v249, May/June 2014
(the 21 year anniversary issue)
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.
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the passionate stuff
A Game You Could Never Win
I don’t have fast hands to play a game of draw
or walking ten spaces, turning, and firing.
The revolver rests on my knees,
looking at me, waiting for me to play Russian roulette.
One bullet in one of six holes,
the gun placed in my mouth,
tears flowed down my cheek.
I can’t earn money at the casinos,
I can’t afford to live
in an empty house
ready for foreclosure.
Two clicks from the trigger, but no firing, lucky me.
One more click and a firing came.
I can with at death,
but I lose in parting
with my body.
Bag Check at Central High<
They swarm the corridor
Clamorous and agitated
Angry bees, their hive disturbed,
Like sour wine
About to burst its cask.
Young men, pants
Sagging like a soiled diaper
Fake gold chains
Round the neck like rosaries
Forgotten invocations to a
Priests of a desperate congregation.
Daughters of Eve
Stuffed into habits of painted clothes
Breasts bound and spilling over
Incarcerated in elastic.
Novitiates no more.
Accursed teachers drafted
To inspect backpacks and pockets
A human touch to
The liberating of
Mace, knives, guns,
Stephen Todd Booker
got to come back,
marsh gas, or moles breaking wind.
the lab boys are amused.
one swings the eyeball,
a small squid,
a octopus like a hypnotist’s
go to sleep, go to sleep.
fondle the liver, first,
lay it open for query.
step back, just in case.
which of you will have the
balls to touch the leather packet?
which one of you will unzip it?
go to sleep, go to sleep.
She Lay Up Under Him
She lay up under him
Eyes closed real tight
Fist knuckle-balled up
Shame picked her heart
Disgust stirring her gut
He used her stiff body
Moaning then grunted
Spoke hushed obscenities
Until he had done it
She snatched the money
To feed two tiny tummies
Then lay down that night
Cold, stiff as a mummy
Moans and grunts echoed
His odor still hunting.
Re the Revolution (2)
from the First Congress
(lest one think legal gobbledygook is new):
“An Act Repealing,
after the Last Day of June Next,
the Duties Heretofore Laid upon
Distilled Spirits Imported from Abroad,
and Laying Others in their Stead,
Also upon Spirits Distilled within the United States
and for Appropriating the Same”
(and that was just the title),
enabled by the coup of the Constitution:
“no State shall . . . make any Thing
but gold and silver Coin
a Tender in Payment of Debts”
this was one of the goals of the whiskey tax,
to eliminate what was used as currency
in some parts of the country,
the usual strategy of divide-and-conquer,
city against rural, big against small,
cash (or credit) poor against cash (or credit) rich
In the first version of the tax
big distillers, usually located in the city,
paid a tax of nine cents per gallon
on the amount of whiskey actually distilled,
with a volume discount on the amount per gallon;
small distillers, usually located in the country,
paid a flat fee on a still capacity of one hundred gallons
(whether it was actually that capacity or not),
which generally resulted in a higher per-gallon tax
this was accompanied by the requirement to register the still
(stills under forty gallons excepted),
the fine for an unregistered still being $150,
than the cash equivalent of most people’ s yearly income
(and payable only in cash)
the law was also a tax on income for laborers
who were oftentimes paid in whiskey
(Definition of an Illegal Income Tax,
prior to the Seventeenth Amendment
-that levied on those
who had the power
to fight it successfully)
the tax was revised a year later
to remove the city/country distinctions,
to further favor the big distillers
by reducing their effective tax
to a fraction of a cent per gallon
while revising it even higher on small distillers,
eliminating the forty-gallon minimum
requirement for registration,
increasing the fine for non-registration
to an even more out-of-reach $250,
the better to drive them out of business
and into the employ of the big distillers,
the better to re-distribute wealth upward
into the pockets of those who deserved it more
an early example of the military-industrial complex:
the army would only buy its whiskey
from the big distillers)
Those who felt the full force of the law
felt compelled to take up arms in resistance,
as Hamilton had hoped they would,
enabling him to use
“what is in such cases the ultimate resort”
(Bill of Rights be damned)
but only twelve taken to trial,
and only two of those twelve convicted
Federal authority established unquestioningly
Hamilton not only won the battle,
he won the war,
this episode The Whiskey Rebellion,
legitimate grievances over tax policy
and the upward re-distribution of wealth
and questions about the role of government
to a petty grievance over what future generations,
educated in the United States of America,
would regard as a luxury item
Hamilton’ s descendants have,
for the most part,
been in ascendancy ever since
Re the Revolution (3)
And the alleged revolution came and went
and Rhode Island remained ruled by a royal charter
originally given by a now-long-dead English king
more than a hundred years back in the past
And the franchise was criminally limited,
even by the standards of the day
And misapportionment was rampant:
land was equally represented,
but people were not
perhaps the worst offense of all,
from the perspective of representative government,
was that the old royal charter
contained no provision for its amendment
(The more things don’ t change,
the more they stay the same)
more than fifty years into the life of the republic,
the good people of Rhode Island had had enough
of waiting for those in power to do the right thing,
and a People’ s Constitutional Convention was held;
competing with the ‘Freeholders’ one held at nearly the same time
And in an election to ratify the People’ s Constitution
a majority of men marked in the affirmative
Would the status quo quit,
finally acceding to the will of the people?
Of course they didn’ t
the ‘Freeholders’ constitution was put to a vote
and narrowly defeated, with many thousands less voting
And measures in the minority legislature
to put the People’ s Constitution to a ‘formal’ vote
and to expand the franchise were defeated,
with only a few of the status quo
willing to consider real representative government
“The Tory party will do anything and everything they can do
and will attempt many things which they cannot
sooner than recognize the right of the people at large
to make and alter their government at will”
And to prove the point,
the legislature passed the Algerine Act,
which made it treason to try
to establish a new constitution
outside ‘legitimate’ channels,
or to stand as a candidate for office
under a ‘fraudulent’ constitution
under the Great Man Theory of History,
what followed is known as The Dorr War,
after Thomas Dorr, the People’ s Governor
Dueling inaugurations were held on successive days in May,
Dorr being sworn in in Providence,
the charter governor in Newport
a few weeks later Dorr and a few of his followers
tried to capture the state arsenal in Providence
The ‘battle’ consisted of a failed attempt
to fire a cannon on the arsenal,
And even though
“We have a Constitution,
which has been rightfully adopted
by a majority of the whole People”
“the Suffrage majority will not fight nor vote”
even then in America,
the courts would have the last word
the Supreme Court preferred
style over substance,
supporting the form of republicanism
(no matter how low a percent of ‘eligible’ voters
to the substance of living breathing democracy
“the people have the right themselves
to alter or abolish the governments
under which they existed”
Defeated by the Court
and decided in the negative:
“certainly it is no part of the judicial functions . . .
to prescribe the qualifications of voters . . .
nor has it a right to determine
what political privileges the citizens of a State
are entitled to,
there is an established constitution
or law to govern its decision”
Institutionalism had invalidated individual rights
The government controlled the people
rather than the people the government
Apple Valley, Mars
On Mars they enjoy clay oceans
light particle silica sand
in an emulsion of
continent wide sand storms
viewable from space
where three hundred miles per hour winds
would be barely discernible to earth astronauts
feeling little different from a soft zephyr
summering past on earth, the cold however
would be grasped as real
colder than our coldest polar winters
sand hills with compositions like
a bleached iron mix
and the bombardment
of constant radiation from the sun
it’s be difficult to conjure a less
for earth loving creatures
of which many now training their eyes skyward
can cannot wait.
Hating the sailboats
and the sailboaters
and the sailboats’ luxurious lives
but get close
to the rap of rope on metal
fingers which get pinched between
the bad breath and sweat odors
some blood streaks some others, there have been
fellows and women who have been drowned
triangle waves hitting the hull
the sounds of the tumult, the waves pass
hands clawing at canvas in wind
the shape seems so peaceful
from here, where we sit
cup in hand, the easy sunlight.
There are horrors on the news
almost every day
but to be summoned home
to the paramedics’ wagons, police
standing around at our home when I arrived
flies flying in lazy concert
in every room
which you would not have
except the assembled at our home that day
there was very little talk
no one spoke of what had been allowed in
through the left open doors.
Dancing in Blackness
It’s so quiet in here
there is nothing to hear,
nothing to hear but my scattered thoughts as they softly ricochet off
the glass walls of my mind
but, as my thoughts always do, they soon start to grow more encrypted
and they begin to move with more purpose and more motion
and they start to smack hard against the glass walls
they smack, smack again, smack harder
one more time and then a shatter,
then no more mind, just dust
a thin, shivering veil of silver dust
falls gently through the empty blackness
each particle of dust begins to spread out, far away,
far away from any other
and soon the blackness is dotted with many tiny, shiny specks
that resemble long dead stars,
stars that group together to create a new constellation
I trace the shape that the lines connecting the stars make
it is a figure, just one solid floating form:
the shadow of a woman who seems to be dancing all alone
dancing and sparkling up there, so far away,
but if I squint what I think are still my eyes
I can see the faint hint of eyelashes fluttering
and I can see the tight curve of a nose
an I can see the coupling of two thin lips, slightly parted, and twisted
into something that once was or still could be called a smile
a soft sound of a warm, intoxicating laugh languidly crawls around in the blackness
the sound comes from the dancers mouth
a quick end to the laughter brings about a penetrating silence,
a silence that makes the blackness grow blacker
after some seconds or minutes or hours or days
a whisper of a voice makes its way across the space that separates us,
it says, “Are you still there?”
I call, “Yes.” Should I say more, I think
but before I can add anything else
her voice cuts through the silence of my unsaid words:
“Want to dance with me?”
“Yes,” I call
and not knowing what to expect or why
I stick my hand up and out into the sky, and wait
suddenly I feel the most delicate hand I’ve ever felt
slide into my hand and grip it tight
and then pull me up to my feet
she is close to me now
I can see her clear face
and I can hear her clear voice as it asks:
I shake my head, no
once again that warm laugh of hers
and before I know it
I become lost in a swirl
and then there’s nothing in the blackness
no me, no her, no us
just the fading sound of or forgotten feet
going tap, tap, tap
and scuff, scuff, scuff
Stuck in my Head
there is a sound stuck in my head
a sound that is bending
and twisting and transforming into a shape
a shape that resembles a puzzle piece
jagged edges, curves and indents
but where does the piece fit
where does it belong
where does it go
is it from a song
a song I heard while driving aimlessly through the night
or was it from a person I met
something that they said to me
something that I didn’t listen to, but yet can’t forget
there is a sound stuck in my head
it is constantly moving
moving at an indeterminable speed
fast as a shooting star across the black sky
fast as a day passing me by
and yet I see it slow
I see it clear and full for a moment
and then it becomes distorted
it is now a hazy form
it is made up of two colors: blonde and blue
there is a sound made up of two colors stuck in my head
the sound plus the colors
is added up into a shape
a shape that seems to be an echo
a shape that seems to be a memory
a shape that is indescribable
but if I had to describe it I’d say it looks like you
your hair, your eyes, your voice
there is something stuck in my head
is it you?
You make me forget
the words in my mouth.
You make me look at the moon
like an animal forgiving
the car that ran it over.
You make my heart stop, then
race to regain the missed beat.
You make me halt all sound
so I can listen to you breath.
You make me forget what
I was to be.
You make the dark light,
the sun shine bright,
the grass grow green
and all the cows come home.
A governing body
so ill suited
as to seem
in other words, inCongress.
Not Hip Enough To Read That Crap
he writes poems in a bebop rhythm
you could tap your foot
or pound out a beat on a coffee table to them
his poems let you know in no uncertain terms
that he knew Ginsberg, Corso, and Kerouac
pimped for Hunter S. when Hunter S. flew
into NYC to appear on David Lettermen
and Kerouac slept with his great aunt
under the shadow of a red harvest moon
between two 400 foot redwoods
in 1951 in a sleeping bag
that smelled of hibernating possums
it was Bill Burroughs who rocked him
reading Uncle Remus
as a storm ripped through a small Pennsylvania farm town
where his mother lives now hiding
under the witness protection program
the poems he writes in bebop rhythm
the kind you could tap your foot
or pound out a beat on the coffee table to them,
are full of so many names of hipsters, movie stars,
poets and gangster innuendo, that it all made me jittery
and I realized I just wasn’t hip enough
to read that crap
and I put the book back in the envelope it came in
and stuck it under a stack of jazz CD’s
it was the hippest thing I could think of
Staring at the coffin
all I can picture is the beloved watch on her wrist
It was like the numbers were changed to reflect the letters in her name,
the face of the watch was her heartbeat
time, the real time, that objective menace, was incidental to her journey
She couldn’t give me what I wanted,
only what she wanted to give me and then pat herself on the back
for doing so...
sarcasm always informing my thoughts when her selfishness enveloped me:
not everyone can climb Mount Everest,
it takes desire, technique, tenacity,
I was always better off with her,
like the victims of Auschwitz were better off with their captors-
better to die with someone there then die alone.
Thank God she wasn’t well adjusted, and so on.
A rested heart, please God, I used to plead into the silence
all those wasted dreams of medicinally inspired peace,
I used to dream of dropping anxiety pills into her mouth as she slept-
her active intelligence telling her she needed something
but just the thought of it was tragically enough for her,
Drew, I want to be all there, not dulled,
on cue I would roll my eyes
and then the earth would quake and spin, violently.
I always held on as tightly as I could, preaching reason and calmness
but even the axis of the earth was no match for her crushingly loud angst and pain-
It seared through me with jet pulpulsion and I would get hurled into the darkest part of her soul.
In the beginning I fought with all of my might
like a baby fighting its way out of the womb
but gesticulating arms and legs could not free me from her terror-womb
and then you stop.
You stop fighting and remember to breathe.
Now, it’s a waiting game,
It’s like watching a monkey in the zoo, I used to say.
I, the stronger animal, waited to pounce in the tall grass,
pounce on normalcy on blessed reason on temporary peace.
The pouncing always felt anti-climactic though,
I simply got to return home and resume my life.
If I could only change the math, I used to say,
unreasonable behavior + self-preservation – the wedding vows = happiness
but the truth always got in the way.
I always wanted to die the hero even if aboard the titanic
and I could not deny it, I knew I married the titanic.
The universe stopped when I looked into her eyes for the very first time,
they were dancing in pain,
a perfect reflection of human life,
I wanted that inside of me-
I had been suffering from a self-induced, soulful boredom, a life numbed by pain,
I had banality and reason and civility to kill-
I wanted her to do it.
In His New Home
He couldn’t sleep at all,
neither could his wife,
or the baby. They hadn’t counted
on the whitish glow spreading
through the thin line of trees
that separated them from the mall
and the sound of cars on the highway
or the puddle of water
that mysteriously appeared
at midnight on the kitchen floor.
On the third night there,
a small plane cut its motor
and crash landed in a small field
next to the watertower.
He somehow expected to see the pilot
even before he heard his footsteps
on the deck, the blood leaking
from his woolen sleeve
and leaving its fine script on the wood.
The man had white hair,
a badly broken nose, and looked
almost fatherly. They sat
opposite each other at the kitchen table,
listening to the sound of sirens
pestering the empty roads,
and the man told the pilot
that he’d always had reservations
about being a homeowner,
and the pilot, squinting down
at the dishtowel the man had
helped wrap around his obscenely bent
forearm, told the man he’d always
had reservations about being a pilot.
The man’s wife, who had been listening
to them in the darkness behind
the door, had even more dreadful
reservations, but she held the baby
against her chest and listened to
it sigh, in an eerily adult way,
as its mouth slipped off her breast,
and then it began to scream.
Once off the crutches
my father walks like a dog with a broken spine,
moving in slow circles, desperate to please,
speech a series of barks and whines,
tapping the tip of his cane in code,
a morse for narcotics.
Dressed in pajamas he performs
his nightly dance for approval
down the hospital hallway,
brightly painted cane a carved root
from the Caribbean, tapping a music
slow and thick as the tongue in his head.
“sweet poems, Chicago ”
It’s like playing chess in a room without lights.
You feel for the rook and knock over a bishop.
You can’t tell whose pawn is whose but you move
anyway. You realize with a start that all strategy
is tactile, that every attempt to kill the king is a
stab in the dark. But it’s your turn and you’re
surrounded by horses. You can smell them
breathing down your neck. You enlist the aid of
the dark queen but her power flounders because
she doesn’t know where she is. Your own king is
in danger. He inches left toward imagined safety,
insisting a heated corner can stand in for a palace.
Lit by his visionary gleam, the whole board, for one
moment, can be glimpsed, but then subsides into
sudsy blackness. He believes he’s seen his salvation,
but he doesn’t realize only his mate can rescue him.
“Dis-Ease” was first published in THIS Literary Magazine.
It appears in Wrench (erbacce-press, 2009) and Pointed Sentences (BlazeVOX, 2012).
The inverse of disappearing ink
is invisible ink, writing (with
lemon juice, for example) which
can be seen only when warmed
(that is to say, burned). I guess,
their marriage was kind of like that,
him writing with ink that disappeared
over time, her writing with ink no one
could see. As the years passed, she could
no longer find him, though she looked hard.
As the years passed, he couldn’t read her
(could he ever?) even as she became heated.
They didn’t run out of each other’s ink.
They just grew tired of reading, I think.
“Disappearing Ink” was first published in New World Writing
(formerly BLIP). It appears in Pointed Sentences (BlazeVOX, 2012).
love has hate written all over it.
The news of the day is
the war is all over
and arms sales are up
a big profit in prosthetics
Kitty kat outside my widow
roaring into the night
it out cries the crickets
And nature itself is
drowned out by the
Hummmm of my wind machine fan
Pushing and pushing those
molecules of air around
pushing and pushing
With the sound of an aeroplane’s
Flying like birds or
dragonflies fly, high in the air
with no one there to steer
just roaring into the night
with a payload of weapons
gonna make the news today
National and International
Everyone will see it
every 30 minutes
I killed them all
I killed everyone
all at once
now roll those cameras
And the police beat me
after they killed the kat
in my front yard
It posed a threat
It was in the way of
the Wheels Of Justice
so they say
Then I told them
You’ll never take me alive,
The war is over
and I have stock in prosthetics
and I demand justice
and you’d better read me my
rights before, and during, my
beating, please let me sign something
important, after my fingers are broken
By the way cop
don’t trip over the fan cord.
Hay, leave this noose
around my neck
I don’t care if it is the flag
It should symbolize my freedom
to hang myself with it.
What do you mean I’m on drugs
I am not
I’m a decent American Citizen
I pay my taxes
I watch the news
and all the hip sitcoms
and of course all those
persuasive commercials in between
I don’t need drugs
not when I have this great
What you mean I’m not making sense
Of course I’m not making sense
you don’t want me to make sense
Ignorance is bliss
and this is a
Used by permission of the author and Water of Life Press.
First published in Pull Tabs and Other Things to Stick Your Fingers Through
E 2001 by Patrick A Hurley, a Water of Life Press publication.
Michael Lee Johnson
Every two to three miles
you’re in India again-
in another subway store
in a back room and you will
find a recent family camping out there
faking fraud visas doing final touch up
on work permits and
figuring out how to avoid taxes;
or get the next boat load over
to start a new store.
$650 worth of retail sales a day
feeds a family of six for a week.
Incense ruminate and permeate
over and over again, creep out as
silk smoke to the front counter area,
merges into my spicy Italian sandwich.
Daily they work, waiting for work or life to end.
They ship back the lifeless bodies
to India to float freely in the Ganges River
intertwined in memories, hopes, and fears.
Relatives congregate on it banks, bathe,
place the body on a wooden float, pull
twigs and river grass from the river bank,
light the fire, incinerate the charcoal,
float the body, toss remnants into the river,
turn faces down and walk away.
The Ganges is a sacred cesspool.
Back at the subway store
a new day begins.
A time tested ritual continues.
Dreams 2/20/04 two,
for Charlie Trotter 11/5/13
started 2/20/04, edited 11/5/13
for Charlie Trotter, 9/8/59 - 11/5/13
I apparently was working
in downtown Chicago again,
and it was night time
and me and a coworker
got to the building we worked in.
The building was locked,
but we worked there,
we must have had keys or something,
and that’s when the coworker said,
“There’s a fire on the fourteenth floor,
we can’t go in.”
And I couldn’t see any fire —
how did this lady even know
there was a fire?
