my life.
Incognito: I’ve seen some crazy shit.
Techies do it in the dark.
Fuck Ask Jeeves.
“This show is going to be gnarly,” says Tom.
“Will Shia LaBeouf perform tonight?” I ask.
“Will your friend stop talking about Shia LaBeouf?” responds Victoria, as she looks at Tom.
“He has a problem,” says Tom. “He likes to troll people.”
“I’m interested in irony,” I say.
The frog alarm on my cellphone goes off. “Go meditate bitch.”
Outside on Franklin Avenue, I walk past a restaurant called bird’s that welcomes people with gluten intolerance and offers a “special doggie menu for pets,” a drunk woman sitting on a lime Lamborghini, and a homeless man drinking cough syrup. The scene reminds me of the opening chapter in Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho. A mix of faux cosmopolitanism, decadence, and poverty.
But no grass to sit on.
After a few minutes, I give up and plop a squat behind a dumpster. In my mind, I name it “Buddha’s trash heap of illumination.” This is the spot, I tell myself. This is where you get enlightened in the twenty-first century. The urban Bodhi tree. The dharma of Reece’s wrappers.
The great Tao of an empty pizza box. Pleasure and pain, it’s all the same.
Until I feel a small piece of broken glass bite my left butt cheek.
It has the “T” from the Tylenol label on it. I let out a loud F bomb. A man with a poodle runs by and shakes his head.
Back on Franklin, I see a stone wall with bushes hanging over the top. Long jump skills acquired from years of suburban house parties broken up by townie cops sends me catapulting over the top. On the other side, there are trees and plants with names I can’t pronounce. Two Walt Disney style pillars hug a wood door with archaic lanterns. There are people dining on baroque, presentation-emphasized dinner plates in a room surrounded by glass. A man gives a toast. A woman smiles. Green grass that reads like a welcome sign for my ass is everywhere.
I find a large tree and take a seat behind it. Ninja style. I stare at the building. It’s some kind of hotel. Stone engravings and long, antiquated red curtains drape the windows. After a bit of mind-wandering and scenario making — How much does one night cost? I bet that guy in the window will do cocaine tonight. Rapunzel’s hair couldn’t reach the ground. Are there cameras here? — I focus on my breath. The mental chatter calms down. I feel a subtle breeze on the bare skin of my arms. I dream about Ginsberg dreaming of Whitman in California.
“You can’t sit here.”
“I said you can’t here.”
“I’m sorry. I was looking for a place to meditate. All I found was a dumpster with a cough syrup bottle that I think punctured my jeans. Can you see a hole?” I ask.
“I don’t see a hole. But I’m sorry, you cannot sit here. We have guests coming in and out.”
“If you would like to come inside though, we give tours to the public.”
“Whose we?” I ask.
“Myself and the other people that work here. Well, I wouldn’t give you a tour. But, I can take you to the front desk to meet someone who will.”
“Thanks, but I think I’ll pass.”
This old, middle-aged white guy, not quite a full ginger, not quite bald, who speaks hesitantly as he fingers the rectangular links on his gold necklace, walks me around the property to the front entrance. The iron gate, with a giant black spade in the center, is open and directly across the street from Sushi Stop. As I walk out, I read a sign with four more gold spades that decorate each corner and a giant gold S wrapped between two gold triangles that look like they are being hurled through space. The ornate letters in the center of the sign say:
Church of Scientology Celebrity Center International.
“How long are tours?” I ask.
“About forty-five minutes. You can ring this bell, if you decide to come back,” he says.
Tom and Victoria are discussing a billboard when I rejoin them.
“The billboard is totally a postmodern phenomenon,” says Tom. “Every day that guy opens his bedroom window, he sees a Godzilla-sized George Clooney looking back at him. It’s total Pynchon shit.”
“I don’t know. I just don’t see why it’s this big thing that we have to keep talking about. It’s just a billboard.”
“Who is Pynchon?” I ask
“That author you obsess over. Didn’t you chat with him in Boston?”
“I don’t think it’s possible for me to ever meet Pynchon. He’s been consumed by his own image. There’s only an idea of Pynchon, some kind of postmodern abstraction. I’ll never know the real Thomas Pynchon.”
“Both of you are academic assholes. Are you capable of talking about, like, the Dodgers, or something?” says Victoria. “And stop using that word postmodern.”
“Do you guys want to go on a tour of a scientology building? It will be totally anti-postmodern shit. And you might see, like Tom Cruise, or something. I was meditating across the street, and some dude told me that I’m essentially the next L. Ron Hubbard.”
“Do I have to sign over the rights to my possessions? Will your new friend give me a lobotomy? Will I get a last meal before men in dark hoods sentence me to wash John Travolta’s gooch for the rest of my life?” inquires Tom as he laughs and almost chokes on his drink.
“Fuck that noise,” says Victoria. “Didn’t you see that HBO documentary on Netflix? Scientology is totally fucked.”
“Yeah, I agree with Tory. I will remain here, in good lighting, surrounded by people, where I will continue to sip my martini,” says Tom.
“Plus, the show starts in about an hour,” says Victoria.
“Come on, one of you guys needs to come with me. It will be more memorable than sitting in this shitty restaurant.”
An Asian man in a waiter’s bowtie gives me a scowl.
“Sorry dude. I honestly am kind of sketched out by this,” says Tom.
“Yeah, I’m with Thomas on this one,” says Victoria.
In front of the gate with the giant spade and the black sign with gold space triangles, I press the silver button. A voice that sounds like a middle-aged man waiting for a call from his child-support lawyer answers.
The half-ginger, half-bald Howard meets me at the entrance. He takes me down a cobble path and through the front door. A black chick, mid-thirties, stands at the counter. He nods to her and walks back outside.
“You’re here for the tour?”
“Have you been here before?”
“Do you have any background with scientology.”
“Have you heard anything about scientology?”
“Okay. If you wait just one moment, I’ll procure a tour guide.”
That word procure. Was this tour guide lying motionless on a shelf in the dusty basement of a pawn shop? In-between a case of moonshine and a box of child pornography recorded on VHS tapes. Hello. I was sent here to procure a tour guide. I have a young man, with a manbun and a California accent, give him the tour.
“Hey there. I’m Maple.”
“I will be your tour guide tonight,” he says.
“Hello, Maple. My name’s Adam,” I say.
“Great, pleasure to meet you Adam.”
We stand for a moment and look at each other. An awkward silence fills the space. Maple is a few years younger than me, in his early twenties. He looks like Seth from The O.C. without the endearing wit or charm. He asks me what I do for work. I tell him that I work at a liquor store.1 He tells me that that’s also “great.” He also tells me that scientology is against mind-altering substances, and that I will learn that soon.
The way he arches his eyebrow, the Africa-shaped mole above his eyelid moving north, to emphasize those last five words. I try not to laugh. Not at the mole. Though, I don’t feel that there is anything wrong with laughing at a mole. But at the sense of suspense and dramatic foreshadowing embodied in that careful eyebrow lift. For a few more seconds, we stand there and look at each other. Neither one of us says anything.
“So, are we going to go on the tour?” I ask.
“Three,” he says slowly, as he flashes a thumb, another thumb, and an index finger in front of Africa.
“We need to wait until we have three guests, including yourself.”
“So, how long have you been, you know, a scientologist?” I ask.
“A little over three years.”
“What made you decide to become a scientologist instead of a Buddhist, a Jew, a Methodist, or a devotee in the Nation of Yahweh?”
“A lot of reasons. The movement’s central philosophy of self-transformation and personal responsibility appeal to me. Scientology is the fastest growing religion in the world. Scientology’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard, is the most prolific philosopher of all time. I am also an actor. As you probably know, scientology has been beneficial to many actors in the universe.”
I picture a group of aliens on some foreign planet reading scripts in an unknown language. Giant spade necklaces wrap around their thick green necks. Their jet-black set chairs dig into space dust.
“Has your world outlook been shaped by any system of thought?” he asks me.
Before I can answer, Howard the half-ginger, not yet bald is back. He has two teenage girls on either side of him. They look fifteen. One girl’s name is Sam and she has blueberry-blonde hair. The other girl’s name is Miranda and she has braces.
Maple introduces himself to the girls and then tells us to follow him down the hallway. I walk behind the two girls who whisper as we march. The giant archways, stone walls, and red carpet make me feel like I am on a guided tour of Luigi’s Mansion, and any minute I will have to vacuum up a flamboyant ghost. Eventually, we stop in front of a portrait-sized HD screen framed in gold. Maple clicks a button.
A voice that sounds like someone selling an anti-depressant begins to tell us that our thoughts are connected to our feelings. There are images of a twenty-something year-old couple who sit in a kitchen and look melancholy, and then an old man watering his lawn with a deflated garden house. A voice asks us: “What if you could control your thoughts, so that you can control your emotions, and control your life”? The kitchen pair begins to smile and laugh, as they drink mugs of freshly brewed cocoa that manifest on their window sill. Hank Hill smiles at the camera as water erupts from his long green hose onto the sunburned grass. I wait for ant-size text to scroll by that mentions diarrhea, stroke, impotency, and an increased risk of heart attack.
“As you can see,” says Maple, “scientology is not a religion. It is a way to learn about the connections between thoughts and feelings, so that we can live more empowering and inspiring lives.”
As we proceed deeper into Scooby Doo’s castle, we stop at more moving portraits that reiterate the same information. That people feel “bad” when they have “bad” thoughts about themselves. And that people feel “good” when they have “good” thoughts about themselves. It sounds like a Donald Trump speech, without the hatred of Muslims. Another voice tells us that all people can attain personal freedom from the things that hold them back. That everyone can “be the person that they have always imagined themselves to be.” One clip, which features Rooster from the 1970s television show Baretta, describes scientology as a process of “drinking from the cup of knowledge” and a spiritual journey of becoming “more powerful as a spiritual being.”
I’ve drunk ayahuasca in the Amazon and sipped mushroom tea in Mexico. I’ve snorted mescaline Hunter S. Thompson style in a women’s bathroom on the Las Vegas strip. But at no point, will I ever drink any “cup of knowledge” served by this over enthusiastic C-list actor in a golf polo.
Before he finishes his monologue with a Made for TV smile, the two girls start giggling — like little girls. Maple points Africa at them. Under the duress of his unironic stare, they explain that the video reminds them of something funny that happened earlier today, but that they find Rooster’s wisdom to be really powerful. I feel bad because I realize that all three of us are trolling this guy.
The feeling, however, quickly passes.
A few more feet down the hallway, Maple stops us at a room filled with bookshelves and a monumental oak desk. “This is L. Ron Hubbard’s office,” says Maple. The lamp on top of the desk is on. An extra-large gold pen in the shape of a feather, with black letters etched between a pair of half-moons, rests beside it.
“Does someone use this office?” I ask.
“No,” says Maple, “this is L. Ron Hubbard’s office.”
He explains to us that (scientologists believe) L. Ron Hubbard will return, and that — because of this — all centers keep a desk for him to write when he does.
“How much did L. Ron Hubbard write?” I ask.
“He is the most prolific writer in the history of the world,” says Maple. “He has written over 1,000 works that we know about. He holds a Guinness World Record.”
“Didn’t he write a lot of imaginary science fiction?” I ask.
“A record-breaking amount.”
I remember a joke Russell Brand made on Joe Rogan’s podcast about Hubbard winning the Guinness World Record for writing the most bullshit on Monday. Then he starts an organized religion on Tuesday. None of his followers wonder that maybe his religion is made-up bullshit too.
“Does anyone else write books within scientology?” I ask.
“No. L. Ron Hubbard covered everything.”
“Are you serious?”
There is a sharpness in his voice when he responds, and Maple’s general awkwardness becomes colored with something less benign. Luigi’s Mansion starts to have a subtle Charles Manson Family Ranch vibe to it. Even the girls aren’t giggling into their palms anymore. Nonetheless, when Maple nods toward another winding hallway, we all trail behind him in a single file. I question who the mindless followers are.
Another HD screen in a gold portrait frame tells us about “the Thetan” — the soul that inhabits human bodies. An enthusiastic brunette mom with toddler twins appears on the screen and tells us that this “Golden Age of Knowledge is uniting all of us” and that “it is making us all into this theta juggernaut that will allow us all to secure our own eternity.” Maple tells us that the Thetan is not a thing, it is the creator of all things.
At this point, I expect the next room to have a bunch of washed up 1970s actors and a fridge full of rat poison Kool-Aid. I look at my watch. I have been in the scientology building close to an hour. Maple sees my eyes locked on the elephant trunk that moves around my wrist. He says that our tour is almost over, but there is one last thing he has to show us.
My Buddha mind tells me “fuck this.” But my love of weird shit and bizarre stories to write about leads me down another winding hallway. The red carpet slowly begins to be patterned with pairs of space triangles and strange, abstract shapes.
This time we stop at a closed door, and Maple takes out a key. The oak door decorated with two ominous gold spades opens for us to enter. I am hesitant to go inside, as are the girls. But, whether out of genuine curiosity or the Milgram effect, we all follow Maple into the room. It is empty, except for a small wood table with a machine in the center. Maple closes the door behind us.
“Do you know what this piece of technology is?” he asks.
We all shake our heads.
“It is an E-meter. It quantifies and represents the electrodermal activity of your Theta,” he says.
“What does that mean?” asks blueberry as she traces a colorful streak in her hair with her thumb and ring finger.
“It means that it will show us where your spiritual disabilities are, so that we can correct them. The point is to restore your beingness and to bring you closer to your spirit.”
Blueberry nods. Brunette looks petrified.
“Would you like to try it?” he asks her.
“I’m not sure.”
Brunette prods her in the arm and tells her that she doesn’t have to do it.
She offers no response, until Maple hands her two metallic cylinders attached by two black chords to the back of the bizarre machine. He flips a switch and the vertical line with an arrow at the tip begins to move back and forth. I look over my shoulder. There is no other exit.
“I want you to recall a time when you were very happy,” says Maple. “Visualize it. The smells, the tastes, the physical sensations, the aura of the moment,” he says.
We all wait a few seconds, as blueberry closes her eyes. He then asks her to tell us what she is thinking about.
“When I went to the mall with my father and my sister.”
“Great,” says Maple as he hits a switch on the face of the machine and the E-meter’s marker catapults to the left.
“Now think about a time that you felt really terrible about yourself.”
Blueberry’s friend looks at her. I look at Maple. Maple smiles at me. He is smiling for the first time on the tour.
“What are you thinking about?” he asks the girl.
“An argument I had with my mom.”
“What was it about?” he asks.
“She has a boyfriend who I don’t like.”
“Why don’t you like him?” asks Maple as he taps the machine again and its arrow goes careening to the right. “Be detailed.”
“He drinks. He doesn’t treat my mom or my younger sister right. He punched a hole in my bedroom wall.”
“I want you to think about how he makes your mother feel. How does that make you feel?” asks Maple.
“You don’t have to answer this guy,” says the brunette with a crackle in her voice.
“It makes her feel terrible and it makes me feel terrible too.”
“And what do you do when you feel terrible?” asks Maple.
The girl tosses the cylinders back on the table, as her friend wraps a hand around her upper arm. She tells Maple that they have to leave now, because their ride is here. Maple asks them if they would be willing to fill out a survey, but they have already turned toward the door. When it shuts behind them, Maple looks at me and holds the oblong silver joysticks.
“It’s your turn,” he says.
Before I pick them up, I commit to mentally ignore everything Maple asks me to do. Instead of visualizing positive and negative moments, I decide to focus on my breath.
This is Buddha in scientology land. The nirvana of debunking bullshit.
