cc&d magazine (1993-2014)


Beyond the Gates

Beyond the Gates
cc&d magazine
v252, Nov./Dec. 2014
Internet ISSN 1555-1555, print ISSN 1068-5154


cc&d magazine













In This Issue...

poetry
(the passionate stuff)

I.B. Rad
Mike Brennan
David Hernandez
Zoe Broome
Madison Gardler
Fritz Hamilton
John Grey
CEE

Chicago Pulse
(sweet poems, Chicago

Bill Yarrow
Janet Kuypers

Chicago Pulse
(prose with a Chicago twist)

Eric Burbridge
Aaron Wilder le Monde art
(artwork in Chicago sections not from Chicago artists)

prose
(the meat & potatoes stuff)

Bill Kroger
Joshua Copeland
Julie L. Brown
Patrick Fealey
Dr. (Ms.) Michael S. Whitt
Iftekhar Sayeed
Edward Michael O’Durr Supranowicz art
Ash Medhurst
Üzeyir Lokman ÇAYCI art
Rex Sexton
Cheryl Townsend photography





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Beyond the Gates




















cc&d

poetry
the passionate stuff








The Three Magi

I.B. Rad

The other night,
purveying
gifts of wisdom
for the wholly child,
three Magi
infotained us
on TV;
while,
from the distant ceiling,
a starry bulb
shone light.





Janet Kuypers reads I.B. Rad’s poems
appearing in the v252 issue of cc&d magazine,
titled Beyond the Gates
The Three Magi
and Joy to the World
video video See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers reading I.B. Rad’s poems The Three Magi and Joy to the World, appearing in the v252 issue of cc&d mag, titled Beyond the Gates live 12/17/14 at Chicago’s the Café Gallery




“Joy to the World”

I.B. Rad

Opposite my apartment
there’s a park
where they say
deals go down every day,
though tonight,
on Christmas eve,
it’s pure meth white
like snorted snow.
You’d swear the view’s
a wintry landscape
by Andrew Wyeth
or, perhaps,
some precious scene
from a Christmas Card, except
for those few telltale tracks
popping this seasonable vein
to proclaim,
“Joy to the World!...”
















a Meditation on Mayan Prophecies
& the Sandy Hook Shooting Days Before Christmas
while in a Veteran’s Dry Out Clinic
for the Second Time this Year

Mike Brennan

A Christmas of continuous crisis
Locked away & attempting to
Bandage all my appendages
With the powers of invisibility
I still miss you here in the ICU
Sweating Survival Statistics
In the wards & through the pores
Of a passed away VA
The patterns of my circulation are just
A washcloth of washed out water wishing
To become one with the atomic rain

But all that can be expected
Is a postmarked parcel of pharmaceutical pain
Addressed with scrawled answered prayers
To remain wrapped in a raincoat
To remain dry through the traumatizing trial
That is waking up to another grateful shot at today

So please just raise your hand
If you know where I’m calling from
& don’t hesitate to share your checkered
History of abandoned attempts
At daily steps towards recovery
Because what went wrong last year
You’ll pardon the pun & surely fix this
As long as our collective strength is
Enough to survive the apocalypse
& just know that you really don’t
& your best thinking only bought you
This metal chair & a complimentary cup of coffee
That you’re stirring while shaking
Because the neurotic neurons
Are still partially receiving
Fragments of what the friendly forces
Keeps firing at the enemy
& it’s never quite quiet in the DMZ

Your mouth muscles are
Always slacked at half-mast
Trying to talk & spit up
Bites of bayonets
Names, ranks, & serial numbers
Involuntary movements to identify yourself
& state your business
& maybe just determine exactly
How many passwords can be committed
To the artificial asylum of memory

So you take three steps forward
When the front door opens
Palms paralyzed at the sides
Trying not to betray
Their white knuckled strain

But inside it’s only about the souvenirs
Yesterday’s campaign is today’s exhibit
The smile behind the chemical straightjacket
The many ornaments that adorn
Such a utilitarian uniform
A keepsake case of embalmed ears
Birds & Bars            Stripes & Chevrons
Tattooed odes to the orders of the fallen
Granite catacombs of all that was
Chosen to be forgotten
As our bones become bricks
In our confused cohort’s shell-shocked walls

You are just a bearer of flailing emotions
Constantly trying to keep remembering
You are not your mind &
You can never be completely in control
Of both the logical & the sensible
Although it is true
You always attempt to avoid the predictable
When language is not always literal
But the implications are of great importance
The sounds of the blues & soul are never quite broken
& since you are stuck
You might as well just sit back down & shut up
& expose yourself to the devil
Since she’s always ready to reciprocate
The love you gave to such obviously selfish loss & hate
Is just a wrecked wristwatch
Is another date in the courtroom courtesy of the cops
Is an illegible message in a bottle & an uncomfortable place to flop
Is a crash landing when broken wings can’t find a proper position to stop
A darkened vulnerability in a fatal midnight feature film
A harassing laugh at the dunce cap in the back of the class
A heart shaped holiday card sticky-taped to Grandma’s refrigerator
A booming new market for bullet-proof backpacks
The theoretical yet truthful depths of my anxiety attacks
My carefully monitored regimen of generic anti-psychotics
The fear of tomorrow’s texts of technological distress
The spreading disease of illiteracy, illegitimacy &
Pawn shop storage sheds full of priceless antiques & redneck TVs
Doomsday cults & finger-pointing Pig-Latin translations of Christianity
The murderous motive operandi mounted in our mosques & malls
Marred in the many morgues of modernity
All the undecided sides of the right to bear arms
Of all that belongs to freedom & liberty& the happiness loaded in an AR15
& the newest medication supporting the mental health community

& hopefully a day will come when the home front
Returns for the decorated hobos
Locked in their habitual nightmare of flashbacks
Agent Orange side-effects
Gulf War Syndrome & all the surprises
Starting to show straight through
The price tag of Enduring Freedom
















Drinking from the Chalice of Silver

David Hernandez

A line before the Christian cross
awaits the holding of a chalice
of silver, an angels coat, spiritual
a cup once held by the minister.
A walk of praying hands
waits to touch the chalice
to grasp the hands of grace
to sense the spirit’s presence
to sip the wine from divine.
Though a chalice of gold remains
replacing the deceit of silver,
the saints do not mind the deceit
only the loss.








Working with Children

David Hernandez

At the center of Sunland Park Mall,
I sit straight up on a desk chair
dressed in my uniform,
a red, black, and white suit,
a full beard, white gloves,
black boots, and a red cap,
surrounded by Christmas trees and Christmas elves,
ready for my next job.

I wave and shout Ho-Ho-Ho
to the many young girls and boys
who come to sit on my lap
and stare at the camera with me.

I need to get off this chair,
stretch my back, and walk around.
My feet are asleep,
it’s hot in this suit,
and my arms are tired from waving.

Maybe this wasn’t the best job,
it’s only seasonal.
I took care of my house
when I was a stay at home parent
and now it’s filled with dust.
I passed out candy on Halloween,
and always kept my legs on the move.








How an Artist Sells His Work

David Hernandez

A canvas I bought at a Hobby Lobby store
would become my next painting—
faces altered by leprosy and any other deformities.

Faces with severe cuts, dripping blood, and stitched up skin
wouldn’t push viewers into being captivated by their pain.

Placed on my easel, I painted a red background
enclosed in a dark blue square
to resemble a picture frame
with lively atmosphere.

Three figures painted unto the canvas,
each with an abnormality.

The first one—half of his face burned from a fire,
a cleft lip, an extended cranium, followed by suppressed facial expressions.

The second one—many clumps surrounding his face,
a bloated chin with a mouth formed at the bottom.

The third one—the head titled to the left revealing an absent ear,
clumps of skin falling to the chin, a bloated right eye, followed by jagged teeth.

I tried to capture their expression,
my own deformities,
with oil and acrylic color.
They looked too colored,
unable to draw anyone in.
I must rely on the computer;
it does a better job at selling my pain.








The Age I Fear

David Hernandez

A lighter and a flask,
two key chains shown on my keys,
to show how old I am.
I don’t drink and I don’t smoke,
yet other addicts (people of my age)
want me to be like them.

I have a better use for the lighter and the flask,
to start a fire and clear out the evidence.
I spiked their drinks with poison inside the flask,
filled their bar with flammable oil,
and lit it with the lighter.

The club can be repaired;
the memory of what I did remains strong.
I was different, now I am fierce.
My own pleasure came from two items
used to kill in silence.
















Veteran

Zoe Broome

Your life was a March snowflake,
I was winter’s veteran.

You’d seen nothing
but sunshine, pistols,
dawn raids, your dad’s corpse,
your homeland

where a mad dictator
sent armies after you.

You were eleven.

I wonder whether
you were a child, then.
















of ink

Madison Gardler

pens scare me in the
way death similarly does--
both are permanent.