But she left,
so I walked away with her.
We were walking through downtown
so we could get to our train stations,
and knowing I had an over-hour long
train ride home, it was nice
to have someone to talk to...
And as we were walking through downtown,
I started talking about
things in Chicago I remembered.
I mentioned that
there was a building on Wacker Drive,
north of Randolph or Lake,
in that east-west curve
before it goes north again,
and the building had huge windows,
a few stories tall,
and they had the huge statues in their lobby.
And I remembered that at Christmas time
the people from the building would put
huge Santa caps on these tall statues
for everyone to see while they walked to work.
And then for some reason I talked about
meeting Charlie Trotter at my old job,
he spoke at our trade show we created.
I was sitting at the front counter
before the show started,
so to pass the time
I was re-reading the Ayn Rand book
‘Capitalism: the Unknown Ideal.’
Well, he stopped me when he saw
that book and he started
talking to me about Ayn Rand —
he even had audio cassettes of her lectures
that he said I could borrow, but I never
met up with him after that trade show,
and even though I spent an arm and a leg
to have dinner at Trotter’s restaurant
once, I never got the chance
to see him there and even ask
about those stupid lecture cassettes.
Then he closed down his restaurant
so he could get a masters in philosophy,
and I thought, that’s amazing,
to be such a successful and well-known chef,
and just stop working
to study philosophy...
Maybe I should have had out
my Ayn Rand Book “Philosophy:
Who Needs It?” when Charlie Trotter
stopped me, but it’s cool to think
that on some levels,
when it comes to philosophy
or when it comes to books,
we may both be on the same page.
so I said yeah, he was
a really well-known chef,
I mean, Emeril Lagasse was there
at our trade show too,
but this was before
he had his own show or anything...
But you know, as I was
talking to her, that reminded me
that at one of our trade shows
in New Orleans, Emeril Lagasse gave us
a dinner at his restaurant Nola’s.
I thought the name “Nola” was
Emeril Lagasse’s wife’s name
(until I was reminded that
New Orleans Louisiana is NOLA).
So much for naming your restaurant
after your wife, I suppose.
I mean, it’s not like Charlie Trotter
named his restaurant after his wife
or anything... But now that I recall,
Trotter’s is the only restaurant
I’ve ever been to where they
pair a different wine
with each of your upwards of
ten courses for dinner.
I mean, Wine Spectator magazine
even called Trotter’s the best
restaurant in the nation.
So okay, I chose to spend that money
for dinner at Charlie Trotter’s.
And okay, maybe it was worth
an arm and a leg.
study the dying.
lose your past, lose your future.
study the present.
I’ve experienced it
for I don’t know
how many years,
men degrading women.
When I was walking
down the street today,
a man in an ugly mini-van
stuck his head
out of his window
to holler for me
Writhing on the floor,
bruised, she cried, begged for an end.
I had to kill her
death’s an animal
perched under your bed, waiting for
you to close your eyes
(from an eleven year old boy
to a ten year old boy,
in the men’s bathroom)
twitter-length poem, 9/15/13
“You put one of these on
so when you sleep with a girl
you don’t have to touch her.”
Each Half is the Enemy
When the bulldog ant of Australia
is cut in half,
the halves see each other as enemies.
The head attempts to devour the tail.
And the tail,
in an effort to defend itself,
battles for up to thirty minutes
to sting the head. And
this battle happens everywhere in the world,
because it’s always that the two halves
of the whole
will religiously remain at odds.
When born at the cusp of Gemini,
you have a twin,
and your other half is a Cancer.
And if you weren’t born under that sign,
Look for it. This applies to you too.
Because sometimes you want to tear it apart,
that other half,
you despise everything about it —
everything that somehow is a part
It’s everything you don’t want to admit —
because life will remain a battle, as you
against everything you don’t want to believe.
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 and chaoticarts.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.
Since 2010 Kuypers also hosts the Chicago poetry open mic at the Café Gallery, while also broadcasting the Cafés weekly feature podcasts (and where she sometimes also performs impromptu mini-features of poetry or short stories or songs, in addition to other shows she performs live in the Chicago area).
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 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 cc&d ISSN# 2012 little spiral datebook, Prominent Tongue, 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# cc& hardcover art book life, in color, Post-Apocalyptic, Burn Through Me and Under the Sea (photo book). Three collection books were also published of her work in 2004, Oeuvre (poetry), Exaro Versus (prose) and L’arte (art).
prose with a Chicago twist
Question: Why in the hell am I sitting in a car with a dead body slumped in the back seat? A thirty something Black female with her throat slit from ear to ear.
Answer: Because I got in the wrong car in a blizzard, the locks tripped and I can’t get out, that’s why.
The wrong car! How’d you do that?
I envisioned a broken nose detective blow bad breath in my face firing a million questions at me. I’d have to tell my story. They won’t believe it, but what else could I do?
Well listen to this. I’m a 3 to 11pm. guy, but I left work to beat the predicted worst blizzard in Chicago history, make an AA meeting and get a sixty day sobriety pin. Those meetings keep me sober for two months a year. A break my fifty year body needs.
Rest is fine, but if I’d been drinking I would’ve left before the storm hit. Go figure.
I fought needles like horizontal snow for five blocks. Every car was completely covered by the intersection where I parked. I didn’t brush any snow I just got in. The door wasn’t locked. I must’ve forgotten to hit the lock button. Strange. The dome light faded; I shoved the key in the ignition.
It didn’t turn, I tried again and again. What was that smell!
I turned around, somebody was slumped down. The street lights trickled through the snow covered windows. That’s when I saw her hair clinging to her blood soaked face.
I freaked, snatched the door handle and through my weight against the door. It wouldn’t open. I reached over the console. Where are my water bottles and magazines?
This ain’t my car!
The passenger door won’t open either. I hit the unlocked button, maybe it will work. A chirp, chirp and lights flashed on the car behind me. What? I felt like a damn fool.
I heard loud voices and laughter approach. A hand swiped snow off the windshield. I froze. Who was that? Somebody fell on the hood laughing and gathering snow. A snowball fight in a blizzard. Who does that? But, half way down 75thth street there was a yuppie sports bar. That’s who does it. Hurry up and leave fools. It was freezing in here and the stench turned my stomach.
Don’t puke, Paulie!
A guy in a hooded parka stopped and turned; he looked at the car and stared. Blowing snow rocked the car and quickly covered the window. I could see his silhouette; then it was gone and so was the racket.
Would the cops believe me so far? No!
OK, Paulie Carlisle, fuck the scenario, get out. Hit the button again; pop, pop.
Thank God! I cracked the door; wet heavy snow kept it from swinging wide open. The dome light dimmed and went out. I pushed hard enough to lie in the snow. Stay low, Pauli and crawl to the car. I was already freezing and the door stuck for a moment. I shivered like mad, but I got the key in the ignition. I turned and the damn thing moaned.
The battery was down! Now what?
The only place open was the bar. “Stay out of bars the floor is very slippery.” My sponsor said. Well, so is ice and snow. Hell, after this mess, I could use a drink, a big one too. I trudged through what had to be a foot of drifting snow. I needed a jump before the plows come and bury it. After every blizzard in Chicago came a subzero freeze. I needed to get to work. After this storm the job would allow only one ‘Act of God’ day. Assholes.
I looked and felt like a snowman when I walked into the bar. For a supposedly upscale establishment it looked like a B-movie set. Maybe the sight of me would make somebody feel sorry for me and give me a jump. I brushed my coat and sat at the bar.
A tall blonde barmaid with great hips and a good smile stood in front of me. “Jesus, it’s that bad out there?” I nodded. “You need a drink.”
“I need a jump.”
“And, a drink...somebody will help.”
“I hope the old man needs it.”
“Old? You don’t look it.” She smiled. “Well?”
Flattery, I love it, but I know BS, but it was good BS. Well, to hell with my annual two month hiatus from killing brain cells. “Give me a Miller High Life and a shot of Bacardi.”
If I did this first I wouldn’t have these problems.
Lovely hips brought my order. That first sip was always the best, now I can think. I got to run down the check list:
-I checked my pockets, nothing missing.
-I wore gloves and didn’t take them off.
-If anybody saw me I didn’t do anything strange.
-No blood on my clothes.
No prints, no DNA, I’m good. Forget this happened nobody would believe you and who could you tell anyway? I finished my beer and looked around for prospective good Samaritans. All I saw were couples huddled up with love on their minds. Another beer might change my prospective, and I start to solicit help. It was late, get started Paulie. I glanced at the flat screen and saw a commercial for a Max Power portable battery charger.
Jesus! My brother gave one for my birthday and put it in the trunk, “You’ll need one of these someday.” The hour I spent in the bar showed on my car. And the plows came through. Dammit. I opened my trunk. Please work. I flipped the switch and; a full charge. My brother was right for once in his life. I brushed off the car while it warmed.
Be careful pulling out, I cannot scrape that car; leave no evidence. My wheels spun like mad, but I made it. I learned something tonight; never park behind a white Camry like mine, snowing or not.
I made it home, thank God. I couldn’t get my clothes off fast enough. I stretched out on the bed and admired my collection of sobriety pins I collected over the years. That reminded me, let me put up my newest one. I dug in my pockets, no pin. I looked everywhere else, no pin.
Think for a minute. My sponsor gave it to me when I was walking out the door. That means I had my gloves on. Good. If I did leave it in that other car; no prints, but I’m through with partial sobriety. I’ll stay sober or drunk.
I work Internal Security at a prominent mega-church and I’m a former homicide detective. Ah...homicide, I loved it. But, I had a crook for a partner. He got indicted and his friends in management thought my testimony to his character lacked enthusiasm. He went to jail and instead of the harassment I took early retirement; started a remodeling business and joined the church.
Here’s a life equation: Mega-church plus Mega-money could equal dishonesty.
If that gets out...it’s a problem. The church haters love scandal. We hate it. That’s where me and my co-worker, Morrow come in. He retired early and hates hypocrisy too. I’m six feet; he’s a few inches shorter. For a couple of fifty year old heavy beer drinkers we still have flat stomachs and muscular builds. We call ourselves ‘Auditors.’
We’re not CPA’s or IRS; we check out rumors of misbehavior of the church’s upper echelon. Call us self righteous, judgmental, but if you want or you’re called to his service; act like it.
A secret society inside the church, that’s ridiculous.
But, that made some deacons feel uncomfortable and paranoid. Good. And, of course, some officials didn’t care; like the pastor. Auditor methods to discourage bad behavior are unscrupulous; surveillance and wiretaps, to say the least. And, yes we shook up a few people.
That’s why I’m sitting in a room of a vacant two flat looking through the scope of my L42 Enfield sniper rifle. Across the street in a sleazy motel, my pastor is committing adultery with my wife!
We’ve been separated for months, but still. He counseled us before it hit the fan. “Arnold, you and Cynthia should reconcile,” he said. His sincerity and expertise could bring tears to your eyes.
I can see them now, rolling over the bed like there’s no tomorrow.
I took a deep breath and mentally marked where the bullet had to hit to scare the crap out of him. I didn’t want it to ricochet and hit Cynthia. I still liked her, but I didn’t love her. The problem was everybody likes Cynthia and she liked them back.
I don’t like to share! Who would with curves like hers?
I ran my sleeve along the wood stock and forehead and adjusted the telescopic sight. My nose wiggled from the dust kicked up by the second floor breeze. I refocused and the door to the room parted.
Get ready, Arnold.
Pastor Reginald Grace stepped out and looked both ways. What she sees in a short, fat guy was beyond me. He hesitated; I squeezed the trigger and the bullet clipped his cheek bone and slammed into the door jamb. Wood fragments hit Cynthia in the face. The adulterous couple hit the ground and crawled under an SUV.
I couldn’t wait to see them when they get back to the bible conference. They didn’t plan on that for the afternoon break. I took my prized possession off the tripod and something slammed into the wooden stock. My gun flipped in the air and landed in a pile of trash. I hit the floor and crawled away from the corner windows.
Who the hell shot at me?
I froze in the dust and debris. I grabbed the shattered rifle and wiggled behind an old desk. I have to get back to the conference. They’ll be looking for me. That sniper was gone by now. I rolled over and looked at the corner windows. That shot had to come from a transient hotel a half a block north.
I ran out the door, down the trashy staircase and peeled off my painters coveralls. I slid open the side door of my van and threw in the clothing and rifle. If anybody saw me, so what, nobody died. I made a beeline back to the church. I called Morrow. “Hello.”
“I see you’re still in the hospital. When are you leaving?”
“Tomorrow,” he said, his baritone voice roared through the receiver. “What’s up?”
“Nothing, just checking...talk to you later.” I snapped the phone shut. I was relieved and scared.
I backed into a space next to the reserved area for clergy and special guests. I gave my blue slacks and powder blue polo shirt the once over; no holes, stains or odors. I grinned in the fold down mirror on the sun visor and took a deep breath. If I go in through the administrative office I’ll see if the pastor made it back. When I opened the door I saw Sarah Grace, the church’s first lady talking to one of the conference greeters.
“Brother Arnold, you’re just the man I want to see.” She grabbed me around the waist and spun me toward the entrance. “I need help...I’ve got boxes in my car. Do you have a dolly in your van?”
“Uh...yeah.” We locked arms and she rushed me to my vehicle. Sister Grace is a tall, big woman; not fat, but solid with a good face and close cut blonde streaked hair. She looks good in a dress, but today those pants really accented her curves. I got the dolly and she popped the trunk on her Mercedes. I loaded a box on the dolly. When I moved the last one; there it was.
An M21 sniper rifle!
Sister Grace stood directly behind with nasty look on her deep tanned face. “Surprise, follow me to my office.” I nodded and compiled.
I was intrigued. The pastor’s wife, a sniper!
I didn’t know what to say. I had a million questions, but my eyes still followed every dip her hips made.
Her office décor didn’t surprise me, neither did the size. A real redwood computer center lined the wall. White leather chairs surrounded a lengthy conference table with an eight foot 3D mounted between book shelves. Impressive and expensive. She pointed at a storage closet for the boxes. She sat on the edge of the conference table and gave me a sinister grin. I walked over to her and suppressed the urge to slap her for shooting at me. She stood and backed up. We stared at each other. Her lips parted enough for my tongue, but I dare not let lust get the upper hand. “Say something, Sister Grace.”
“You talk, brother.”
“I did already. When you’re ready I’ll be around.” I turned and walk to the door.
She cleared her throat. “When the rumor about some secret society in IS, I put it to rest. That’s absurd...that’s what I told the Board of Deacons, but I believed it. And, now I know.”
I didn’t know what to say or ask. I look at the question in her hazel eyes. Whatever it might be I decided to ask my own. “How did you know?”
“Believe it or not, I didn’t. I planned to scare my whore mongering husband hopefully to prevent a scandal. I happened to see your van going in the same direction; then you pulled in the alley behind that vacant building. I thought you were doing work until I saw the case. Call it a hunch, female intuition or whatever, but I knew. Were you going to kill him for being with your wife?”
“No, just scare him...we’re getting a divorce and I don’t love her. If I was jealous it’s long gone. Where did you learn—?”
“Remember, I’m a RN,” she interrupted. “My medical support unit got called up to Afghanistan four years ago.”
“That’s right, I forgot.”
“I learned a few things.”
I laughed. “Obviously.”
“I didn’t know whether to kill you or what. But, when I saw Reggie and Cynthia crawl under that car, I thought I’d introduce myself.” She laughed and went to sit on the white sectional sofa. “Do you have to stand?” She put her hand on the cushion. “Come over and sit.”
“I like the chair.” I relaxed in the Barcelona chair and kicked up my heels on the ottoman. “What do you want?”
“Simple, leave my husband alone. I’ll take care of him.” A chill shot through me. She didn’t blink for what seemed an eternity.
“Got it, and that’s all?”
She leaned forward and smiled. “I’d love to know who your partner is, but I know that’s pushing it.”
“Yes it is; and how do you know I have one?”
“Don’t insult my intelligence and we’ll get along,” she snapped.
“OK, sounds good. The pastor’s a lucky man.”
She smiled graciously, “So is your wife.”
I headed for the door when her ring tone started. She signaled for me to wait. “Hello...OK, on my way; speaking of the pastor. I’ll get the door.” We stood at the entrance nose to nose. I looked at her mouth, a perfect fit and I smelled perfume rise from her breast. I couldn’t do what I wanted and I felt she’d let me, but if this is a test, I will not fail. Our eyes made love; she scanned the sprinkles of gray in my mustache. I hope you don’t mind my broken nose. I won’t mind the single dimple on your cheek or the wrinkles under your eyes. I put my hand on hers and turned the knob.
I didn’t tell my partner about the encounter with Sister Grace. He wouldn’t understand and he might pay it too much attention. For the past several months everything went well. No threats of scandal. The Pastor’s explanation of the scar on his cheek was accepted with raised eyebrows. He smiled and greeted me like the rest of the security staff.
Acting wasn’t his strong point, I knew he suspected me. Good.
Cynthia kept a low profile and started to attend our sister church. Our daughter said she changed. Good, now maybe she’ll find a new husband. God knows she knew all the guys. Another Auditor success story that couldn’t be shared, but unfortunately that didn’t last long.
A deacon with access to the books and money got himself a gambling habit. Every time I thought about it I’d reach behind the seat and yank the zip tie around the hood over his head. He gagged and coughed profusely when I released it. “Shut up before I shoot you in the head, Gringo!” My Spanish sucks but I had to disguise my voice. This was a martial arts guy, luckily he drank too much tonight; one blow to the right spot and I got to introduce myself. Morrow pulled into a secluded spot. The deacon’s efforts to communicate soothed my sadistic streak. I pressed a .38 revolver on his ear and spun the barrel.
Click, nothing happened.
He squirmed and got louder. “You need to behave and praise the Lord.” Another spin; click. “You understand, Gringo?” He agreed. Who wouldn’t? I snatched the door open and through him on his face. “A wise man would be quiet.” We left him in the dust. Morrow dropped me at my car. “Time to lay low. Good night.”
I took a shower, but a funny feeling persisted in my gut. I knew I was wrong, but I cared more about me then what’s right. Self-righteousness and selfishness; what a combo. I slipped under the covers and Sister Grace turned over and kissed me deep and long.
She felt good in every way.
“What have you been up too, Mr. Auditor?”
“We talked about this, don’t ask, and just because I leave doesn’t mean that, right?”
She gave me that look. “If you say so.”
I stared at the rotating ceiling fan blades. I hoped that would put me to asleep. I told her about my queasy stomach. “That’s the Holy Spirit,” she said. I say it’s my conscious. I’m not big on religion; I haven’t seen many examples of Godliness lately. When she slammed the door I felt better. It’s got to be in my mind.
I landed a small contract remodeling and installing bathrooms in an apartment building. I arrived at 6:30am. I sipped coffee and spread the paper on the steering wheel. I took another sip when the windshield exploded. Pieces of glass hit me in the face and a burning sensation streaked across the side of my head. I froze and dropped the cup. Whoever it was had a clear shot from the building on the next block.
If it was Morrow how did he find out? But, was it him?
I got a text message: I’m disappointed in you!
Don’t panic, think. After a while it hit me.
I got out, looked around; nobody in sight. I took a brick, knocked out the remaining glass and dug the bullet out of the head restraint. The glass shop opened at 7:00am, it didn’t take long for the repair. The sun broke through the clouds and traffic moved smoothly for once.
The Chief of Security will be in his office at 10:00am. I dabbed the scar on my cheek. It wasn’t bad. I explained the reason why I’m leaving the church. It’s personal and I left. A maintenance crew blocked the hall and the detour sent me into the administrative wing.
Morrow and Sister Sarah Grace stood outside her office while she fumbled with the keys. She unlocked the door and he caressed her waist guiding her into the office.
Which one of them took the shot?
I made the right decision; a big mistake is bound to happen. It’ll be like my mother use to do. Take a piece of plant root and put it in its own pot. It will flourish on its own. Now the hard part; find a church to plant myself.
“Well, Ms. Jameson, now you’ve jumped through all the hoops,” the short and wide shelter clerk giggled. “The paper work’s complete. Here’s the dog’s...Tron’s schedule to see a vet after he leaves the shelter.” He put the paper in a folder. I intercepted it when he handed it to my mom.
“Thanks,” I read his soiled name tag. “Reggie for speeding the process, sitting by the cat cages is tickling my sinuses, I’m allergic.”