Maybe it’s because I have resting bitch face, but I don’t get the happy question. Maple begins by asking me to think about something that I hate about myself. An image of the girls pops up. Then, an image of my mother. I ignore them both. I focus on the bottom of my nose. The warm breath passing across my upper lip.
In and out. In and out. In and out.
“What are you thinking about,” he asks.
“Umm, a bad habit I have.”
He’s got you now.
“I have a habit of, uhh, showing up late,” I say.
Maple pauses. Just as he is about to tap the machine with his ring finger, he looks at me perplexed. Africa sits motionless on the side of his face. I can tell he expected something much worse. Much more terrible.
Alcohol addiction. Depression. Oedipal fantasies. Paraphilia.
“Showing up late?” he asks.
“Yeah. To like dentist appointments and stuff. To work. You know, the liquor store?”
“Can you think of something more emotionally significant? What is your worst characteristic? The thing you are least proud of. The thing you hate most about yourself,” he asks. I can tell that I am making him uncomfortable. The images of the Kool-Aid and bodies stuffed into the castle walls disappear.
I try to be like Kyle Mooney. I try my hardest not to laugh.
“My failure of punctuality . . . it really takes a toll on my life. I can’t hold down a job, Maple. I can’t hold down relationships with the loved ones I care about. Last week, I was supposed to feed my girlfriend’s cat. Her name was Ritz Bitz.”
“Rits Bits?” he asks.
“The little crackers with cheese. Sometimes peanut butter. She is a small cat.”
He hesitantly adjusts the switch on the E-meter. The vertical arrow begins to point right. “The E-meter can tell it upsets you,” he says, as I smile this time.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have time for a survey.”
Back at Sushi Stop, Tom orders a round of Summer Ales to celebrate my “still being alive.”
“So, what did you learn?” Victoria asks me.
“I learned that the anticlimax is the postmodern trope par excellence,” I say. “I also learned that L. Ron Hubbard does not like security cameras in his office.”
In my hand, I twirl the feather pen with the initials “L.R.H” trimmed across the side in black. The fluorescent half-moons remind me of the ending to White Noise, when Jack wanders the supermarket looking at tabloids. This is the language of fiction and nonfiction, or how the dead speak to the living. The cough syrup, the E-meter, Buddha breaths, and blueberry-blonde streaks. Los Angeles is where we wait together, amidst the noise, our heads packed with brightly colored fantasies.
1. This statement is partially true. After college, I worked at a liquor store for four and a half hours. As I entered the fifth hour, the manager pulled me into the back room and asked me if I had read his homemade pamphlet about “leaning,” when I could be “cleaning.” He then told me that I looked like I did not want to be a “partner” in All-Star Liqueurs’ all-star cast. I agreed.
about Adam Szetela
Adam Szetela is an assistant professor in the liberal arts department at Berklee College of Music where he teaches literature and American studies. His recent work has been published by Vice, Salon, Riddle Fence, Pilgrimage Magazine, and the edited collection Black Lives Have Always Mattered.
The Only Moment We Were Alone
This girl is absolutely gorgeous; it’s too bad she’s straight.
I’m writing this to clear my head of everything that has happened from last April until now. My head is full of a million jumbled thoughts all crammed in like commuters of a morning train. Who knows if they’ll all sort themselves out. Maybe there will be a part two to come. Maybe not. It’s too soon to tell.
I just got back from her room. No, don’t jump to conclusions. Nothing happened. More games, as one might expect, from the gamemaster herself. Back to the pushing and pulling, but a different kind.
Tonight in a few sentences:
- Tension in a room so thick even a steak knife can’t cut it.
- “I stand by what I said last semester. I’m still so glad that we’ve gotten closer.”
- “You looked hot last weekend. I mean, hotter than usual.”
- “Why are you covering your face with your scarf?”
- “It’s for the best. Trust me.”
- Was it obvious I had the upper hand?
- “Well no, I want to be Jim because I want Pam.”
- “Well I want to be Pam because I want Jim.”
- (An awkward silence followed by the covering of a face with a scarf)
I was laying on her floor with her head on my shoulder (which took some time to process in my mind due to the presence of alcohol) reminiscing about the past months. We met on a forgettable weekend at the end of our sophomore year of college, but our brief dance would stay in my mind as the beginning of our friendship. Our friendship was a crazy ride. Is. Was. Is.
The initial moment our friendship blossomed was nothing special. It was a Sunday afternoon in late-April, where it was a little too chilly to wear short sleeves and shorts but people were optimistic. We were at a cookout outside of the campus coffee shop, the enticing smell of the gyros dancing around us, and a band no one had heard of but everyone seemed to enjoy was playing. The four of us got up to dance (read: the three of them dragged me up), and she grabbed my hands and we danced for a moment. I was dancing like I’d never walked before and I’m certain she noticed. But I’m also certain she didn’t notice my poor dancing skills were due to nerves. Would it have mattered?
Describe the most beautiful woman you have ever seen:
Dark hair. Dark eyes that you can’t stare at for too long without falling in love. Darker than average complexion – a natural beauty. Full lips. An effortless sense of style. Her hugs are the type that make you want to kiss her. She’s just short enough to rest your chin on her head and so she can nestle her face into your upper chest, and it’s amazing she can’t hear your heart beat like an irregular thump in your chest ready to break out of your body.
But I digress.
Our friendship began to take shape as the leaves started to change. It was wonderous how relationships could blossom as everything around us began to die.
We were sitting on the grass outside of her dorm on a mid-September afternoon, telling each other about our current and past woes. Three days prior, I’d asked out a girl I’d been interested in. Four days prior, I’d found out that Abbey was not so straight after all, and began hoping things would fall apart with the other girl so things could come together with Abbey. Well. (Spoiler alert).
Things fell apart with the other girl.
Abbey’s definition of not so straight was as follows: making out with girls, drunk, back in high school and being afraid to face her feelings. More on that to come.
Things coming together with Abbey? To be determined.
“I’m glad we’ve gotten closer this semester,” she said to me as we lazed on the grass.
The light from the setting sun struck her face as she spoke, making her skin glow, and I’d never seen anyone or anything so beautiful. My breath paused in my chest, stunned, mesmerized by her beauty. What were we talking about, again?
Ah, now back to the night where I had begun to reminisce. It was the night of my twentieth birthday, just a few days after that wonderful late-afternoon conversation. We had a party in my room, and all my friends wanted was for me to have fun. That’s a recipe for something, all right. Yes, my roommate and I had a party in our room. Yes, Abbey came. Yes, the party dissipated not long after it began and a few of us went party-hopping. Abbey was rather touchy all night, and I had imagined it was due to the alcohol. Alcohol did that to a person. It wasn’t a precursor of what was to come. Not a chance.
“You should wear this dress, it’d look amazing on you,” she said prior to the party-hopping, pulling a peach colored dress out of my closet.
I put the dress on. She looked me up and down with those eyes that if you stared into you would fall in love. I looked away. We left.
At about midnight, Abbey, one of our friends, and I, left to go back to Abbey’s room because it was too early to go to bed, but we didn’t want to stay out any longer. At some point we lost our spontaneous ginger friend to God knows where, and so it was just the two of us in Abbey’s room. Insert potential troubles here.
So there I was. Laying on Abbey’s floor with her head on my shoulder thinking about the night and the previous events of the recent past. During this time, we’d been venting to one another: me complaining about how the last person I had kissed was a boy, and she about what she wanted in her life. I told her she had to get in her head and figure out what she wanted right then and there. She shook her head and hid in my shoulder.
“But my head is a scary place.”
Name one cliché movie scene:
After a wild night, you’re back in a room with the girl of your dreams. She looks you in the eye. She tells you she wants to kiss you. You’re in disbelief – the girl of your dreams wants to kiss you? You must have fallen asleep. Right as you’re about to kiss, someone bursts into the room and you both burst out laughing. Laughing because of the irony. Laughing because of the timing. Laughing because you don’t know what else to do but laugh off the nerves.
Later, after our venting, in more sober states of mind, we picked out a movie to watch that I had never seen before. Abbey had grabbed us a couple pillows in attempt to make the floor more comfortable. While neither of us were watching the movie, she turned her head to look at me.
“So, I have an idea. You can say no if you want to, it’s okay. But...” she paused. I couldn’t tell if it was the alcohol making the room start to spin and slow down time, or just the oncoming nausea. Or both. “I know how to kill both our problems with one stone. With who you last kissed and what I want, right now. With me kissing you...”
What? I turned my head. My face grew hot. I took a moment to replay what she’d said in my head, and she had in fact said what I thought she’d said.
“I mean, only if you want to,” I said, trying to seem cooler than I was.
Abbey gave me a quizzical look, grinned, and shook her head. Fearing I had missed my opportunity, I took a deep breath to change my answer.
The doorknob jiggled, interrupting the silence, and her roommate walked in as I was about to give my new answer.
Two days later I confronted Abbey. I wanted that kiss and nothing was going to stop me from getting it. Unless it was just the alcohol talking and she didn’t want to kiss me, or I chickened out, or the world exploded or something. Not much would stop me.
As it turned out, Abbey had to stop by my room to grab the clothes I’d borrowed from when I spent the night on her floor. She walked in. My stomach was in my throat. When she was in my room the world did not explode, nor did I chicken out, nor did she not want to kiss me.
(You know what they say: drunken words are sober thoughts.)
“Well wait, before you go, I’d sort of like to know what it would have been like if Rachel hadn’t walked in.”
Describe the best kiss of your life:
Soft, sensual, delicate, then becoming more and more passionate. The first touch of her lips on yours brought with it a shock you did not expect, followed by warm liquid spreading from your mouth up to your cheeks and brain and down and through your chest, fingertips, hips, thighs, and to your toes. It gave you a clarity you did not know existed. One that told you her kiss was the only one you wanted for the rest of your life.
You know, there’s something about a would be drunken kiss that’s better when it’s sober.
“I feel like a kid again,” she said, giggling, after pulling away. She was grinning and blushing but I’m certain my face was redder. I bit my lip and she laughed and said, “The look on your face!”
I didn’t know what look she was talking about but I had never felt as vulnerable as I did in that moment. The look on someone’s face after a kiss told you a lot about that person and what they were thinking.
“I-I’ve been wanting to do that for a while,” I said.
“Oh? For how long?”
“Just, for a while.”
We talked for a minute and then she left to walk back to her dorm. Or, as she put it, blush all the way back to her dorm. I blushed my way back to my bed. I laid there with a pillow on my face replaying the kiss over and over in my head. In that moment, the only moment we were alone, I knew I was falling for her. Really falling. For the first time in my life. It couldn’t be more perfect.
Until it wasn’t.
The next two and a half months described in words and fragments (because my life had turned into fragments):
Avoiding. Ignoring. Not sure of what she wants. Hooks up with a guy. Continues to do so. Unsure of sexuality. Interpretation: uncomfortable with sexuality. Pushing and pulling and pulling and pushing. Games. Many mind games. Flirting. Still a game. Tries to be a friend but still a game. An hour long crying session in the car while listening to a song entitled Just Friends after seeing her and the aforementioned guy together. Confusion and depression. Depression.
Aforementioned mind games:
- She still claimed she didn’t know what she wants.
- She didn’t want anything serious with anyone, not even with that guy.
- Although they were inseparable.
- “Just because things can’t happen now doesn’t mean they can’t in the future.”
- A minimum of once a week stating we should hang out.
- Hint: she’ll never follow through.
- Flirting over dinner while I blocked out her voice.
A winter break later and my life seemed to be less fragmented. We were friends. Were we friends? I hoped so because that was all I wanted while she and that guy were still “not a thing”, until they weren’t together. No more games, no more weird things. Just. Friends. At least until the following year, after that guy had graduated. That was a different story.
Was life ever that clear cut, though? Nothing was ever that simple. Abbey was the queen of mind games and I was her favorite pawn. The game of push and pull was her favorite. Why not ignore me when we’re hanging out? It’s all fun and games. Why not out of the blue insist we spend more time together? Still fun and games.
Back to the present. Whatever the present is. The present doesn’t exist because the present is always the past and the future will always be the future. More digressions. Apologies.
After tonight it feels like things are beginning to wind down, and return to normal. If there even is a normal. I feel in control. I feel like I have the power to make my own decisions. I am in control of my emotions. Maybe I will want something to happen when the time comes. Perhaps not. Only time can tell, but I know that the decision will be mine.
A note: it feels good to have the upper hand. I’d recommend trying it on for size.
An objective afterthought:
It still stings. I can’t help but feel bad. I’ve moved on but I can’t help but feel bad. I wish she would be more comfortable with herself. But maybe she never will be. I don’t remember what that’s like. It’s been so long since I felt that discomfort and I don’t remember what that’s like. I wish she would let herself be herself. For her own sake. I wish she would learn to be comfortable with herself. But maybe she never will be. I wish I could help. There’s nothing I can do to change that. It’s up to the person to learn to be comfortable with oneself. It comes from within. There’s nothing I can do to change that.
[The ending is to be determined for there is no ending yet. Maybe things will come together in the end (is there ever an end? Life still goes on. The universe keeps existing.), if they’re meant to be. Unless they’re not. Unless they are.]
It wasn’t the end.
The Death of the Opposite Sex
A cloud drifted in front of the moon, melting it into a phosphorescent circle. The night sky darkened and we disintegrated into forms, no longer people, no longer distinct things. A slight breeze picked up, rattling the dry leaves in the trees. For a moment, nothing. Canyons in between seconds. Sarah broke the stupor: “Wouldn’t it be awesome if we all took our clothes off?” She giggled. My eyes lit up. “Come on,” she said. “It’ll be great. I mean, how long have we all been friends?” I thought this only happened in adult flicks. There we stood on my back deck on a Friday night. My parents were eating out at Sodini’s.
“I’m up for it,” Alan said, sticking out his chest to be funny.
“Oh why not?” Rich said.
“But Ash will perv us,” Jessica said.
“I will not,” I said, “I’ll be a gentleman. Scout’s honor.” I raised my right hand.
“Let’s do this,” Alan said.
The one catch: I didn’t much care for male nudity. But still, it was a great idea. Rich saw Sara naked all the time and Alan saw Jessica naked all the time. The guys knew their girls bodies down to the pore. The only nakedness I ever saw was two dimensional and flat, void of actual flesh. So this would the event: Mark it on my timeline. The animated pages of Playboy. My magazines made real. Act casual, though. Don’t behave as if this was epochal and you were a hard up first timer. Be an adult.
Sara and Jessica both tugged off their shirts and unhooked their bras. Their breasts hung loose and free in the open air, the graphic minutiae lost to the black. Sara hopped on one leg to pull off her jeans, Jessica let her denim skirt drop and stepped out of it, and just like that, both girls stood naked. The dark shaded their triangles of pubic hair—bad lighting. They were vague and amorphous, like two ghosts in tarry murk. Their hands hung to their sides. I tried not to look.
In a flash, Alan and Rich were in their birthday suits. Their organs hung from their bushy hair. Alan did a few jumping jacks. “Stop showing off,” Jessica said. Even through the darkness you could see their pecs were clear cut and specific. Their necks were thick and their stomachs were flat.
Sara looked at me. “And?” she asked.
“Okay, okay. Hold your hormones.”
“We are waiting,” she said.
I pulled my sweater over my head and my hair went static.
“Go Go Go!” Jessica cheered.
I took off my shirt and goose bumps perked up on my chest and arms. I unsnapped my corduroys, pushed them down till they sagged, undid my French cuffs, pulled one leg off, then the other, yanked down my boxers and left my clothes in a pile next to me. Everyone’s mouth dropped. Silence. They just stared at my genitals, little white dashes connecting their eyeballs to my loins. I felt the wet of the wood through my soles. The breeze picked up even more. Leaves scattered.