Janet Kuypers reads Madison Gardler’s poem
appearing in the v252 issue of cc&d magazine,
titled Beyond the Gates
of Ink
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See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers reading Madison Gardler’s poem of Ink, appearing in the v252 issue of cc&d mag, titled Beyond the Gates live 12/17/14 at Chicago’s the Café Gallery















Hey, Jesoo, U remember when

Fritz Hamilton

    “Hey, Jesoo, U remember when those three wiseguys visited U in the manger when U had no crib for a bed, & they had all those gifts for U while I was howling in the hay with nothing?”
    “Of course, Judas, U were fucked & carried a resentment all the way to the moment U hanged yrself.”
    “Can U blame me?”
    “U hanged yrself, I didn’t do it.”
    “Well, U might have. U’re the one who caused it.”
    “U caused it yrself, asswipe. U felt bad about ratting on me. If U hadn’t squealed, U wouldn’t have felt guilty & offed yrself”
    “Guilt’s a rotten thing, man. It never got anyone anything.”
    “U should’ve been a good psychpath. U wouldn’t have felt a thing. You would have lived. Then maybe we’d have Judasanity instead of Christianity.”
    “So what’s in a name? We still would have had our religious wars. We still would have obliterated Hiroshima & Nagasaki & Dresden. We’d have Iraq & Afghanistan & drones & all the rest of the shit. The more we know, the better we kill one another.”
    “I wonder if Judasanity would have been as bad as Christianity.”
    “It’s hard to believe Judas would have been that bad.”
    They leap into Jesoo’s old cave just when a drone hits near them & they’re damn near killed!

#








Patton rolls into Auschwitz

Fritz Hamilton

Patton rolls into Auschwitz & finds dead Jews packed
high like dried fish/ he opens the camp doors & the
inmates file out & find they’ve been freed/ they

rush the capos & the guards & tear them apart as
Patton & the Americans let them do it/ the gates are
opened & the inmates file out to find many Germans give
cthem shelter & food, the same Germans who were willing to
ignore that they had been the inmates being worked to
death & sent to the gas chambers, but many Germans

still maintained their loyalty to Hitler & did nothing to aid the
persecuted inmates/ the Russians came thru Berlin &
controlled most of it, & we let them/ most of the

spoils would go to the Russians, the German SS
was allowed to escape to South America & to
continue their horrors in Germany & other

parts of Europe/ we on the other hand gave
food & supplies to Europe, which otherwise
would have gone Communist/ the big

winner, of course, is GOD-the-
DEVIL ...

!








The Nazi U-boats rise off New Jersey

Fritz Hamilton

The Nazi U-boats rise off New Jersey near
the end of WWII, even as Hitler is about to
head into his bunker & blow himself away/ Eva

Braun will join him/ the U-boats scare the
Hell out of everybody thinking the war has come
into the USA at last, but instead it’s almost over, the

war to end all wars, even though we’ll soon to be in
Korea to experience Macarthur ’s insubordination &
then Vietnam to follow the French & their folly with

our own/ then there’ll be Desert Storm & Iraq/ will
it ever STOP?/ will it EVER END . . .

?








The chocolate milk goes down my throat

Fritz Hamilton The chocolate milk goes down my throat like
silk, & Thomas Jefferson’s black mistress runs
off with Washington Carver, by George, &

fights at Valley Forge to forge a new life for his
people/ he finds a Kenyan named Obama &
a pretty white mama from Kansas & they have a

son named Barack that they raise on pineapples in
Hawaii, & Barack goes to Chicago to be black/ he
becomes a Senator from Illinois & then our first

half-black president/ white men voted against him, but
everybody else voted for him/ America has a recession
making it impossible for him to get a 2nd term, but

because he’s not white, he wins easily, recession or no
recession.(again white men voted against him, but
blacks, browns & women gave him an easy victory) but

we keep fighting crazy wars, & economic recovery has only
been for the rich.The poor are worse off than ever/ our
next president will be a woman, a Democrat of course, cause

white men WILL NEVER learn ...
!
















a Graveyard Visit

John Grey

I went looking for people
and what did I find but heavy gray stones.
I was told they were all around us
but I could only imagine something other
crumpled in their coffins,
knuckles pressed tight to ribs,
grinning skulls, those heads without the trimmings.
I was prepared for grief
but the sheer absence of parents, siblings, friends,
from this world
was a bewildering concept
no amount of plaques or cenotaphs
or blissful angels could explain satisfactorily to me.
I stood there beneath the coming gray sky,
did not weep for anyone but myself,
this cold, hard body, six feet deep in strangers.



graves, photographed in Gettysburg 8/25/04, copyright 2004-2014 Janet Kuypers



Janet Kuypers reads John Grey’s poem
appearing in the v252 issue of cc&d magazine,
titled Beyond the Gates
a Graveyard Visit
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See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers reading writing John Grey’s poem a Graveyard Visit, appearing in the v252 issue of cc&d mag, titled Beyond the Gates live 12/17/14 at Chicago’s the Café Gallery















There Must Be A Peanut Butter One in Here, Somewhere

CEE

Sitting, observer only
As away she goes with
Boot stompin’ guys
Real “Men”, you know the drill
Which, except for a lot of sound and fury
My Dad and his pals could’ve
Broken every one of ‘em in two
With a snap o’ their Greatest fingers,
But, sound and fury go a long way
In down and out trailer courts
In apartment buildings
Where older residents crank up Nugent
To drown out the domestic,
And the younger ones who call the cops
Can’t make the report
Because the cops cranked up Nugent
So, I sit and observe and
Boot stomp, arrest, court,
Tearful reconciliation
Until the next Boot Stomper to be served
At her cookie counter
Ambles up with coin (or BitCoin) of bullshit
As meanwhile, she’s going from
“OMG!” slurpdrool to my grandmother,
Bit by BitCoin, Dr. Drew-ing her way as
Pavolv’s retarded other, OCD dog
And, I realize this objectifies her, too,
But, I’d never simply use her up, juice box!
Sex is a too precious cookie of the Realm,
Unlike with these retard faux “men”, it turns me
Back into Dr. Jekyll, and keeps me there








A Nation Under Elder gods
(Ganymede)

CEE

Kneejerk flashface debaters
Predators, right in your
Agenda,
“Would you want to have a gay son?”
No
I wouldn’t want a straight son, either
Or a daughter, either way
I’m not real keen on a wife who’d
Stand up to me
And personally, I think
Work is for suckers
The No One Can Afford Health Care Act
Sucks only in that
It ain’t an LBJ freebie,
I shouldn’t have to pay for jackshit
Or get up in the morning
Or even commit suicide on my own
Nothing from Nothing, homes, is Nothing
Which don’t get Nothing outta Me
The World
Is a hellhole
People
Are murderers...
...but this, to blindwhite anger
Means babbleshit
They just think you’re a homophobe








A Nation Under Elder gods
(Labor)

CEE

Denial of Order in the Universe
Moral or otherwise
Utter, vampiric embrace of
“I accept Chaos”,
Renders Purpose
Purposeless
In least bit because it
Renders Work
A choice,
Acceptance of Order as
Preternatural equals Work
Equals Purpose equals a Process
Equals a Part and a Portion
Equals Function equals Operational
Equals Continued Movement
Equals the Order in microcosms
Of all our Universes,
Chaos has no place, outside of
Naked, animal survival
It’s such a shame I’m all for it,
I Hate Work
Work sucks


















cc&d


Chicago Pulse
“sweet poems, Chicago ”








Wahrheit und Dichtung

Bill Yarrow

When I was eight years old, I stepped into
a snow bank in Pennsylvania and sank
in over my head. I remember looking up
through a hole in the snow and seeing
only brazen emptiness. I don’t remember
feeling fear. I remember thinking, “This
is interesting.” Finally, I rescued myself
by pulling myself up on the hardened crust.

My family moved to Provo, Utah, where my
father took a railroad job. One day, the train
he was working was hit by an avalanche and
derailed. The snow broke the windows and
rushed in, filling the cars. Most of the passengers
suffocated. My father carved a breathing space
and waited for the rescuers. They skidded to the
accident, but they took too long. He didn’t make it.








When the Translator Disappears,
the Translation Withers and Dies

Bill Yarrow

The kidnapping of the translator
ade big news for a short time
but then the general incomprehensibility
of things resumed and everyone,
except Lorraine, went back to work.
Lorraine refused to extend the futility
of human communication—what was
the point? she wanted to know. What
was the point of speaking if, now that
the translator had been kidnapped,
no one (no one!) could decipher what she
or anyone else had to say? Lorraine could
not fathom how people could return to work.
How was work even possible? she wondered.
An iron silence began to oppress her as she
slept. It crept into her body and she felt herself
incapable of raising her arms in greeting or to
ward off a blow. She sank deep into bitterness,
dreading the dawn and the sight of neighbors
egregious in their pretense of meaningful speech.
She pined for the return of the translator who
became messianic in her eyes. Her dreams became
denuded of images, infused only with two lines
of unvarying dialogue. “Come back to me.” “Can’t.
Can’t you see I’ve never left?” It was the translator
speaking. He was holding her in his arms. He was
looking at her with the tenderness she so terribly
craved. She felt, suddenly, as if for the first time,
understood. And she understood perfectly, perfectly,
the repressed caress of words that poured from his mouth.