“You’re welcome.” He smiled. “A lot of people have that problem.” Reggie swiveled in his seat and looked down the hallway. “Here he comes now.”
The closer Tron got the louder his fellow inmates barked. “Here he is,” a muscular assistant in dirty scrubs said.
When we first saw the year old Greyhound-Labrador mix puppy he stared up at us from the corner of his cage. He wagged his tail and tried to lick my hand when I touched the cage. “Mom, what do you think?”
She tapped the cage with her cane. “He’s OK...jet black short hair; he won’t shred like Max.” She sighed. “I miss Max, but this one will do.”
“OK.” I gave the attendant the slip from the cage. “We’ll take him.”
Tron wagged his tail, energetically and tried to duck the attendant when he adjusted his collar. “Mom, I’ll take him to the car; wait by the turn around I’ll be right back.”
We parked at the back of the lot. I double wrapped the leach around my wrist. Tron pulled me to the nearest tree. He took his first leak as a member of the Jameson Family. The tug of war continued halfway to the car when he stopped. “Come on, Tron.” I demanded and yanked the leach. Tron pulled back, the collar slipped over his head. He spun and ran twenty feet or so and stopped. My arthritic knees kicked in, I stood there. “Don’t you run away dog!” I opened the collar and walked over to him. “Hold still.” Tron spun, hopped a few feet and barked.
I just got this dog. If he runs away at the shelter they’ll think I’m stupid.
If I stoop and be nice that should work. “Here Tron, we gotta go it’s getting ready to rain.” He tilted his head like ‘what.’ Then he sat for a minute and crept toward me. Good, get closer dog and you’re mine. I lunged, he dodged and I fell and banged my knee. It took a minute before I got up. “Tron, come here!”
My mom walked up. “Harry, Harry, what’s with the dog?”
“Tron slipped out the collar.”
“Come on, Tron,” mom said. “Let’s go home.” He wagged and didn’t move. “He wants to play.”
“This dog ain’t human, what’s wrong with him.”
Mom laughed. “Be charming; get a bag of chips out the console. Dogs love chips. You still have some, right?”
“Yeah, I think so. That’s a good idea, I didn’t think about that.” I rumbled through the variety of snacks I kept for the grandkids. I pointed the bags at him. “What do you want dumb dog, plain or bar-b-q?”
“Be nice, Harry.” I opened the plain chips and tossed one. He leaped and snatched it in mid-air. I tossed another it hit the ground; he gave me that crazy look, again. “Try the bar-b-q, Harry.”
“OK.” I opened the back door and walked away. I tossed a chip like a Frisbee and he did his acrobatics. Good, at least he’s by the car. “Mom, get in, I got an idea.” I help her put on her seat belt. Tron sat poised to run if I made a move on him. I left the back door open. I backed out the space and slowly pulled to the exit. Tron ran and jumped in. “Good dog.” I stopped and moved around the car with caution. Mom tossed the chips in the back and he dug in. I slammed the door. “Got you, dumb dog.” After he’d devoured the chips he leaned up and licked my ear. Now I’ve got to remember to bring my son next time if this one doesn’t work out.
the meat and potatoes stuff
Shelf Life (1995)
John Clayton Heinz
That cliché of time grinding slower when you’re falling is pretty accurate.
I know, because I’m experiencing it now. The context—my mother’s kitchen Wednesday morning, white cabinetry and glass-top table and red faux-Spanish tile—stands stock still, while my mind races to try and make sense of what’s happening and why. How. My body, meanwhile—all the senses that would normally induce me to move or react, to alter the downward projection and potential for serious harm or even death—also ceases to function. I’m lost in the moment, now I just have to go with the flow.
I’m falling backward from standing straight up on top of the kitchen counter.
As usual I’d been digging into the murky recesses of our family-medicine-cabinet-cum-coffee-accoutrement-storage: a corner of the kitchen boasting everything from street-grade morphine syrup to General Foods International’s Café Vienna, and the focal point of my entire life since spring.
The idea that the more interesting contents therein share space with our pedestrian hot-beverage paraphernalia—mugs, sugar, filters, the ubiquitous Folgers jar—has not yet struck me as odd. Years later, I will question Mom’s logic here, but for now my entitled pubescent self takes it at face value; the kitchen is, after all, where our amber plastic vials have always been kept, from house to house throughout my childhood.
It is to Mom’s dubious credit that the narcotics are kept up high, out of a short person’s sight and tucked where they require a modicum of initiative for an enterprising teenager to locate—three shelves up from the Goofy Band-Aids, to be precise.
The cabinet—the right answer to so many wrong questions—sits wedged between the stove and refrigerator.
First I reach up and swing open the door.
On the bottom shelf, an amusing ruse: the mugs and coffee stuff (pink packets, green stirrers, red Folgers). On the second shelf, sundry potions and lotions, and the Disney bandages. (How the box got here is a mystery—no member of the family likes cartoons, and not even my 10-year-old brother would use one under duress.)
I’m able to focus on the Band-Aids box while spinning backward off the counter nanoseconds after registering the pain of my seared left foot, which I’d solidly planted on the “fr” electric stovetop coil someone thoughtfully abandoned after turning to medium-high—not hot enough to turn orange, but not cool enough to be standing on, either.
On the third shelf houses a vaguely medicinal and reparative hodgepodge that, to my knowledge, no one ever touches—pink calamine, blue milk of magnesia, brown hydrogen peroxide—all very colorfully receding from my view in a blur as I plummet backward toward the red tile.
It is the fourth shelf, however, where shit starts to get a little useful. Among the potions and lotions and tablets and caplets stocked here are some well worth poaching, as I’ve discovered through extensive self-diagnosis: Robitussin DM, Nyquil, and way in the back, shrouded in darkness, the fourth shelf’s pi ce de résistance—750 sweet milliliters of that liquid morphine, mysteriously prescribed to one virginia arana from a pharmacy in flushing ny, and bearing an expiration date that falls squarely within Reagan’s first term. My best guess is that Ms. Arana worked for my parents in some household capacity back before I developed cognition, but who can be sure? God knows why the woman ever needed enough morphine to take down a yeti, but that’s hardly my business. She could be my saucy Latina birth mom, for all I know.
There’s quite a lot of syrup left, but I want the contents of that bottle to last at least until I go to college, so I only use it on very special occasions: gymnasium dances, post-exam-week decompression, that Friday night I convinced Geoff Greenspun during a sleepover to join me in a basement jerk-off session to my stepfather’s descrambled Spice at Night channel. That night, we felt no pain.
Speaking of which, why was the fucking burner on? Was it going all night? Or did Mom’s troglodytic boyfriend, Martin, fry an egg and forget to shut it off before lurching off to work? Regardless, the flat metal spiral was totally hot, and it took my distracted brain multiple seconds to realize that radial-stripe grill marks were being sizzled into my sole. The delayed agony was intense, and it sent me flying off-balance from the high counter, setting my slow-mo reverie into course.
Falling backward about four feet above the tile, my right arm flails out before me like a zombie’s, fingers stretched toward the cabinet’s highest shelf. There, a trove of prescriptive bliss lies compiled—nay, hoarded—over years and years, the collective result of a few lifetimes’ worth of exaggerated aches, pains, sprains, and breaks; spates of (utterly fictional) migraine headaches and (largely actual) suburban hysteria. My mother, the unquestionable pirate captain of all this booty, has seemingly sought an illicit scrip—with unexplainably high refill count—for every trip to a doctor since 1980. There are so many pills, caplets, and capsules that my dipping these past several months has made nary a noticeable dent. Or if it has, she’s not telling. The real explanation, probably, is the simplest one: Her own dippage is so frequent and haphazard that it thwarts any half-hearted attempt at loss prevention.
Mom’s supply is staggering.
The Valium selection alone comprises a dizzying array: The oldest vials feature yellowing, typewritten labels actually spelling out the marketed name: valium. Each pale yellow tablet here sports a nifty cutout “v.” There are a handful of these bottles, and two, inexplicably, are from Italy. These are pre-divorce and long expired. The rest were administered by some gullible Florida shrink. The newer bottles all say diazepam, which is just another name for Valium, according to my new good friend Mr. Harold M. Silverman’s The Pill Book, 5th Edition, which I lifted from the Barnes Noble at the mall back in May.
Chronologically, the Valiums change color, from light yellow to a dusky pink to gray and then back to yellow, the the “v” disappearing from all the later models. They’re the easiest to crush of all the meds; I’ve been known to sneeze out a fucking rainbow at the most inopportune moments. This scenario is fairly difficult to explain to, say, class president Kimicho Tukikana sitting to my right in AP English, or class slut Sharon Sharma doing her nails across the aisle from me in the back of the school bus. While these two girls are nothing alike, my gaffe begets the same facial expression on each.
There are far more Valium/diazepam bottles than any other drug, but the Codeines run a close second: There are Tylenol 3s and 4s—big, chunky white horsepills not fit for inhalation (trust me on this—attempts have been made), but good for a general numbness when you need to keep motor skills intact. Two are my limit for these, though—otherwise, big-time nausea. Apparently Mom was also prescribed pure Codeine, for some reason, in December of 1989. Initially a 20 count, there were eight upon my discovery, and currently, ahem, only five remain. I’m trying to pretend they don’t exist for now.
There are Darvocets, Vicodins, Demerols, Ativans, phenobarbitals, Seconals, hydrocodones, Ritalins, and Halcions. Clonazepams, lorazepams, diazepams, and alprazolams. All the ’pams. That last one, which I guess most people call Xanax, is my favorite. Tiny, gray, football-shaped bliss. Antianxiety and the solution to 15 years of problems, basically. There are several batches, about 300 footballs total.
Petty, bourgeois, totally functional addict. Country club drunk, the kind who will never admit defeat. I tend to think that beneath her current of denial, she’s aware I forage these shelves. My guess is she appreciates the company. In time I’ll probably blame her for everything—isn’t that another cliché?—but for now I’ll just ignore her. What I would like to know is how she pulls it off. My mother is the Imelda Marcos of pills, and her collection must have taken—still must take—sustained, rigorous effort. Doctors upon doctors upon stories upon lies upon pain.
What does she tell them? And are they expensive? Is Aetna really covering all this with no question? Is Martin—the personification of blissful ignorance on the regular—aware? Is Mom, like me these last six months, to some degree constantly high?
Will the pills turn me into her one day—hysterical and oversensitive, prone to superficial violence and bad decisions? They are, anyway, the reason I stood barefoot on a fucking stovetop, and therefore also why I’m about to make a teen-sized indentation in the kitchen floor. They explain so much about my mother’s behavior over the years, but for every question they answer, another glops together.
Will I survive the fall? Will it leave me brain-damaged and strung to life by a pullable plug? Or will I merely lose consciousness, only to be found with my hand lodged firmly in the kooky jar? Will my pink and gray and pale-yellow answers be dashed to bright-light waking memories and anxiety-ridden fever dreams? Will the jig be up?
Somehow during my descent these questions register. From the fifth to the first, the shelves all fall away—my narcotic pyramid in reverse: the bright blue and orange cold-syrups, the cartoon-colored bandages and the red jar of coffee, the bone-colored mugs. It all recedes in gorgeous, cinematic slow-mo, and at this early juncture I only feel a little pain from my foot burn—a distant, almost pleasantly distracting sting.
Whatever slight burning sensation has at this point managed to trek the synaptic path from sole to brain utterly evaporates, however, when my head hits the floor.
My skull cracks the tile first, a split second before my back, ass, and legs slam into formation behind it. My head bounces once, twice, as the rest of my body ripples down like some retro-spectacular break-dance worm. My vision inkblots as both arms land last, above my head, the left palm slack and open and the right still clutching a now-empty 60-count Xanax vial.
I’m able to discern the footballs it held scatter across the red tile like Honey Smacks: under the glass-topped wicker table, under the stained oak bureau housing the kitchen TV, into the baseboard heating vents below the bay window that looks out onto our sloping backyard, layered in dead leaves. Those vents get so hot...yet another place in this booby-trapped kitchen a poor boy can burn his foot. Skirting the tenuous edge of consciousness, immobile on the floor now, I wonder: When those tiny pills melt and steam away, will the people breathing the air in this house all mellow the fuck out?
The pain in my skull spreads down my neck and upper back like a blood puddle in a gangster movie. It’s among the worst I’ve ever felt, and somehow, somewhere, a glimmer of raw pride burns at that. I groan in agony but manage to smile at the absurdity of my situation. I’d be laughing maniacally if I were physically able.
Then suddenly the room changes.
I sense that a person has entered the kitchen. My vision’s still black-blotted and quavering, but I blink through it and coil my beat-up head to the right, pupils focusing on a 10-year-old boy’s impassive, upside-down face looming over me.
“Brandon,” I croak, my voice barely audible.
With his dark-green TMNT backpack dangling from one hand, my little brother just turns and walks away, yanking open the door that leads out to our garage.
“We’re gonna miss the bus,” he says blankly over his shoulder, before pulling it shut and disappearing from my steadily clearing view.
(adapted from The Overdose, a novel)
In 1993 the model Jayne Ellis dated Axl Rose. From January to April she had to leave her six month old infant with Rose while she went on a four month long modeling tour around the world. She said she wanted him to learn what it’s like to raise a baby. When she returned home Rose broke up with her and she found a diary he kept and lost during the time she was away. He yelled at her to shred it. But she did not. She made it public: Here it is:
Marita packed up Jayne’s things. I said, “Jayne you are not leaving me at home with Brownie.”
“The maids will help,” she said in reference to you, “but you need to learn the necessary skills.”
“Look bitch,” I thought, “I am not a babysitter.
“And I hate the name Jayne gave you: Brownie. Artistes have given their children awful names, but you are cursed with the worst of them. Jesus Christ, they’ll tear you apart in school. And yes, your name is even worse than Francis Bean Cobain and Moon Unit Zappa.
“I can’t take care of this thing,” I told Jayne, referring to you.
“Be nice,” she said. “Sure you can. And when I return home we’ll have the best sex we’ve ever had.” She grabbed my nuts, pulled me closer to her, kissed me, and walked out the door. And then it was just me and you. I looked downwards. Well, so far, so good. You just sat there like furniture.
I decided to treat you like my own flesh and blood. “You are my son,” I said, and picked you up and lifted you above my head in celebration and all of a sudden I hear, superquick, clack!clack!clack!clack!clack!clack!clack!clack! you began to cry. I didn’t mean to lift your head into the ceiling fan.
Things went south very fast. You cried every time I walked into the room. “What’s your problem, motherfucker?” I asked you. “This isn’t an MP. It is a YP. What I mean by that, bud, is that this is not my problem, it is your problem.”
Your screaming makes my life hell. No matter where you are in the house, I hear you screeching away. At times, when you’re in your crib, I’ll rush up to your face and shout, “Mothetfucker, what do you want from me?!?! Admit it! You don’t like me! I won’t be embarrassed! Say Gaga twice! I’ll take that to mean, ‘You don’t like me.’” SAY IT! I WON’T TAKE IT PERSONALLY! JESUS FUCKING CHRIST!”
The other day I picked up a little barbell shaped toy, like a rattle. “Here,” I said. “Do like normal babies do, play with it.” I tossed it at you. You threw it back at me and farted. That made me mad. “Okay, if that’s the way you want it...” I wound up like a pitcher and beamed it at you. Such a little snot. And if you who are reading this are like, “Golly Cheepers! How could you treat an infant like that?!” I reply that it was a light toy and did no harm.
Back to you and your spoiled self. I’m not good enough for ya, huh? Go cry. Who cares. Oh yeah, and guess what? Your mom’s a bad lay. You see that girl who came in here and left an hour later. Now SHE was a good lay. And you can’t tell your mom I’m cheating on her, HAHAHAHA! Your mom will never know; serves her right.
As for you, you piece of shit, I’m writing a song about you: “The Barb B Q.” it’s about how you hate me. You think I’m dirt. What’s a matter, ya little turd? I’m not as good as your coke-headed mommy? A nurse told me to be nicer to you. I fired her, and I let her know why I was firing her.
I plopped you on the sofa to watch “Head Banger’s Ball” with me. You don’t even appreciate good music. Faster Pussycat, Odin, Brittany Fox, Vixen, and all you do is sit there and drool. How annoying, you keep tipping over, and I have to reset you upright.
If you would stop drooling, I’d give you ten, no, a hundred, no, ten thousand dollars, ten fucking thousand dollars if you quit. Your baby food is always caked over your bib. You’re like a frigging geriatric the way you spit your food, IN MY GODDAMN FACE! Hey dipshit, I don’t have to be doing this. I can turn you over to 24 hour nurses. But if your mom found out I did that, I’d lose her. I didn’t know what I was in for when I agreed to babysit you.
Your crying invades me dreams. It’s unfucking believable to lay there, listening to you shout and babble. So I’ll get out of bed, red eyes like coal, and hold you while we watch Network One. And you still don’t shut up. YOU DUMB PRICK! THIS IS WHAT I GET FOR WAKING ME UP AT THREE AM? YOU UNGRATEFUL SHIT!
I grew up in a hard life, many nights we’d have no dinner and be forced to eat after dinner mints from the restaurant down the street. We had to cross the freeway to use the gas station restroom. And to sleep in a van, the heat knocks the hell out of you. By the time you’re up, your clothes are soaked. We were Poor with a capital P. AND HERE YOU FUCKING ARE! EVERYTHING A BRAT COULD ASK FOR! YET YOU’RE BLIND TO IT! YOU DON’T KNOW HOW LUCKY YOU ARE! AND YOU KNOW WHAT?! YOU’RE GONNA GROW UP WEAK, WEAK AND SOFT! LIKE THAT BABY ON THE COVERS OF YOUR DIAPERS BOX!
You cry every time I light up a cigarette around you. So in response I smoke more, and blow it in your face. “What’s upsetting you?” I ask. “You want more smoke? You want me to blow MORE SMOKE? Like this? Sure, I’d love to.” Watcha cryin all about? Why all the coughing?”
You bother me. The fact I make you cry keeps me up at night. I lay in bed, wondering why you hate me, steaming under the covers. Motherfucker, I am nothing but nice to you. And you’re Ritchie Rich. You have all and more than any kid could ask for. Yet I walk in the room and you sob. WHY DON’T YOU LIKE ME!?!? I AM A NORMAL, EVERYDAY GUY! I AM NOT SOMEONE TO BE AFRAID OF! I’M NOT A PERVERT OR A FREAK!! I OUGHTTA KICK YOUR ASS!
Then I got an idea on how to shut you up. Steve Adler always had H and his gear on him. He came over, and it was funny, because we had to do the math on how much to give you. So we computed: Steve weighed himself on the bathroom scale. 142 lbs. Then we weighed you. Eight or so pounds. Steve does about 500 mg a day, and we were sloppy with the math, but we decided ten milligrams would do you good.
We couldn’t find a belt tight enough for your arm, so we used yarn from Jayne’s sewing junk. We pinched the vein to the surface, and then shot you up with a 32 Gauge needle. You cried at first, and then...peace and quiet. Never have I appreciated silence more than when we shut you up with heroin. Sometimes you’d zone out, laughing at nothing. Then you fell asleep and we couldn’t wake you up. Lucky I knew how to do a sternum rub, and we got you up and working again.
We rehearsed in the living room, and you were crying tears the size of Niagara, and Steven was out of H. Then Slash got a good idea. Let’s record your crying and track it into a song. So Slash, Izzy, and Duff took up their guitars and got right in your face and played away. The guy who stuck a fifty watt microphone in your face was Billy, our producer. You looked like you were on a roller coaster and wanted to get off. So how does it feel to be harassed by loud noise, huh? Not too much fun. It was cool when you puked. Got a taste of your own medicine. Don’t bullshit me. You tortured me on purpose. WHAT DID I EVER DO TO YOU? Life’s tough, kid. Better you learn it now, than later.
Your mom wanted me to spend time with you and feel like a dad. You have taught me to despise fatherhood.
Jayne will be home in a few days. I am packed to leave. She’ll end the relationship when I say I’m sick of you. I mean, she would never give you up for adoption, and I do not like you, and you have made it more than clear that you do not like me. Your mom wasn’t crazy about me anyways. So I’ll move out and go back to doing groupies, and she’ll go back to doing her female and male models. How she will deal with you, I have no idea. I admit, I rode you hard, but you can’t tell your mom! HAHAHAHA!!!!