“Holy shit. Holy shit,” Alan said. “Ash, what is wrong with you?”
“Lord God in Heaven,” Jessica said.
Sara said, “Ashley, what is up with your nuts?” She looked as if she was trying to put herself in my place, to feel what it was like to walk around with these, to feel my pain at showing and telling. The girls’ bodies lost all their glamor. That spark burned out into the night. I felt I was naked around total strangers. The embarrassment was too much to conceal. I bled leper’s blood. With nothing else to do, and a lot expected of me, I looked down to pretend to study my testicles. I felt my heart beating through my chest. “I don’t know. They’re big, I guess.”
“That’s grotesque,” Rich said. “They look like a jumbo shriveled pare. Hasn’t a girl ever said anything?”
My hands glided down to cover myself. I remembered in fourth grade, in the school play “Honest Abe”, I forgot my line, “And to the cabin you go! Off with you, boy!” I just stood there and stared, the parents sensing something was wrong. Mr. Lelinski, the acting coach, put his face in his hands. I wished I could just pop out of existence. All eyes on me. Then and now. “Come on,” I said. “Let’s not be rude. Stripping is an easy embarrassment.” My eyes met theirs.
Sara said, “You ought to get those checked out. Like first thing tomorrow. Wake up and do it. Christ. They look like a bulky raisin.” I wanted to strangle her into fish eyes, just launch myself at her. I’d grab her by the neck, my thumbs would press into her trachea until I heard the brittle snap of the hyoid bone. “Don’t look at me like that,” she said. She wrapped an arm around her breasts and covered her crotch.
“Micro dick, super-sized balls. You should join a circus freak show,” Rich said.
“This is so bad,” Jessica said. “Let’s put our clothes back on.”
“I’m with ya, babe,” Alan said. We all dressed.
That night, in bed, with the pulp fiction translation of moonlight through the blinds and the room a blur, I thought. I always knew there was something wrong with my testicles. They had enlarged at such a slow rate, there was no big gotcha moment when I realized that I was a misfit. Right above me, the ceiling grinned. “What do you do if your testicles grow to enormous proportions?” The crack flapped like a mouth. “Go to a primary care physician, of course. So why, pray tell, have you delayed?”
“Good question, good question. I was afraid to. It was easier just to put it all aside and pretend there was nothing wrong. What is it the people say? ‘Out of sight, out of mind’?”
“How bright of you. You’ve had plenty of chances. They’ve been ‘grotesque,’ as Sara put it, for four years now.” I heard the crackle of plaster as it talked, like a fireplace. Flecks of white paint rained.
“I’m sorry. Like I said, I was too scared.”
“That sounds so much like you,” it said, the funk of caked plaster floating down. “Now you just close those eyes and sleep soundly, knowing that you’re in it quite deep.” It exhaled in delighted frustration. Next door my dad grunted.
On Monday I walked into The Iroquois Building. It was writ large in thick black marble letters above the revolving doors. I said hi to Malik, the retired-cop-turned-security-guard, and stepped into the elevator. The doors shut. I pulled out my orange Xanax bottle and counted out four planks. The average dose was one a day. I gulped down all four. The floors chimed away. I walked down the fifth floor to The Family Research Center and opened the door. Sherri, the temp secretary, was at the filing cabinet. She turned around and said hi. I walked back to the Transcription room. Eight students with bulky headphones on sat in a semicircle. In front of each student, a Professional E16 Tape Recorder. Next to every recorder, a stack of papers. Each paper was divided into four squares. The squares represented fifteen seconds. We had to transcribe dinner conversations, families that the study chose at random. Every “ahem,” every “uh,” every cough, every stutter. There was a lot of rewinding. I would listen for a second or two, then rewind to make sure I caught everything. Nancy and Kimberly would check every transcription, and they were always reprimanding me for ignoring or passing over some small detail. One time Kimberly said, “It’s mistakes like these that can put you on the road to termination.”
I sat next to Marci. Her looks had always blown me away. Her long red hair lay comfy on her shoulders, the whites of her eyes stood out like they were light bulbs, and her smile made a nice half-moon. Her nose was small, girly and unobtrusive. Beneath her green pastel skirt, pale legs sprawled. She had her shoes off, and her toenails were painted with bubblegum lipstick. As I worked, the Xanax high kicked in, and I grew supine. Everything became inconsequential. Boundaries erased themselves. I took off my headphones and motioned for her to take off hers.
I told her she looked great today, save for that bruise on her cheek. “How’d you get it?”
“I fell into a wall.”
“Oooh, you guys are going to get in trouble,” Raphaella said, a bit too loud.
“Who cares,” I said. “This job sucks donkey dick. It’s hellfire.” I shook my head.
Marci tapped her pencil on the table. “It’s lame,” she said. “It’s lame. But it pays the bills. Just think, you’re practicing for the real world.” She flicked me with her fingers on my hand. “Think of it that way.” The blood rushed to my groin.
“Who wants to live in the real world? A cap and a gown? Give me a break, girl.”
“We all have to survive somehow, Ash. You don’t want to be dumpster diving for the rest of your life.”
I made pitter patter against the table with my palms. “Not me. No way, no how. I’ll stay in college forever if I have to. I’ll get degree after degree. I don’t care if I’m a forty year old in a General Writing class of eighteen year olds. I don’t care if I’m a sixty year old in a General Writing class of eighteen year olds. I’ll be at Pitt so long I’ll become a museum piece.” I felt a sneeze building; I was cursed with psychosomatic sneezing. It built and built, I put my hand over my mouth and nose and the stuff shot out of me. I grabbed a tissue out of my pocket and wiped. Marci winced.
“Well, let’s get back to transcribing before Kay yells at us,” she said.
“But we need a break. It’s impossible to listen to dinnertime bullshit chatter for four hours a day, five days a week.” I tapped her ivory-white arm. She drew back.
“Sorry. I’m not like you. I mind being yelled at.” She put her headphones back on, pressed Play, and began to transcribe. Later I walked down the narrow hall past Kay’s office and took a few sharp turns to the tiny bathroom—The Iroquois Building had been an apartment building before offices took it over—and looked in the mirror that was flowered at four corners. A gob of mucus sat on the tip of my nose.
Four. Three. Two. One. The elevator doors cranked open. “See you tomorrow, Malik.” I swished through the revolving doors and was out into the chill. Students packed Forbes Avenue. A girl with a Delta Upsilon jacket walked towards me. A little sister. She had a diminutive frame. Blonde hair down to her shoulders wagged ever so slightly with each step. The red high heels clopped. Her cheeks were rouged and magenta ringed her eyes. A man paced closely behind her. He wore an unzipped gray sun dried Parka. He was maybe mid-thirties. His black and white William Burroughs T-shirt didn’t entirely cover his paunch, leaving his belly button exposed. A thin film of hair blackened his face. He looked like he sat on park benches all day, the pigeons were his only friends, no partner, no family, unemployed, unemployable. He reminded me of a soap dispenser in a highway gas station restroom.
The work week grinded me down slowly. Friday I called my psychiatrist. “Ashley, just between you and me, this is getting out of control,” Dr. Krepps told me over the phone. I imagined her Lilliputian as she rocked in a fetal position on her desk, the phone a huge monument, cratered with manhole sized pockmarks. Every line of her dialogue had a regal yet geeky tone to it; her warnings sounded more like pleas. “This is not good. This is really not good. You need to control your intake.”
“Aw come on. If you don’t prescribe more I’ll withdraw. Plus, Sara invited me to her apartment tonight. I need it. I won’t know anyone there.”
“Okay, but you need to taper it back. I can’t keep doing this. I’ll get in trouble with the board. I might lose my license.”
I drove to Rite Aid. The pharmacist, Bob, peered at me over his thick glasses, eying me warily. His skin looked a tad green under the fluorescence. “This stuff must be like manna,” he said.
As I was zipping up my white full zip fleece jacket I stopped to make conversation with the checkout clerk. I sat next to her a lot in Creative Writing II. “You’ll never believe it,” she said, popping her gum, “But I sent a story out to The Echo Ink Review. They rejected me, but the editor wrote on my story, ‘We shared your story around the office. It was interesting, but not for us.’” Her light and dark blue uniform clung tightly to her body, but she wore horn rimmed glasses and her face was bare, no makeup. “Professor Kinder is too nice to us. I want to know how my stories would fare in the real world. I want a close, clinical eye. I don’t want to be treated like a freshman. I want honesty.”
Around nine Sara picked me up and drove me to her place. As she parallel parked, she said. “I kind of wanted to talk to you. Have you gotten those nuts checked out yet?”
“I have an appointment with Dr. Wolfson next Thursday.”
“Good,” she said, looking behind her as she steered. “Because that was traumatic. I feel scarred. I’ll never look at men’s bodies the same after that.” Her apartment was a house. Two Corinthian columns held up the porch roof, atop each column a frieze of a topless maiden drowning in water, stony and tumultuous. Nine students sat around inside. Sara’s Australian roommate, Shelly, was a nudist, and she walked around in holey grandma underwear. Soon the Xanax high hit and I floated, laying on my back in the Pacific, the sun on my face and nipples, tendrils of rubbery kelp tickling my back. The night drifted on, I said some whacky things and caught people looking at each other from the corners of their eyes.
It ended up that five of us stood around in the kitchen. Sara sat at the table, her head in her hands, her mouth stretched. I leaned against the fridge, opposite Shelly, who stood by the oven with a Coors Light in her hand. There was something stentorian about her, too metallic, too upright. Her curly brown hair ended just above her ears, and a forelock hung over her forehead. Large trapezius muscles slanted into her neck. Shelly looked reinforced. She talked Noirishly, hardly smiling. Her breasts were neutral and unappealing, they were just there, two bobbing hills of flesh, no utilizing them for anything.
“So we hit this new video store in Mount Lebanon,” she said.
“That’s where Lydia Lunch lives, around there,” I said.
“The Incredibly Strange Video Store. Lots of S and M sexploitation films and paraphernalia. They sell Bloodsucking Freaks T shirts. And you know the insignia ‘Enjoy Coke’? They have a shirt there styled just like it in red and white that reads, ‘Enjoy Cock’.”
“No way!” I said.
“Way. Lots of sicko films. My partner and I were in and out. Just remembering it is bad enough. Let me anesthetize myself.” She took a swig off her beer.
A large kitchen knife with a wooden handle lay next to me. Quality, precision, and remarkable perfection. Combining a serrated, never-needs-sharpening blade with an elegantly designed stainless steel handle, it provides balance, control and ease no matter what you’re cutting. I picked it up by the blade and threw it at her, circus style. It missed, clanged loudly against the oven door, and fell to the floor with a bang. Everyone went quiet.
“What the fuck did you do that for?” she asked. I shrugged my shoulders. Protestations sounded.
But why should I let them bother me? I was secure with myself. I had faith in my ability to maneuver within crowds. I was the person I always wanted to be. Why would I even care about the opinion of others? Their lives were biased. They made no indent into me. I was corrugated iron. They were just isles. I was an island, a whole continent. “God,” Shelly said. She walked out.
Sara was sitting straight up. “Ash, what the fuck?”
“That was wrong,” a girl said. “Scary psycho. Jesus.”
“You need a black eye, nutjob,” a punk with a sapphire blue Mohawk and a chicken bone for a nose ring said.
Everyone looked at Sara as if she was my agent, as if she represented me. It was her responsibility to accuse. “Ash,” she asked, “Why did you do that? No, I’m serious. Don’t smirk at me. Why did you do that? Why do you feel you have the right to invade other people’s private space like that?” She stood up shakily and walked over to me. Everyone else left the kitchen, whispering maledictions and shaking their heads.
I heard someone ask Shelly if she was okay.
“Shelly, I am so sorry!” Sara yelled. “He’s drunk! And sick! Drunk and sick! And probably on something!” She grabbed my shoulders. “Ashley, look at me! Why did you do that?”
“I don’t know.”
“You do know.”
“I think I know.”
“Why?” I felt her long painted nails dig into me.
“I don’t know.”
She screwed up her face. “What?”
“I was doing Vaudeville.”
“You’re sick.” Then, yelling to Shelly, It’s okay, Shelly! You’re safe! I’m taking him home!” Then back to me. “Let’s go! Get in the car now. Now.”
The morning after, I opened my eyes. The ceiling grinned at me, raising its eyebrows. “It appears someone is quite the sociopath,” it said, sounding like blown leaves. “You’re in for quite a hangover. For the rest of your life.” It winked at me, letting loose a tiny plume of whiteness. “Good luck explaining your behavior to your friends, especially those of the feminine gender.”
What the hell did I just do? What was I thinking? I can never be around them again. Sara, Rich, Jessica, or Alan. The Ceiling read my mind. “See those dusty and cobwebbed window panes? Get used to them. Acclimate yourself to the Spartan nature of your ‘motel’ room; the thin, balding carpet, the artic temperature, the perpetually unmade bed with the coffee-colored stains on the mattress, the CD player/radio, the twelve inch TV with the VCR underneath, the desk and all the notebooks atop it; writings that no one will ever see, so I will call them masturbatory. They’re worth nothing without a second pair of eyes to approve. They’re too purple, too swollen, too many similes and metaphors to be of use to anyone. This is your new life. Enjoy.”
And to a woman, a topless woman. Whatever you do, don’t tell Dr. Krepps.
I lay there with the spins and the roar of blood through my head. The door opened downstairs. That would be my parents. They worked weekends. I stepped out of bed, walked to the bathroom, and vomited. Then I got dressed, buttoning up my Polo shirt over my protruding belly. My mom said I could borrow her Camry and I drove to The Incredibly Strange Video Store.
The place looked like a one room sandcastle half washed away by the tide. I walked in, the lone customer. The videocassette packages shown in the bright light, all primary colors. These movies, I had read about them in Danny Peary’s Cult Movie Classics, but I had never seen them. I knew by heart the storylines of shackled maidens with distressed eyes. I knew the directors with slicked back hair and gold chains. I knew the actresses who were wide-hipped and homely. On the shelves: Greta: The Mad Butcher, The House of Olga, Ilsa: The Wicked Warden, What Have You Done to my Daughters?, Salo: The 120 Days of Sodom, Justine, I Spit on Your Grave, The Defilers, Kidnapped, Rape Squad, SS Devil Camp, Barb Wire Dolls, Fleshomania, The Schoolgirls get Raped, The Renata Moar Funclub, The Smut Peddler. I grabbed the Nazi Love Camp 27 package off the shelf and walked up to the counter.
“That’s a good one,” the clerk said. “I know a guy in Greenfield who owns four copies.” He was in his late twenties. His right eyebrow was mishmashed and stitched up. He had the comb over. His stomach was too round for his Cramps T-shirt. His nose was red and raw, and he sniffled a lot. Gray nose hairs peeked up from under his nostrils. I handed the package to him and he walked behind to the library of cassettes and pulled out the video.
“And let’s see your membership card, please.”
“I’m not a member.” All I could do was stare at the floor and feel my right eyelid twitch.
“Oh, no problem. Here’s the paperwork.” He pulled a sheet out from under the counter.
I filled it out, signing my name, “Ashley Pettibone”.
On the drive home I sneezed extra powerfully. A long string of yellow mucus hung from my nose to the base of the steering wheel. I wiped it on my Levis. On the radio, the DJ, Charlie Cox, said, “An important message for all the parents out there. Western Pen has just discharged a sex offender. He’s a white male, five foot two, long dark hair. He’s twenty two years old, has a tattoo of a black arrow pointing downwards on his stomach, and the word ‘Hard Core’ tattooed in Gothic letters at the base of his neck.”