 

“When the Translator Disappears, the Translation Withers and Dies” was first published
in New World Writing (formerly BLIP). It appears in Pointed Sentences (BlazeVOX, 2012).
















holding hands
(expanded, extreme sestina variation)

Janet Kuypers
3/17/14
based on “ holding my hand”, written 04/20/98

when we’re walking down the street in stride
and our feet pump out the same rhythm
and our shoulders are almost touching
and our hands seem to brush up agains
each other for one brief moment

in that one brief moment he reaches over
and takes my hand, he slides his fingers
around my hand and I feel him move
along my palm to my fingers

when he moves along my palm and my fingers
no one knows what it feels like then
when his fingers curl and hold me tight
well, it feels like... pop rocks

you know when it feels just like pop rocks
you know when it feels like that candy is sliding
down your throat after you let it explode
when it’s still on your tongue and it’s tingling

when it’s still on your tongue and it’s tingling
no one else is eating these pop rocks
and no one knows that tingling feeling
and this is my little secret

and I love keeping this little secret
when I feel this feeling like never before
and it makes me want to laugh and cry
because when I look around the room
I know no one else is eating those pop rocks
and no one knows the feeling when he’s holding my hand

no one knows the feeling when he’s holding my hand
it’s like candy and cupids and hearts and sunshine
and all those generic symbols of love
that never explain it just right

those words never explain that feeling just right,
it’s catching your breath, falling from an airplane
it’s climbing a mountain, it’s standing on a glacier,
it’s following dolphins, it’s swimming with sharks
it’s turning your head and seeing those fingers
interlocked with yours as you’re walking in stride

because when those fingers are interlocked
you want to hold on for your life
you now have something you’ve never felt
all
      just by holding his hand



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census

Janet Kuypers
haiku 3/1/14
video

I want to work for
the U. S. Census Bureau,
and count the bodies



twitter 4 jk twitter 4 jk Visit the Kuypers Twitter page for short poems— join http://twitter.com/janetkuypers.
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eventually

Janet Kuypers
haiku 3/1/14
video

man-made parallel
lines eventually cross:
nothing’s truly straight



twitter 4 jk twitter 4 jk Visit the Kuypers Twitter page for short poems— join http://twitter.com/janetkuypers.
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of Janet Kuypers reading her twitter-length haiku eventually as a looping JKPoetryVine video in Chicago 3/17/14 at the open mic Waiting 4 the Bus (C)







falling

Janet Kuypers
haiku 3/1/14
video

falling from the sky
I can only hope I’ll be
landing on my feet



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upturn

Janet Kuypers
haiku 3/10/14
video

with blurred eyes, hollow
upturned tortoise shells look like
battle casualties



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sort

Janet Kuypers
haiku 3/10/14
video

some stores sort bibles
along with books for sale as
“fiction.” and...            why not .



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See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers reading (C) her poem sort from her “Partial Nudity” book release feature live 6/18/14 at Chicago’s open mic the Café Gallery
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judge

Janet Kuypers
haiku 3/10/14
video

between my fingers
I’d share my secrets with you,
and you never judged



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enemies

Janet Kuypers
haiku 3/15/14
based on the 6/13/10 poem “no thank you

video

we have too many
enemies on earth to let
demons drive us mad



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See Vine video of Janet Kuypers performing her poem enemies (originally in her books 100 Haikus and Partial Nudity) live 12/17/14 at Chicago’s open mic the Café Gallery (Sony, posterize)







universe

Janet Kuypers
haiku 4/13/14
video

there are more atoms
in your eye than all stars in
the known universe

eye in stars



twitter 4 jk twitter 4 jk Visit the Kuypers Twitter page for short poems— join http://twitter.com/janetkuypers.
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See YouTube video (S) of Bob Lawrence reading the Janet Kuypers haiku universe in the “Partial Nudity” book release show 6/18/14 at Chicago’s the Café Gallery
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See YouTube video (C) of Bob Lawrence reading the Janet Kuypers haiku universe in the “Partial Nudity” book release show 6/18/14 at Chicago’s the Café Gallery
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See Vine video of Janet Kuypers performing her poem universe (originally in her books Partial Nudity and 100 Haikus) live 12/17/14 at Chicago’s open mic the Café Gallery (Canon)
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See Vine video of Janet Kuypers performing her poem universe (originally in her books 100 Haikus and Partial Nudity) live 12/17/14 at Chicago’s open mic the Café Gallery (Sony, posterize)







“Jimbo”

Janet Kuypers
haiku 4/30/14
video

Hitler kept Henry
Ford’s pic for inspiration.
Take that, Jimbo Breen.



twitter 4 jk twitter 4 jk Visit the Kuypers Twitter page for short poems— join http://twitter.com/janetkuypers.
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See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers reading her haiku “Jimbo” live in Nashville (to people who knew Jimbo) 10/18/14 (iPhone camera)
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See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers reading her haiku “Jimbo” live in Nashville (to people who knew Jimbo) 10/18/14 (Posterized)







love
(true story haiku)

Janet Kuypers
haiku 4/30/14
video

Hitler’s first love was
for a young Jewish girl    that
he never spoke to



twitter 4 jk twitter 4 jk Visit the Kuypers Twitter page for short poems— join http://twitter.com/janetkuypers.
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See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers reading (C) her poem love from her “Partial Nudity” book release feature live 6/18/14 at Chicago’s open mic the Café Gallery
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See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers reading (S) her poem love from her “Partial Nudity” book release feature live 6/18/14 at Chicago’s open mic the Café Gallery
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See Vine video of Janet Kuypers performing her poem love (originally in her books Partial Nudity and 100 Haikus) live 12/17/14 at Chicago’s open mic the Café Gallery (Canon)
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See Vine video of Janet Kuypers performing her poem love (originally in her books 100 Haikus and Partial Nudity) live 12/17/14 at Chicago’s open mic the Café Gallery (Sony, posterize)







Arsenic and Syphilis

Janet Kuypers
3/3/14 (bonus Periodic Table haiku)
video

arsenic was used
in pre-penicillin days
to treat syphilis



twitter 4 jk twitter 4 jk Visit the Kuypers Twitter page for short poems— join http://twitter.com/janetkuypers.
video videonot yet rated

See YouTube video (C) of Avrom Litin reading the Janet Kuypers haiku Arsenic and Syphilis in the “Partial Nudity” book release show 6/18/14 at Chicago’s the Café Gallery
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See YouTube video (S) of Avrom Litin reading the Janet Kuypers haiku Arsenic and Syphilis in the “Partial Nudity” book release show 6/18/14 at Chicago’s the Café Gallery
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See YouTube video
of Janet Kuypers reading her haiku Arsenic and Syphilis live 9/27/14 on Chicago’s WZRD 88.3 FM radio (C)
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See YouTube video
of Janet Kuypers reading her haiku Arsenic and Syphilis live 9/27/14 on Chicago’s WZRD 88.3 FM radio (S)




Janet Kuypers Bio

    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, po•em, 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), the mini books Part of my Pain, Let me See you Stripped, Say Nothing, Give me the News, when you Dream tonight, Rape, Sexism, Life & Death (with some Slovak poetry translations), Twitterati, and 100 Haikus, that coincided with the June 2014 release of the two poetry collection books Partial Nudity and Revealed. Three collection books were also published of her work in 2004, Oeuvre (poetry), Exaro Versus (prose) and L’arte (art).


















cc&d


Chicago Pulse
prose with a Chicago twist








AMA

Eric Burbridge

    Against medical advice; something everybody does. That’s what keeps medical professionals working. Right? I’m a big ignorer of doctor’s advice; don’t smoke, drink and eat too much pork. The list is endless. Oh...I forgot sex. “Use a condom,” they say. What man doesn’t ignore that? But, AMA applies to signing out of a hospital. I never thought I’d make that foolish of a move, but either that or go to jail.
    You see I’m an ex-professional killer.
    Reformed...for how long if I get out of this situation? I’m not the jail type. Felon doesn’t fit well with my reputation of teacher and community activist. Leon Wilcox associated with the murder of an off duty cop?
    Hell no! But, they won’t see it that way. The more I thought about my situation the more my broken ribs ached. The oxycontin wasn’t working. I leaned back in the booth of Thelma’s Soul Kitchen, a couple of blocks from Saint Bernard’s Hospital. I never cared for soul food, but my former protégé shouldn’t look in here for the time being. I sat close to the kitchen away from windows. My shapely waitress was friendly and flirtatious. I asked for extra fries with the cheeseburger, no extra charge of course. She rubbed my shoulder when she sat down my plate. She glanced at the bandages on my head. “Hope you recover soon, enjoy,” she said. I felt the pain killers kick in. Thank God, I needed to concentrate.
    Has my past come back to haunt me?
    I exercise caution in everything I do and say. What are the odds of getting rear ended by a drunk at 3am on a wide boulevard? I saw headlights in the mirror coming my way at light speed. And, bam! I lost control and wrapped my Cutlass Calais around a tree. I got that car from a senior citizen who drove once in a blue moon. That’s what she said and with twenty thousand miles on a five year old car, she wasn’t lying. I named it “Blue Moon.” My ribs were cracked and gashes on my head screamed concussion. He was ejected from his vehicle and from the angle my vehicle wrapped around that tree I saw them put him in a body bag. Good for the SOB. I gasped for breath from the mangled steel. I prayed the gas didn’t ignite before the foam hit it. High heat and humidity amplified the fumes from the spilt fuel. “Keep your eyes close guy, we’re almost there,” a fireman said. Whatever tool they used it was ear shattering. Finally, freedom. “You’re a miracle, a real miracle.” A female paramedic said. All the flashing lights had a hypnotic affect. I lost consciousness when the ambulance pulled off and the siren blasted.