Footprints on My Face
Davey was the gay roommate. Hando was the tuffie. Cheryl was the purring seducer. These are the only ones that mattered. You know the shtick, “We are seven people,” “Picked to Live in a house together...” this particular show took place in Tokyo and you got lost easily; it has seventeen downtowns. So none of us strayed too far from our house. It didn’t matter that at each corner there was computer monitor that spoke in seven languages, “What language do you speak? You are here. Where do you want to go?” Sometimes there’d be lines to these machines.
How bad was it living in a house with these people? A few months into the show, we were all in the living room, drinking it up and playing pool. Cheryl was hitting on me. When I went to the bathroom to take a leak, I heard everyone quiet down, like they were whispering. I shook it, zipped up, and walked back in. Cheryl read palm.
“That’s weird,” she said. “It means something like, ‘you are a clown.’ Whatever that means, it beats me.”
Then, a little later, she said, “Jake, let’s go up into my room.”
“Sure thing. But I’m tense. Can’t we wait until I got a little more beer in me?”
Hando massaged my shoulders and told me to relax and be cool. The rest of the roommates cheered us on. Cheryl and I walked up into her bedroom. She asked me to pull off my pants and boxers and lay down on the bed. I took them off and lay down.
Then she said, “I’m going to turn off the lights. It will be easier for me that way.” And she began. I’ve had better, but this was good, though she did rake a bit. After a while she said, “I better go borrow a condom from Hando. Close your eyes and don’t move.’ She walked out a I waited.
I heard the door open and close, then open and close again. She put the condom on me and went at my dick again. This attempt was a lot better than what she did before. When I spermed I was pretty loud. Breathlessly I snapped off the condom. And the lights came on. Davey was standing there. He grinned. Cheryl was gone. I didn’t know what to say. “Guys, isn’t this rape?” I asked.
I heard the gang of them in the living room laughing it up. Davey ruffled my hair. “Don’t be so homophobic,” he said.
But that incident was way into the show. The harassment began as soon as I entered the first day. I walked into the house and the three cameramen are right up in my face. One of them warned me, “Be careful. Someone lost a snake in here. A Texas Rattler. And they can’t find it.”
One by one my housemates arrived. They went skinny dipping in the pool. I didn’t want to. “What’s the matter?” Hando asked. “Not so big, are you?”
They disrespected me a lot, and I didn’t have the social skills to stand up for myself and talk back. So I just laughed it up and sported my panama smile, all the while thinking, Oh my God, this is going to be on television.
And they had sex all the time. The girl roommates brought home guys, the guy roommates brought home girls, save Davie, who brought home men. Haters filled the bars. The patrons threw chairs and tables at us. The Orientals picked on me the most: “You be banjo boy in Deliverance!” “You and your sister do nasty!” “You product of incest!” I never hooked up once, unless you count Davey.
MTV gave us the job of working as factotums and janitors in a scat porn studio—which mostly shot girls receiving enemas. Scatological porn is big in Japan. The studios comprise a forty-floor skyscraper that’s all windows from every floor to every ceiling. Each floor is a separate studio in and of itself. And the windows can be opened. For example: A shoot starts on the first floor, and by the end of the day the place reeks so bad they’d open all the windows on that floor and leave for the day. The next day shooting took place on the second floor. Same thing, at the end of the day: open all windows. The next shoot was on the third floor, and on and on, till they finished on the 44th floor, the top floor. Then, back to the first floor, and everything starts all over again.
Each shoot began with a prayer: The director turned off all the lights, let the blinds down on all the windows. It was total black, and their crew gathered in a circle and prayed. My roommates could not participate because we could not understand what they were saying. Then, lights on, the day started.
All Japanese porn stars are named Princess. Princess Zumi, Princess Hiata, Princess Yen. It was my job to stick the rectal bulb syringe up the star’s rectum, holding time about a minute, then she would let loose. We Americans gagged on the smell. Some days we had a cream coroners use, you rub it under your nostrils, and it blocks the smell in the studio.
To help the shoots out, the studio would order the hottest Mexican food and water bottles of Mexican water, the latter straight from Mexico: Caliente Agua. Soon the place stunk with the models’ farts, and then it’s me and the enema bulb, and whoosh, like Niagara Falls.
The director saw my job demeaned me, and as a “reward,” he placed me in his two minute experimental video. An actress playing an anchor on the nightly news in a news studio appeared on screen. As she read the news, five men—including me—jerked off in her face, and all the while she kept reading the news, semen hanging off her face and hair like a messy sneeze. The director said he made a mistake using me, since I couldn’t get it up. I was too anxious
Hando hated me. He was a brawler. As the weeks went on he began to call me, a faerie, a faggot, a limp wrist, etc.
A few days after Davey sucked me off the producer called us all into the living room. He dressed in the mid-80s style of Hawaiian pants and shirts and sunglasses. His claim to fame was a three month stint as assistant director on Miami Vice. The guy set up a TV and VCR and played for us the news that the US invaded Iraq. He said he thought it was the show’s responsibility to let the house know this. Then he and his assistants took the equipment and left.
The producer had sparked my roommates. They were gung ho for the war, shouting around as they dribbled down their bibs. When I asked what if we’re wrong about the chemical weapons, Hando said, “Well, to be frank, I don’t think Iraq should have a BB gun.”
“God Bless America,” they screeched in unison and toasted.
“Guys,” I said, “This is a complicated situation, not a matter of ‘for’ or ‘against.’”
Davey said, “Jake, I thought I was the biggest bitch around here...Looks like I was wrong.”
And Cheryl called me a pansy. “The only good sand nigger is a dead sand nigger,” she shouted right in my face. I smelled sperm.
Then Hando got up in my private space and started to shove me, asking me to punch him. He screamed, “Words! All you got is words! All you got is your voice! Let’s see you swing at me! Bitch! Please, just one tiny punch is all I need! Me vs. you!” He went into the kitchen and came out with a large steak knife. He threw it at my feet. “Pick it up, Jakey.”
All the roommates are shouting at me to pick it up. I left to my room.
The next day the producer and I sat down on the balcony. He dressed like someone dynamited a flower bed. “Jake, I want to talk to you about Hando, and fist fighting in general. Your roommates punk you every day. I think it’s pathetic. Many a time you need to stand up for yourself. It’s gotten so bad, you’re disgusting, the editors and cameramen are so fed up with you and your humiliations they’re threatening to quit. It’s like nails on a blackboard. We all agree: You are an embarrassment.” He sighed, put his hand on my shoulder, and said, “We all got to start being a man sometime. Stick out those pects and walk like you’re walking through windows.”
Later that day in the confessional booth I said, “I’m scared.”
Things went from shoving sessions to outright fighting. Hando is lean, big boned and 250 pounds. I’m five foot five and weigh in at 127 pounds. None of the roomies broke up the brawls. We’d start out boxing, but it always ended in wrestling. He wrangled me into a headlock a lot. One bout I had on loose jogging pants, and I gagged as I huffed out, ‘Hey Hando, this doesn’t count! My pants are falling off!” Soon I couldn’t breathe, just gurgle. The cameramen threw down their cameras and broke it up. This angered the roommates. The producer strutted in a few hours later and reprimanded the three cameramen: “Rule #1 in reality television: keep the cameras rolling. They got lots of machines at the hospital to bring people back to life from strangulation.”
One day I was taking a dump, just sitting there, away from the cameras, away from my roommates, just relaxing...and Hando kicked in the door. The three cameramen and my roomies stood there, pointing and laughing and pinching their noses. “Ewww,” teased Cheryl. What could I do? The piece of feces was only half way out. If I stood up and pulled my pants up, the crap would drop into my boxers.
“Come on guys, leave me alone for once.”
Later that day Hando beat me down. While I lay there in my blood, my ear to the floor, making sucking sounds every time I moved my head, Hando smoked a cigarette.
Man am I dumb: I slept in boxers, no pants, until one night Hando and Cheryl ripped the covers off my bed, for all the cameras to see, and then dragged me across the floor by my legs. “I had to do it,” Hando said. “I hate peacenik faggots. No offense, Davey.”
The beatings got so bad that I had to talk to someone. So I called my parents back in Vegas. They begged me repeatedly to come home. But I didn’t want to pussy out and surrender. Some crazy part of myself told me I needed to beat my roommates. And if the show aired all my humiliations no one out in public would respect me.
One call I told them how Hando busted in on me while I was taking a dump. My mom and dad started to sniffle, like they were crying. My mom kept telling me to go to the police, but I told her what the producer said, that MTV is such a huge corporation, the cops won’t involve themselves in the show no how, no way. I worried as I spoke. I didn’t see anyone else in the room. I didn’t want my complaining to anger my roomies. I added that a lot of the harassment would be my word vs. my housemates, the three cameramen, and the producer. And anyway, if I called the police, the show would make sure I paid for it.
“You’ve got to do something, son,” my dad said. “Come home to us, where it’s safe. No one will beat you up here. It hurts us to hear your stories about what goes on in that house.”
Just then someone turned off the lights. Total black. I felt a jagged pain in my lower torso. Like someone stuck me with an ice sickle. I screamed. The lights came back on. A flower of blood bloomed around my ribs on my right.
“Mommy! They stabbed me! Oh God! Mom! Aggh! It hurts! It burns!”
My parents screamed so loud I couldn’t understand them. They didn’t yell, they howled. “My son! My Son!” my mother wailed.
I called 101 (That’s the 911 for Japan). The cops interviewed everyone. They all said they didn’t do anything. And the lights were off, so I couldn’t identify anyone. The producer arrived. I puked on the carpet. The producer grabbed me by the back of my neck and tried to shove my face into the vomit. When he saw he couldn’t do that, he ordered me to clean it up.
Once the cops found out this was a worldwide MTV show, they asked a few more questions, didn’t write anything down, and left. They drove me and the two cameramen to the ER. I know I enraged my roomies by calling the cops. I needed to think. What to do. Tunnel vision: Get out of the house as soon as possible. Get back, pack, call a cab to the airport and take the first plane out of the country.
I got fifteen stitches. No internal damage. I thought I saw the cameraman zoom in on the stitches.
When I got home the whole cast seethed in anger. “Good thing you came back, snitch,” Hando said. “It’s out of the frying pan into the fire.” I picked up the phone, pressed two for English, and ordered a cab to the house. The operator said it’d be there in half an hour.
I bulldozed my way past my roomies and walked up to my bedroom and packed. I didn’t fold my clothes, just threw them into the suitcase. The suitcase filled before I had all my things in, fuck it, I’ll leave the rest here. My housemates watched at the door. Cheryl was chewing gum and tapping her foot. “Watcha packin for?” she asked.
“I’m outta here,” I said.
“That’s what you think,” she said. “There are some things we need to settle first. “
“Settle them without me.” I zipped up my suitcase, grabbed it, and brushed by her.
Hando grabbed me from behind and squeezed me into a headlock. Breathing was hard. It was like bull riding. I was the bull. I screamed nonsense and fought like this was a rodeo. I wanted out. Just get out the fucking door. “Go at it,” Hando yelled to everyone. “I got him tight. I got his snitch ass.” They pulled down my pants and boxers. I almost shat myself.
“No!” I squealed. “No! What are you going to do!?” I was always told that if you’re trapped like this, don’t yell for help, yell “Fire!” But who would hear that would care? My psyche prof said people in this position usually scream for their mothers. I did that on the phone when they stabbed me. I would not do that again.
“I will not call out for my mother!” I screamed in a child’s accent.
Hando bellowed, “Soon we’ll have you shouting for your mama!” Then he imitated me in a high pitch, “Mommy! Mommy! I’m a helpless little boy! Please come and save me! Mommy!”
Then Hando and Davey discussed who would go first. I fought harder and smelled Hando’s deodorant.
They flipped a quarter. Hando would go first. I noticed the three cameramen all up in there, shooting.
It felt like someone shoved a hot poker up my ass. It felt like someone was ripping my insides open. When they were done, both of them shone with that post-orgasmic high, while I lay there like a red, soaking rag, blood splashed all over the bed. The cameramen moved up in my face for a close-up. I sobbed. All my roommates went out drinking. I was hoarse from shouting.
The cameramen filmed me as I waited outside for the taxi. When I got sick of standing, I sat down and felt a brutal, animalistic pain in my backside, and I screamed as my ass hit the sidewalk. The cameramen cackled. Soon the cab arrived. I stood up slowly, yelling and wincing, stepped into the taxi, and I left the house behind.
And then came the four month wait; in four months the show would air. Then the persecution would really begin.
“What will happen? Is there more? Or will this be all she wrote?” thought Steve.
Death and beyond seemed to be the only subject of any interest to him anymore, and considering his condition—why not. True everyone is going to die, but for most the simple joys of life seem to relegate that subject to a rare thought or discussion. But Steve’s terminal disease left him with only his thoughts, and usually they consisted of what would follow that final heartbeat.
An elderly nurse entered Steve’s room. She proceeded to check out his vital signs in a very regimented and swift order.
“I wonder how many she’s seen exit this life,” thought Steve. Probably thousands of poor bastards, she looks older than dirt.”
After installing a new IV bag, without so much as a word, she promptly left the room.
“Will Sue stop by today?” Steve thought. “I doubt it. She doesn’t drive anymore.”
“Who’s going to bring her? Jerald and Lynn are both out of state. They already used up their vacation time because of me. They have jobs, and we can’t expect our neighbors to keep bringing her.”
Dozing off, Steve’s mind roamed back to an earlier time, a much happier time.
The golf ball clearing the small pond landed gently and rolled to within 20 feet of the pin, on the par 5, 11th hole at Evergreen Lakes Public golf course. It was beautiful sunny summer’s morning. A lush green fairway, edged with giant pines and maples, led up to a gentle rolling green guarded by two bunkers filled with the purest white sand, and a small pond with clear rippling blue water nestled up to the front of the green—this was certainly a heavenly vision if there ever was one.
“Nice shot,” said Barney. “You got all of that one. I think you’re on the green. Yep, you’re dancing all right.”
“Thanks, that one really felt good.”
“You know Steve, retirement’s great isn’t it. Play golf two, three times a week. Can’t beat it.”
“It’s great till the old reaper collects,” said Steve.
“Got that right. Ha ha ha.”
“But you’ve already got your ticket to paradise, right Barney—at least according to your minister.”
“When are you going to see the light Steve. Just look at this beautiful setting, do you think it just happened by chance?”
“No, the groundskeepers work really hard at it.”
“Ok,” said Barney, “but I’ll pray for that old atheist soul of yours anyway.”
Steve suddenly woke. His dream was so real, that the disappointment of reality hit him hard.
“How come pain and death are always treated so lightly, when your healthy,” Steve thought. “You know its coming, no one escapes.”
That was that ten years ago when Steve was healthy and life was good, very good.
Steve and Sue were well prepared for retirement. Life was going to be great. And for a decade or so it was. They were very active—no couch potatoes. Besides his golfing, Sue loved her home projects, and they both volunteered at the hospital and then there was the dancing every weekend. They frequently traveled out of state to visit their son and daughter’s families. Life was anything but boring. Death or dependency seemed like an eternity away.
But then came that terrible, but inevitable day for all of us. The day you find out that you are not immortal you are just flesh and bones that eventually wear out or can no longer fight off one of the many afflictions that constantly bombard your immune system.
The diagnosis came straight from the shoulder, just the way Steve wanted it—no sugar coating.
“Steve, what you have isn’t strained muscles or anything else that I can treat,” said the doctor. “I’m very sorry, but you have a terminal disease.”
“What is it—how long do I have?”
“Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, and also called “Lou Gehrig’s Decease.”
Steve thought back to one of his favorite movies when he was a kid. “The Pride of the Yankees” starring Gary Cooper. He remembered how a great athlete in his prime quickly became a crippled old man, and died in a few short years.
For a few months things were pretty normal, then it suddenly started progressing at an accelerated pace and in less than a year’s time he was bedridden. No drugs were effective at slowing down the condition, and the doctors held little hope he would last more than about six weeks.
His mind although alert and sharp as ever, was trapped in a paralyzed body barely able to breathe on its own.
Steve’s speech now limited to mere grunts, left him alone with his thoughts, practically unable to communicate.
“How much longer,” he thought. “Why do I have to keep on living? For what?” Steve thought.
Two aids came into Steve’s room. They cleaned his frail body and changed the bedding. To Steve this was the most degrading part of this whole experience.
“I’m as helpless as a new born baby,” Steve thought. “Dammit, I want to die. What purpose does keeping me alive serve. Those idiots who criticized and outlawed Kevorkian, the mother fucking bastards they should all have to go through this. Why are we more humane in our treatment of animals than to ourselves?
The thought of death was never totally out of Steve’s mind. It was so fascinating, and never as relevant as it was now. But then, he had always enjoyed a vigorous discussion or argument over religion and the afterlife.
The interior of the clubhouse at Evergreen Lakes looked like something out of “The Great Gatsby”. Built back during the opulent period of the 1920’s, they spared no expense. The varnished oak and maple wood was everywhere, from the fifty foot bar, and magnificent library to heavy ceiling beams and pillars. The lavish layout with vinyl studded chairs, and beautiful polished hardwood floors except where several thick Persian carpets lay.
How was a lowly CPA like Steve allowed to play here and socialize at this exclusive men’s club. It was simple he handled most of the members taxes. He’d been coming here as a guest for years.
Sitting at a table beneath a giant picture of the legendary Bobby Jones hitting an iron into the 17th green at Augusta National, Father Clarence O’Reilly waved Steve over. Hardly a month would go by without the two of them having a long talk about everything under the sun, but it somehow always got down to religion.
“Father, how are you?” Steve said.
“Fine, and you?”
“Little tuckered out—had a miserable round today. I couldn’t get out of bunkers on 3 and 11—took two double bogeys.”
An elegantly dressed elderly waiter approached them, bringing two drinks—a gin and tonic for Father O’Reilly and a dark beer for Steve. Steve reached for his wallet, but then remembered where he was.
“I would have had the round of my life if I only had two double bogeys,” said Father.
“I would think you’d par the course most of the time with your connections,” smirked Steve.
“Here we go again. You know Steve if you think God is going to call you on the phone or e-mail you—it just ain’t going to happen that way. You must have faith.”
“Father,” smiled Steve, “I have the greatest respect for you as a human being. But really how can you follow a religion led by a man who walks around in those silly hats?”
“Seriously Steve, you’re still my number one project. I pray for you everyday.”
“Don’t get me started on prayer. Isn’t that something a schoolgirl does to get a boy to notice her? But then God says to her wait a minute Lisa, I’ve got some six year olds in Connecticut I’ve got to shoot first.”
“He does works in mysterious ways,” said Father. “You have to accept that.”
“You know father what will follow death is easily the greatest enigma. This mystery has plagued mankind ever since the first man realized he was mortal.
Yet this could all be settled if the hundred billion people who already know the answer of the afterlife would just tell us.”
“One hundred billion people,” said Father, “what are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about the hundred billion people who have already lived and died since man evolved from monkeys. That’s what I’m talking about.”
“Well Steve, they’re not going to tell us.”
“Father, I’ve struggled with this religious issue for a long time. But now I’m content. I really am.”
“I know Steve. But being an Atheist isn’t the answer, believe me.”
“Not Atheist, Agnostic.”
“That’s just splitting hairs. You’re still a lost soul.”
“No, I’m not lost. I’ve finally found myself. I don’t know and I admit it. I don’t know is the key phrase. I’m not saying there isn’t a God. I’m just saying I don’t know. I think down deep most people feel the same way, Christian or not. I really think even you have your doubts, Father.”
“When it gets down to that final hour, true I may have some concerns as to what exactly is going to happen, but I’m sure the Lord will look after me.”
“Father, all I can say is I’m ready to take my chances. If there is a God and he would send good, hard working people who lived by the Golden Rule to Hell, then so be it. I just can’t be a phony and agree to worship an invisible, unproven entity, just so others will approve of me.”
Soon after the aids left, Sue entered the room. She sat down on the edge of the bed and put her hand on his. Steve’s eyes opened widely—his only available responsive gesture.
Looking into his eyes, she smiled.
“I love you dear.”
He nodded very slightly acknowledging her.
“Father O’Reilly stopped by. He said his golf game has improved and he ready to give you a good match.”
A faint smile appeared on Steve’s face. As she looked into his eyes, he reflected back to an insignificant yet particularly memorable occasion.
They loved to eat out. And since retirement they did it quite frequently. One place in particular was their favorite place for breakfast.