Charles Bukowski wrote a poem in Mockingbird Wish Me Luck called, “And She Writes and Writes”. He waxed on elitist Dada about his girlfriend’s sister who was fat and had a family and kept squeezing out kid after kid. She sent novels to New York publishers and the publishers kept sending them back. The moral of the poem was that Bukowski was better than her, that he was more “with it,” because he had no kids and spent all his time writing and getting published and having confetti thrown in his face.
I burst in the house, ran up to my room, and shut and locked the door. In a few seconds I was naked. I picked up the package and stared at it. A nude hippie brunette in torn and frayed gray underwear was chained to the ceiling, hanging by her wrists. A muscular man in a tight fitting SS uniform brandished a whip behind her, gritting his teeth. A group of frightened women in smocks huddled in the corner. I shoved the video roughly into the VCR. The motor started up and the wheels began to turn. I flipped on the TV.
First, blackness. Then the words “The Studio of Skin Presents” in front of a 1970s spiral of colors. A dilapidated hallway appeared. Two SS guards walked into view, pushing along two “Jews” in splotched gray smocks. I knew Bob Creely and Mike Busey played the guards, and Kathy Williams and Maria Lease played the Jews. The smocks fit tight and ended above the thighs. The girls walked barefoot and looked far different than the damsel in distress on the cover. Creely and Busey were big men, corpulent men, and they walked in stiff, robotic strides. Static hampered the military music. I sheathed myself in Vaseline.
Creely and Busey shoved the girls into a room with a planked wooden floor and blue plaster walls. An old Hollywood Studio Director’s Lamp, chrome with a black tripod stand, sat barely visible in the corner. Next to that a wooden rocking horse. The room was bright; every crack in the wall, every paint brush swish, every nail in the floorboards, each stain and bit of lint on the actors’ apparel, was distinct. The guards pushed the girls to the middle of the room. “Vee must examine you for de bugs,” Mike said in ersatz German tongue. He brushed a fly off his sweaty forehead. Maria and Kathy pulled their stiff smocks over their heads and just stood there, naked. The film froze on them, and the words “Nazi Love Camp 27” filled the screen, the letters dripping blood. The orchestra struck up some melodrama. Then, “Written and Directed by Bob Creely and Mike Busey”. The words disappeared, and the film continued. The two captives hugged themselves, leaving their privates free to view. Nicotine stains dotted their fingers. The scent of damp wood drifted in from the screen and filled my room.
And I kneeled in the studio, my buttocks resting on my heels. The cinematographer was hunched over, baring his hairy chest, the top of his shirt unbuttoned. A cigar was clenched between his teeth. He winked at me. The boom operator swung the microphone over to me. The actors lost their places and turned to me. Maria and Kathy looked at each other and smiled an “Only in Hollywood” smile. Bob rolled his eyes. The camera quickly swung to me, then back to the actors. The scene continued. The floor creaked in conjunction with my rubbing. I felt the clamminess into my bones. The crew murmured parental approval. Maria and Kathy did a lamentable job of wincing as Bob and Mike examined them. The smell of wet wood enveloped me like I was an embryo and I breathed it, and the odor filled my lungs and I exhaled, sucking in more all the time. Then I spermed. Bob looked up from Kathy’s areole and yelled, “Cut! No more takes! That’s it for the day, kids! Home you go! Drink a beer!” And my world folded back into itself.
The Time Prisoner
Daniel Ross Goodman
My name is Martin Freedman, and I’m a time prisoner—please help me. I’m innocent, and I’m being held unjustly. If you’re reading this, it means that I have at least accomplished my first goal, which has been to find a way of escaping this prison. Perhaps you can help me accomplish the second half of my goal and do what I cannot do for myself: actually get me out of here and win me back my freedom. I earnestly hope, with the last shred of hope I have left, that you can.
In 2016, I was sentenced to time prison, which is where I’ve been ever since. I have no idea what year it is in the year you’re reading this, and that’s part of what it means to be in time prison. If you’ve never heard of time prison and have no idea what it is or what it could possibly be, don’t worry—neither did I at the time I got arrested and locked up in here. Without going into too much boring detail, it basically means that I’m imprisoned in a moment in time: Thursday, March 24, at 12:47 p.m. and 31 seconds, to be exact. I am not frozen in time, but imprisoned in it. During this second, my colleagues at the office—which is where I was sent back to when my imprisonment began—are all doing what they had been doing during that second: Stacey is eating sushi at her desk with her right hand while scrolling through her iPhone with her left hand. Sarah, her face locked into her computer screen, has just opened a Kashi granola bar. Howard is running his red-tipped pen across a manuscript, Justin is stretching his arms above his head, and Liv and Nichole—the only editors in our office who actually take their lunch hours (they usually go out to Serafina and order big salads and seltzer)—are uncrossing their legs, about to get up from behind their desks and head out for lunch. And our boss, Allan, is still in his corner office, raising a half-eaten turkey sandwich to his mouth with his left hand while sorting through the two-foot-tall tower of manuscripts on his book-cluttered desk with his right hand. Outside, it is seventy-six degrees Fahrenheit and overcast—they couldn’t at least have chosen a sunny second for me? Complaints aside, I can move freely, but no matter where I go, I am still imprisoned within this second. The same pedestrians on the same congested city streets are moving, but only within the span of this one second; as soon as their movements from that one second have ceased, their leg-motions and arm-swings start over again, infinitely repeating themselves without ever achieving a single step. The same people are still sitting on the sidewalk benches, the same bus drivers are still making the same stops, and the same flat-screen televisions on the electronics stores display windows are still displaying exactly what they were displaying at that second, over and over and over again.
So that’s it. It’s pretty simple, really: I have the whole world to myself. I have food, water, and almost everything else I could ask for. I have nothing but eternal sunlight. When I’m tired, I go inside my apartment’s bedroom, close the blinds and go to sleep. And when I wake up, I have no idea how much time has passed—the internet does not work, no new newspapers are ever delivered, and all the cable news channels are stuck in the exact same time as me: at 12:47 p.m. on March 24, 2016.
I’m imprisoned in time, not in space, meaning that even if I did somehow build a working spaceship that could propel me off of this earth and lift me above this planet’s atmosphere, I couldn’t get anywhere, because I’d still be stuck in this point in time in 2016. Supposing that I could build the ship, journey through the solar system and somehow navigate back to earth, I’d arrive back only to see everything frozen in time, exactly as it was on March 24, 2016. I could traverse the entire Milky Way galaxy and I still couldn’t escape from this time. Even if I travelled to the ends of the universe, it wouldn’t matter; this time would still be with me there. You may’ve heard it said about prisoners serving life-sentences, living in tiny, cramped cells, that they have all the time in the world, but no space. Well, as a time-crime prisoner serving an indefinite time-sentence, you quickly find out that you’ve got all the space in the world, but no time. They give you “time,” and by God, that’s what they take: your time.
So how did I get here? What crime of mine won me this particularly cruel kind of punishment? I’ll tell you everything you need to know, sparing you from any extraneous details. No fancy language, no Joycean wordplay, no pretty Proustian puns; just the facts, ma’am—or sir, whoever you are that’s reading this. Just the bare-bones of what you need to know in order to help me. Remember, the only reason I‘m telling you how I got here in the first place—the only reason I’m about to tell you the story of my crime, arrest, and sentencing—is because I’m pretty sure it’s just about all you need to know about my past in order to help me escape. And if I add anything that turns out to not have been essential or relevant to helping me break out of here, I’ll only do it because it’s interesting, and don’t you have a right to read something interesting and fun, even if you’re reading it for other reasons (like to help an innocent man break out of time-prison)? At least that’s what I thought—as a low-level publishing house editor, that was my attitude toward reading—at the time of my arrest.
It was Thursday night, March 24, 2016, and I was at a Purim party that also doubled as my 15-year high school Class of 2001 reunion. If you’re not familiar with the Jewish holiday of Purim, it’s basically a Jewish version of those “Feasts of Fools” days they used to have in Christian communities on New Year’s Eve—a Jewish “Faschingsnacht,” as Hans Castorp might call it. There’s a lot of drinking, feasting, and fooling around; people dress up in costumes and pretend to be people they’re not. Religion’s normal mood of seriousness is transformed into levity. Everything is turned upside-down—which is in fact the unofficial motto of the day: “v’nahafokh hu” (literally, “it turned upside down”). Or, as Hans Castorp might also have called it, it’s quite literally the Jewish “Schaltabend,” the evening where everything switches, where everything—for lack of a better term—turns upside down.
So there I was at this high school reunion/Purim party, talking with Raffi and Sammy (two really good friends of mine from high school), when some guy with a big black beard, wearing a black hat, a black suit and a white shirt, comes up to me and asks, “have you put on tefillin today?”
Now, “tefillin,” in case you don’t know, are two palm-sized black boxes with tiny parchments upon which are written four paragraphs from the Torah, the Jewish holy scriptures. Religious Jews put them on every day during morning prayer services, except on Saturdays and holidays. One box goes on top of the head, at the front edge of the hairline (or, if you’re going bald, where the original hairline used to be), and the other box goes on the bicep of your weaker arm, facing the heart. There are long black straps attached to each of the boxes that help you fasten the boxes around your head and arm; in order to secure the arm-box around your arm, you have to wind the strap around your forearm seven times, and then tie the ends of the strap around your hand and fingers. If you’re not familiar with this, the whole thing must sound rather bizarre, so I apologize for filling your head with strange new things; I won’t say anything more about them. If you’ve never seen them and you’re curious to find out more about these odd, ancient ritual objects, I’d suggest googling “tefillin” (assuming that Google is still the dominant internet search engine at the time you’re reading this; otherwise, just use whatever search engine it is that people happen to be using in your day). You’ll find pictures, videos of how to put them on, reasons for why people put them on, and all other kinds of stuff that I either can’t give you here (like video) or don’t want to give you because I don’t want to bore you with details that you can get elsewhere; I can’t risk having you stop reading, because—remember!—I really need you.
Anyway, so this guy I don’t recognize comes up to me at the party and asks, “have you put on tefillin today?”
“Of course I have!” I responded, a bit offended. ‘Doesn’t he know that I’m a religious Jew who went to a religious high school?!’ I thought. ‘Why else would I be here at this party?! Of course I put on tefillin today! How dare you!’
But then I remembered that it was Purim—the Jewish April Fools’ Day—and realized that this guy must’ve been joking around with me. It was probably one of my former high school classmates who had dressed up as a “Chabad guy” for Purim in order to play practical jokes on people. “Chabad” guys, in case you don’t know, are like Jewish Jehovah’s Witnesses, or Jewish Jesuits; they’re a very religious, mystically oriented group that proselytizes to other (mostly non-observant) Jews and tries to get them to perform “mitzvot.” “Mitzvot,” translated literally, are “commandments”—they are the primary Jewish ritual observances, and tradition states that there are 613 of them; putting on tefillin every day is one of these 613 “mitzvot.” And for some reason, it’s one of the mitzvot that Chabad guys particularly try to get non-observant Jews to do. In my day, it became a pretty common sight to see Chabad guys in New York City standing outside subway stations or behind lemonade-stand-style tables at different crowded sites around the city with pairs of tefillin, from where they would try to find Jews so that they could ask them: “have you put on tefillin today?” And if the Jews haven’t, they would try to get them to put on tefillin right on the spot. So I figured that this guy, whoever he was, had dressed up as a Chabad guy for Purim, and his “trick-or-treat” Purim shtick was to go around to the other guys at the party with a pair of tefillin in his hands and ask them whether they’d put on tefillin that day.
So, recollecting myself, I said to him: “I’m sorry...but yes, I have put on tefillin today.”
The guy raised his eyebrows and stood there for a moment, transfixed by something the nature of which I was unaware. There was a full moon in the sky that night, and the plentiful moonlight that was streaming in from the windows covered his black suit and black hat with a chrome-colored coating, giving him a vaguely futuristic and half-ghostly look all at once. After what seemed like an hour’s pause—but was probably no more than a minute—during which we stood next to each other in silence, he squinted at me and, looking at me directly in the eyes as if he was looking at a distant road-sign that he couldn’t quite yet make out but was slowly coming into view, said: “My friend, I’m afraid you didn’t quite understand my question...I am asking you, my friend, whether you have put on time travel tefillin today.”
“You see,” said the Chabad guy, opening up a small navy-blue velvet bag and revealing a pair of luminous black tefillin that shone under the moonlight like a pair of freshly polished patent leather shoes, “these aren’t just any regular ol’ tefillin. These here, my friend, are time travel tefillin.”
“Time travel tefillin? What are you talking about?” I asked, incredulous, whereupon it was my turn to squint my eyes as I examined the tefillin as if they were a newly discovered microscopic species of fish. They looked no different to me than ordinary tefillin, save for the silvery veneer which covered them—a varnish which I attributed to the moonlight flooding in from the window directly behind us.
“You put them on,” explained the Chabad guy nonchalantly, as if he was explaining how a screwdriver works, “and you travel in time. Anywhere you want to go. Name your time, and the tefillin will take you there.”
“So that’s it? That’s all there is to it?”
“That’s it,” he said, nodding his head stone-facedly as if I was getting a great deal from him on a new car and he was assuring me that there was absolutely no catch. “That’s all there is to it. Couldn’t be any more simpler.”
“Well,” I said, my editor’s brain alerting me that his phrase “more simpler” sounded ungrammatical—a bit folksy, and somewhat funny, but probably not right. I was ready to give him a polite nod and move away from him, as Raffi and Sammy seemed slightly peeved that he had interrupted our conversation. But then I remembered that it was Purim, and ‘on Purim,’ I said to myself, ‘aren’t we supposed to joke around and have fun, even to the point of ridiculousness? I should probably get into the holiday spirit and play along with his joke.’ I figured that if I just went along with it for a few minutes more, the whole thing would be over faster than I could say Menachem Mendel Schneerson.
“Alright,” I said to the guy dressed up in the black suit and black hat. “Let me try ‘em on...”
I took the first tefillin box, placed it on my left bicep, and wrapped the black straps around my left arm seven times. I then placed the second black box on my head, and finished by wrapping the loose end of the arm–strap around my left hand.
“Now state the point in time where you want to travel to,” said the man.
“Okay...hmm...” My mind was blank, too startled by the eccentricity of this man’s Purim joke to think. I looked around the room, seeking ideas of appealing destinations, and I noticed that, as part of the reunion’s festivities, the organizers had placed humorous photos of each member of the class on the room’s eastern wall. The picture that they had of me was from a time during 10th grade class prayers when I was wearing a winter jacket inside the chapel even though the rest of the class was dressed relatively lightly.
“Oh yeah,” I said, smiling and chuckling softly. “I remember that...that was from the time during Shachris (morning prayers) when I asked Rabbi Robinson, my high school rebbe (rabbi), if it was okay to put on a winter jacket even though I was wearing tefillin...that was a funny time...everyone was laughing because I was the only one who felt it was cold in there—and then some stranger who had just walked into the chapel handed me my winter jacket. I put it on and they all laughed some more, but when I turned around to thank the guy, he was gone. It was so nice, what he did for me, it’s really too bad I never got to thank him...I wonder whatever happened to him...I’d like to go back to that time and find out.”
“Alright,” I said to the man, pointing with my eyes to that funny picture of my fifteen-year-old self. “I’ve got it. I’ll travel back to that time.”
“Very well,” said the man. And faster than he could say Baruch Pesach Robinson, I was whisked back to that day, eighteen years in the past, right back to that scene in the chapel. “Incredible!” I thought, as I stood outside the chapel and peered in through the window, observing my younger self speaking to Rabbi Robinson. “It was no joke! I’m really here! It worked! The tefillin worked! This is amazing!”