*

    When the wheels dropped from the stretcher that was supposed to cushion and level it. I felt every rotation of the wheels and surface they rolled on. The blast of cool air when the ER doors flew open cooled my sweat drenched body. One, two, three and they transferred me to another bed. A group of people scurried around doing whatever. My head and chest hurt like hell. My clothing was stripping and I felt tubes being shoved in me and needle pricks on my arms and again; darkness.
    “Hello, Mr. Wilcox, can you hear me?” Somebody shined a light in my eyes. I nodded. “That’s good, I’m Doctor Portman.” Good, a soothing voice. The grayness I struggled to see through cleared. A thirtyish looking woman with sad probing eyes studied my facial expression while she rubbed my neck. “You’re a lucky man from what I’ve heard. Your vehicle almost ignited. I tell you it took a minute to get that foam off before you went into the OR. I’ll get to the point. You had a piece of metal embedded in your chest. We got it out, but your ribs are broken.”
    I needed a drink, but I still tried to respond to her statement. I got out a whisper. “Thanks, Doctor Portman.” She held up my head and I sipped from a cup. I swallowed; what a relief. I cleared my throat. “Is everything else OK?”
    “Well, the x-rays show you have a bullet by your spine.” She took away the cup and dabbed my parched lips. “A full size bullet, what happened with that?” She smiled.
    Jesus! I forgot about that thing. “I got shot.” I laughed and grimaced in pain.
    “Well, we can and need to remove it. If it makes a wrong turn it might paralyze or even kill you.
    A chill engulfed me. Imagine that, an ex-hitman scared. “Uh, uh...when?”
    “We can go in the morning. It won’t take long at all,” she said and waited for an answer.

    “Mr. Wilcox?”
    “Uh, yes doctor. Can I think about it? And, you didn’t answer my question.”
    “Who wants lead in them? How long ago did that happen?” She waited for the answer she wouldn’t get. I looked in the opposite direction. “Well, let the nurse know when you make a decision, Mr. Wilcox. They’ll move you out of recovery and into a room. I’ll tell your wife she can see you now.” The youthful surgeon gave me an uneasy smile and left.
    I got to get out of here!
    Relax Leon and think. They could’ve taken it out without your permission. Thank God they didn’t. Every bullet or fragment goes to the cops. I laid there and slowed my heart rate. I positioned my legs by the edge of the bed, eased them down and I stood. It hurt like hell, but I could walk. Good. I laid back and waited for my wife.
    The brightest light in the windowless recovery room was Chloe. She walked over; kissed me her tongue explored every corner of my mouth. In spite of my injuries I stiffened until it hurt. The bags under her puffy eyes said she needed sleep. “They scared me to death Leon when they called.”
    “I’m OK, don’t worry.”
    “This is why we should get pregnant. You never know what might happen to either of us.” She brushed her long silky black hair back and lay on my shoulder. She didn’t have on a bra under her striped blouse and pants she only wore around the house. “You rushed out the house half naked, you must love me.” I laughed and ignored the pain.
    “Shut up.” Chloe planted another kiss on my lips. “You want a snack?”
    “Um...no, what I want is to go home. Bring me some clothes.”
     “Why? Where you going, Leon?”
    “Don’t ask me now, Chloe, just do it. It’s important, very important.” She gave me that look. “I promise I’ll explain later. By the time you get back I’ll be in another room. Hurry.”
    “Yeah...OK.” She picked up her shoulder bag. “Your shoes, wallet and cell are in that bag,” and she hurried out the door.
    The transport specialist pushed me through the hallway full of mobile computer stations that monitored the patients. All the staff dressed alike, I couldn’t tell the doctors from the nurses. Something smelled good. Several large stainless steel containers cluttered the aisle. Lunchtime. The best food in the world was served in the hospital. They settled me in the room. If Chloe does what I asked I’ll be in good shape.
    I haven’t seen Doctor Ari Solomon since he patched me up five years ago. He needed to retire then and no telling what kind of shape he’s in now. If he’s alive. Doctor Solomon practiced at the Maplewood Medical Center and with its state of the art equipment; he did a few favors, after hours, for special people. Solomon tended to my gunshot wound; now that the bullet shifted I only trusted him to remove it.
    Would he remember me?
    Did he still do that kind of work?
    Either way good bye, St Bernard’s. I dug in the property bag for my cell phone. The battery was dead and no charger. Dammit, hurry up Chloe. I savored the last of the applesauce when she walked in. “Surprise, Mr. Wilcox, here’s your clothing as you requested.” She dropped them on the bed.
    “Don’t be mad...OK.”
    “I am not mad,” she snapped. “I don’t trust you. What are you up too?” A short lady came in and retrieved my tray. Chloe smiled and spoke. The lady ducked out right quick.
    “You scared the lady, be nice, lower your voice.”
    “Leon, don’t leave this place until they release you or at least wait until Danny gets here.”
    “Danny!” Danny Lafell is the one who shot me. My best friend since third grade and protégé in murder for hire. Body building Danny, lover of women of all ethnicities. I had to stay a step ahead of him. “How did he know I was here?” Dumb question, Leon. “Why did you? Never mind. How long ago did you talk to him?”
    “He called your cell a little while ago. Why?”
    “What did you tell him?”
    “Uh... nothing.”
    Her hesitation said it all. “Chloe, don’t.” Danny liked Chloe. A big butt white girl got a lot of attention. If they threw dirt in my face he’d be the first to console her. But, his lust would remain a fantasy. She came from an upper middle class conservative family and interracial didn’t sit well with them.
    She sighed. “He’s your friend, I thought, so I told him you were OK, but they want to do an additional surgery on your back, that’s all. I’m sorry.”
    “That’s OK.” I rubbed her hand; she snatched it away.
     “I’m leaving, whatever you’re up to I don’t want to see it.” She kissed me and before I could thank her she was out the door. I waited until she should be out the parking lot and put on my clothes. The doctors and head nurse suggested I wait. Those words I heard as the elevator doors closed. If this bullet worried me, it worried Danny too. Chances are he’ll think they took it out already or I might allow it.