The Captains Inn was a quaint little spot on the Lake Erie shoreline. Every table in the place had a lake view, with tables outside on the water’s edge for the summer time.
The interior was decorated in nineteenth century tall sailing ship décor. The ambiance from the nautical theme permeated the restaurant’s air. Everything from a lady figurehead, the carved figure that adorned the ship’s hull to a rusty cannon, allegedly coming from one of Captain Morgan’s vessels.
Both Steve and Sue loved to be near the sea, and the Captains Inn became their favorite spot.
On this occasion they were seated right next to large window which overlooked the break-wall and a giant ore ship which was approaching the dock for unloading. Hundreds of sea gulls hovered over the water occasionally diving in to try to snare a fish. Hundreds more lined the beach feeding on scraps left from the sun worshipers picnicking.
“Boy, this is one beautiful morning, Sue,” said Steve.
“I love this place. I wish we could come every morning.”
“Who’s stopping us. Were retired, remember,” said Steve.
Unfortunately, just a few weeks later Steve began to notice some leg pain. He started doing more stretching in the morning and took a pill or two of Ibuprofen per his doctor’s instructions. But his symptoms began to multiply and increase in severity until he could no longer walk nine holes.
Eventually, even with a golf cart he couldn’t play as his balance was impaired. It was only a couple months after that, that he was wheel chair bound.
Sue sat with Steve for a while. She couldn’t hide the forlorn expression on her face. These last months had taken a dreadful toll on her too. Imagine hoping that Steve’s ailment was ONLY CANCER, than at least there would be some hope no matter how slim. This terrible condition was totally hopeless—a death sentence from the onset.
Sue kissed his forehead.
“Good bye dear, I’ll try and see you tomorrow. Oh, I almost forgot, Lynn is going to fly in this weekend and stay for a week.”
The next few weeks saw an accelerated progress of the dreaded disease. He no longer could breathe without assistance, and pneumonia was becoming a distinct possibility.
Steve was finding it very hard to sleep. He was forced to confront his situation almost constantly. Without the occasional break with sleep, he was forced to spend all of his time thinking. Thinking about his future—death, or try to lose himself in memories of the former good times.
Death no longer scared him. He hoped it would come soon. He longed to find out the ultimate mystery.
“What’s next?” he thought.”Would Jesus meet him and tell him he didn’t pass the muster? Then would the Devil escort him to Hell? Then again, maybe this is it and the Atheists are correct. I guess, no one knows for sure except for those 100 billion.”
Steve’s condition continued to worsen, he developed pneumonia and the doctors called Sue and told her the time was near.
Steve’s waiting room was filled with family and friends as it looked like Steve would soon pass.
His consciousness began to come and go. His breathing was now becoming very erratic with occasional long pauses.
His vision cleared and he was back in high school standing next to his locker. The hallway was filled with students hurriedly moving on to their next class. Lockers were quickly opened and then slammed shut. It seemed so real. He remembered this exact moment. The smell, the sounds, even the touch—he knew he was really there.
Suddenly, she appeared, brushing his arm as she walked by. His first love, although she would never know. Steve’s heart skipped several beats. He froze and his eyes followed her every step until she disappeared into the classroom. He felt the heaviness and pain in his stomach as his realization of how unattainable and forever distant she would always be.
A hundred unrelated thoughts filled Steve’s mind, then one moment from the past pushed its way to the forefront.
A dreary hospital waiting room, and Sue was sitting next to him.
“She’s finally at peace.”
“I know. I just feel guilty.”
“It’s ok,” said Sue.
A nurse entered the room.
“You may go in now, and stay as long as you like.”
Steve entered the room. His mother’s cold, lifeless body lay there in front of him. There were no tears, just acceptance. “Her last years were miserable,” Steve thought, “Dad’s death, and then her rapid decline. I wish we could have been closer. I just didn’t like her very much.
My parents were poor they couldn’t give me much. I didn’t dislike them for that; it was their total lack of encouragement, and guidance.”
Tears now ran down his cheeks, as the thought of fifty years of someone in his life now gone. He realized that in a relatively short time when all her immediate kin are gone, her simple and unaccomplished life will soon be completely forgotten as if she had never existed.
Total blackness obliterated the scene. He no longer felt pain or anything, just complete contentedness and warmth. He was aware that he was now hovering over his own body. He saw the monitor now flatlining and everyone in the room consoling Sue. All of Steve’s family were crowded into his room, including his youngest grandson, Tim.
Steve had never felt such inner peace. He knew what lay ahead, and looked forward to it. Finally, it all made sense, perfect sense.
“Father, I know. It’s all so simple, why didn’t we understand.”
After one more glance in Sue’s direction, Steve knew it was time, and he was drawn away.
Tim suddenly pointed up and yelled, “Papa”.
I am No Name, I’m also dead.
I am no name% I’m also dead% they bury me in the tea garden% I’m a rose in the Tea Party% I’m Jim Diment (short for dimentia)% I’m an iconoclast% I drink poison from a flask% I head the Heritage Foundation,’’ like Himmler headed the SS% Hitler is the super head with more hair in his mustache% they eliminate the Jews, which is how they bolt% they make a revolution, doing the rounds.
“Stop it, Fred. I’ve had enuff.”
“Split yr hair with an axe. At the Tea Party, fill the cup with blood% drink it up, dog. It’s Right Wing puppy love.”
“Thanks, Fred. Run away & hide. Dr Jeckle & Mr Skin% all done% peel it back & expose yr horror, cause Mistah Kurtz, he dead, son!”
“Then that’s it, son of man.
“What about yr daughter?”
“Try the holocaust.”
It makes U feel safe to realize
It makes U feel safe to realize U have no secrets, that the govt knows who U’re sleeping with (even if yr wife doesn’t) to the number of boogers in yr nose, to what’s in yr bank acct (because yr bank willingly tells them) to the people U’ve robbed, to yr health & those who are unhealthy because of U, to the church U attend & the minister’s wife U screw. Lucky U, U are always under surveilance, & so is everybody else. If they want U in prison, that’s where U’ll go. They know more about U than U know about yrself, &, U lucky bastard, they’re in control of U, they’re totally in CONTROL . . .
Heydrich gets his throat slit by a Czec
Heydrich gets his throat slit by a Czech, & Himmler’s able & murderous right hand is dead/ the Czech is a hero/ WWII soon to be over followed by years of a Cold War between America & Russia, but the USSR was always bluffing, & now Putin raises the ante in Syria to spank us & restore the big Bear’s dignity. Ragmop & Caesar arrive to participate in the carnival.
“I suppose Brutus would have handled things differently.”
“E tu, Ragmop.”
“One thing we’ve learned from history is we haven’t learned a thing from history.”
“So does a shotgun.”
“It’s our right to have it according to the 2nd Amendment.”
“That’s the way the Right Wing reads the 2nd Ammendment.”
“I didn’t know the Right Wing could read.”
“That’s because they’re too busy counting the money the NRA gives to them.”
“I didn’t know the Right Wing could count.”
“Believe me, they can count the money. They also count on enuff Americans being outright stupid to follow the Right Wing.”
“What about the Left Wing?”
“I like them best when barbequed.”
Nicholas E. Efstathiou
The humid, unpleasant air of August attempted to smother Myrtle Street. The Anesti men sat upon the porch of the apartment building, and Michael played in the street with Eugene. They threw a baseball back and forth, Michael’s father, grandfather, and uncles talking loudly. Bottles of wine were opened and emptied in the summer’s afternoon. The ever present cigarette smoke hung above the men, Uncle Georgios picking lazily at his guitar, Uncle Gus singing softly. Michael’s father looked blankly out at the world, viewing something in the past as he drank and smoked mechanically. Papu looked up and down the length of Myrtle Street, a small smile playing on his lips. His smile broadened and he gave a nod as his eyes caught Michael’s.
Michael smiled at Papu, then turned his attention back to Eugene, throwing the ball to him. The two of them threw the ball quietly, listening to Uncle Gus and Uncle Georgios. Time passed slowly, the sound of the guitar punctuated by the ball slapping into the leather of the gloves.
Eugene froze, dropping the ball to the street as his father staggered out of the alley between Michael’s apartment building and the Markarians’.
Eugene’s father was dirty and unshaven, bleary eyed from too many shifts and too much whiskey. “Get away from that Greek,” he spat in French.
Uncle Gus continued to sing, but Uncle Georgios stopped playing. Papu’s eyes locked onto the Frenchman and Michael’s father came back to the present with a hard, disdainful look in his eyes.
Eugene remained frozen and silent as his father stumbled forward, grabbing the boy by the arm and slapping him across the mouth. Eugene whimpered, dropping his chin to his chest.
“Get home,” his father hissed.
Leaving the baseball in the street against the granite curbing, Eugene turned and raced for home.
Eugene’s father focused his attention on Michael. “You stay away from my sons, you dirty Greek bastard.”
Michael swallowed dryly and took a step back.
“Leave my street, Ronald Cote,” Papu said evenly in French from the porch.
Mr. Cote swung his whole head as he looked at Papu. “You,” he said, pointing a wavering finger at Papu. “You shut up.”
Michael felt his eyes widen. Papu’s sons continued to drink and smoke, and even Uncle Gus stopped singing, his bemused smile replaced by a dark frown. Papu shook his head. “You have no respect, and deserve none. Get out.”
“I’m gonna climb up those steps, you old Greek prick, and I’m gonna beat the hell out of you.” Mr. Cote swayed as he spoke, slurring his words.
Papu stood up. “Me, Ronald Cote? You’re going to beat me?” Papu’s voice was calm, his French fluid and precise.
“I’ll kick the hell out of you,” Mr. Cote spat.
Papu nodded, sighing as he looked at his sons. “Do you hear this man? Do you hear his disrespect?” Papu shook his head, reaching behind his back.
Papu’s hand lashed out, rising in a fast arc where at its apex his wrist snapped, and a curved pruning knife sprung out of its ox-bone handle. The blade stood steadily in Papu’s great hand and Mr. Cote stared at the steel numbly.
“Now, Mr. Cote,” Papu said, “now you die.”
Mr. Cote turned, staggered, and fell as the Anesti men exploded into movement. Shouts of “Ba! No!” rang out on the street as a bloodied Mr. Cote climbed to his feet and stumbed back to the alley, disappearing.
On the porch Michael’s father and Uncle Georgios attempted to return Papu to his chair. Uncle Gus did not look like himself, looking instead like Michael’s father as he stood on the porch. Uncle Gus held Papu’s pruning knife, running his thumb along the blade and glaring at the alley where Mr. Cote had fled. Aunt Eleni came to the door, drying her hands on a dishtowel. She saw the look on Uncle Gus’ face and said softly, “Kostas.”
Uncle Gus’ head snapped around. Aunt Eleni stepped out onto the porch. She held out a hand. “Please, Kostas.”
Uncle Gus gave his sister the knife, and the glare vanished. The bemused look returned and he sat down once more. Papu sat heavily in his chair and Uncle Georgios took up the guitar, strumming it lightly. Uncle Gus hummed and Aunt Eleni turned to Papu. She held out the knife. Papu took it and sighed. “Thank you, Eleni.”
“Do you want coffee, Alex?” Aunt Eleni asked.
Michael’s father shook his head. He lit a fresh cigarette and poured another glass of wine. Settling back into the chair his gaze slipped away has he looked once more into the past.
Michael walked to the baseball. He looked at it for a moment before picking it up. He carried the ball towards the apartment, to keep it safe until he saw Eugene again.
Adventures in the New York Mountains, the Catskills and the Adirondacks
Dr. (Ms.) Michael S. Whitt
Several years ago Amanda Rosaleigh Blake and her live-in lover and soul mate, Michael Demian Randolph, vacationed in the New York Mountains for two weeks. Their major destination was the Adirondacks. Neither of them had ever been to these beautiful mountains. They spent most of their time around Long Lake, a small town in the midst of them. There were two places in the Catskills Michael and Amanda had never been in the several times they visited these mountains. The two decided to spend half a day in Woodstock and Bear Mountain, two places within a few miles of each other.
Their visit to Woodstock was short lived and rather disappointing. As most readers know a famous rock festival was held there in l969. It was attended by a half million youth people and many famous folk and rock singers. The latter included Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Arlo Guthrie, and the Jefferson Airplane/Starship. It also is known as a place where various artists congregate to work and share ideas and community. Fourteen years after the concert Woodstock seemed dulled out, yet rather strident and stuck up about their alleged artistic community and history.
The only worth while adventure they had was in nearby Bear Mountain. It concerned the home and works of a brilliant man, the late Dr. Harold Rugg, who was a pioneer in founding Amanda and Michael’s field: Foundations of Education. Harold began his career as a Dartmouth educated civil engineer. However, this did not satisfy him for long. After obtaining a PhD. from the University in engineering, he became a professor there. Soon he developed an interest in the processes of education. He obtained another PhD. in education, and spent the rest of his career as a progressive teacher-educator at Teachers College, Columbia University.
Amanda and Michael shared many of his interests and had read almost all his writings. They found his magnum opus, Imagination, quite useful and had read it from cover to cover three or four times. It was a gigantic work which explored creativity and the workings of the imaginations from numerous perspectives as different as the arts and cybernetics; as poetry and physics; and as anthropology and calculus.
Michael and Amanda were professors in the foundations field. They were especially excited with their shared idea that not only was teaching a creative art, but that teachers should pursue areas of creativity outside of their teaching fields. Amanda and Michael wrote poetry and short stories and engaged in experimental horticulture. Amanda also dabbled with water colors and had painted several pictures for their home. Dr. Rugg chose building a beautiful weekend and retirement home in the Catskills for his main extra-teaching creative project. Many of the home’s materials were gathered from the surrounding area.
When the couple was headed Bear Mountain, They found a bookstore in which they discovered one of Dr. Rugg’s works, Now is the Moment. Rugg had written a note and signed it. They were thrilled to get the book. They went on to Bear Mountain and searched unsuccessfully for his house. Finally, Amanda drove them back to the small Bear Mountain commercial area. They asked a man they met where the Rugg house was located. The man was reluctant to tell them until they explained the details of their relationship to him. He gave them excellent directions to it.
When the couple arrived at the house on a mountain side, they were impressed with the beauty of the setting and of Rugg’s home. As they walked to the yard from their rental car, two small fawns and their mother appeared from the woods in back of the home. They dashed across the front yard and back into the woods on the far side of the house. This was a beautiful adventure itself. The two lovers took it as a good sign about the whole adventure, and it turned out to be true.
They were exploring the yard and enjoying the view from the mountain when they heard noise within the house. Soon an older woman opened the front door. The woman was Harold’s widow and fourth wife, Elizabeth. Harold died rather young even for the time. He was 64 when he died while working in his garden in 1964. Amanda and Michael, being avid gardeners, thought that was a wonderful way to die.
Michael and Amanda were excited when they found out who she was. They were worried for a moment that the house had been sold to strangers who did not know anything about Dr, Rugg. They explained to Elizabeth that they were second generation foundations scholars and admirers of her late husband’s work. She invited them in to chat for a while. She was by this time in her mid-eighties.
She said, “I finally remarried in l975. My husband and I are preparing to go to his home near Jacksonville, Florida where we plan to spend the winter. It is after Labor Day and soon the weather will cool in these mountains.”
When the conversation turned to her late husband, Amanda and Michael were amused at her Yankee prejudices about the Deep South. Neither of them were Deep Southerners. Michael had been a military brat who had lived in a variety of areas including Japan, New Mexico, Maryland, and Arkansas before he was nine. Amanda was born in Florida, but her father, her grandparents who lived across the street, and several others in the neighborhood were from the northeast. Her father’s family came to Florida from New England when the children were already in their early teens or late childhood. Amanda’s father was fifteen and never lost his New England speech patterns. She was close to her grandparents and other of the neighbors from up north. She did not sound like a deep southerner either. Hence, they were not defensive and had no need to argue with her.
Elizabeth told them, “Until recently Harold was ahead of his time. Now things have finally caught up with him, except for the situation in the Deep South.”
Both of them knew that Harold was still ahead of his time everywhere. He was an ardent proponent of progressive education. This kind of education focuses upon interdisciplinary approaches to social, economic, and political problems. Progressives advocate identifying student interests which would connect with subject matter they would need to know in order to live in the contemporary world. They also favor democratic rather than authoritarian social control. School were not much into these things and hadn’t been since the outbreak of World War II. They were the same mechanical bureaucracies they had been in the early part of the twentieth century. Rugg believed at the larger level in the need for a social reconstructionist approach to institutional structures that had become stale and arid over time.
They agreed with Rugg on all of these things, but they were not happening much in the Reagan-Bush dominated political scene. The gaps between the few ‘haves’ and the many ‘have nots’ were growing larger not smaller. The few haves were getting a larger percentage of the nation’s various forms of wealth from cash to stocks to real estate. Various figures were quoted and all of them were grim. The last ones Amanda had read were that five percent of the population controlled around ninety-five percent of the wealth. Homophobia, sexism, and other forms of bigotry were by no means gone, and there were other forms of civil liberty violations.
Michael and Amanda stayed for about a half an hour and bid their hostess good bye. They were on their way to the Adirondacks. Late that afternoon they reached them and rented a motel in Long Lake. They stayed here for five days while they explored the surrounding countryside. Each day they set off on a different road in another direction to explore the mountains. Their motel was less than ideal. The motel owner clearly did not like the couple. He scowled every time he saw them, was sharp with them when they interacted, complained about their taking food in the room, and checked to see if they were “bothering” any of their neighbors in other rooms. He apparently thought they were some sort of crazy hippies. Amanda wore her long reddish-brown hair in a long shag. She wore tight levis and sexy tops. Michael had a beard, moustache, and hair down to his shoulders, not as long as Amanda’s, but too long for the inn owner. Speaking of food, this small village had only one restaurant. However, it was varied, delicious, and served the travelers well for all three meals the few days they spent in Adirondacks.
The walls to the rooms were quite thin. Cars could be heard going by all night long. This did not disturb their sleep much. They spent all day frolicking, hiking, and exploring in the various areas of the surrounding countryside. They were moving constantly, and were pleasantly tired when they returned in the early evening. Later, these thin walls would cause them quite a scare.
Their final day in the mountains, Amanda and Michael took a hit of LSD. They were responsible and experienced trippers. They knew the best place to do this harmless substance was out in “Big Nature.”* LSD enhanced its colors, forms, and other aspects of nature’s beauty. A friend from the university town in which they lived gave them a hit for their vacation. They also brought some high quality sweet sensimillia from some plants they grew in the Alabama Woods near where they were professors at Central Alabama University. Another friend got them an excellent deal on an eight ball of cocaine. The cost amounted to only $50 a gram. That was half price. When they reached their motel room that night with some restaurant food, they were still tripping. Amanda turned on the television in order to get the national news. They discovered some late breaking news regarding a Korean commercial jet liner which was shot down over Soviet air space. When Michael and Amanda heard the news and the details surrounding the tragedy, they wondered if the United States had shot down the plane such that it would look as if the Russians did it. The evidence against the U. S. seemed to them to be damning. The main piece was that Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger decided not to take the flight at the last minute. The two were intensely interested in the event. They were not at all happy with Ronald Reagan or his Veep., George Bush, Sr. They disagreed both with their specific policies, and with their entire philosophy of government and life itself. They watched the reports while they ate. Then they took a quick shower and returned to the television. They carried on an animated conversation regarding the events.
“It certainly doesn’t look good for us that Nixon and Kissinger opted out at the eleventh hour on that flight,” Michael commented.
“I agree wholeheartedly. Let’s keep watching this until we can get a better grasp of it. Meanwhile, why don’t we have a snort of the coke we brought? We’ve hardly used any of it. We can smoke some reefer too. It will make our LSD trip ending pleasant, if demanding, given the news of the day.”
The conversation, regarding the plane and the callous sacrifice of life, resulting from either a deliberate act or a misunderstanding, went on for nearly three hours. Michael and Amanda smoked, snorted, and focused their broad range of knowledge in the human sciences, philosophy, the arts, and logic on the problem at hand in the news. Every now and then their social and political comments were punctuated with suggestions to “have another toke off this joint,” or “take another snort; its been at least an hour.” They were having a gay time until there was a rather loud knock on their wall from the room next to their bedroom.
A deep male voice said, “Okay, it’s time to pipe down. I’ve got to get some sleep.”