And so there I was, my thirty-three-year-old self standing outside the chapel wrapped in the time travel tefillin, watching my fifteen-year-old self ask his rabbi if he could wear his winter jacket while wearing his tefillin. Hearing the snickers and jeers of my classmates, I remembered how humiliated I had felt that day. I was the only one who felt cold, and I was being made fun of for it—I was made to feel ashamed on account of a bodily sensation over which I had no control. And now I saw it happening all over again—me asking my rebbe for a jacket, them all laughing at me, me getting all red in the face with embarrassment...And all I wanted to do was to snuff it, to help my fifteen-year-old self and end the laughter, end the humiliation, end the coldness. So I entered the chapel, saw my old winter jacket hanging on the coatrack, took it off the rack, walked over to my fifteen-year-old self and handed him the jacket. “Here you go,” I said, smiling affectionately. “Now you can warm up a bit.”
“Thank you so much!” said my fifteen-year-old self to me. “That’s very kind of you.”
Then, looking at me with a strange look in his eyes as if I was someone he had met before but whose name he’d forgotten, he asked me: ”what’s your name? You look familiar. I don’t think we’ve ever met, but I have this weird feeling like we have...are you, by any chance...”
He turned around, as if to make sure no one was looking at us, but before he turned back around and before he could finish his question, I felt two pairs of strong arms tie my hands around my back and handcuff my wrists, and then, faster than I could say “Rabbi Robinson mimics Moses Mendelssohn,” I was instantaneously transported to a blindingly white room. After my eyes adjusted to the overpowering white light, I saw that I was sitting in a small room—about ten feet by ten feet— with cinderblock walls and no doors that I could see. My arms were still tied around my back and my hands were still locked in handcuffs, but the tefillin were gone from my left arm and head. In front of me was a wide rectangular oak table, and behind the table sat three very pale old men wearing black suits, black shirts, and no shoes. Their egg-white faces and shiny scalps were completely shaven, and all of their toenails were painted coal-black.
“Wha...where am I?” I stammered. “Wha...what’s going on?”
“Martin Freedman,” said the man on the left, with a deathly solemn expression painted on the white canvas of his old, wrinkle-riven face. “You are under arrest for violating the laws of time travel.”
“What?! ‘Laws of time travel’?!”
“Ordinance 3.5c of the Intergalactic Penal Code states that when travelling backwards or forwards in time, no person shall interfere with events taking place in the time to which the person has travelled.”
“What?! ‘Intergalactic Penal Code’?!”
“That’s correct,” said the man on the right. “Time travel crimes are intergalactic crimes, not galactic crimes; time travel crimes are not adjudicated on a local, galaxy-by-galaxy basis, because any time travel crime necessarily affects all galaxies, not only your own. Therefore, you are subject to intergalactic jurisdiction. This tribunal is an intergalactic panel composed of three judges from three separate galaxies, and we will handle your case.”
“My...my case? But...but I never even heard of ‘time travel crimes’!”
“Mr. Freedman,” the man in the middle patiently explained, “time travel crimes are strict liability crimes. That means that even if you were unaware of the relevant statutes—and even if you had not even intended to violate these statutes—you will be held liable if you have committed a time travel offense.”
“Yes, we understand, Mr. Freedman,” he said stonily. “But ignorance of the law is no excuse.”
How did they know what I was going to say?
“But why...I mean...” I sputtered, as the words spluttered out of my mouth like foam from a delirious animal, “I just...I just was trying to help someone out. I didn’t mean to break any laws.”
“That’s precisely the point, Mr. Freedman,” the judge on the right explained. “Don’t you understand what ‘strict liability’ means? It means that it doesn’t matter whether you meant to break the law or not. Because the consequences of interfering with time are so sweeping, carrying with them far-reaching consequences for billions of people across millions of years, intergalactic law chose long ago to make time travel crime a strict liability offense.”
“But...I mean...I...” I was flabbergasted, my brothers, and knew not what to say next. I could not believe what I was hearing, and could not believe what I was experiencing, but it was all too real, my brothers, and I wanted nothing more than to get back to the party and tell the Chabad guy that his time travel tefillin had worked, and that I’d had enough of his practical joke—that I had gone along with his shtick, and now I wanted to leave and go back home.
“This has gotta be some kind of joke, right?” I said to the judges. “Alright, c’mon...I’ve played along with this for long enough, this joke’s gone on now for a bit too long now...I mean, you can’t be serious with this whole business—”
“Oh no, Mr. Freedman, I’m afraid you don’t understand,” said the man on the right, his face the picture of sober solemnity. “Time travel crime is a gravely serious matter. And you will be punished accordingly. With the strictest possible severity.”
“Yes, Mr. Freedman. Under the Intergalactic Penal Code, all time travel crimes are punishable by up to X years of solitary imprisonment on a penal planet.”
“Umm...huh? What’s ‘X’? How much time am I being punished for? How long will I have to be on this ‘penal planet’?”
“By the conventions of IPC statue 4.7d,” replied the man on the left coldly and matter-of-factly, “all convicted time travel crime felons are imprisoned in time—because they have illegally tampered with time, they are thereby deprived of their privileges to use, enjoy, and experience time. Thus, we cannot speak of an “amount,” or “duration,” of time, for which you’re being sentenced, because you’re not being sentenced for any length of time, as in a certain numbers of months or years. You’re being sentenced to an imprisonment within time. Do you understand, Mr. Freedman?”
“You see, Mr. Freedman,” said the man in the middle, with a faint hint of glee evident in his otherwise gravid, gravelly tone, “when you commit a non-time travel crime, such as theft, your privilege to use space—to move about in the world—is taken away from you; since you have committed an offense in space, you are accordingly deprived of your license to use space for a fixed period of time, and to ensure that you don’t, you are imprisoned in space. But when you commit a time travel crime, such as you have done, Mr. Freedman, your privilege to use time—to move about chronologically—is taken away from you. Because you have committed an offense in time, you are accordingly deprived of your license to use time, and to ensure that you don’t, you are imprisoned in time. This way, time will be protected from the dangers of your depredations until this panel sees evidence that you have been rehabilitated and no longer pose a threat to the time around you.”
“So...I’m being ‘imprisoned in time’? I...I won’t be able to move forwards in time in the ordinary way?”
“Precisely, Mr. Freedman.”
Despite their clear, professorial-like explanations, I still could not believe what I was hearing, O my brothers, but I was really hearing it. And it was really happening. I so desperately wanted it all to be the continuation of that Chabad guy’s joke, but they were not joking, and this, o my brothers, was the most unkindest cut of all.
“Okay...so...” I said, trying to remain calm, “for how long will I be—I mean...how long in earth-time will I be imprisoned? How many years will pass while I’m frozen in time?”
“Once again, Mr. Freedman,” said the man on the right, his eyes narrowing, yet not betraying an ounce of frustration over my incoherent question, “that is a question of duration, which, by the terms of time travel crime procedure, this tribunal is not permitted to disclose to you.”
“So...when do I get released? How do you I know when I’m ‘rehabilitated’?”
“You will know,” said the man in the middle, his ominous baritone voice descending an octave lower, “when you will know.”
“That is all we can tell you at this time...And now, we must remove you from here and—”
“But wait!” I said, suddenly recalling the circumstances of my arrest. “I’m innocent! I didn’t interfere with time! Eighteen years ago, on that day in the chapel when I was cold and that stranger gave me the winter jacket, I—”
“Yes, Mr. Freedman, that is precisely how you interfered with time. If you were a law-abiding time traveller, you would have remained outside the room and observed, like a good, respectful museum visitor—looking, not touching.”
As they rose from their seats and started to drag me out of the room, the entire picture came into focus, and I could then perceive, with a small amount of wonder mingled with a tiny hint of horror, the true nature of that occurrence in the chapel eighteen years ago. I knew that this would be my last chance to persuade them of my innocence, so I mustered all of my puny vocal strength and exclaimed: “But the man who gave me the coat eighteen years ago—I finally understand what happened that day! The man who gave me that coat, who looked so familiar to me—that was me! That was me from the future! From eighteen years in the future! Don’t you see!? I didn’t interfere with time! I didn’t change anything! I was doing what I was supposed to do! If I didn’t give him the jacket, then my non-interference would’ve changed the course of events! I’m innocent! I didn’t change the course of history, I preserved it!”
“Not according to our records, Mr. Freedman. And, in any event, Mr. Freedman, given that time travel crime is a strict liability offense, whether a time-crime felon’s time interference actually changes the course of time is immaterial. In your case, though, the weight of the evidence contravenes your stated position.”
“Wait a minute,” I began, as they escorted me out of the room and down a long, blindingly white corridor. “What evidence?! I never saw any of this ‘evidence’! You call this a trial?! This whole procedure is completely unfair! What about my rights!? What about my right to a fair trial!? And where is my lawyer?!”
“First of all, Mr. Freedman,” said the judge on the left, “as I’m sure you aware, IPC time-crime criminal procedure grants time-crime defendants no such rights. And secondly, in time travel crime tribunals, there are no lawyers.”
“What?!” I burst out, blinded with rage. “But that’s not fair! Why not!?”
“You see, Mr. Freedman,” said the judge on the right, coolly and collectedly, “time travel trials, like time travel punishments do not take place in time. Measured by your inner conception of time and your own internal clock, a time travel trial could seem to last for months, but because they take place within one fixed instant of isolated time, in reality no time has passes at all.”
“So, Mr. Freedman, this renders the concept of ‘billable hours’ irrelevant. No billable hours, no attorneys—it’s as simple as that.”
“That’s correct, Mr. Freedman,” said the judge in the middle, as a subtle, mischievous grin came across his withered face. “It couldn’t be more simpler.”
“And in any event, Mr. Freedman,” said the judge on the left, “your case was a fairly open and shut one.”
“But that’s not true!” I exclaimed, infuriated by the abomination of ‘justice’ they were perpetrating. “I’m innocent! I—”
“That’s enough out of you, Mr. Freedman. We’ve now dispatched your case and consider the matter settled. We now need to attend to other matters. We have a rather backloaded court docket these days, and other offenders are standing by for their sentencings, which we need to administer as well. You will be imprisoned in the moment of March 24, 2016, at 12:47 p.m. and thirty-one seconds Eastern Standard Time. So long, Mr. Freedman.”
And with that, an instant later, quicker than I could say “Felix Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream,” I found myself back in my office which I write to you: an innocent man, wrongly accused, unjustly imprisoned inside this island in time, trapped in a perpetual 24th of March. I have no idea how it all happened—how they were able to seamlessly transport me from the chapel to that tribunal room and from the tribunal room back to my midtown Manhattan office—but it happened, O my brothers, it really did, and if you’re reading this now, you know that it did. And if you are reading this, then thank heaven—because, as I said at the beginning of this letter, that means that perhaps you can help me escape.
So now we get to the part where you come in. “How can I help you?” you may be wondering, if you’re a good-natured person who likes to do the right thing and who cares about justice, righting wrongs, addressing grievances and all those kinds of chivalrous, honorable things. “How can we possibly break into time and get you out? Helping a man escape from time-prison seems impossible.”
Well, it’s not—and the fact that you’re reading this proves that it’s not. And therein lies how you can help me escape from here. Please let me explain. I promise this won’t take too much longer, but it’s the last bit of background information you’ll need.
In order for you to understand how you can help me, you’ll have to understand how you are reading this letter—in other words, you’ll need to understand how it was possible for me to sneak this letter out of time prison. I’m still not completely sure how it was possible, but here’s what I can surmise.
Back in earth-time, in my former life—when I last had my freedom—I was an editor at a New York City-based publishing house. If you love books or if you have a literary bent, it might sound like a glamorous position, but don’t get any illusions—I was on the lowest level of the totem pole. All that my job consisted of was reading manuscripts submitted by agents, and if I came across anything that I thought was good, I’d pass it along to the longer-tenured editors at the company, and they’d make the decision about whether to publish it. I had absolutely no say. Basically, I wasn’t really much of an editor at all; I guess you could say that I was just a professional reader. But in order to have gotten that job in the first place, I had to have read lots and lots of books, because I needed a good working knowledge of what makes a good book and what makes a bad book—the kind of knowledge you can only acquire through years and years of reading.
My only solace while on this lonely prison in time was that I was able to take books out of any library in the city and read them. When I was feeling happy, I’d read Don Quixote. When I was feely depressed—which was most of the time—I’d read Moby-Dick. And when I was feeling just plain blasé and bored—which was also quite often—I’d read Alice in Wonderland. I had a book for every mood and every occasion. Even though there aren’t any “occasions” to speak of in time prison—there are absolutely no changes in temperature (it always feels like a perfect 76 degrees Fahrenheit here, so at least I’m not suffering physically), nor are there any variations between night and day (the sun never sets here), and there are obviously no working watches or clocks—I’ve done my best to try to keep track of passing days by marking a line in a tree every time I went to sleep and woke up again. I remembered Robinson Crusoe doing something like that as a way for him to keep track of days, but it’s more complicated, because I’m not able to tell how long I slept for—in other words, with no time here whatsoever, I never know if I’ve gone to sleep for the “night” or have merely taken a nap. And there may have been several “days” here where I’ve actually stayed awake for “twenty-four-hour”-plus stretches without having been tired. All this is to say that my notch-system of “time-keeping” is probably much more inaccurate than Robinson Crusoe’s.
In any event, as I went through my “days” rereading these beloved books of mine, I found myself drifting back to books whose stories featured, or included, prison escapes. I found myself paying closer attention to the captive’s tale in Don Quixote, and to the part in Robinson Crusoe when he managed to leave his island, scrutinizing these prisoners’ manners of escape and trying to see if there was anything I could apply from their stories to help me escape from within my own imprisonment. When it appeared as if there were no lessons I could apply from their stories to help me figure out how to break out of my peculiar form of imprisonment, I went on to other stories, thinking that perhaps even reading about how Dante got out of the Inferno, how Alice had escaped from Wonderland, or how Alex had gotten out of his prison in Clockwork Orange, could give me some hints for what I could possibly do to escape from mine. Even though I knew that Alex, Alice, and Dante didn’t exactly “escape” from the dangerous situations in which they were being held, I thought that perhaps reading about how they’d gotten out of their confinements could give me some clues for what I could do to get out of mine. I was searching, you see—I was desperate, looking everywhere and anywhere for something, anything, that could help.
I read The Stranger for the umpteenth time, seeking to discover if there was anything I could learn from the way Meursault got out of his cell, but I quickly rediscovered that the poor guy hadn’t really “gotten out”; still, that didn’t stop me from taking out The Stranger again and again, always hoping for a different ending but always ending up reliving his cursed fate. I reread The Book of Jonah several times, but I always ending up realizing that the way he escaped from his imprisonment within the big fish seemed too fantastical, with nothing from the miraculous tale that I could apply to my own all-too-real situation. And of course I reread H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine, but even though it was an entertaining read, I knew that the process by which Wells’s time traveler escaped from the Morlock’s lair and recovered his time machine offered me no techniques that I could use to escape from my time-dungeon; and most importantly, there was no way I could recover the time travel tefillin that had caused me to end up here in the first place.
The more books that I reread, the more hopeless I became, because all of the other prisoners who escaped did so from prisons in space, but my situation was unprecedented—I had nothing to draw on from their stories that could help me escape my imprisonment in time. There was no beautiful Moorish woman dangling a cane with a handkerchief-full of gold coins attached to it that I could use to ransom myself, as there was in the captive’s tale in Don Quixote; in my time-prison, I can only be seen by other people for a flicker of a second, and nothing more. And even if I had all the gold in the world, there is no one here to whom I could tender my ransom. I reread Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption many times, because this story was the one that gave me the most hope, but even this story’s lessons were useless for me; even if I had the same persistence as Andy Dufresne and chipped away at the ground below me every day for nineteen years—or for what would be nineteen years if I wasn’t stuck in time—all I’d do is burrow a hole to the other side of the world. There is nowhere I can tunnel out to, no place outside of my nonexistent prison gates where, if I could get there, I could reclaim my freedom in time.