*

    I nibbled at the few fries left on my plate. Two cops walked in; from the size of them they were regulars at Thelma’s. My heart skipped a beat. Relax; they aren’t paying you any attention. Why would they? The bullet is still in you. I didn’t feel inconspicuous with a bandage sticking out from a baseball cap. It’s not every day a tall lanky white boy sits in a soul kitchen. The officers’ orders were to go. They threw the cashier a kiss and left.
    Relax Leon. See what a drunk driver can do to ruin a day.
    All the things I wanted to forget started to come back. Stress hurts the thought process and so did the bullet.
    Fuckin’ Danny Lafell, we were joined at the hip by doing stupid shit. Grammar school was cool, but our teen years changed everything. It got serious when we turned eighteen. We kept a low profile; we didn’t dress like or emulate our peers. But, making fast money looked good and we admired the criminals from afar. A small number of meaningful burglaries made sense.
    People saw Danny and Leon as a couple of college bound kids, who did dumb adolescent shit, but we’d be successful.
    They’re right; I loved it!
    Our first burglary netted a couple of grand in cash and jewelry. And, we all know greed will get you busted. We listened to that wisdom and planned two final burglaries.
    The first; a drug mule who kept a low profile and, from what we heard, didn’t take too many chances. But, we figured he kept a sizable amount of cash. It wasn’t hard staking out his place. He lived down the street from the Maplewood Community Center. I tutored math to sixth to eight graders and Danny taught wood shop. He drove his mom’s car and I rode the bus and it stopped on that corner block. We had the mule’s schedule down pat. He left town and we struck the same night. I couldn’t believe he left his safe door ajar. Ten grand in small bills; not bad at all.
    The second; a retired cop’s place, he collected stamps and vintage train sets. Lionel and American Flyers, HO and .027 gauge with layouts that belonged in all the model railroading publications. He loved to play poker with his fellow cops on Wednesday until early Thursday morning. I clipped the usual phone line and disabled the alarm. The basement windows weren’t glass blocked. I could hear the neighbors having a domestic dispute. Good, that covered the noise when I knocked over a rusty lawn chair opening the window. I scanned the recreation room for a motion detector. “Come on, Danny,” I whispered. He slipped through and flashed a penlight on the vast complex layout of the train sets. We stuffed a bag with various locomotives. I saw a door with an unlocked latch. I tipped over, boxes, benches and opened it. The damp room smelled of oil and chemicals.
    Jesus! Guns and rifles lined the walls of the windowless room.
    Lathes and drill presses were in the corner with other equipment. This guy was a master gunsmith. “Look at these pistols, Leon.” He grabbed two palm size guns and shoved them in his pockets. “Fuck the trains.” Danny emptied the bag of models. I shined the light on several metal cylinders.
    “These must be silencers,” I said. “Let’s hurry and get out of here.”
    “We come back later and get everything.”
    “Why? That’s stupid.” We took as much as we could carry. My heart raced while we drove down the alley. When we pulled on the street I relaxed a little. The drive home was uncomfortable to say the least. I pulled in the garage, took a deep breath and looked at Danny. “We did it, thank God.”
    “We should still clean him out.” Danny said.
    “Get over it, grab the shit and let’s get inside.” I snapped. I carefully laid each weapon on the basement workbench. “Clean him out? You the very one always talking about they think you stupid because you Black. I tell you what; that guy might be connected with whoever. You saw those silencers.” He nodded. “He might be a hitter.”
    “Yeah...you right.”
    “We cannot sell the guns, not in this part of the country. I’m going to check them out online. We got his cash, about a grand, right?”
    “Right.”
    “Not bad. We’re good, nobody knows what we do or did. Two burglaries and that’s it, right?”
    “I remember smart guy...don’t fuck with me, Leon, I know what to do,” he snarled.
    “Cool.” I Googled until I found what I needed. That guy had a German Luger, a Russian Nagant 1895 revolver, Type 26 Japanese pistol pre World War 2 and several American 45’s. I didn’t find anything on the silencers. I wish I hadn’t taken this shit; we can’t do anything with them. But, the silencers gave me an idea. The word might go out to other train guys so we couldn’t do anything with those for God knows how long. The silencers didn’t fit any of those pistols. We decided to have our weapons threaded and eliminate a few trouble makers in the area. That plan got cut short when Danny joined the military. The service wasn’t for me; I lacked the discipline. College was my thing. A several years later Danny got a medical discharge, but his military experience changed him. My degree in management didn’t mean a damn thing to most employers except the Board of Education.
    We knew the local drug supplier. He had a competitor problem who sold “bad shit.” His words not mine. Who cares anyway? That changed when a group of good kids got a hold to it. I told Danny this is where those silencers come in. The first and only time we negotiated a hit together. We fulfilled it and the dealer never talked business with us together.
    Smart; never let your right know what the left is doing. Especially in this business. I did hits, bad people only bad people. He assured me our arrangement was safe, but someone eliminated our employer. I missed those few thousands of dollars that supplemented my income. But, something told me Danny went freelance.
    Thinking about the past I didn’t notice the pay phone in the kitchen aisle. A Bell System phone. Damn, does it work? A Latino busboy snatched the receiver, dropped coins and started babbling.
    That answered my question.
    My turn; now if Doctor Solomon’s still there. “Hello, Maplewood Medical Center, Jasmine speaking.”
    I crossed my fingers until they hurt. “I need to make an appointment to see Doctor Solomon.”
    OK, but he won’t be in until 4:00.”
    “That’s fine.” Thank God.
    “Your name, please.”
    “Wilcox, Leon.”
    “You’re first, Mr. Wilcox, see you at four.”
    I hurried back to my booth before several other couples could be seated. Two hours to kill; if I catch a cab I’ll get there in fifteen minutes. I should be able to sit an hour if I reorder. Peach cobbler and a scoop of vanilla ice cream sounded good. Two bites into my cobbler a rather clean cut senior couldn’t pay for the three course meal he consumed. The guy was hungry. I sympathized, but the manager came from behind the register with a baseball bat. For a short over weight woman she had a major league swing. The bat hit the poor guy in the gut and up came his lunch. Customers scattered, but most of them came to the back and asked for carry-out containers. Busboys scrambled to clean up the fowl smelling mess before it permeated the entire restaurant. That reminded me of the mayhem that got me shot years ago.
    Danny wanted to kick it when he returned from the service. Sounded good. We met at Little Richard’s Sports Bar. I’d forgotten he’s not good at holding his liquor. The place was packed; too much smoke, liquor and people don’t mix. Danny and an off-duty cop exchanged words over a long legged plain Jane. Her only asset, a heavy chest. Danny and a stocky drunk cop tussled in the bathroom. I broke it up. We had one last drink and pushed our way through the crowd to an empty street. It was later than we thought and being drunk we went in opposite directions when we hit the heat and humidity. I guess that was a blessing. The cop came out behind us. I didn’t see him at first. He screamed at Danny. “We’re outside all alone, nigger.” I spun when I heard that. Danny turned slow and steady. His stagger was gone, He walked up to the guy. Pop, pop, pop, and he fell flat on his face. I grabbed my gut; bullets went clean through that fool. Danny stepped over the cop; I caught a glimpse of a luger with a silencer on it.
    “Jesus, Danny, I’m hit.” I gagged on those words. Danny snatched my arms when I started to collapse.
    “Hold on, Leon, hold on.” He hoisted me over his shoulder and we ducked in a service drive down the street. He laid me a puddle of nasty water next to a dumpster. “Shut up and don’t move I’ll be right back.” All I remember after that, I was in the back of a vehicle.

*

    “Wake up, young man.” A cold, callous palm smacked me. I reached for it unable to focus clearly through the haze. “He’s coming around.”
    “Where...where am I?”
    “At a medical facility, I’m the doctor. I’m working on you to get the bullets.” A white guy with wooly hair and a short beard looked down at me. He smiled through the surgical mask. “How’s he doing?” I heard Danny ask.
    “He’ll live. You’re a lucky man, Leon. The bullets missed anything vital. The fragments I got, but one is intact. That’s your souvenir.” He chuckled. “I forgot to introduce myself, I’m Doctor Ari Solomon.”
    “Hey doc and thanks.”
    “Before you ask, this service is off the record. Right?” I nodded. “No cops; so don’t worry.” The room was bright and full of expensive equipment like an OR. I tried to sit up and he held me down. “Don’t do that; lay there and rest for a couple of hours. Then your friend will take you home, OK?”
    “OK, cool, Doctor Solomon.” Danny said. The doctor left my field of vision and Danny stood next to me. The door slammed and Danny whispered. “Listen and don’t forget. I told him you got popped on the other side of town at a dice game. It got ugly, obviously, but we don’t need the cops nosing around. We go back a ways... so don’t ask how I know him. Got it?”
    I nodded. “Was that one of those vintage pistols you used on that guy?” He hesitated. “Jesus, Danny, I thought we agreed we couldn’t do shit with those things?”
    “Well, I decided to use it for a few special jobs. We gotta lay low for a while. Fuckin’ dead cop brings max heat.”
    For several days the cops vamped all over the neighborhoods. No charges, but a lot of cracked heads. Months pasted and they still had nothing. The case cooled; embarrassing them and a relief for us. The young people in the community whether Black or White felt the same way. Fuck the police.
    Fuck the police indeed... until you need them. At times I was their ally. I eliminated a few gang sickos, for a price of course, but it made their job easier. And, a cop or two had less to worry about, especially their families.
    Somebody called the city’s finest to the restaurant. Two cops walked in, the place got quiet. The shorter of the two officers looked my way. He did a double take and smiled. He reminded me of a guy I went to grammar school with except his hair grayed prematurely around the temples. He headed toward me. “Leon?”
    I knew that baritone voice. “Roland?”
    “Yeah man, how are you?” He still had a vise grip for a handshake. I shook off the pain flexed my fingers and smiled.
    “It’s been awhile, how long you been on the force?”
    “Five years.” He’d gained a few pounds. He was short and wide; now he was wider. He gave me the once over. “What happened to you?”
    “Car accident, last night.” I said. I need to get away from the cops. His skinny partner stood several inches taller. He escorted the senior citizen outside and sent him on his way. He chose the diplomatic approach instead of being an asshole. “I left St. Bernard’s I’m headed for Maplewood to see my doctor. Look me up on Facebook, Roland. I gotta go.”
    “You movin’ a little slow. We’ll give you a lift.”
    “OK, cool.” Roland opened the squad car’s door, a tan Escalade slowed and the driver’s side tinted window receded. Danny Lafell nodded at me.
    Damn! What would he think?
    He pulled over and parked. We pulled off and Danny made a u-turn. Roland’s partner laughed at the stories and lies we told him about our school days. It wasn’t easy pretending not to worry. Danny was still a hitter.