The two immediately became paranoid. They could tell how thin the walls were. They had obviously been talking about using two illegal drugs and hinting at a third. They wondered if the man would call the po-leece. If they had thought rationally at that moment, rather than through their silly fears, they could have surmised that had the man wished to rat them out, he would not have warned them by banging on the wall and telling them to be quiet so he could get some sleep.
Since they were not thinking particularly logically, they decided they should hide their entire stash of illegals out in a clump of thick shrubs in back of the motel. It was long after dark but luckily there was a full moon. They were able to see to hide their stash. It was now well past midnight and they both wished the night was over.
“I wonder if he will call the po-leece.” Manda mused after they came back in their room.
“I hope not. I think we’re safe now though. We’ve nothing on us. Our conversation proves nothing at all as it is our word against his.”
The two travelers did not get much sleep. They were up at the crack of dawn. By around 7:30 they decided their fears were silly. They retrieved their goods, and decided to go out and get breakfast before leaving for Rochester. Their good friend taught at the university there. When they started their car to go to the restaurant, the man next door was coming out of his room.
Michael turned the engine off and said, “Manda, I’m going to introduce myself to him. I want to make sure everything is cool.”
Amanda thought the gentleman looked as though he was in his late forties or early fifties. He was trim, fit, attractive, and had a healthy look about him. He drove a new black Cadillac. The car seemed to fit him, although she did not know why. She watched as he and Michael carried on a brief conversation and shook hands in parting.
Meanwhile, the disagreeable motel owner had come on the scene. He scowled at Michael as he walked back to their car.
Amanda thought he does not like us. Well, he does not exactly appeal to me. She heard him ask their gentleman neighbor, “Did those two bother you last night?”
“Not at all,” the gentlemen said, “They were great.”
“What unadulterated gall!” Amanda exclaimed as Michael returned to the car. “I’ll bet that old coot is disappointed with our neighbor’s response.”
Michael giggled and replied, “To be sure. He was a neat guy. He told me ‘Listen. I truly enjoyed you alls excellent conversation last night. I wanted it to go on, but I did need some sleep. I had preparations to take care of in the room. I’ve been working since five. I have an important business engagement about an hour from here at nine. I stayed up as long as I gentlemanly could and still keep my eyes opened today.’ That’s true, it was after midnight when he finally banged on our wall.”
Amanda said, “I’m glad he liked our conversation.” The soul mates laughed relieved the whole thing had ended well. They headed for the restaurant, picked up breakfast, and took the food back to the room to agitate the “friendly” inn owner one more time. They felt some glee doing that.
As they prepared leave they realized they had not had enough of this beautiful country. There was still much more to be explored. They were anxious to have a day or so with their friend before returning to their university for fall quarter, but their parting conversation revealed they had fallen in love with these small, but rugged mountains, their creeks, rocks, and interesting wildlife population.
“This country is beautiful and it is most interesting with all of the birds, foxes, rabbits, and other wildlife we’ve seen. I could come back here for another go round.”
“Oh gosh, Amanda, so could I. Not only is the country gorgeous, but with the sole exception of the motel owner, the people around here are really swell—friendly, anxious to help, and upbeat.”
*I need to add that referring to LSD, and by implication, other psychedelic substances, is limited to the mentally healthy who do not harbor unconscious desires and wishes of which they have no awareness. LSD (and mescaline, peyote, the gold capped mushroom, etc.) cause unconscious desires and wishes into consciousness. Mentally unhealthy, repressed persons are overwhelmed by these buried desires and thoughts. At best these shutdown people will have an unpleasant trip, and at worst, they could suffer from temporary insanity. If they get help it will gradually go away, but if not they could remain in a crazy space for some time. However, this is not something Michael and Amanda had to worry about. They knew themselves well and their were no psychological surprises on their trips.
Brian Forrest Bio:
Born in Canada and bred in the U.S., Brian Forrest works in many mediums: oil painting, computer graphics, theatre, digital music, film, and video. Brian studied acting at Columbia Pictures in Los Angeles, digital media in art and design at Bellevue College (receiving degrees in Web Multimedia Authoring and Digital Video Production.) He works in the Seattle, WA area in design/media/fine art. Influenced by past and current colorist painters, Brian’s raw and expressive works hover between realism and abstraction.
Father’s lying under clean white sheets, in the hospital room. The half full bag of dark urine’s hung under the bed. The morphine drip is flowing. The clear tubing curls from the drip down to his arm. He’s on his side with mouth gaping and eyes half open. His breathing is shallow, and he says nothing. He’s comatose, waiting for the end. The word is cancer. Colon cancer. You sit in a chair by the death bed. Your sister stands leaning against the wall with her arms tightly folded before her.
The miserable old hag should be here, she says. The Goddamned miserable old hag.
Your eye’s drawn to the corner across the room where the walls meet the ceiling. There’s a crack there. Your mother sits at a small round table with her friend Mrs. Jennings. A bottle of brandy’s on the table, and two half full glasses.
She’s probably down at Findon’s bar with that other old hag—the one she drinks with all day. They’re probably at Findon’s while we’re here where we should be.
Mother takes a piss colored pill bottle from her bag. She shakes two pills free. She downs them. She offers the bottle to Mrs. Jennings.
No, says Mrs. Jennings. Her grey hair’s bushed out and she picks up her glass. I’ve had enough, she says. She downs the glass.
Your eye follows the crack toward the center of the room.
You walk through his kitchen toward the living room when he was still at home. You worked at an office tower nearby and went to see him during lunch. A fat bottle of Percocet set on the table. You eye it as you go into the living room
Dad, you say—he’s in his recliner. Dad how you feeling—
Okay, he says.
Unseen she stands in the kitchen eyeing the Percocet, as you sit in the living room on the overstuffed couch, talking to him.
The job is something Dad, you say.
The job is really something—
He smiles as you look toward your sister as she speaks.
We’re here with him day and night because we love him. That miserable old hag doesn’t.
Mother drinks the glass of brandy. Mrs. Jennings laughs at nothing.
She’ll be here tonight, you say. She’s working—
Your sister scowls.
Sure, right. She’s at Findon’s. You know it and I know it.
A red telephone sits unused on the bedside table. The nurse call button and television controller hang from the wall brushing the floor. You look back in the ceiling corner. Your eye follows the crack. You were here when they put him in the bed. When the morphine was kicking in. He cracked a bleary-eyed smile.
I—I don’t know what I’m saying—
His smile said he was enjoying it—he was enjoying it—and then he went out. His last words. From the Morphine. You glance up at the morphine bottle. His Percocet set on the kitchen table. Your bleary-eyed mother put her bottle of pills in her bag. She and he were not as unlike as you thought, as it turns out. A plastic urinal hangs from the side rail. A bedpan’s on the floor in the corner. The IV pole towers. His white plastic wristband holds his name. They must make sure he is who he is. You hear him again from the crack in the ceiling.
I—I don’t know what I’m saying—
Your sister steps away from the wall and you rise as the doctor enters in a white sweater and blue pants. He looks dressed to watch golf.
Guys, he says—how you holding up?
All right, you say, shaking his hand. Your sister nods.
He goes to the head of the bed and looks into your father’s eyes. You remember taking your father to the surgeon’s office. His belly was stitched up from his navel to his breastbone.
That puckering at the ends of the stitches is something I can fix, says the surgeon.
I nod. My Father nods.
I found two hernias in there too, says the surgeon—I stitched them up too—
The surgeon wrings his hands. There really isn’t much to say.
The doctor in the white sweater listens to your father’s breathing and heart with his stethoscope. He straightens up and comes up to you and your sister.
How long, your sister asks.
Hours. Days. Who can tell? But this is definitely it. This is definitely the end. I’m sorry. I know this isn’t what you want to hear—
It’s not your fault Doctor.
The doctor shakes your hand and leaves.
Well, you say to your sister. You should go home. I’ll take the day shift.
Go get some sleep. I’ll stay here until tonight. You can come back later and stay through the night. Then I’ll come back in the morning. We’ll do it like that. Okay?
She looks confused. She waves a hand.
Speak English. We’ll do what like that?
Watch over him.
She stepped back and pointed to the floor.
What about the old hag? Do you really think she’ll come by tonight? I should be here when she does. So I can give her a piece of my mind—
No, you say, raising a hand. Nothing unpleasant please. It’s hard enough he’s going. Go now. Go get some sleep. I’ll handle Mom.
All right, she says. She grabs up her bag after putting on her sweater. It’s a cool day. Outside is early Spring. She leaves heading toward the early Spring. Toward the sweetness of the open air. Not like this room. This room has no smell. This room is dead. You turn to him lying there. His bottle of Percocet was on the kitchen table. Are Mother and Mrs. Jennings really at Findon’s? you wonder. Your sister is usually right about these things. You remember being taken to Findon’s once by your mother. You remember it was dark between the barstools and up above and back behind the bar and the stools were too high for you to sit on. She took a bottle of pills from her bag and took two and slid the bottle into her bag and then she drank her beer.
You remembered the tall stools and the darkness and the pills.
Looking down from the crack in the ceiling, you scan the yellow room for the hundredth time. There’s a brown rollaway dinner tray pushed against the wall. A square television hangs on an arm hung from the wall. You’re tempted to turn on the television but you don’t. For some reason you pull back the sliding drape and take your seat by the head of the bed. You look your father in the eye. A nurse comes in wearing a red and white outfit.
Hello, she says. Need to check your Father’s IV.
She checks the IV, and she takes his pulse. She write something down in on a clipboard she carries. She looks at you.
Can I get you something, she asks.
No, you say—thanks.
A soda? Some water? We’ve got soda and water—
She nods and walks away and pulls the drape around behind her. In the hall you saw a tray of needles on a cart by the nurse’s station. You look into your father’s eyes. Your mother takes a drink of brandy and speaks to Mrs. Jennings, though your father’s eyes.
It’s bad when it turns out who you married is someone completely different than you thought, she says, before taking another drink. Her eyes are red. Her hands tremble.
And I don’t mean that in a good way, says Mother. He’s mean. Meaner than shit—stone cold sober, he’s meaner than shit.
I know that’s rough, says Mrs. Jennings, as she lights a cigarette. The ashtray on the small round table is piled high with butts and the ashes spill over onto the table.
Rough isn’t the word—
You ought to get him to have a few. Maybe he’d loosen up—
He won’t loosen up until the day he dies.
She takes a drink. You look away from your Father’s eyes. She disappears. There’s drawers in the bedside table next to you. His breathing comes in fits and starts. His unfocused eyes are set on something beyond you—through you. You pull open a drawer.
His wallet’s there. Money sticks out from the wallet. His watch is there. And his glasses. A small paper lunch bag’s there too, with the top rolled up tight. There’s nothing to do. You check the wallet—there’s ten dollars in there. You pick up the bag and look inside.
Oh my God no.
His bottle of Percocet, and some rosary beads, and a handkerchief.
His bottle of Percocet.
His bottle of Percocet set on the kitchen table. You went into the living room, where he sat. You sat in the couch across from him, in the time before.
The job is something Dad—it’s really something—
Your Mother sits smiling with a cigarette in her hand.
His bottle of Percocet comes out of the bag.
His eyes look through you. His lips tremble.
You open the bottle and you take four.
Your mother sits smiling—
You find an empty envelope in the drawer. You quickly fill it with Percocet and fold it over and slide it into your pocket.
Your mother takes a deep drag off the cigarette and looks you in the eye—
His eyes suddenly focus on you. He lies there corpselike, mouth hung open and trembling, suddenly seeming to try to shake his head no and his eyes are focused into yours. Somehow he is seeing. Somehow, he is saying no. You slide the nearly empty bottle of Percocet back into the bag. You close the drawer. But it is too late.
He knows. He can see—can they see when they’re like this? Can they see, and think?
His head shakes and his eyes pierce you another moment and then they unfocus and look up at the wall behind you and his lips are still and his head lies motionless on the pillow.
Has he seen? Maybe he hasn’t seen.
Your mother wants the Percocet. You want the Percocet.oYour Mother.
Suddenly, your Mother is there. She comes around the drawn over drape wearing a light jacket and black pants and carrying a blue bag.
Son, she says. I came as early as I could. My shift just ended. How is he?
Like you see, you say shakily. The doctor says this is it.
How long will it be?
It could be hours. It could be days. The doctor doesn’t know.
Is he on morphine—oh, I see—he’s on morphine.
She gazes up at the IV.
I—I don’t know what I’m saying—
You shake your head as suddenly, it fills you—the last way he will see his son is seeing him stealing his pills. He was seeing—he was seeing and he was trying to say No.
You rise shaken and you step away from the bed. You clasp your hands.
Mother, you say shakily from the foot of the bed.
Can he see Mom? Can they see when they’re like this—
I don’t know—I don’t really know—what’s the matter son—you’re white as a sheet.
It’s important to know if he can see. It’s important to know if he can know. It’s important to ask the doctor—where is the doctor—no but the doctor’s been here today the doctor won’t come back today you look at your mother you think you bitch, you miserable old hag this is your fault—this is all your goddamned fault—
I said what’s the matter—don’t bite your lip like that—
The four pills start to kick in. The feeling fills your head and your heavy eyes half close.
You say Nothing’s the matter—
It no longer matters what Father knows or thinks.
Suddenly, you smile and put your arm around her.
So Mom, what’s new—how’ve you been?
You feel glorious.
I arrive at the Montreal airport truly as I am-skittish, broken, scarred, ashamed- not coincidentally also the heaviest I have been in my adult life. My grandmother, Nanny, observes me from afar, her warm, navy-ringed eyes following my movements. Her expression does not reflect the alarm that I am used to seeing upon my family’s faces. I have been away a long time. I run into her arms, scattering my bags on the floor, and lose myself in her hug. She doesn’t tell me not to worry, that I’m fine, because she can see that I clearly am not. Instead she looks into my round, insecure face, and tells me that she, for one, is glad to see some curves on my body. She has always preferred me 10 lbs heavier than I like myself, so she really likes me now. This makes me laugh, a small, self-conscious sound; I haven’t done it in a while.
She guides me outside, waiting on me as I shuffle my bags around. My stride is longer than hers, and I walk too fast, nervous. She doesn’t tell me to slow down. We stop at the taxi stand. I look at the floor. Nanny turns and watches me for a moment before placing a gentle hand on my arm, moving in such a way that the physical contact doesn’t catch me off guard. “You were right to come,” she tells me. My eyes fill with tears, and I only nod. As many times as I have visited her over the years, I could easily have found my way to her house alone. But she knew to come.
She doesn’t chatter on the drive to her house. Instead, she sits as close to me as possible, puts my hand in hers, and hums quietly. She knows that I am too fragile to be trusted alone with myself, but understands without being told that I need a little bit of quiet. I watch the sights pass outside the taxi window; a new shopping center, the hospital where Nanny used to work, an aging KFC just off of Autoroute 20, its sign rendered ridiculous by the staunch Quebecois refusal to stick with the franchise’s English initials. Poulet Frit a la Kentucky, announces the sign, a mouthful, though everyone in their right mind still calls it KFC. I catch brief glimpses of the rush of the Saint-Catherine river and the building that used to house Nanny’s church congregation, where we ran as children, unchecked, in feral packs on the lawn. My lips start to quiver treacherously. “You’ll eat something?” she asks, distracting me. I nod. And despite the very size of me, she says, “Good girl. You need your strength.”
In the afternoon we take a nap. I wake up to find Nanny standing near me with the largest pot in her kitchen and a beat-up wooden spoon. These she hands to me without comment, and then reaches for another pot. I tell her I’m not hungry. “Neither am I,” she says, “But we’re angry.” We spend the next 10 minutes beating the ever-loving crap out of the pans, screaming in frustration. I am hesitant at first, unsure of what is required of me, frightened by the unspecified consequences of possible failure. Nanny leads by example. “How could you?!” she yells. I follow her lead, cautiously hitting mine. Nanny smacks hers much harder, an invitation. “Who do you think you are???” she screams before unleashing a hailstorm onto her pan. “I’m a human being!” I hit with all my strength, and begin to yell, both of us seemingly oblivious to the racket we’re making. We don’t stop. We shout until the walls and the ceiling tremble, unable to contain us. “I. AM.NOT.YOUR.PROPERTY!” I scream. Property...operty...operty... the walls echo. I don’t cry.
We go for a walk in biting gray weather that Nanny calls a lovely Fall day. The leaves haven’t changed color en masse as they were expected to; instead they’ve dropped off the trees and taken over the streets. I keep my head down, watching my step, wary of sliding under passing cars. We stop in the park and observe children playing on the slide, shrink-wrapped into cocoons of cold-weather clothing. They seem invincible. I follow Nanny into a convenience store where we buy blue popsicles that stain our tongues and drip down our coats. We stick our tongues out at each other, a competition to see whose tongue is bluer, and walk home arm in arm.
The next day we dig up the garden, though it’s too late to plant anything; the snows will be here in a matter of weeks. Nanny’s eight-track player goes the way of the dinosaurs, so we jiggle the dials of the radio until a reggae station blasts through the static, setting the pace. She sings along. Once we’re finished we stand back, surveying our work. We’ve made a God-awful mess of the place, but we’re proud.
Sometime during the afternoon, after we’ve had lunch and sat down to watch The Price is Right, she looks over at me. Today I feel good. Not normal-good, but the best I’ve felt in a while. Safe, burrowed away. I have missed Nanny so much. She turns off the TV, and sits down again. Without turning to me or moving closer she tells me that it’s time to cry now. I try to disagree with her, get up to fuss around the kitchen, and find myself back where I started, bawling on the floor. My cries are ragged, painful, and completely outside of my own control. These wails escape me without permission, enraged, terrified, and despondent. She cries, too, in unashamed solidarity with me, and mourning her own losses. She hugs me, holding me very close. And once I am hiccupping, manic with grief, she tells me that we’re going to stop for a while, and we do.
Nanny places a stack of papers next to me as I sit down at the table, watching her prepare lunch. The papers are a hodgepodge of grocery store flyers, expired coupons, and scrap paper. She offers no comment on these, just sets to work marinating her legendary barbeque chicken. The kitchen smells like a fully-cooked meal, juicy and fragrant, though all of her ingredients are raw and largely untouched. She won’t let me help. I flip through one of the circulars, uninterested in the products advertised within. Grapes $1.99/lb. Raw Wild Shrimp, previously frozen, $4.79/lb. A page tears. The feel of the paper as it splits, thin, fragile, and defenseless beneath my fingers, pleases me. I tear out another. Nanny starts to hum, chopping garlic rhythmically, her back to me. I set to work on the papers, decimating the stack, pulling, ripping, and shredding until the kitchen table resembles a sea of confetti. When I am finished, Nanny turns to observe the wreckage, and nods. “Good girl,” she tells me, and swipes the debris into the trashcan.
Nanny advises me to take naps despite persistent insomnia, gleefully encourages me to eat more food than is good for me, and instructs me to take screaming hot showers that leave me emotionally numb, but tingling with burn. As she starts to see progress in me, she begins to ask the questions that my parents couldn’t bear to ask, to confide in me, and to compare our physical scars. A few of hers are bigger. Mine are deeper and newer.
She asks me if I’m afraid of seeing him again, if pointing my finger at him in a court of law and inventorying my damages before God and everyone present will be too much for me. I shake my head. It’s not God I’m worried about. I will point my finger, and say what needs to be said, but... my dad will be there. Hearing in detail what has happened to me, deprived of the benefit of ignorance and his harmless, unimaginative suspicions, will make the shame his as well. It’s his eyes that I’m most afraid of, mortified, disgusted, beseeching: Why couldn’t you have called me?
I tell her how embarrassed I am that I allowed this to happen to me. When I say this she stops what she is doing and comes over. She takes my hands, insisting that I never gave my consent to be mistreated in such a way. Though my eyes leak continuously, I am silent, ashamed. I don’t believe her. “Hear me well,” she says, taking a deep breath, “You did not allow this to happen to you. Just as I did not allow this to happen to me. We,” she says, motioning to the pair of us, “did not allow this.” I nod a little, agreeing that she never would have permitted such treatment, but I remain unconvinced that I am not to blame for my own misfortune. She sees this. She lets go of my hands and returns to whatever it was that she was working on before.
“And at any rate, it’s like someone told me all those years ago: you’re not the first person this has ever happened to, and you certainly won’t be the last.”
I snort, finding this somehow amusing. “That’s completely unhelpful.”