The only real precedent for my case, I realized, was Bill Murray in Groundhog Day; he was the only other character I knew of who was actually imprisoned in time. But even Bill Murray had other people around him, thereby giving him a way of escape—by improving his behavior every day so that, when he eventually arrived at the most complete, fully actualized version of himself, he was able to free himself from the cycle-in-time in which he was trapped. But I’m not trapped in a certain cycle of time; I’m not trapped within one particular day, reliving it over and over again. I’m trapped within time, within one particular moment in time. I cannot interact with anyone else around me for more than one second, unable to better my interactions with others, and without an escape hatch that could be provided by breaking out of a certain cycle of apathy, ennui, lethargy or what have you. Thus there was nothing I could do, it seemed, to redeem myself, nothing I could do to slowly become a better person each day in the hopes that, one day, the Mystery that saw fit that I should be unjustly imprisoned here would at last do what is just and find it fitting to release me back into the normal human world of time.
Utterly hopeless, I lingered in a state of zombie-like depression for I don’t know how long—years, decades, centuries, it felt like. Until one day, thinking for some odd reason about the actual circumstances that had landed me in this prison, instead of dwelling in indignation upon my unjust imprisonment—as I usually did when my thoughts turned to those events—I thought about the strange, unfamiliar man in black-and-white and the time travel tefillin he had handed me at the Purim party. And then it hit me—perhaps therein lay the secret; perhaps in that bizarre pair of tefillin, there was a clue I could extract that could help me escape. Back in my former free state, I had read many science books which stated that time travel was impossible; it defied the laws of physics. It was pure fantasy—it should not even be dignified with the term “science fiction,” the experts stated dogmatically, because the genre “science fiction” refers to things that might be possible in the future, whereas time travel was absolute, out-and-out fantasy—it could never be possible. All the scientists agreed that it could never be done. But the tefillin had proven otherwise. But what, then, exactly was the secret to time travel, and how had the tefillin, of all things, achieved it?
And so, after racking my brains for what felt like many months—perhaps it was even years, I cannot be sure—I began to understand that whatever technology it was that those tefillin possessed within them, the main component that had enabled me to travel in time while wearing them were the words inside them: the ancient writing, written on tiny rolls of parchment tucked inside the two black boxes. It was then that I came upon the realization that I knew—well, hoped, to be more precise—could lead to my escape back into time. Thinking about that pair of tefillin, with their ancient writing written on those palm-sized scrolls, led me discover the secret of time travel, and that secret was this: human beings cannot travel in time, but words can. Words, letters, stories—these are the things, and not corporeal, flesh-and-blood bodies—that possess the power of time travel.
I didn’t know how it worked—I didn’t understand the technology behind it—but I knew that somehow, someway, the secret of time travel was solely dependent on—and inextricably bound up with—words. That’s how the time travel tefillin must have somehow worked, I understood, and that would be how I could somehow escape from this prison in time and travel back into real time—through words.
And so, after making this realization, I set about writing this story that you are reading now. I wrote three copies of my story; I buried the first one in the ground, threw the second one into the air, and put the third in a bottle and placed the bottle in the Hudson river. I did so with the strong belief—with the unshakable hope—that even though I wouldn’t be able to travel through time, my words would, and that somehow, in some way I didn’t understand, the words that I had written would escape this island in time and reach you, whoever you happen to be, wherever—and in whatever age—you happen to be living in. And if you are reading these words now, you are proof that my hopes were not in vain; if you are reading this now, you, like me, have now discovered the secret of time travel as well.
And now, you may be asking, “you said at the beginning that I could help you. So, tell me already: how can I?” Well, first of all, if you would be so kind to do so, I will be indebted to you for the rest of time; it will be to you that I will owe my continued, wondrously restored existence in the world. Secondly, as I said, I don’t understand the technology of time travel, and I don’t understand how that pair of tefillin got me into this predicament, but from the clues that I’ve been able to glean, here’s how I believe you can help me escape: bind my words into a book, and carry that book with you in your arms; read my words with your eyes, contemplate my story with your head, and set my words upon your heart. If you do this, I sincerely believe that somehow, some way, you will transport me out of this island in time and take me with you wherever you are, to whatever age you happen to be living in.
So now, dear reader, my words are in your hands. Only you have the power to keep me imprisoned in time, or to set me free to live once again in your time. My existence in the world is entirely dependent on no one but you. I hope you will do the right thing. Please, dear reader—dear friend—please, I ask you, from the bottom of my heart: read my words, and set me free.
About Daniel Ross Goodman
Daniel Ross GoodmanDaniel Ross Goodman is a writer, rabbi, and Ph.D. candidate at the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) of America in New York, and is studying English & Comparative Literature at Columbia University. A contributor to the Books & Arts section of The Weekly Standard, he has published in numerous academic and popular journals, magazines, and newspapers, including The Wall Street Journal, Tablet, Haaretz, and Harvard Divinity School Bulletin. His short stories have appeared in aaduna(“Prélude à l'après-midi d'un rhinoplastie”), The Cortland Review (“The Tryst”), Bewildering Stories (“The End of Days,” winner of the 2015 Spitzer Prize and Mariner Award), Calliope (forthcoming, Fall 2017), Aurora Wolf (“Postwar”), and The Acentos Review (“Solids and Stripes”).
Where No One Can Count You
Bird stands on the seat between Wawp and Jess. Cars come. Jess’ hair blows in Bird’s eyes. Wind blows through Bird’s feathers.
Jess says, “This is our third time going out with them. This is their last chance. You remember Thanksgiving? We got there at three-thirty, starving, carrying trays of food, and there was no smell. You asked them when the bird was coming out and Mary said, ‘Oh we didn’t put it in yet.’ and Bob said, ‘How long does one of these things take, anyway?’ and he brought the raw white turkey out of the fridge? Remember?”
“Yeah. Six hours of chips and dip,” Wawp says.
Jess says, “And remember the other time we went over? We were going to hang out and swim in the pool? We brought our suits. And when we got there it was hot and sunny, but they changed the plans, decided they wanted to go to Newport to walk around? They had the pool every day and wanted to do something different. Bob sped around Ocean Road and you got carsick and when we got downtown it was foggy and windy and we were freezing in t-shirts? Do you remember that?
“Where are they taking us, some kind of nature preserve?”
“I’m still worried.”
“Can Jess use the bathroom?” Wawp says to it.
“Oh. I was going to use it. But it’s okay. Go ahead!”
“ . . .”
“ . . .”
“What is that hideous creature?” it says.
“You must be Bob and Mary’s new roommate,” Wawp says. “He told me you were from Japan?”
“I’m not from Japan. I was born in America.”
“The chicken and I will wait outside.”
The air smells like rotting eggs. Bird follows them in the grass. The sun is on Bird. The land is open and flat. No place to hide - no shade - no water.
“For an old landfill,” Mary says, “It’s pretty nice. An environmental success story, really. Hard to believe there was a time when people thought this was a worthless garbage dump.”
“The U.S. Navy started that idea,” Wawp says.
“They burried the garbage with fill and dirt and planted grass. Isn’t it beautiful now? You can’t even tell.”
“Like a golf course,” Wawp says.
The air is dead eggs. Very close. The eggs are on the ground, crawling out. The metal trees without limbs grow out of the grass. Wires hang in the sky.
“I forgot how – it smells out here,” Wawp says.
“That’s the methane from the decaying garbage,” Mary says. “It’s piped off to make electricity.”
“Some of it is getting away.”
The storm bird is low – sharp wings and a sharp nose it passes overhead like thunder. It is faster than any bird and it is not a bird. It is one of theirs.
“YEEHAAAOW!” screams Bob. “I LOVE THE BLUE ANGELS! I WOULD BE UP THERE IF I DIDN’T WEAR THESE GLASSES.” Bob is pointing and talking and balding.
“I didn’t know it was the Blue Angels today,” Wawp says.
“You didn’t? Today and tomorrow,” Bob says.
Wawp looks at Jess. Jess smiles.
“You didn’t tell me,” Wawp says.
“I thought you knew,” Bob says. “What? You don’t like them?”
“It’s not that,” Wawp says. “I was just envisioning a peaceful picnic.”
“Well, we could go somewhere else. But they’re pretty much everywhere you go today. We’re stuck with them.”
Wawp and Bob come with bottles and cards.
Bob is talking “Bernoulli’s Law.”
Bird smells meat.
Jess smiles and nods.
Mary’s cheeks stretch.
Wawp says, “What about these high voltage wires? I heard on the news lately it wasn’t a good idea to hang out under them.”
Bob says, “The computer modeling programs they have for wing foil designs are fantastic.”
Roaring blue fright with swept wings and sharp noses shoot through the sky, roll and dive and roll and go in a scream down the water with fire tails until they are small enough to hear Bob shouting:
“Now, the room where I work is a class 10 clean-room, which means you have full-body coverage except for the face. We’re smoothing these silicon wafers to a flatness within 50 angstroms. An angstrom is the diameter of a molecule of helium. Tiny. Your hair is like 500 angstroms in width. One speck of dust could ruin the whole chip. Now, in a class one clean-room, there you have no exposure, not even the face. You have to wear a mask and goggles and a filter pack on your back. But really I want to get out of the clean-room altogether and do more of the designing. That’s where the money is at. I wanna be pulling in fifty grand so me and Mary here can have our own place. No more roommates from Japan or anywhere. After the wedding, we’re moving out. We’ve already decided to move to the Boston area. No more commuting. A place with a pool and a Jacuzzi. And we’re gonna get us a new car if we can ever agree on which one. All we can agree on is a four-wheel-drive utility vehicle, but it doesn’t have to be four-wheel-drive. I could go with a Pathfinder, but Mary doesn’t like Nissans. What you have against Nissans I don’t know, but at least we’ve agreed on the color: metallic teal green. And we’ve agreed on the China. Finally. We were looking at this Chinastone stuff, which isn’t really China, but it’s stronger and made from a composite. But you can’t see through it. China is more fragile, but what the hell, I want the real stuff. Don’t we, hon? The set we settled on is called ‘The Kingston’ and it’s got a platinum band around the border. Pretty neat, huh? Platinum rings and platinum on the China? We like platinum.”
Bob’s mate Mary’s lip curls up on one side and Mary’s jaw hangs open. Mary’s eyes are always on Bob. Jess nods and smiles, “Uh-huh.” Wawp is slipping into the sun without anyone. Bird waits for the food. Beers are opened. The food box gets closed. It is hot here and there are no trees. Bird walks into the shadow of the food box and stands by Wawp’s beer. Bird breathes through Bird’s mouth. Bird has a stomach. Bird is a stomach. Bird hungers, therefore, “AAAAHHWW!”
Wawp says, “In a minute.”
“A BIG CIGARETTE BOAT,” Bob says. “IT’LL TAKE US FROM GALILEE TO BLOCK ISLAND IN FIVE MINUTES. WHEE-UWW!!” Bob reaches out and pulls Bob’s arm back. The sound coming from him is like the big birds coming down across the water.
“Yeah, you’ll be there in five minutes and you won’t see a thing,” Wawp says. “Not the water, not the birds or the fish, and the rest of us will be choking on the smoke.”
Jess looks at Wawp.
“Is anyone else hungry?” Jess says.
“Yeah, I’m starved,” Wawp says. “I think Bird is starved.”
“What do we got?” Wawp says.
“We have roast beef and ham,” Mary says. “This is healthy ham because it’s made from turkey.”
“Why not eat real ham?” Wawp says.
“This is healthier.”
“Is that possible?”
“Turkey is better for you than ham.”
Jess is looking at Wawp.
“Why not eat turkey, then?” Wawp says.
“You mean turkey turkey?” Mary says.
“Yeah,” Wawp says, “Turkey.”
“I don’t like turkey.”
“I’ll have the roast beef,” Wawp says.
Wawp takes apart the white paper and looks into the food. Wawp bites and breaks off a piece. Wawp breaks the meat into pieces for Bird.
Thunder birds lower the sky and Bird shakes below them. And Bob is talking again about the Bernoulli. Wawp leans back with Wawp’s beer and says, “The beer is good.”
“YEP,” Bob says. “I GOT SOME GREAT IDEAS FOR SOME BEER COMMERCIALS I WANNA WRITE. DO YOU THINK BUDWEISER WOULD BE INTERESTED?”
“Sure. Write ‘em a proposal.”
Bird is pulling the meat. Bird swallows. They talk while Bird eats and they eat. Wawp goes into the food box for another white paper and shares the meat with Bird. Bird will eat as much as Wawp will give Bird. Wawp knows that Bird will hide meat for another time. Wawp doesn’t like it when Bird hides food. Wawp says, “If you knew where all the food you’ve hidden was, you wouldn’t bother me for a year. You’re feeding the possums, skunks, and landlord.” But Bird will not hide food in this place.
Mary says, “After this we can go look for burrowing owls. They live in burrows along the edge of the flats.”
“Owls live here?” Wawp says.
“Sure,” Mary says. “We saw one last time we came, right Bob? Burrowing owls come out during the day.”
“We counted a hundred and one species that day, right hon,” Bob says.
“Fucking owls?” Wawp is looking at Bird. “There are owls here? You didn’t tell me that.” Wawp is up and his talk is hard at Bob.
Bob says, “Why?”
“Owls attack and eat crows. It’s their number one predator. I wouldn’t have brought Bird.”
“They’re small. Ground owls are small. Relatively. They wouldn’t bother him.”
“How do you know?”
The sky thunders. Jess covers her ears. Bob shouts. Bird sees the blue and yellow of the human bird and it leaves behind a white stream.
“WE’VE SET A TENTATIVE DATE FOR THE WEDDING,” Bob says. “IT’S GOING TO BE IN NARRAGANSETT.” The human bird touches the earth on the other side of the water. The dead eggs are free in the air. “AND I WANTED TO ASK YOU, BROTHER, IF YOU WOULD BE MY BEST MAN. YOU REMEMBER THE DEAL WE MADE BACK IN COLLEGE? YOU BE MY BEST MAN AND I’LL BE YOURS?”
Wawp looks from Bob to the horizon. He looks at the water and back to Bob. “Yeah, sure, yeah. Thanks for asking me.”
The Bottle Man
“He’s drunk,” Mary says.
“What’s new?” Jess says.
“They’re bitches,” Wawp says.
Bob laughs. Bob’s stomach shakes.
“Shut up, fatty,” Mary says.
Bob looks at Bob’s cards.
Jess is kicking Wawp. Bird flies to the couch. Wawp closes Wawp’s hand and hits Jess on the leg. Jess reaches for Wawp’s hair. Wawp is hurt. Wawp grabs Jess’ hand and Jess cries out. Wawp and Jess look up from Wawp and Jess. Bob and Mary are running for the door.
“I’m sorry,” Jess says.
“I’m sorry too,” Wawp says.
“You’re making friends as well as ever,” Jess says.
“Did you get a look at them running outa here? Mary’s ass looked mean!”
Wawp and Jess laugh. Jess puts her hand on Wawp’s leg. Wawp and Jess kiss.
On the floor Wawp and Jess laugh off their shoes.
The wind shines on Jess’ face.
Wawp is moving on Jess.
Wawp is moving on Jess.
Wawp is moving on Jess and she cries.
Wawp is moving.
Wawp makes Jess faster. The floor is under them. Jess screams.
“WAWP! WAWP! WAWP!”