*

    “Good afternoon, Mr. Wilcox.” Doctor Solomon gave me a robust handshake and keyed something into the computer. “What can I do for you?” He blinked twice and removed his thick framed glasses and wiped them on a tissue. “You look familiar, have we met?”
    “Yes, several years ago.”
    “I thought so; I’m pretty good with faces. Well, Mr. Wilcox.”
    “Years ago my buddy brought me here with a gunshot wound in the gut. The bullet was deep. You didn’t remove it for whatever reason. You said it probably won’t move.”
    “Whoa, young man, wait a minute.” He stared at me and scanned my face. “Who might your friend be?”
    “Danny Lafell.”
    OK. Lay back and let me take a look,” the doctor said and put on his gloves. He probed my abdomen. “Your ribs are broken. What hospital did you go to?”
    “St. Bernard’s, I was in a car accident and the surgeon said the bullet has moved. They want to take it out.”
    “And, you don’t want the cops to get it, right?”
    “Right.”
    “We’ll get an x-ray and take it from there, OK?”
    The technician finished and the doctor came in and examined the results. He dismissed the employee and keyed info into the system and shredded the film. “Take these sedatives.” I downed them. “I won’t put you under too deep. The object isn’t deep, but it is touching in between vertebrae. Does it hurt when you walk or stand?”
    “Yeah, but it’s my ribs not my lower back.”
    “Good, you’re lucky. I’m putting you in a room. Get some rest we’ll get started when everybody’s gone. Oh, your husband’s coming back.” He laughed and pointed at a room across the hall.
    “He’s not my...”
    “I know I’m messing with you.” He turned, stretched out his cane and limped to the door.
    “Doctor Solomon, when you get the bullet don’t give it to Danny, OK.”
    “No problem.”
    The pills relaxed my body and spirit. Everything had gone smoothly so far. A tap on the door followed by my friend walking in didn’t bother me; yet. “What’s up, Leon?”
    “Danny.”Here we go with the BS.
    “You trying to get yourself killed?” He rubbed my shoulder and pulled up a chair.
    “No, some drunken asshole put me here. In case you’re worried about anything, don’t. One of those cops was Roland Smith, remember him?”
    “Uh... Roland? Oh, Roland, the football player in high school, built like an M1 Abrams.”
    “Yeah. They gave me a ride, that’s all. They did minor surgery at St. Bernard’s, a piece of metal from my chest. But they wanted to get the bullet. If they did the ballistics that leads to both of us. I signed out AMA hoping Solomon could get it. So, don’t worry, OK?” I yawned. “I’m beat; I’ll talk to you when he’s finished.”
    “OK, makes sense to me.” Danny’s blank expression told me he listened and probably believed what I said.

*

    A cold tap on the side of my face snapped me out of a much needed sleep. “Wake up, Mr. Wilcox.” Solomon smiled. “I got it out with no complications. A stitch here and there...and you go home, take it easy and you’ll be all right.”
    “Thanks doc, how much do I owe you?”
    “I’ll bill the insurance under something else, you pay the deductible.” He reached into his lab coat. In a small plastic bag the bullet that went clean through a cop’s body into mine. What a relief. “I gave your friend another bullet. Maybe I should’ve done that, but it was in your body after all. He left and didn’t say thanks. He could’ve given you a ride home. Get dressed, I’ll drop you off.”

*

    “This is a nice neighborhood, Mr. Wilcox. I love homes in cul-de-sac’s with attached garages and beautifully manicured lawns.” We pulled into the driveway. “You have kids?”
    “Thanks, doc, we work hard to keep it that way. And, no kids yet. I guess we’ll be getting pregnant soon.”
    “Sounds good...take it easy on the sutures. I know how the young and invincible behave. Take care, Mr. Wilcox.”
    And take care I did. I stayed indoors for three weeks until I couldn’t take it anymore. Fishing was the answer to the boredom. I made a beeline to my favorite spot. The fish bit all day long. The scenery wasn’t the best. A half developed, and later foreclosed, condo complex sat across the lake. Serenity works wonders for healing. I baited the hook, made a descent cast and propped up my pole. I popped the lid on a cold one and sat.
    A red dot appeared on the top of my knee cap.
    Shit!
    My cell rang. “Hello, Leon.”
    “What the fuck, Danny!” I knew he was right across the water. “I’m not begging; don’t be stupid.”
    “That senile ass doctor gave me the wrong you know what.”
    The red pinpoint crept up my thigh. I hoped that statement about Solomon didn’t mean he was dead or in jeopardy. But, he’d be a fool to bother him others might not appreciate that. “Again, don’t be stupid leave him out of it.”
    “You got it or what?”
    “You say you’re a smart guy, right?” I got silence. “I’ll take that as a yes. So you know the answer.” The dot stopped at my groin. “Remember; don’t let your left know what the right is doing? You playing with yourself or what?”
    “I’m here, Leon.” Danny snapped. “You always had it made.”
    “So did you.”
    “Answer me!”
    “I did...you got nothing to worry about. Remember, I’m not the loose end you think. If you’d get rid of the equipment it’s over, stupid. Bye.” I snapped my phone shut and held my breath. The dot disappeared. I wiped my forehead and sighed. I should’ve moved away from this place, but I fell in love. Danny was nothing but predictable. For that reason I told Chloe to deliver a package to my lawyer if something happens to me. Danny was gone for the time being.
    I’ll get the package from my wife, oil my equipment and do some practice shots. Danny wasn’t smart enough to leave well enough alone. I’ll have to kill him. Something tugged at my line, if it’s carp back it goes. I’ve got a taste for catfish.
















Le Monde art from Aaron Wilder Le Monde art from Aaron Wilder Le Monde art from Aaron Wilder Le Monde art from Aaron Wilder