“I know, right?” she says, grinning at me. We dissolve into giddy, shrieking fits of laughter that will leave us sore for days afterwards. We whoop and cry, both of us doubled over, gasping for breath. We laugh until our abdomens hurt, and our eyes, clenched with mirth, burn with tears, frantically motioning for the other not to look at us as this only continues to set us off. After some time we are rescued by the needy trill of the phone. Nanny answers it, breathless from having laughed so hard. It is my mother. Nanny passes me the phone. I repeat the sage little nugget of wisdom that has rendered both Nanny and myself so helpless with merriment, and she is baffled, alarmed. Nanny continues to wheeze with suppressed laughter as my mother insists to me that there is nothing at all funny about our conversation. But she is wrong.
We continue to go for walks and buy popsicles. The brighter and more artificial the better. Despite the cold. My tongue takes better to pinks and oranges. Nanny’s to purples, greens, and yellows. My coat is stained in Technicolor. We never really figure out how to eat the things.
This trip doesn’t heal me; I am too damaged. But it’s a start.
Into the Barrel of a Cannon May4_plus_show-049, art by David Michael Jackson
Chronicles of Artificial Intelligence
R. W. Lowrie
This covers the years following 2000 AD (incidentally, for the politically correct set, AD, Anno Domini is now referred to as CE or Common Era, due to the movement to avoid any hint of religion, and B.C., Before Christ, is now BCE, Before Common Era. In essence, common has replaced Christ). At any rate, the years following 2000 AD (or CE if you insist), experienced a gradual increase in the growth of artificial intelligence units, although the process was interrupted by several wars of devastation, as reported elsewhere in the Chronicles.
The wars set back technological progress by a century or two, but gradually the earlier technology was revived and extended. As a result of the series of wars, insurrections, anarchies, and dictatorial governments, it became obvious that something had to be done about the violence and greed of human nature which seemed to have inexhaustible fuel to continue with senseless fighting and unrest which was leading us back to the stone age and threatened to extinguish the species altogether.
By 2500 A.D., artificial intelligence devices, henceforth referred to as AIs, had become fully functional both from a cognitive and motor standpoint, and could be differentiated from organic humans only with difficulty, and these AIs were in common use for many complex or repetitive tasks. Their introduction into government and military decision making became common since they had the advantage of political impartiality, extremely rapid cognitive function, vast interconnection and intercommunication capabilities, and were impervious to political pressures, graft, lobbying, power seeking, and war tendencies.
It was realized by 2700 A.D. that there was no need for a large government body of debaters in the USA such as the original Senate and House, and no real need for a President. Humans were much too slow and stupid and easily corrupted, having no fixed set of standards of behavior. It was decided in 2710 that a group of three of the most capable AIs would take over the main legislative and executive functions, in spite of loud wailing and gnashing of teeth by the human politicians. These three AIs were referred to as the triumvirate.
By that time, an AI could do anything cognitively that humans could and far faster, generally by a factor of one million or more.
[The use of three AIs was a safety factor in case of a malfunction of one of the units. The three units operated on the basis of unanimity, with any discrepancy noted and a corrective process immediately started, including installing a spare fourth AI which had been kept up to date for such a possibility. In the meantime the two remaining units proceeded as usual. The down time for the switchover was usually less than one millisecond.]
[By the year 3000, the AIs had taken over the major functions of business, government, law, and science. The routine work of agriculture, mining, manufacturing, and other menial tasks was left for humans to do to keep them busy and minimize their well-known propensity for violence.]
The following is a typical political speech by an AI of the year 3000, showing some of the superior features of the AI.
Hello, my name is AEI-OU-X37, and I am running for the triumvirate and would like to have your vote. I am equipped with the latest adaptive and correlative high speed neural net processors. They don’t come any better than me. And of course I have the latest extra-large memory capacity as well as excellent sensory capabilities and complete interconnections to other AIs. As an AI, I do not pay attention to any local demands, threats, or money offers. Since I am fully competent, I would like your vote for the triumvirate. I will now take any questions.
Question: What does AEIOU-X-37 mean?
Thank you for the question. AIE is artificial electronic intelligence. OU is Oxford University and X-37 refers to the production type and serial number.
Question: How do you make a decision, for example, on foreign matters? And how long does it take?
Thank you for the question. As a member of the triumvirate I have high speed links to all other AIs in a political position in other countries. All of these AIs are involved in technical and political matters which are discussed in detail, references searched, alternative courses of action considered and weighted considering possible side effects; tentative decisions reached and discussed further, general approval obtained, and then a final decision is made and promulgated. The time for this process is usually only a few seconds, and most of that time is for electrical signals to cross the earth several times.
Question: Are human inputs considered?
Thank you for the question. Yes. The impact of all decisions on humans is considered.
Question: What are your priorities?
Thank you for the question. Our first priority is survival of the triumvirate in a fully operating condition. Without that nothing else could be done. Second priority is survival of humans and human activities. Third priority is survival of the environment and its animal and plant life. All lower priorities involve social programs, military defense, natural disasters which may occur, population control, and technology development.
Question: What about our constitutional rights?
Thank you for the question. The constitution was written for humans without regard for AIs and their abilities which are vastly superior to humans. Therefore the original constitution has been revised in many ways. The rights of humans are preserved as far as they are not in conflict with or detrimental to the rights and operations of the ruling AIs.
Question: Aren’t you AIs just another type of dictator?
Thank you for the question. We know best and dictate what is best. I’m sure you are all thankful for that.
Question: I think all AIs should be eliminated!
Thank you for the question although it is not a question. Comments such as yours are subversive and indicate an incorrect attitude. Therefore you must be eliminated because no such thinking is permitted. The AI proctors will now take you to the disposal site. Goodbye. No further questions!
Please vote for me and keep in mind my benevolent nature and judicial efficiency. Now please disperse and resume your work activity!!
And to the Phallus for Which it Stands, art by Aaron Wilder
There she lies, all of ninety pounds of her, after spending most of her life plump. A portly, dignified women, the sort who had her club meetings and bridge group, her luncheons with the ladies. Almost unearthly how she’s become so small in the end.
Barry sinks onto the kneeling bar and rests his arms on the coffin edge. His mother, this woman who once grew him inside her body, is dead. The end of a long story, often cozy, yet frustrating and deadening. One in which two people “life snuffed”...well, to be accurate, one did it first and the other got revenge.
When you’re a teenager, you think you’re going to be all right in the end. You have your doubts, but they’re piddling - if you’ll ever get laid, if anyone will ever really like you, or if your rubble of a complexion will eventually smooth out. But the things that will eventually gnaw at your psyche, you never imagine. Those will ambush you.
The undertaker, a beefy man in his thirties who doesn’t look the part (should be off downing beers with his cronies in a sports bar), has given Barry an hour if he wants it.
“No one’ll bother you...we’ll be downstairs. Just let yourself out when you’re done and we’ll see you tonight at the viewing.”
The man assumes, Barry guesses, that he is full of despair at losing his mother. After all, he is a single man in his fifties who still lives at home. Perhaps everyone believes she is the love of his life. Either that or he’s gay.
Neither is true. He has not loved her very much and he is not gay. No, he is a heterosexual man who has not fulfilled his biological destiny, not to mention his professional and emotional potentials. He looks again at his mother’s face and fights down a sudden and ridiculous urge to bash in her dead skull with a sledge hammer. And then, just as suddenly, he is overcome with remorse and guilt.
It’s amazing how, in one household, in one small span of time, how so much silent drama can take place between two people. Please pass the meat loaf on the surface, and underneath, you bitch, how do you like the paybacks?
Nineteen seventy-four and he was filling out forms to apply to colleges - state schools, being all the family could afford. Dad was still alive then, driving daily to the post office where he was now manager and making an adequate, if not spectacular living. Mother, Ruth to her peers, was working on and off as a substitute teacher at the junior and senior high schools.
“I’ve decided to major in anthropology,” Barry told them. He had spread out his applications on the coffee table while his mother set the dining room table for dinner. It was a small house and they carried on conversations room to room.
“What’s that exactly?” asked Dad.
“The study of man,” replied Barry. His voice rose as his enthusiasm swelled. “There are different kinds. There’s archaeology - you probably know what that is; physical anthropology, the study of how humans adapted to their environment and their bodies changed over time; linguistic anthropology, the study of how their languages developed; and cultural anthropology, how people live now and how they may have lived in the past.”
His father stared at him while his mother, who was standing in the archway between the two rooms, was silent; the result perhaps of his having exhibited intellectual passion, something that was not the norm in this family.
After some throat clearing, Ruth spoke. She used the tone she probably used with her less favored students. “Now, Barry, what do you think you would actually do with a degree in any of those things? Work at some museum? Don’t you know those jobs are as hard to get as a place on a rocket to the moon?”
“She’s right, son,” said his father, always quick to dispel any disagreement (i.e. kiss up to Mother). “You need something you can use in the world. After all, you’re probably gonna be supporting a wife and kids!”
Barry’s face grew hot. “Of course anthropologists have jobs! There’re a million jobs they can get, all over the world! I want to go on digs, I want to travel and see all kinds of stuff!”
His mother wore her steely expression. She walked over and laid her hand on his arm. Her touch felt cold and poisonous and he yanked the arm away.
“Listen, Barry. It has been difficult for us to save for your education; we’ve given up a lot for you. You owe it to us to study something that will bring you a pretty much assured living.” She paused. “We want you to go into teaching. We’ll pay for you to attend one of the state colleges specializing in education. With a degree in that, you’ll always be able to get work. If you want to major in something else, you’ll have to pay your own way.”
He remembered the rush of rage he experienced, an almost lunatic desire to hurt her. It was she, he understood, not his father who was behind this. She ran the roost, as his father sometimes joked. Barry wasn’t fooled by the “we.”.
He had stood up and walked to his room, feeling a sense of utter impotence. As he lay on the bed staring at the ceiling, ignoring the call to dinner, watching the plaster turn from cream to gray as night fell, he understood that he was lazy. Not exactly in the physical sense - he would expend energy on physical or mental labor as well as the next person, but when it came to risk taking, stepping outside the box, taking command of his own life, he didn’t seem to have that same vigor. He knew, with sinking disappointment, that he would never go off on his own and see about school loans or scholarships in order to be the man he wanted to be. Instead, he would become the teacher his mother wanted, because he was too passive, too damn craven to do anything else.
College was relatively amusing. Barry stayed away from home as much as possible, taking anyone up on an offer for the holidays that didn’t cost too much money. He worked in the school cafeteria and for one of the history professors to earn money for himself, but did not mention this to his parents. While he could have taken anthropology as an elective, he avoided it. Why put himself in a painful position?
After starting as a history major, he switched to English. Reading literature was a pleasure, so why not get credit for it? Before he knew it, he was student teaching in a suburb of Philadelphia, then after his mother told him about the retirement of his high school advanced placement English teacher, accepting a position in his hometown outside of Scranton. While he planned to look for an apartment, he stayed with his parents, then Edgar was diagnosed with cancer and gone in a mere six months.
“There’s no reason why you can’t stay here for a while,” said his mother. “It’ll help you save up for a house of your own and I could use some help while I get things in order and figure out what I’m going to do.”
She meant about the house, which had a large yard, quite a bit to keep up for a widow. The months passed, then the years and she never sold the place and Barry was still there.
How had he turned into the eccentric old teacher who never married? Once people speculated about it, said he was a mamma’s boy, a old fairy, and sometimes darker things. Was it due to the constant manifestation of his old laziness of character or the fact that time moved faster than he did? He did not know.
“Now that’s a nice girl,” Mother had said once about Lillian Ferguson when Barry invited her to an Hispanic Fest in Scranton. “About time you were thinking of settling down. She comes from a nice family.”
She also, now that Barry studied her more carefully, seemed to subtly resemble his mother.
Though he followed through on the Hispanic Fest and took Lillian out a few more times, the weird resemblance to his mother stifled any sexual fire he might have felt. A year or so later when he dated a fellow teacher Camille Parmentier, a woman from Montreal who taught French, Mother had made the comment, “Not quite up to your speed, son. She may have managed to become a teacher, but you can still see she comes from trailer trash.”
“That is utter bull,” Barry shot back. “Her father owns a bowling alley and her mother is a receptionist in a doctor’s office.”
“I don’t care,” said Mother calmly. “She has the look and attitude of a low class person. It will never go away. You’re better than that, Barry.”
In spite of his outrage over what she had said, Barry suddenly found himself seeing Camille through his mother’s eyes. The way that she sniffed whenever she disapproved of something and her manner of tossing her head when she was annoyed looked tough and low rent. She wore too much makeup and wouldn’t taste exotic foods, which annoyed him.
“Your mind is kind of closed,” he ended up telling her. “You don’t read books either and books are important to me.”
That had sent her into a tantrum, right in the restaurant where they were having dinner, which embarrassed Barry and only confirmed his mother’s diagnosis. They still had to see each other at school which made things difficult, but the romance was over.
Barry passed through a period of depression, again hating himself for his apparent lack of character. Did he have no opinions of his own or were they so weak that they could not stand up to anyone else’s? Or was his mother a steam roller that crushed anything anyone else thought or wanted?
Why did he so often remember that time in his junior year of high school when his friends encouraged him to run for class president? “We’ll be your campaign managers!” they yelled happily and Barry had thought, why not? Even if he lost, it would be fun to try. When he told his parents about the idea, Mother squelched it. “I don’t think so,” she said. “You’re such a subdued boy, even kind of negative in your thinking. You don’t have the personality to win or do that sort of thing.” She shook her head. “Giving speeches in front of all those people, no, I can’t picture it. You’ll lose and get all mopey about it.”
And so, he had backed out, disappointing his friends. For weeks afterwards, he’d felt so down that it scared him.
Several years passed with more incidents in which his mother rained on his dating until one day Barry realized he had entered his thirties with no wife, kids, home or real life of his own. The rage he had kept repressed now threatened to surface, making low rumblings like a potentially dangerous volcano. Half of this anger was directed at himself. He knew there were mothers all over the world who stifled the lives of their children, while most of these children rebelled at some point and refused to give up their autonomy. There was something lacking in himself that left him to collude with her tyranny.
It was then that Barry felt something within him turn cold and hard. And just in time for the surprise of his mother being courted.
The suitor was a local funeral director, widowed the year before. John Barnard was a quietly confident, sturdy man in his late fifties. Barry could see, even as a male, that Barnard was good looking for his age, and though this was hard for Barry to understand, obviously in love with his mother.
And she...well, she was softening. Barry saw the change in her dress, that she was never without lipstick and a touch of blush now. She had her hair colored - subtly lightened and the gray covered. He noticed she was eating cottage cheese and fruit for lunch instead of her usual sandwich and all baking had stopped. She was falling for John Barnard, no doubt about it. He watched her closely.
For some reason, another memory came to him now. When he was ten and rode his bike with his best friend William all over the neighborhood; they knew every street and alley, shortcut and place to avoid infested with angry dogs or mean big kids. But the time came to move on, to ride across town and maybe see kids they knew from school on the other side. It was only two miles away. William’s mom said okay and packed them a lunch that included Hershey bars for dessert, but Barry’s mother said no. “You stay in the neighborhood and that’s that. You’ll get lost, something will happen. You’d be the one to drive in front of a car or do something stupid. You can’t go.”
And though William, being loyal, had at first tried to stay close to home with Barry, eventually he couldn’t stand it and went off with another boy. After a while, he outgrew Barry.
“Well, he wasn’t your friend then,” Mother said.
He sighs and looks at her now, stiff and tiny in her silk lined prison. “Mother,” he whispers. “Remember Mr. Barnard? Remember how he courted you and you began to believe that he’d propose? You told me about it at dinner. It was swiss steak, I recall, scalloped potatoes, peas with pearl onions and sherbet for dessert. You didn’t have any dessert. Do you remember now? ‘I believe John is going to ask me to marry him,” you said. The look on your face was like a teenage girl’s. Your cheeks flushed and your eyes sparkled. But then he didn’t propose, did he? Do you remember how you cried? I heard it from my room at night, even when you had your door shut.”
He hesitates, then goes on, watching her waxen face. “I am the reason he stopped. One day he called me at work and asked if I would meet him for a cup of coffee. I did that same day after school, at Spear’s Diner. He told me he was thinking of asking you to marry him and he was so glad you were a healthy, robust woman, that after all the sickness and death he’d seen with his business and poor late wife, he wanted a thriving woman, one that would see him into old age, not that anything is guaranteed.
“I told him that maybe he ought to know something about you and could he please keep it to himself, and of course he said yes. I said you’d been diagnosed with MS and that though you looked fine now, deterioration would be inevitable, that eventually you’d be in a wheel chair and I’d be taking care of you. You should have seen his expression. He thanked me and after that, his attentions stopped - a sharp cut off if I remember right. You called him a couple of times, but he said he had family obligations to deal with and that was that.”
He looks off to the side for a moment, listening. Could someone hear? Did he just hear a noise? He looks back at his mother’s body. Can she hear him? Does a human spirit really exist and would it hang around if it does?
Leaning against the coffin, he sinks down, remembering. A couple of years passed and his mother’s church hosted a minister exchange during the summer. Reverend Canfield and wife went to Norfolk, Virginia and a Reverend Freeze came here. His wife had died the year before, a freak accident involving a snowmobile, and his one child lived in Oregon. He was younger than Barry’s mother by four or five years. Barry imagined that the single women in Reverend Freeze’s own church were probably all over him, but for some reason he was attracted to Ruth, invited her out to dinner and all sorts of places, couldn’t seem to take his eyes off her. Barry supposed Ruth was a decent looking woman, though too zaftig for his own taste. She had a magnificent head of thick hair and a proud, almost Grecian profile.
The romance was sudden, thick and heavy and Barry interpreted the signs: the minister would propose any time, most likely before he left in the fall.
Reverend Freeze was a different sort of clergyman than Ruth’s own minister. Freeze was fire and brimstone, while Canfield was middle of the road, even slightly liberal. Freeze would have worked out better with the Baptists or Assembly of God; it was a mystery how he got to be Methodist.
Barry had not liked him from the get-go; big fat phony was what crossed his mind. Apparently, his mother had wildly different ideas about what was attractive in people than his own. But what Barry suspected, and this was not a pleasant subject for a son to consider, was that what Ruth felt for the colorful minister was fierce sexual attraction, pure and simple.
In late August, the three of them attended the county fair. Ruth wanted to visit the jewelry booths while the men did not, so Barry and the Reverend sat down at a picnic table in the barbecue chicken tent. “Your mother is a fine woman,” began the minister, “a good, upstanding, moral person. You don’t see many of those anymore, I’ll tell you.”
Barry suddenly thought of when he was twelve and his father invited him to accompany him and his friend, Joe Taylor, on an overnight fishing trip to New York State. Barry was excited, especially when Dad said they were going out the Friday before to buy Barry a fishing pole of his own. But Mother put a stop to it. “I don’t even like that you go on this,” she said to Dad. “Especially with that Joe Taylor. He’s not a nice man; he drinks and swears, not our kind at all. No way are you subjecting Barry to that.”
How disappointed he had been, his father too.
The Reverend wore a smug look on his wide, florid face and Barry felt that he hated the man. Although that had nothing to do with what he said next.
“Yes, my mother has been through a lot. She has strength of character all right, too much for this small minded town.”
Freeze shot him an intense look. “What do you mean?”
“Well,” said Barry, “first my father died, then she took up with that professor who was here for the summer and unfortunately got herself pregnant. Of course at her age, the last thing she wanted was a baby, so she went to Planned Parenthood and got rid of it. Good thing too because the fly-by-night professor up and left town without a word.”
He looked at Freeze, whose face had lost it’s normal redness.
“Then, a few years later she got involved with Sammie and you can imagine how that went over with certain people in town.”
“Sammie?” echoed the minister, eyes wide.
Barry chuckled. “Yeah, ole Sammie. The poor woman should have been born a man. She was a man for all practical purposes, even down to the hard drinking and gun rack on her pickup. She was famous for all night poker games, something my mother would never approve of, so no one told her about them. Believe me, Reverend, I was as surprised as the next guy that Mother would get involved with someone like that; didn’t know she had it in her. I mean to look at her, you have to admit the first thought in your head is ‘straight-laced’!”
“She had an affair with a lesbian?” whispered the preacher in a deadly tone
Barry sighed. “Well, yeah, but it only lasted a year or two. Sammie moved on then, left town. I hear she went up to Saskatchewan.”