Bird flies into the screen. Bird flies into the food room. Bird’s wings hit the doorway. Jess screams.
The door is closed.
Bird flies past Jess and Wawp down the hall and hits the wall. Bird is on the floor. The door is closed.
“YES, YES, YES!”
Jess is silent. Wawp is breathing. Wawp has done it to Jess.
“Bird!” Wawp laughs. “You’ve seen this before. Well, not seen it. Are you okay? This is good. We do this because we love each other. Nobody is getting hurt. Come here, Bird.”
“It’s okay, Bird,” Jess laughs. “I like it.”
Bird walks the hall. He has heard Wawp and Jess. Then Bird sees. Jess smiles at Bird.
Wawp stretches for the hellophone on the ledge by the window screen. Wawp’s is laughter: “Hi, this is Tommy, your alcoholic friend. You’re not fat, Bob, and you’re not mean, Mary, I mean you’re not a bitch. If you guys drank a little more, people like me would be easier to tolerate. See ya.”
“What’s with all the bottles?” Bob says.
“Are you an alcoholic?” Mary says.
Wawp says nothing.
“I’m just making an observation,” Mary says.
Bird is allowed in the house when Bird wants to come. Wawp does not say no.
Jess is sleeping. She is still here. No mail-call.
“The bathroom looks the same every morning, Bird. Bird, this is where the monotony of existence expresses itself best. Pissing in the toilet and brushing purple teeth. If it were not for cold water, we would never make it. You want some orange juice?”
Wawp tells it Bird sleeps outside. Wawp tells it Wawp bets if Bird was white Bird could sleep inside.
It says, “My contractor found a hundred golf balls in the gutters. Your pet is costing me money. My wife likes you, so I’m going to forget about it, but I don’t like that creature one bit. If he gets hit by a car, you won’t see me losing any sleep. Are you the bottle man?”
“Are you an alcoholic?”
“They’re from awhile back.”
“Have you heard of recycling?”
“I do that. At a pace.”
“I saw bottles blocking the back fire stairs.”
“I’ll move them.”
“What do you think about someone who drinks more than he can carry?”
“He should switch to cans.”
“Bird, there’s nothing as irritating as the sound of concern. The landlord doesn’t know me. And real or false, I have no need for concern, for contempt. You think I don’t know where I am? You think I don’t know how I got here?”
Bird stands on Wawp’s tree while Wawp rubs it with a white rag. Wawp makes it shine.
Wawp says, “I was ambitious. That’s what my sixth-grade English teacher said when she met me. ‘I like you. You’re ambitious.’ She smiled. I didn’t know what the word meant, so when I got home, I asked my mother. But I had forgotten the word the teacher had called me, so first we had to figure it out. Mom told me what it meant and said it was a good thing. Then, that year, this teacher tossed me out of almost every class. The other students complained that I was interfering with their language exercises. I was interfering with language. I was ambitious. It’s what she got for encouraging me. Eventually she put me in an empty classroom where I wrote and drew pictures while the rest of the class divided up sentences. Now I talk to a crow, no offense.”
“It was a mistake to ever get him,” Wawp says.
“How can you say that?” Jess says. “Look at you guys!”
“It’s too late now. You know, it’s a miracle he’s lived this long.”
“I know,” Jess says.
“That’s what makes me think of it. I love him. I’m glad. But he wasn’t given the choice about what to be glad about. I was selfish.”
“He doesn’t know,” Jess says.
“That’s irrelevant. And that’s the point. He was robbed and he doesn’t know it. And he might, on some instinctual level. He lives with confusion and conflict.”
“But he loves you. Why question it?”
“Don’t look at him through our point of view,” Wawp says.
“Don’t question love. That’s what I’ve always said. Accept it.”
“Even when it’s artificially created? Or created by mistake?”
“Look at him and tell me he is not real,” Jess says.
“I don’t know what I’ll do when he’s not.”
“He could live ten more years. You could die first.”
“That makes me feel better,” Wawp says.
“Good. Accept it. You guys are a pair of unredeemable bums who would rather dive garbage dumps than apply yourselves to your circumstances.”
“What circumstances? At least one of us can fly.”
Bird is riding on Wawp with the other little humans on bikes. There are no trees. There are houses. The sun is high and the street is hot. Bird’s mouth is open, breathing.
The house is small. The hanging willow trees shade the front stones. Passing, Wawp stops. The humans drop bikes over the side into a patch of sharp trees.
In the trees behind the small house are the colors. Wawp hunts through the colors and the colors Wawp keeps are the colors Bird wants.
A human with sand legs leaves the house and gets into a car. Bird ruffles. Wawp says softly, “That’s the bottle man. All these are his.”
Wawp says, “BLUE. This bottle is a NIP, bird, and it is BLUE. Maybe someday we will drink. For now, the color is BLUE.”
“We’re too bored and tired to be running into this girl now,” Wawp says. The human is bigger than Wawp and the other humans. It looks at Wawp and Bird, but does not talk. This is its house. “She has lived here longer than us. She goes to a private school. That plaid skirt and maroon sweater mean she never talks to us in three years. We hate her. We’re mean to her.”
“Is your father an alcoholic?”
“Is your father an alcoholic?”
“Is your father an alcoholic?”
Jess is making the pants smaller.
“What day is it?” Wawp asks.
“Sunday,” Jess says.
“Sunday? I thought it was Saturday.”
“How do you know?”
“Yesterday was Saturday. I know because I worked Friday.”
“That means no liquor stores.”
“It means laundry.”
“Your shirts came out nice and white,” She says.
“Yeah. I haven’t worn those in a year.”
Through the window the leaves flutter on stiff branches.
Bird Island, Chapter 13: The Abortion
“Your crow is on your new mast,” Jim says.
“He’s not my crow,” Wawp says.
“He seems to think otherwise. He sleeps in our cedar tree. He likes you.”
“He’s just waiting for me to die,” Wawp says.
“In the meantime, he steals Sue’s clothespins. And he’s going to shit on your hard work.”
“Sue’s getting tired of him. He brings her more clothespins than she knows what to do with, meanwhile he steals ours off the line and drops our clothes on the ground.”
“I fucking told her to stop feeding him,” Wawp says.
“You know women. She thinks he’s cute.”
“He’s not cute.”
“She shouldn’t be messing with him, that’s all,” Wawp says.
“I think it started innocently enough,” Jim says.
“I know. People get on one another’s nerves. He stole my keys once. Right out of my hand. He’d been eyeing them for months.”
“You get them back?”
“After I chased his ass around the neighborhood. It was futile. He’s in the sky with my keys dangling out of his mouth . . . I’m running . . . Can barely breathe . . . Just praying he doesn’t drop them . . . Or take take them into the woods . . . But I met him at the wood pile behind my house. That was his spot. He was always flying back there. As soon as he hid them, I grabbed them. I found a rookery of treasures. Screws. Dice. Golf balls. Some bullet shells. Tin foil and junk. Fishing lures. Lots of change, nickels, dimes, quarters, broken glass. Shiny stuff. He’s insane. I left it all because there was no telling what he’d do.”
“File a police report.”
Wawp and Jim are sitting on the steps of Wawp’s house with the bottles. Bird is walking the tree Wawp has been making. The tree is fallen and has no branches or bark. It is smooth and narrow and Bird’s feet slip.
The sun goes out under a high fog. Wawp and the neighbor Jim sit with the bottle, laughing more and more. Bird flies to the roof. Bird can see Wawp and Jim below on the steps. Wawp and Jim cannot see Bird, but Wawp knows Bird is here.
“How can fog be so pronounced?” Wawp says.
“I don’t know. It’s the same fog,” Jim says.
“Jess is gonna give me hell about this bottle,” Wawp says.
“I drank a bottle last night. Almost a bottle. Sue asked me to save her some ‘cause the last time I didn’t. She got mad. Last night she says, ‘Can you save me a little?’ and so I saved her some, saved her a glass. This morning she wakes up and sees I saved her some and know what she says? ‘Thanks. You can drink it now if you want.’ Women.”
“It’s not the wine they care about.”
“She’s the same way with toilet paper. She can’t relax unless we have six rolls in reserve.”
“They’re jealous of the bottle,” Wawp said. “For some damn reason or another. We’re not jealous of toilet paper, are we?”
“They say they’re worried about you, but they should only be worried if it’s a problem.”
“The problem is they know we’re escaping them,” Wawp says. Wawp goes inside his house. Wawp comes out with a big bottle.
“Brandy,” Wawp says.
“Just a little,” Jim says. “I want to stay with the wine. Go to the store.”
From the roof Bird sees Wawp’s mate Jess’s red car rolling on the street. Wawp and the neighbor stop talking. It stops and Jess gets out. Wawp stands. Jess walks toward the house, smiling. Jess sees the bottle and walks past Wawp and Jim and into the house. Jess says nothing, Wawp follows Jess. Bird flies to the window.
“I’m glad one of us is enjoying this,” Jess says. Wawp and Jess are in the sleeping room.
“We’re celebrating the mast. It’s done. It’s sold.”
Jess goes into the water room. Jess closes the door. “What am I supposed to do? What can I do?” Wawp says.
The door opens.
“I just want to get it over with!” Jess cries.
“I know. So do I. But it’s too small. They said it was too soon.”
“They set the date,” Jess says. “I don’t even understand why they even had me come in.”
“They made a mistake.” Or were we supposed to keep it?
“They put me through that. They’re putting me through it again. They were supposed to do it.”
“They’re going to do it.”
“In two weeks.”
“I know,” Wawp says.
“I have to go back there.”
“I’m going with you.”
“This wasn’t an easy decision,” Wawp says. “We’ve been together, but what are we doing?”
“We have no money.”
“No . . .and we haven’t even talked about . . .” Wawp says.
“It was supposed to be done yesterday. Two weeks!”
“For two more weeks we’re carrying out a death sentence.”
“I’m carrying it. You’re carrying a buzz!”
Wawp comes out on the front porch. Jim is looking at Wawp.
“She had a bad day at work,” Wawp says.
The neighbor nods. “I’m going to the liquor store. Wanna come?”
“Oh jeez. I guess.” Wawp opens the front door. “Jess, I’m going for a walk with Jim.”
“You guys are a bunch of selfish alcoholics.”
Wawp and Jim laugh.
The yellowhead, Sue, is walking, walking toward Wawp and Jim, home. Sue feeds Bird. Sue yells at Bird. Bird takes Sue’s things and bites her.
Wawp and Jim meet Sue in the street.
“HELLO!” Sue says.
Sue puts her arms around Jim.
“You guys are in a good mood,” Sue says. “Where you going?”
“To the store,” Jim says.
“Good. Can you get me some toilet paper?”
“I guess. We need some?”
“We only have eight rolls,” Sue says.
“What are you going to get?” Sue asks. Then: “You guys are drinking, aren’t you?”
“Just some wine,” Jim says.
“I don’t want to deal with you!” Sue walks away.
“And stop feeding fucking Bird!” Wawp shouts.
Sue turns and looks at Wawp, says, “I’m going to kill that goddamn bird!”
Wawp and the neighbor are talking and making noise with the bottle. Bird is in Bird’s branches nodding on the laughter and talk, until Bird hears glass striking glass and outbursts of laughter. It is dark, but for the blue glow on the steps where Wawp’s and Jim’s legs and feet move in the mist.
“Look at her,” Jim says.
“That’s Kate Moss,” Wawp says. “I’m a lichen/Kate Moss.”
Wawp and Jim laugh.
“How about that bottle?” Jim says.
“What time is it?”
“Brandy time,” Wawp says.
“I’m a lichen/Kate Moss better.”
“I am too, but we ran out of her before she got here.”
“When are you gonna make me a mast?” Jim asks.
“As soon as you get a boat.”
“How about I get a mast first?”
“Start from the top down.”
“Let’s have a vote on Kate Moss,” Jim says.
“Okay. All in favor of building a mast for Kate Moss, say ‘aye’.”
See past issues of cc&d and future issues
for additional installments of the
Patrick Fealey book “Bird Island”.
The So What Light From the Dead Stars of Your Opinions
Trujillo, was a tyrant. The last of the ancients, the old breed. He was a tyrant neither of ology or ism, but of Trujillo. The world was not flat. The world was not round. The world, was Trujillo. Today, every “I”, is a Trujillo. Many, just give their narcissism and microsuperiority, other names. Like “correct”. Or “facts”.
It dawned on me the past two days, I’m pushing identity politics. Not that I think for one split tick you’re “Ohm!”ing out to CEE or prostrating yourselves before the one picture of me which exists on the Web, or having mini-epiphanies like my stuff is a Chick tract (“Wow...I never thought of it that way...”), but I figured all that going in. I couldn’t be lucky enough to be a cult leader. And it would bring discord to the music of my song. As early as my 6th chapbook (a not-by-Scars-one, so I won’t hawk it), I urged all zombie youth, Goth youth, lost souls and y’all stuck with crappy remakes and cover tunes of things I really enjoyed as a kid, you needed to “run right at others”, with your truths...in a chapbook mms never published, I called the whole of You, your “IT”. I stated, and stand by my assertion that You are all you can know, therefore what proceeds from your IT, is, if not hard fact ala gravity or atmosphere, nonetheless Never Wrong. I believe All Reality is in the personal, yet conversely, I am a billion-% externalist (Deci and Ryan). The “IT” is the sum, yet we have control over nothing, not even ourselves or personal choice. Past the eyes, beyond our heartbeat, is chaos, a battlefield, even The Abyss, itself.
Self, then, that only, what is known and knowable and all that can be accepted, perceived or trusted, becomes cosmos. That which makes up Self, one’s IT, is unflawed, sound, in need of no correction, whole. “I Am Right, End of Subject.” This phrase, dating back for me at least to 1985, is Martin Luther prior to its comma, Martin Luther King, following. It is Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce, “I will fight no more, forever.” It is Actual Trek’s Horta, “NO KILL I.” It is John Wayne in The Cowboys, “Get the Hell off my spread.” It is my mother to any stranger at our door, “We don’t want any.” I don’t need to hear you, when the comparing of Life gives way to contrast, as you push a BE DIFFERENT, and my IT requires nothing...rather, if it does, I’ll survey the buffet on my own time at my own speed, and pick and choose as I like. In the eyes of Socrates, despite my IQ, I’m thence an idiot, but Socrates was just another Self-god who played dice with the universes of Others. Assuming the man existed, and wherever Dante stashed him, he can shove it, then grey me out. I don’t vote, anyway. My first ever CC&D score, “Fascists Find Oz”, will tell you why.
If you’re truly patticake in your human intercourse, and come at this line with “Wellll, what if everybody else walked around, thinking that?”, NEWFLASH: Everyone Does. One can’t kidnap each Other to a scumbucket motel and ape deprogrammers in securing such an admission, or beat them until they accept a polygraph...I’m also pretty certain Gitmo is booked and not taking reservations for personal experiments...but, Everyone Thinks This and Lives As Such. And no one’s supposed to talk about it and no one ever does, and just like the gang in Seinfeld, my Stalingrad, is being freaked by and dwelling on the Incredibly Uncomfortable of Human of Which We Do Not Speak. Except for me, it’s not close talkers or man hands. It’s the Nine Billion Centers of the Universe with their smarmy little kid denial of “No, I don’t...” And, how do I know this? I’ve witnessed it, every day of my life. And how do I know it’s “real” as perceived? That, I can prove by the baseline technique of asking you if The North Pole is a place, then asking you if you’ve been there. As est has it, “What is, is.” We each, are a cosmos. But some, are warring planets. These, must battle and fight and conquer and subdue. Such individuals, have the intellectual equivalent of “the runs”. This inability to hold in their mindshit, has many origins, as we indeed have a world much diverse, but each is welcome to their story. They are Not welcome to edit my story, and if you choose to let them have at yours, be prepared to experience the forgotten tale of Boo Radley and the scissors. Others, are cultists on your doorstep, life coaches in search of more employment, annoying “best friend” high school teachers, the counselor you were forced to talk with, Helpful Hannahs from church or Mare Winningham in St. Elmo’s Fire, during her microscene as a state welfare worker. Others, too many of them, want to better your life. This means taking the scissors to it and to you. As a long ago friend (1991) told me, when I’d been reduced to hiding from someone, “There are people who believe they should be able to intrude into your life, whenever they want, and if you ever say ‘No’ to them, you’re considered a snob.” This butts into CEE’s life, only in matters like not getting in the front door before a neighbor flags me down, or if, sucker in Vegas, I ‘tube the wrong vid. My life, the whole of it, is anomaly through and through. I rarely “have to” so much as exit the door of my home.