Le Monde art from Aaron Wilder
















cc&d

prose
the meat and potatoes stuff








The Christmas Poker Game

Bill Kroger

    Everything about Sandra Smith was ordinary: her face, her figure, her name—all ordinary. She grew up in an ordinary household in an ordinary town and linked up with an ordinary boyfriend in her sophomore year of high school. Ho hum.
    But our Sandra Smith was different in an unusual way: She discovered in her senior year she had a special knack for playing poker. Her boyfriend and two of his buddies invited her to sit in on a game, and she had it mastered in record time and then quickly cleaned them out. In the months to come, until graduation, it became popular to try to beat her, and Sandra always was gracious as she took her opponents’ money. She earned four-hundred dollars during that time, not bad considering the bets were nickels, dimes and quarters.
    After high school, Sandra’s poker days ended. The new crop of graduates went their own way, and Sandra married her boyfriend and settled down to a life as a secretary and raising kids, of which she had three by the age of twenty-five. Her life returned to what it always had been, ordinary, and she took comfort in being that way once again. But her husband, who never had the opportunity to shine at anything, became resentful that his life was ordinary, and he began to take his feel-sorry attitude to a neighborhood bar, just once in a while at first but then more frequently and then just about every night. It took five years for his excessive drinking to take its toll, but it did, and Sandra finally had had enough and told him to leave.
    Now, at age 31, Sandra was a single mom with three kids, had an ex-husband who paid no child support, had a job that didn’t pay enough, and had no money for Christmas, which was just around the corner. She was stressed out most of her waking moments and desperate about how she might get a few presents to put under a tree, but a tree she couldn’t afford anyway. After rent, food, doctor bills and the other basic necessities, she had a grand total of sixty dollars, and a tree—only a tree—would take at least a fourth of it. And what about Christmas dinner? Life was cruel.
    She knew that her parents were no answer as they always lectured her and criticized her decisions.
    “Don’t tell me your having another baby!” her mother had complained when Sandra excitedly told her the news. “That lousy husband of yours can’t keep food on the table for the rest of you. How the heck can you afford another child?”
    Her parents certainly were not the answer to her immediate financial crisis. Besides, she was determined to work this out on her own, and she kept telling herself: “The Lord will help me find a way. The Lord will help me.”
     At five o’clock in the morning two weeks before the holiday, it came to her: a Christmas poker game! She remembered the only time in her life she hadn’t been ordinary Sandra and asked herself: What if she could put on a poker game and earn enough to purchase a tree and presents and a real Christmas dinner?
    “Oh, I can’t wait!” she exclaimed out loud, almost unable to contain herself as she dreamed of scooping up piles of ten and twenty-dollar bills.
    At work the next day she went through the phone book trying to find the names of the high school fellows who had challenged her back then, wondering if they still would be in town or if they even would want to play, and she found three names, fewer than she would have expected.
    She called each, reaching a voice mail at one, a wife at the second who wasn’t at all interested in her husband playing poker, and a boy at the third who said his dad was out of town for two weeks. Discouraged, she walked home after work, and while she was trying to be cheerful with her kids, which was becoming more difficult the closer Christmas came, the phone rang.
    It was Tommy, the guy who had the voice recorder, returning her call. “Sandra, it’s good to hear from you again after all these years. We missed you at the last reunion. How the heck are you?”
    She quickly cut to the chase, asking him if he had any interest in a poker game at her house, and after a pause he responded hesitantly: “I remember how good you were in high school. Will your husband be playing?”
    “We’re not together anymore,” Sandra said, flatly.
    “Oh, I’m sorry,” he responded, quickly skirting around the issue by announcing that his poker skills had improved a bit since high school. “It will be a challenge to beat you,” he said.
    Sandra asked: “Do you know anyone else who would like to play? So far I’ve got you and me.”
    “Leave it to me,” he announced. “I know a couple of guys who would like a Christmas poker game.”
    So it was set for Wednesday at seven o’clock at her home, and Sandra’s mood improved considerably. She could visualize money in her pocket and began to think what she might buy her kids for Christmas. She told them about the game and assigned each a role to play during the event, including her six-year-old daughter, Jenny, who would set the table. She asked each of them what they wanted for Christmas, and everyone got excited for the first time in weeks.
    The next few days were all hustle for Sandra, planning a menu and shopping for food to please the players, cleaning her home, selecting background music if anyone wanted it, finding the poker chips she’d packed away years ago, buying new decks of cards, and practicing poker hands until she could just about smell whether one was good or not. She enlisted her kids to play, and surprisingly they turned out to be good, but not nearly as good as Sandra was becoming once again. She hadn’t felt so invigorated in years, and she loved it.
    Wednesday came and then seven o’clock, and she opened the door after several knocks and was greeted by Tommy, who looked the same as she remembered, but older. She was impressed that he’d kept himself trim, but he was losing hair. Behind him were three older men, possibly in their fifties or older, all dressed nicely in slacks, long-sleeved shirts and warm coats, and Sandra welcomed them all with a gracious smile and gave Tommy a quick hug.
    Tommy introduced his trio of poker players. “This is LL,” he said, pointing to the oldest-looking of the three, a man who at one time must have had red hair due to his ruddy complexion and sunspots on his bald scalp. To his left was “Boots,” who when introduced held up a leg to show off a shiny, black cowboy boot and announced he’d gotten his moniker from his former cowboy days. He’d worn a cowboy hat when he came in but immediately took it off out of old-fashioned respect. The third man looked studious behind his glasses, and when Tommy called him “Dawg,” spelling out “d-a-w-g,” Sandra smiled, but she was surprised at the name because it didn’t seem to fit. She just smiled, however, and shook hands with each in turn. She was determined to show them all a good time while she fleeced them of their money.
    The first order of business was food, and Sandra’s son, Mark, had decked himself out in his Sunday suit with a tie and was standing by at attention as the five entered the dining room. The younger children, Patrick and Jenny, had gone to bed a short while ago.
    “I always thought poker was best on a full stomach,” Sandra announced as she guided the men to her dining room table and asked them to sit. She and her son served them homemade meatloaf, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn pudding, green salad and apple pie for dessert, everything she thought poker-playing men might like, and she hit the mark perfectly, because all four of them ate second and even third helpings. In the background, Sandra had put a country music CD on to play, and Dawg and Boots said how much they liked the songs.
    “I haven’t had such a great time in years,” LL said three times. The others nodded their heads and kept eating.
    When they were done and everyone had pushed back from the table, Boots asked if it would be okay to smoke a cigar at the table or should he go outside. Sandra cringed internally, knowing it would take several days to get the smell out of her home, but she was determined to make sure these men enjoyed their fleecing, so she told him to go ahead, and both he and LL lit up, and after a few puffs it was clear they were enjoying themselves. Sandra and her son cleaned up the dishes while the men smoked and talked about how good the dinner was.
    When she was done, she came back to the table and got the poker chips out and decks of cards. “How much shall we make the chips? Nickel, dime, quarter?” She smiled her big smile at them.
    “How about quarters, half dollars and dollars?” asked Dawg, apparently speaking also for the others as there was no disagreement.
    Sandra gulped at the amount but counted out the chips and collected money from everyone, and as she only had thirty dollars left, having spent the other thirty on food, beer and cards, her stack was tiny compared to the other stacks, but she smiled and then asked: “What’s the limit?”
    The men looked at each other, and this time LL spoke: “How’s fifty cents a card and a dollar on the last card?”
    Sandra almost panicked as she realized that at such a limit she could go broke quickly, but she nodded agreement, determined to be positive, and told herself she was going to win. She opened a deck of cards, and the first jack went to Tommy, who became the dealer and selected seven-card stud as the game. Sandra bet carefully, wanting to check out the competition first, and folded halfway through the hand. On the second hand, she again folded about halfway through, but on the third she won and pulled the chips to her, bolstering her feeling of invincibility. Within an hour, she had won forty dollars in chips, which were piled in front of her, and she was feeling the old poker adrenaline flowing soothingly through her veins. This was her winning night, and she was gracious, talkative and clearly having a good time. When one of the men needed a beer, she immediately jumped up and got it, and the men loved it.
    At ten o’clock, Sandra’s pile of chips had grown to eighty dollars, and Boots suggested raising the limit to a dollar on each card and five dollars at the end, and while Sandra didn’t want to tempt her luck she couldn’t very well say no because of her winnings, so the limit went up, and by eleven o’clock she had more than one-hundred dollars in front of her, a veritable fortune given her economic situation. LL then suggested making the game pot limit on the last round of betting, and Sandra said all right.
    What a night she was having, playing the perfect hostess and winning, but just before midnight she began to lose, so she tried to slow down, which was difficult as her cards were good, and with the limit so high now it was easy to lose ten, fifteen or more dollars in one hand. At twelve-thirty, Sandra was down to her original thirty dollars and thought about dropping out, feeling crushed inside and worse off than before the idea of a Christmas poker game had come to her, but when a seven-card stud game unfolded, she had a straight to the nine on the first five cards with no one else looking like they could beat her, and the betting certainly didn’t indicate anything spectacular in any other hand. When the last card was dealt, the pot had sixty dollars in it, and only Sandra and Dawg remained. He had a pair of fives showing, and even if he had a third five hidden in his three down cards, she still would win. Feeling confident, she could smell victory and bet her last ten dollars, which Dawg called.
    They turned their cards over, and Dawg had hidden underneath a five and a pair of twos, giving him a full house, fives over twos, which beat Sandra’s straight by a long way.
    Ye gods! Sandra panicked. It was her last money, and now it was gone. She wanted to scream or cry or do something very unordinary, but instead she smiled graciously and tossed her hand into the center. “You win. Well played,” she said, forcing herself to smile.
    She sat out the next hand, and when it was over Tommy suggested they call it a night, and the others agreed. Sandra cashed them out, all the while telling them how much fun she’d had and thanking them for coming over.
    After they were gone, she went back to the table to clean up but was overcome with fear and sat down heavily in a chair and began to cry. What a stupid thing she’d done, losing everything, she told herself over and over, banging her fist on the table. “My folks were right,” she announced to the empty room. “I can’t make good decisions.” As she cried, she felt a tiny hand touch her arm, and she jumped, but it was Jenny who started to cry because her mama was crying, so Sandra picked her up and hugged her tightly, and the two of them cried together, Jenny not really knowing why and Sandra for being such a fool.
    Sandra didn’t sleep at all that night and called in sick first thing the next morning. She was beside herself, not knowing what to do, and barely got her kids off to school, all the while with a cheerful smile plastered on her face, especially for Jenny, whom she told several times that things were just fine. Her sons caught their bus to school, and Sandra always walked Jenny to first grade, which was only two blocks away. When she got back, she discovered an envelope had been pushed through the mail slot in her door. It had nothing on it except “Sandra” written on the back, and when she opened it a note fell out.
    “We had more fun last night than we’ve had in years,” it began, “and we hope you do this again next Christmas. The three of us chipped in to help pay for the evening with a little extra something for you. You’re a wonderful lady.” It was signed Boots, LL and Dawg.
    She looked inside the envelope, and there were three, crisp one-hundred dollar bills. She immediately felt weak in the legs and had to sit down, and she started to cry once more, but this time with relief. Now, she could have Christmas with money to spare.
    After a few moments, when she’d caught her breath, she called Tommy to ask about it.
    “I knew they were going to do something like that,” he told her, “and I wanted to chip in, but they said no, that it should be just the three of them. I wasn’t about to argue. Those guys are real special.”
    Sandra was perplexed. “Who are they?” she asked.
    “All three are national poker champions,” Tommy said. “In fact, Boots came in at number three two years ago at the International Poker Tournament in Las Vegas. LL consistently wins tournaments at our casino here and at others in neighboring states. He’s real good. And Dawg, he’s very special. Some years ago he published a book on poker that’s still considered the bible even today. I’m telling you, Sandra, these guys are gurus, and I was impressed you did so well against them. You still are good, and the three of them talked about you and how great the night was. I think they want to do it again next year.”
    Sandra smiled, thanked Tommy and said she’d be in touch. She hung up and walked back to the dining room table and picked up the three, crisp one-hundred dollar bills and rubbed them between her fingers.
    “Maybe Sandra’s House of Poker,” would be a good name, she announced to the room, moving her arm in an arc from one wall to the next. Wow, she thought, what a wonderful Christmas it was going to be, and she thanked God for giving her the talent to be such a good.... She stopped there and asked herself if poker should be the next word, but she settled for “hostess.”
