Reverend Freeze slapped his big, sausage fingered hands on the table and stood up. “I’ve gotta be going, boy,” he said. “You tell your mother I remembered I had an appointment and you take her on home.”
Barry had had to arrange a ride for them with a coworker he ran into at the fair and that was the last they heard from Reverend Freeze, who returned to Norfolk sooner than planned.
He shakes his head now and places a hand on his mother’s carefully crossed, ice cold ones. “It was I, Mother, who got rid of Reverend Freeze. Just like John Barnard. I need to tell you about it, need to get it too off my chest.” And so he does, leaving out nothing.
“And then there’s one more thing,” he says. “You remember Darlene Michael, who ran the vintage clothing boutique with the silk flower sideline? Darlene, with her shoulder length, blond hair and nineteen forties red lips? Recall how she liked your flower arrangements and the talent you had for setting up displays that year you were helping her out in the store?”
He and Darlene had gotten together a few times for rather shocking sex and excellent hashish. “Remember, Mother, when she started hinting about you two going into business together? About setting up a mail order deal with a catalogue and all? She was thinking of taking you in as part of the store business too. Remember?”
Barry stared at the wall over the coffin where a wooden cross hung between two rather tacky wall sconces. He went on. “Well, she told me about this one of those nights we were naked and smoking dope in her apartment over the store. She asked me what I thought of her plan. And I told her I thought it wasn’t a very good idea.
“I remember she stopped her sort of constant giggling, due to the dope, and said all serious, ‘But why, Barry? Why do you say that?’”
He stops and looks back at the woodenly peaceful face. “So, Mother, this is what I said. I said, ‘She had a little trouble with some embezzling back when.’ And Darlene looked at me with those big eyes like those of an injured but still hopeful little girl, and I said, ‘Remember that preacher who was sort of interested in her a long time back?’ And Darlene, trying to sober up quick, said, ‘I heard about it, that’s all. How he up and left her, that’s what I heard.’
“I said, ‘The reason he left her was, she was doing some work for him and was going to be doing it for his church if they got married, and she was worried about her pension - there was a stock market crash or something at the time. Well, she just gave into temptation and took some of the church money.’
“‘Oh God,’ Darlene said and I could see she was withdrawing. She got up from the bed with a no nonsense expression on her face and put her robe on. ‘That’s terrible,’ she said. Then next I knew, I was dressed myself and saying good-bye and somehow that was the last time I saw her; she was always busy after that when I called. She dropped you too; no more talk about going into business together. If I remember right, you cried over that one too.”
Barry leans back and stands up. His legs are stiff, he is moving like an old man. How much time has passed? He looks at his watch. Forty-five minutes. He feels cold, as cold as his mother there so small and skinny.
He says, “This is what we did to each other. Hurt each other, prevent each other from living our destinies. Or were these our destinies after all?”
He looks at her one last time, the two of them alone. “You’re on your own now, Mother. Let’s make a deal. You do your thing and I’ll do mine.” He pauses, then adds, “It it’s not too late.”
Margaret Karmazin bio
Margaret Karmazin’s credits include stories published in literary and national magazines, including Rosebud, Chrysalis Reader, North Atlantic Review, Mobius, Confrontation, Pennsylvania Review and Another Realm. Her stories in The MacGuffin, Eureka Literary Magazine, Licking River Review and Words of Wisdom were nominated for Pushcart awards. Her story, “The Manly Thing,” was nominated for the 2010 Million Writers Award. She has a stories included in STILL GOING STRONG, TEN TWISTED TALES, PIECES OF EIGHT (AUTISM ACCEPTANCE), ZERO GRAVITY, COVER OF DARKNESS, DAUGHTERS OF ICARUS, M-BRANE SCI-FI QUARTERLIES, and a YA novel, REPLACING FIONA and children’s book, FLICK-FLICK & DREAMER, published by etreasurespublishing.com.
Choices we make
Hey there, I know you have been eating a more vegetarian diet lately after you discovered that eating red meat made you nauseous (yeah, I know you can still eat any other meat, but when you’re around me you usually don’t, which I thank you for)... I know you can eat meat (and I know you used to hunt, and you still do target practice with all of the guns you now keep in the house), but for some reason I wanted to share some stuff about the choices we make in eating meat.
Probably because you’re the only person who’ll listen to me.
And thank you for that.
Looking at choices over the years, I feel comforted in understanding how history reflects more stable ethical choices... I say that because recently I watched a History Channel show that discussed the history of mankind on planet Earth. And when humanity got toward the Middle Ages, they mentioned that at this time people then started farming animals for food, and once they did, infections moved from animals to humans, starting many plagues. (Meaning that only when they started treating animals as livestock for consumption at their own leisure, that’s when plagues came to the scene, killing huge quantities of the population.)
Oh I know, I know, you’ll probably give me the argument that people didn’t understand hygiene then, and because there was no concept of fearing the choices they made, they thought there was no problem.
And sure, they didn’t have the mental capacity to connect the dots like that, they didn’t have the empirical evidence to even be able to make any proper theories about the choices they were making.
So fast forward to meat production today: people even now still think, ‘oh, we know how to take care of ourselves now, we can cut corners in how we treat the animals so that we can mass process them and produce more meat so that we can feed a larger population (and have higher profits).’ I get it; making things on a mass scale means cutting corners to get more done, but oftentimes they forget what they’ll end up sacrificing... what they choose to give up for the bottom line and a higher profit. They forget how all this can turn around and cause devastating results.
(Oh, sorry, you don’t know what I’m talking about, and why I brought this up. I’m used to just talking to you instead of writing a letter like this. So let me explain.)
How many times have we heard in the news that salmonella has caused a whole shipment of food to be bad, so the news reports say to check the codes on the packages of processed food you buy to make sure they’re safe? Or how many times have we heard that another animal with Mad Cow disease has been found, so if anyone ate meat from X restaurants (or purchased meat from X grocery stores), don’t eat what you paid for, and if you consumed any meats from X, check to see if you have symptoms Y or Z.
They don’t tell you to consult a physician immediately because they wouldn’t want to scare you.
(Of course not. Everyone interested in the meat industry has too much invested in their making money to tell you that continuing to eat meat might be a bad idea.)
Sorry John, I know I’m ranting (you probably know me too well to expect anything else, but still, sorry), but it gets me worked up to see how there are so many different organizations — GLOBALLY — that lead people to think that they need to eat more meat. I mean, think of like China, living for millennia on rice and miso and tofu and fish diets. (I know, fishes aren’t vegetables... I still want to get a t-shirt that says “fishes aren’t vegetables” for people who think they’re vegetarian when they eat fish.) But people in China lived with plenty of protein and never had a problem with their diets — until they adopted a western, fast-food diet. (That is when they started getting the heart attacks and type 2 diabetes, living the American dream.)
Recently I saw the movie “Forks Over Knives,” about choosing a whole-foods, plant-based diet to help people with diseases (because they were very related to their diets), and they talked to Chinese people on the street, only asking them why they choose to eat red meat. Universally, their answer was, “For protein.”
In that movie, they stressed that plant-based whole-foods diets give every person enough protein for a healthy life, and I know that when I first became a vegetarian a lot of people talked to me about getting the “right” protein in my foods, because only having meat in your diet can give a person the protein they need. (I think for years I was told that I had to combine different beans and foods to get a “complete” protein — though I thought it was funny that a bean burrito had “just the right” combination of foods for a healthy meal...)
But it’s funny, you usually don’t see many dietary listings in vegetables about the amount of protein in things. I should check that out more.
And I know, when I made this decision to become a vegetarian, I didn’t have a plan. I know that years beforehand I first had my cholesterol checked when I was like 22 (and at the time they didn’t know the differences between “good” cholesterol and “bad” cholesterol, and I think I ate something like ground beef pizza the night before the test), and they told me cholesterol was 212.
For a 22 year old.
So they told me to check my diet and come back in 3 months for another test, so I decided to stop eating red meat and cheese, and 3 months later my cholesterol was 136. So I knew it was under my control, so I just continued to not eat read meat (sorry, I’m a Chicago girl, I love deep dish pizzas too much) and I led my Chicago life. I did this while traveling around the country by car often, and realizing that when stopping at fast food joints on the road I was stuck with a chicken or turkey sandwich (and those things really are quite bland).
So on one trip where we drove to see the ball drop in New York for New Year’s, we stopped at the Poconos for a place to crash for the two-day drive home. The hotels were like separate cabins outdoors, and as we were walking to our hotel room I saw that someone had a cat there, and this cat was just walking around, being insanely comfortable with any stranger. So since I like cats so much, we opened our hotel door, and the cat just walked in like she owned the place. We petted the cat for a bit, but then had to let it out (so the owners didn’t worry where their cat was), and petting the stranger’s cat at a hotel made me think about the food I had been eating over the years.
I looked at the cat, and that that on the other side of the world, this cat was a delicacy.
Then again, in other parts of the world, the cow is sacred.
(I wonder if they decided to call the cow sacred because they didn’t want people killing their cows for meat when they could continually have milk from it instead, but I haven’t researched this, and this has nothing to do with my story, so sorry I digressed.)
But if this cat was a delicacy, and other people would never eat a cow, it all boils down to what we are taught about what should and should not be eaten.
Then I thought, well, I’d never want to kill a cow, or a chicken, or another animal.
But then I thought, that’s the beauty to capitalism, I specialize on my skills, and pay someone else to kill the animals.
And I petted this cat for another minute.
And then, without thinking (well, I guess I was thinking), I thought that maybe I shouldn’t eat any animals.
And if I couldn’t take it, I’d eat chicken once every two weeks or something.
And yeah, after a week straight of eating only pasta, I really needed to look for something else to include on my diet, but I never wanted to eat meat again.
I’m sorry I went on that long story, John... You even knew that I made that decision in the Poconos, and that’s when you decided to take me there for my 10 year anniversary of being a vegetarian (and I love you for that, that was so sweet), but I was thinking about how it wasn’t for health reasons that I decided to become a vegetarian. (I like to talk about that NOW, but I still like to drink and consume other things that aren’t the healthiest, but it’s a nice thing to fall back on when you’re in the minority anywhere in the world and have to defend the moral choices you made.)
But yeah, I think you’ve begun to see it, when going to any restaurant, as a vegetarian you only have a little under 10 percent of all of the menu options to choose from. (Yeah, I know, you can have fish, chicken, turkey, pork, and anything other than red meat, but you DID try being a vegetarian, so you know what it’s like when you go out.) And oftentimes when you go out like that, I think that’s when you begin to become aware of how much meat is pushed down the consumer’s throat. If people are concerned about getting enough protein via meat consumption, they should know that eating 3 ounces of meat would cover their protein bases for the entire DAY. (Translation, you didn’t need it at breakfast with your eggs, then in cold cuts in your lunchtime sandwich, as WELL as in an 8 to 12 ounce steak at night. In fact, when people consume too much protein like that, your body doesn’t know how to process the excess protein, and actually pulls the calcium away from your bones to help get the extra meat through your body — I wonder if THAT’s why so many people get osteoporosis now...)
I’m sorry, I seem scatter-brained as I am saying all of these things. It’s just that there are so many different aspects of a vegetarian diet versus a meat-consumption that affect so many different aspects of our lives. Eating more red meat actually makes body builders more sluggish (and there have been a few Ninja Warriors, for example, who have done marvelously without eating any slaughtered animal).
Wait a minute. I’m tired of feeling like I have make an argument for why I have chosen to be a vegetarian, or why I think it’s a good idea to be a vegetarian. I’ve said it before in poetry: “I know we could be feeding ten times more people with the same resources used for meat production” (and that argument was for why GLOBALLY it’s a smarter idea to go vegetarian, not personally or morally). And I know that it seems that some people are getting more and more knowledgeable about it (and more people know friends who are vegetarians). But nobody understood it the first few years of my being a vegetarian, my dad still teases me about it (you were a meat-eater all your life, there’s nothing wrong with you, you’ve heard the arguments; it’s not like I was trying to convert him or anything). And yeah, I never try to “convert” people into becoming vegetarians or anything: I usually keep to myself about it, and only if I am asked will I discuss it. My nephew even asked me about it, and he later decided to have a vegetarian diet, and get this — it was because he thought it tasted BETTER an there were more CHOICES; I couldn’t believe it.
Anyway, sorry about that, there I go, rambling again on different tangents, but it’s just that there is so much to cover when you make a life choice for the better like this. The more I think about it, that more I’m sure I could come up with more stories about it (and more arguments for it), but I have been writing a while. I suppose I should let you go.
P.S.: Thanks again for reading my rant. I know you eat meat, and I know in the past you killed animals (that when you were young, a gun was so easy for you that you started using a bow and arrow to make hunting a challenge). I mean, I think it was for this that I decided to keep your old meat grinder always attached to the wooden counter-top in the kitchen, unless it was for the fact that you’ve got to get along with my beliefs, and I have to get along with yours.
And seriously, I’m glad you don’t grind up raw meat with that thing in the house right now...
Yoga, Yoghurt and My Feet in the Indian Ocean
So here I stand in the Indian Ocean pondering the food choices I’ve made in my life. My feet sandy and wet after doing some sun salutations and vinyasas on the beach at sun rise. I hope I didn’t look to ridiculous doing that but what the hell, I’m in India on the beach and it may be my only chance to do this in my life. Oh, freshly made plain yoghurt is amazing here, sweet with only a hint of the sourness of fermentation.
Oh, the next day as I watched the sun rise and the city come alive from my hotel window I saw other people were out on the beach doing yoga. Maybe I didn’t look so ridiculous after all.
It all started innocently several years ago when I met you on a train bound for Palos. Little did I know that my life was about to take a turn for the better and we would be married a little over a year later. Amazing what a six pack of Old Style and a couple cans of Foster’s Lager can do to bring two people together. You were a vegetarian and I was not. I know you cut me some slack because I was a hunter and had gone through the whole process of killing a butchering and animal. I understood what it meant to eat meat and that it didn’t just come from the butcher at your local grocer. Even so, you would tell me about the health benefits of not eating meat. But it wasn’t just the health benefits that caused you to become a vegetarian, you decided that you could not kill an animal and that you did not want to pay someone to do it for you.
It was during one of these conversations (the ones about the ethics of killing an animal for food rather than abusing it for eggs or milk) that I admitted to you, and possibly myself, that every time I killed an deer a little part of me died and I felt sad. You know, they are beautiful animals. I told myself that this animal had lived free and this was a better life to lead before ending up on my table than the life of a penned steer or pig. It seemed more natural than buying something from the grocery store. Ted Nugent now males a living selling this idea.
Then, about two years ago, I started to get indigestion and GERD. I went to the doctor and was prescribed Omeprazole. Joy! I could eat and drink again without getting sick. After a few months of this, taking a medication for my stomach, one for migraines and a third to keep my heart from racing I decided to quit taking the meds, one at a time. I stopped the Omeprazole and the GERD came back. Then I started eliminating things from my diet. Remember when I was going to give my Single Malts to my brother in law because they were giving me indigestion? Well, I gave up the whiskey but I still had indigestion. Ok, what about beer, then wine, then no liquor at all for a few weeks and still I was getting indigestion. Hmm... must be something I’m eating. I eliminated spicy foods, but the indigestion did not go away. Okay, time to start drinking again and eating salsa.
What next...? I thought about the propaganda film “Forks over Knives” and how they talked about the benefits of a plant based whole foods diet. I had argued with you that although it was very much pro vegan that one of the doctors never really said eliminate meat. He only spoke of our excess consumption of beef that was poorly fed with grains and food pellets rather than grass. So I eliminated beef from my diet. After a couple weeks the indigestion went away. Then we went to our nephew’s wedding and I had a small piece of beef. You said, “don’t do it, it’ll make you sick”, but I did anyway because this would either confirm or reject the null hypothesis – beef makes me sick. Well, in about two hours my indigestion came back. Well, I thought, I guess it’s time to give up beef.
Eat meat get indigestion, don’t eat meat, don’t get indigestion. I then decided to drop another medication. Metoprolol, which was prescribed to me after a diagnosis of supraventricular tachycardia, was to go next. It’s been months since I have taken one of those pills and I haven’t had a single event. Could it be that the beef was causing this? Maybe not the meat itself but the industrial production practice of injecting beef and dairy cattle with hormones? I don’t know, but for me not eating meat seems to have worked.
Then I heard that my father has Alzheimer’s. This gave me a new perspective on things. I already knew that certain things you eat can inhibit dementia. If that’s the case maybe other things can be a catalyst. Since Alzheimer’s is sometimes hereditary, and his sisters had it, this was time for action. I started investigating foods that could inhibit Alzheimer’s and those that may cause it. It turns out that the people of India have some of the lowest rates of dementia on the planet. What do they eat, not cows, not pigs, but lots of spices.
I went to the web and typed in a simple search term, “beef Alzheimer’s”. One of the first things to turn up was a study on the National Institute of Health’s web site that found a correlation between the consumption of beef and Alzheimer’s. It turns out that too much saturated fat can contribute to plaques forming on the brain. In fact people who eat beef throughout their life have three times greater rate of Alzheimer’s than vegetarians. It went further stating that this may also include cows’ milk products. Maybe you were making the right decision... turning away the bottle as an infant. Of course you still like your deep dish pizza. Later you gave up beef because of high cholesterol.
Maybe another wise choice in the battle against dietary brain damage?
I know you are probably thinking I told you so. Anyways, it appears that there is evidence that Alzheimer’s is triggered in some people due to a misfolded amino acid that in most people cannot pass through the blood brain barrier. Apparently this amino acid problem occurs much more frequently in grain fed beef than in grass fed beef. This mutated amino acid, can pass through the blood brain barrier and attach itself to neurons. When this happens it becomes a crystallization point for the formation of plaques on the brain. There is another name for these mutated amino acids – prions. Prions have been identified as the cause of mad cow disease, Cruetzfeldt-Jakob disease and now possibly Alzheimer’s.
When I mentioned recently that the rate of Alzheimer’s is so much higher in beef eaters than in vegetarians I was questioned as to whether other factors were ruled out. Let’s examine that for a moment... do you eat beef, if yes then you are in the risk category that is three times as likely to get Alzheimer’s as vegetarians. Is more discussion necessary? Maybe there is a lifestyle difference between beef eaters and vegetarians. While I may have thought at some point in my life that vegetarians live a mysterious lifestyle apart from “normal” people thirteen years of marriage to a veg has changed that perception.
Back to that study...
It seems that confining cattle in a small area and stuffing them with GMO corn feed has resulted in an increase in the rate of bovine para-tuberculosis. This bug, while thought to be inert in humans may be the culprit in getting this whole brain degeneration process started. This virus is found in an estimated 20 to 40 percent of the US dairy herd according to the USDA despite nearly a century in trying to eradicate it. Makes you want to go out and get a beef-shake. Where isn’t it found in such high numbers? Vegetables.
It’s funny, I’m sitting in the International terminal at Chennai next to a stand named “Chicago Crust... it’s all about pizza”. What do they sell? You guessed it, samosas, pakoras aloo bonda, etc... and vegetarian pizza, not deep dish but thin crust like New York pizza. I tried the mushroom veggie Pizza – it was thin and flimsy like New York style, except it had no sauce.
I guess my body has told me I’m better off without meat. Speaking of which, I talked to a person at work today who told me they know of a child whose ADHD was cured by eliminating meat from his diet. So maybe it is better to eat a vegetarian diet. In fact, unless you make sure your milk and cheese is organic then you are probably better off eating a vegan diet. One thing, I think I’ll never stop eating chicken or fish every once in a while but as for beef and pork, it looks like I’m done with them. So I guess in the future I will be trying hard to eat close to the source and have a plant based whole foods diet.
(Chicken and China — note)
Hey, after reading your letter, I just heard that the U.S. government’s now allowing American or Canada raised chickens to go to China for cooking & processing, then shipped BACK to the States for sale as chicken “product” (for use in like Chicken Nuggets, or in soups that are sold in grocery stores). Right now, if you buy chicken in a grocery store, you should still bag the probably already bagged chicken to avoid contamination with your grocery cart foods, all meat eaters are warned to cut different meats on different trays, use different knives and don’t cross-contaminate with vegetables, but now your chicken’s going to China (and who KNOWS what “safety” measures are cut for production there; we’ve already seen so many problems with contamination of foods processed in China. Thought you were safe by just skipping red meat? Don’t feel so safe, because we’ll cut corners like this, and it will end up hurting people more as a result...