This rare gift, exists for very few in the pure form I experience. Thus, the billy-yuns and billy-yuns of universes, encounter warring planets, daily. This negotiating of “being told” back and forth, has quantum leapt into a “You’re Not Allowed”. This, has spawned a new outgrowth of the cancer, “Here’s How To Think”—cancerous, in that every process as ordered, is constructed to produce pre-proscribed results, i.e. any system existing for the human mind in daily process of anything microcommunity-fed, is MOUSETRAP, which ends with the winner losing. Other-controlled instruction of one mental foot in front of the other, leads down a primrose path to a jail cell. And the caged bird may sing, but you’ll have the choice of Nicholson at the end of ...Cuckoo’s Nest, or McQueen as Papillon in solitary. In The Five Stages of Macbeth, I was wary in telling you again to run at others, yes, share your truths, proclaim them, But I Don’t Want To Hear The Shit. I didn’t care if it sounded snarky, but when I wrote that chap, I really had to examine where I was coming from. In the end, I went with it. To repeat, I’m no cult leader. Take what speaks. Use what you can. Implement it, if you will. I just don’t plan on returning the favor, unless it happens by accident. IOW, there’s a semiregular enrichment from sources, in my life, but all within Self-preset guidelines and discovered privately. Other-control, must always be eliminated, Zero Tolerance. I don’t think I’m God, but I’m not about to pray to You.
My IT-concept, the identity politics I apparently push (?), you can deduce are heavy on having nothing to lose but your chains—because if you’re not made of ermine jelly, you should be stabbing the hands presenting the manacles. Failing that, STFU is a rule Any may apply to All. I’m not certain this extends to burning down college campuses due to Others’ mindshitting hurting you to the level of Shatner in Kirk-agony, pick the episode. I have no personal frame of reference for Molotov Cocktail party as local news. The municipality in which I live, is not large enough to beg such drama. Mass, selfrighteous denial, what I mentioned at the top as childlike and childish, smiling faces of podlike WE CARE, is the local Plague.
Identity politics as railed against or feared as totalitarian, are the kind which wear ski masks or Nixon masks or Guy Fawkes-as-a-way-to-waste-money-because-you’re-swayed-by-branding masks, and such is not the CEE Way. It is, in fact, a flipside ID, soulish martial arts as Cobra Kai, not fire from YHWH to hold Pharaoh back. The tail of the coin, in group decision, is a bad thing. Goocher, to CEE’s moon. I say STFU, and I then withdraw, not permitting brain defecation in my home or—as am able—my presence; curiosity kills me only as “what’s this?”-cat. If you value your IT most, you’ll still make mistakes like permitting another voice—for a moment, until it turns into a Sam Kinison joke about New Love as a raging minotaur. “No man is an island”, is patently false, and I’m living proof but, again, one may adopt this and affect this and live this and be this, if The Individual as Holy Identity, stays away, withdraws, lives in a weird mixture of freedom and alienation. This can—again, I’m proof—go on even to include the pair bond...but, the odds against a smooth ride incline steeper just with the tweaks I’ve added, let alone we customize further. One sometimes must literally disappear. Jack Crabbe in Little Big Man, tortured by all he had had torn from him, at some stage became a hermit. In order to keep Self from slings and arrows, it is Self who must hit the road like David Carradine in Kung Fu or as Puff, the Magic Dragon, slowly slip into its cave. Anyone following, caffeine-insistent, forcing the teen girl, lover’s quarrel of “Wait! C’mere, let me talk to you...”, plays a dangerous game. Flight, retreat, disconnection or absenting oneSelf, is often best, and Self alone, decides this. Interference Here, is asshole in the extreme. Word: Anyone who in a tense moment, chooses to leave the happy crappy of the party/picnic/reunion, etc., is exercising a divine right. Let them go, leave them be.
That’s the moon, the ID politics of CEE—of Danielsan, the path of “aw, c’mon, man”, and keep walking. The goocher of talking about something which gonna explode into no one gonna be happy, is something I and those like me, refuse, Marshal Petain at Verdun: “They shall not pass!” I’ve said, nonfriends, you’ll have to kill me. Humans are, and more so each day, The Valley People in “One Tin Soldier”. Y’all are selfish, screaming warriors, there for the hack and the slash. Get Away From Me, or let me find the door.
...but, I’m not going to keep you from speaking, espousing, reasoning or even persuading, if I am nowhere near the sound of your voice(s). You know me as Old School. The V-chip, was a horseass idea, ditto the television ratings system. I believe in the power of the POWER button. An On/Off switch, is the greatest right Mankind possesses; flipping such a switch, is our best special ability. A mildmannered audience member on The Morton Downey, Jr. Show (topic: “Radicals of Radio”), meekly said into one of the Loudmouths, “You can learn something, from every talk show host...I really believe it helps you to think”, and Mort, leaning near, involved in lighting up, interjected, “Sometimes, you can learn not to listen to them.” The fact being, it isn’t passive-aggression, to NOT want to be enlightened by anyone. Yet there are people in the close personal, who Must Speak of “these things”. They know better. They cannot control themselves. It’s the imponderable I have, re: addiction, “But I HAVE to touch the hot stove!...MUST...NOT...TOUCH...!” The infamous anarchist-friends were like this. Etiquette, the common virtues, manners, deportment, being in someone else’s home, these were raw sewage next to what I “had to understand”. It eventually reached the level of violence-in-the-offing. Decades after our last engagement, I was and still am adjudged the villain of the piece. STFU, is to those who enter with “How to Think”, childish and stupid (ignoring the tough-little-urchin-with-chin-stuck-out quality to “I’m FREE, I cansayanythingIwant!”, on their end).
To further the point, this, from a letter to a dear teacher (now deceased), sent with a signed ...Macbeth, 2/2014:
“I’m not here to debate. Never was. If anOther disagrees, let them. If they must hold forth, let them. If they must march or go door to door with their spastic colon of ideology or philosophy or theology or “Can’t you see that...?”, by all means, let them. I just don’t want to be part of their process of working out those first, helpless tears they cried, which, my likes, is the reason for all personal engagement of the “truth” brand. ...
Like the unbeliever faced with evangelism, I’m willing to NOT talk about conflicting points of view, but just like the evangelized unbeliever, find myself quickly besieged and No Quarter. It’s been my experience, this feeding frenzy by those who’ve never gotten past a steady diet of pizza and debate, is a lever easily tripped, a faucet impossible to shut off, and the monstrous turn to gutter anger often rides in its wake, if he attacked will not play ball. How in such light, I am the one with issues, I cannot fathom. ...
A smug, selfinvolved know-it-all, at bottom hurts no one but himself. If you turn on the radio, idiot tube, or the Antichrist on your desk, you may know in seconds, what is wrong with the opposing approach.
Here I stand. Here is Truth. And, having imparted It, I’m willing to not discuss it. I can see how that might be immature...however, I insist everyone else see that pursuing, pressing the issue, that insistence itself, is just as nursery school.
Sadly, the olive branch of “See...we’re both wrong, aren’t we?”, seems not to work, but to further inflame. Again: the Problem, is Not Me.”
Unanimity, does not exist, if factoring in only trolls who laugh into their hands, and weak links make global solutions into fantasy. Lysistrata, in the 21st Century, ain’t happenin’. If we extend far enough into statistical coin-flipping, every goocher of every spew of every poison from every mouth leering as serial villain, as BATMAN baddie, as the kid who really believes he’ll live a long, smug life and never get smeared all over a parking lot...every fist proceeding from every concept or construct or control fetish, will hit. Each, will strike. All, will harm. Blows meant for their sound and fury, from individuals who even at the highest level, effect nothing. A disease shared as a gangslam for which no paddywagon exists. The bowel movements of the gray matter of persons who could live ten such no-get-shit-beat-out-of lives, and still be as robot kneejerk as both sides in Munich, marinating in home team rhetoric, forever.
I shouldn’t have to hear jack from you or anyone, but I can prevent it, mute it, stop it, even live away from it without getting my name on the CNN crawl. I would suggest to SJWs and all who wish pronouns sanitized, definite articles redefined and a newly translated RSV of the entire Thorndike-Barnhart, the same option exists for thee. Walk away from their gaseousness. I know, that’s extreme and you don’t like the sound of it. It limits in the way arriving late to dinner at Fawlty Towers where “we can always do you sandwiches!” is So Not a big deal, but Americans at least, melt down over it. And I won’t push, “Life isn’t fill in the parental hogwash and go tote a barge”, so if you choose to obey Roddy McDowell and “Fight like apes!”, go for it, but had I been Mr. DeMille’s Moses, I’d have sent John Derek and his thirsty social justice, packing. “How can you find peace or Want it...?” It’s real easy, Joshua. That’s identity as fully realized. I do not believe we or you or I can move mountains, it’s a metaphorical notion. We don’t live in a paperback original stuffed in a spinner rack, it doesn’t happen. Only quiet and peace and contentment in an adamantly anti-B.F. Skinner-way, may be anything from rest to creation. There exists no harmony within the hypocrisy of the sham, the contrivance called “community”...and you Big Bang it with a Grand Ah-WHOOOM!!!, yes, but if disintegrating out of the picture, never to partake of what remains is your priority, then, you’re not the Self I thought you were nor selfish as your enemies pigeonholed you. You’re in the books as perverse Crocketts, sick Custers, gross patriots on Bunker Hill. Darth Sam. All die, and that’s a dead cliché, but seeking the practical application of it, is far more infantile, than not wanting ugly syllables shoved into your ears. You can escape the syllables. You can’t silence them all, in a world with an eight-digit problem.
Ah, but the planets they discover, shared excitedly in articles on the dottie commies! Always represented by paintings, like Gainsborough or Sir Thomas Lawrence is sending them back until we can get a Daguerreoprobe beyond Actual Trek’s Great Barrier. Planets which are this and that, and that one dims really fast, and that one’s far-way redder, oooo, neato!...but from habit, we’re still often thrown the bone of the light from these myriad, multiplicative, infinitesimal milliards of googol-gillions of Out There places, being light of many millennia past. Any light seen, is light no longer existing, its source extinguished, dead, gone, relevant to no one but those Here, wanting to dint our ears about it. And every “fact” as applied in every way, to “better” a creature best left looking at the paintings heading the news articles. Said creature, IQ high or IQ low or pundit puking on the validity of IQ, has about as much to offer, as worlds we’ll never know as living places and peoples, and less by ten to offer, than purty pitcherses.
It’s very hard, to be left alone. It’s harder, to make the din stop. You’ll never achieve either, unless you walk the-fuck away. Pushing, criminalizing, commanding, even riotous murder, is about as effective as the White House threatening North Korea.
Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, he’ll sell the materials you provide (probably on craigslist) and eat better, for two. Whether you’re right, William Maher is right or I’m right, is really a moot point. Nukes, climate, overpopulation in tandem with pestilence or Mr. Asteroid zoomin’ our way, this world is doomed. Trujillo doesn’t care about how your facts feel. He lives on an island.
Emily Jade Walker
The clock ticked. A tedious steady beat... the room, otherwise, was silent. Each tick was more menacing than the last. Time: it’s an almost mute suffering. The light was dim the ‘Energy saving’ bulb was on its last few days of survival. It was old... worn down... and abused. It flickered occasionally, fighting for its life. It was a tortuous thing. The window on the right side of the room was an amusing concept. While waiting for some kind of relief you could sit there and watch the happiness in the world pass by. You are so close to touching it, to living it... but a glass wall blocks you. In one place of the window, someone tried to break this pattern of conformity and had attempted to smash the window. They failed. All that was left was a beautiful shattered pattern and their dried blood.
The floor was stripped; the wooden boards were rotten and filthy; dangerous.
In the left corner of the room was a bed, a light metal frame with a small mattress and a beaten and torn blanket covering it. Beside it was a girl. A small girl, she was curled up in a ball, her shoulders shaking, but her crying was silent. On her arm, she had words carved into her. And around her neck was a collar... attached to the collar was a chain that connected to one of the bed legs. She was thin and pale. Her hair, once golden, was now a dirty, flat, and dull blonde. She was dressed in old battered rags. The door rattles and she raises her head. Her eyes are tired and worn, but the colour of the iris... previously a bright blue was now a dismal grey. As the door continued to rattle, fear ran across her eyes. She cowered into the wall behind her, trying to scream but no sound was made.
Her attempts at escape were futile.
The rattling of the door stopped with a click before being thrown open and a shadowed formed across the floor. The shadow struck her cowering form and she felt a hand on her collar. She heard the unlocking of the padlock and then felt the collar slide down her body. The same hand grabbed her hair and hauled her to her feet. She was then pushed out the door and thrown to the floor. The door then slammed and was locked once more.
She ran. She turned away from the door and sprinted. She was free, everything had been lifted from her shoulders; she felt like she could fly. She smiled for the first time she could remember. Tears sprung to her eyes as she continued to be at liberty. She arrived at a beautiful wild flower meadow. She couldn’t believe it; she could see all of the beautiful colours of every flower: Blue; Green; Purple; Red and White. She honestly believed she hit paradise.
A cloud then covered the sky and it began to rain, all of the beautiful colours were then washed away. The wondrous bright colours were now replaced with blacks and greys. The rain soaked her clothes and hair. She collapsed in a mist of the dismal flowers and began to create a ‘flower angel’. In the process of this, she found a rusty old nail. She sat up, fascinated by this nail. The way it was bent in the middle and how the point of it was sharp to touch. Her eyes followed the tip of the nail as the world around her was forgotten. Everything had disappeared, the flowers, the rain, she became imbedded into a black space.
A small amount of time had passed and the girl was still fixated on the nail. One hand then reached up to her neck. She began to claw at it. She was confused. She scratched continuously in the hope she could find her comfort. Her mind raced, her breathing began to quicken; her body began to tremble. She closed her eyes for a moment and when they re-opened the iris had completely dilated. She was a prisoner by her own device.
The hand, which held the nail, had risen slightly and the left arm had been repositioned so it was naked towards her. She was completely focused on what she had to do. A single tear rolled down her cheek slowly as she brought the rusty nail down on the skin. She pressed hard and it slowly pierced into the already caved skin. She unrelentingly pushed the nail deeper and the pain rushed through her body unlike any other. The blood began to seep out of the freshly created wound. It ran down the side of her wrist and then dripped slowly onto the ground beneath it. It trickled to a steady beat, a menacing beat. It relapsed her. She was back in the room. She could hear the clock once more, and each tick became softer and the clock became slower. She continued her deed before her eyes rolled into the back of her head and she fell backwards. The nail was still embedded in her left wrist, as she was motionless on the ground. She then became indulged in a bright white light. The light grew brighter and then suddenly disappeared.
She was gone.
“Sticks and stones may not break my bones, but words will always hurt me.”