One Year in Pittsburgh

Joshua Copeland

    I was a young fire breather, a member of the Nation of Islam, and I believed all white people, especially Jews, stood round cauldrons, lit from below, their faces coal orange, all of them conspiring against us as they tossed in eye of frog. Then I did a semester abroad in England. The country is racist. At their football games, every time a black player took the ball, the whole crowd sqawked like an ape. And the Nationalist skinheads—worse than Racial skinheads—beat me up, and tossed my poetry into the Thames, and then I decided I was wrong to be racist and anti-Semitic.
    I grew up in Pittsburgh and graduated from Pitt. I spent a few weeks celebrating in Amsterdam, a much more “open” society than England or America. Downers were my drug of choice. I returned to the US I decided to travel around the country to try and find work. The adventure soured. Fast. I couldn’t find work, or if I did, I couldn’t keep the job. After two years of wandering I found myself in Jackson, Tennessee. I applied there for SSI and SSDI. They always reject you the first and second time you apply. Then, the third time, you go before a judge, and he decides. There was a hearing, and an Occupational Vocational Rehab Rep was there to challenge me and play devil’s advocate as to why I couldn’t work. In the end the judge sided with me. I had a history of mental illness and had been in loony bins since I was a kid. I left to go back to Pittsburgh.
    My parents wanted me to stay in Pittsburgh but I wanted to move in with my sister in Sherman Oaks, California (She had made the offer). Living in the same city as my parents can become quite claustrophobic, so we compromised: I’d stay in Pittsburgh a year than move out to live with my sister. I got a studio apartment on the fourth floor of an apartment building. How I hated Pittsburgh. I kept telling myself, “You can make it. Just twelve months” I didn’t even unpack a lot of things.
    I entered the Western Psychiatric Outpatient Clinic. This meant that you lived at home and spent from eight a.m. to four p.m., sitting in groups with other failures and talked about how miserable you were.
    I got along great with my counselor, Rocco Marciano. After around three months there I asked him if he could hook me up with Occupational Vocational Rehab, and they could hook me up with a job. So he set me up with an Occupational Vocational Rehab job coach, Kim Buckwalters. She had an office at the Western Psychiatric Outpatient clinic, but her main office was downtown. She was so pretty, how I hungered, how I hungered. You hope she thinks all black dudes are like tripods. We met in her Western Psychiatric office. She was pretty, and she smiled a lot, and was very polite. She made good fantasies to fall asleep to.
    Kimberly got me a job at Pittsburgh Vision Services. It was a business that provided jobs for the handicapped. NINE MONTHS IN PITTSBURGH LEFT! My first three months there were great. They put me in the shipping department, and I didn’t have to deal with anyone except for my coworker and, at the end of the day, UPS. I packaged road signs and brooms and sheets and brooms and towels and shipped them up. It was manual work, you could zone out while you did it. I worked noon to four; I had never held a full time job for long. Before I left home at the start of the day, I’d pop six fifty mg of Benadryl—six times the recommended dosage—so I’d have a nice high as I worked.
    My shipping boss was an alcoholic, you could either smell it on his breath or smell the Listerine. He called off a lot, or came in hung over. He spent a lot of time taking a dump. Divorce payments forced him to work two jobs. The supervisor of all supervisors at Pittsburgh Vision Services, John Sosnak, let him slide.
    It was funny. Joe Dixon, who worked on brooms, on Monday and Friday he worked a second job bartending from six p.m. to two a.m. So he’s amp up on amphetamines those two days, and he talked so fast you could barely understand him.
    The anti-anxiety medication I was on—Klonopin—and the anti-depression medication—Wellbutrin—made me real tired and weak, and I got in trouble a lot for sitting down. I soon learned what everybody said, “This is a crazy place to work at.” And people were always cursing out other coworkers for things they didn’t do. What was great was that my particular job was solitary, so I didn’t have to deal with anyone else. EIGHT MONTHS LEFT.
    One day the boss of all bosses, John Sosnak, called a few of us into a huddle. He said he had finally fired my drunken shipping boss. He said he was moving me from shipping to Linda’s floor. I felt my bowels loosen. My new job would be managing blind people putting together helmets for Hoover Dam. Then he told me I’d be full time, and I practically shat myself. I imagined it running down my legs and soaking my socks. Linda’s room is huge; it takes up the whole floor. Everyone there sewed sheets and towels. The place was super-hot and it nauseated me. Plus, I can’t work full time. If I do I lose it. Worst of all was my reputation with the workers in that room. They were all white and hard-core and bare-knuckle tough, and they thought I was an “Oreo.” I didn’t act the way they expected black folk to act. They thought I believed myself to be above them all, cause I had a college education, and did not talk in Ebonics. They called me Urkel. I wasn’t a nigga, I was a House Nigger. Actually, since Tupac brought the violence of the street up with him when he became famous, I tried not to listen to hip hop.
    Three blind people constituted my workers. One woman had a crescent-shaped shit stain on the seat of her pants. They sat at a table, with bored Seeing Eye dogs at their feet. I did not “manage” anyone, I just supplied the workers with helmets and inserts, and they had to fit each insert into each helmet. Then I would take the helmet, package it in a plastic bag, and stack it in a large cardboard box. And then, when the box was full, Frank would come over with a huge staple gun, and I’d hold the top down while he stapled it shut. I didn’t know him that well, but he seemed like an easy going guy. He was in his mid-40s and looked like Al Pacino. Conversational and friendly.
    My job kept me running around, running around, back and forth, and then...
    Then began the Great Crack Up. The new job panic-struck me, in an all-out agoraphobic fit. Linda’s room was huge, with so many people in it. I drank too much coffee and slept about two hours a night. I scared students at my karate class. The caffeine turned me into a berserker. Or I’d go to the karate class with a coffee hangover in the middle of class and leave to the bathroom to puke.
    I also freaked people out at my job. I was pale—yes, black people can go pale too. One of my blind workers, he could only see what was close. One time he casually walked up to me, and when got up close he looked aghast. My special look: red like ivy wreathed my eyes.
    What was at stake was not the job itself. The thing was, it was symbolic. Look at my string of lost jobs around the country. You think I wanted to be on SSI and SSDI? Pittsburgh Vision Services was all about me fitting into the world. To be an earthling. I’d rarely had girlfriends, and chicks don’t dig a jobless brother. I berated my brain, “Why can’t you do this one simple thing?! Go to sleep at a decent time, wake up at a decent time, and go to work?!” I wanted to believe I had reserve seating in society. By the time the weekend came, I’d fall asleep right when I got home. I puked a lot at work due to coffee hangovers.
    My martial arts class, Oom Yung Do, they were like a second family to me, but the instructor kept telling me to leave, either because I was too hyper or too weak and clumsy. I threw up in the training room once, and it took a few days to get the smell out.
    So back at work one of my bosses, John Sosnak, gave me shit about the helmets. Scared the hell out of me. Like a lot of the workers there, he sported the Thousand Yard Stare... though I thought mine was better. If I spoke with anyone they’d scratch their lips. When I showed up at Supercuts, my hairdresser was like, “Jesus, Larenz.” I was doomed, it had chiseled itself into my face.
    Everything got exponentially worse, just keep tacking on those zeros, ten, a hundred, a thousand...One day Frank called me over to his sewing station. I walked over. “Larenz, the workers you manage, why don’t you get on them? They come to work late.” He was trying to provoke me.
    His accusation was an out and out lie. He was screwing me. I’d never been so frightened in my life. What to say? I quaked like Jell-O and said, “They don’t come in late.”
    Frank looked at his desk, a mean grin broke across his face, and he went back to work. I walked away. “Larenz! Get back here!” So I stopped, turned around, and walked back over to him. “Cause we’re good workers. We’re not spoiled like you. We do a good job. We’re not sellouts or schoolboys.” And he went back to work. I walked away.
    Later I asked Frank’s good friend Martha (I did sound like a little boy in school, heh, it got so bad I was regressing). “Did I do something wrong? What do they think of me in Linda’s room? Why is Frank getting on me?”
    She laughed, “Oh, that’s just Frank.”
    So Martha must’ve told him he upset me. Everyone there knew I took martial arts. So at the end of the day Frank came up to me and said, “Hey, Larenz, look!” and he did a few kicks in bad form, as if to synchronize, as if to say, “You’re okay with me.” But I was not okay with him. I’d dealt with hostility plenty of times before. But I was not going cuckoo on those jobs like I was on this job. It was like the butterfly effect: you stick your finger in a lake, and instead of ripples you get tsunamis.
    A few days later I dollied hay from Linda’s room to the broom room. Mostly blind people worked on brooms, and as I walked in one of them asked, “How bad is Lorenz looking today? Twenty dollars says he goes postal by the end of the week.” Everyone who could see looked at me and winced, but I didn’t care.
    One morning around 5:45 I clocked in and walked into Linda’s room. It’s huge and her office is at the opposite side of the entrance. She steam rolled out of her office—she was tall and big boned—and bellowed, “Larenz, we are out of helmets! You didn’t tell me we were running out!”
    So I wondered, how bad should I feel about Linda cursing me out and yelling at me? I saw Joe Dixon later in the elevator, and he looked sympathetic. So I should be upset. The real problem was, she was bitching at me for something that wasn’t my fault. No one ever told me to give notice if helmets were running low. Linda and I both caught the same bus home. I arrived at the bus stop and she was already there. I said hi, and she looked away like she had done something wrong. I began to drink whiskey in the bathroom stall at work. It mixed well with the Benadryl.
    It dawned on me: I will not last at this job. My brother worked as an advertising executive in Manhattan. Like a sponge, he had soaked up the entire New Yorker attitude, the no nonsense, tightly sphinctered personae. I called him to tell him how much I hated my job.
    “Well, so what? Everyone hates their job. Like this girl, I was talking to her today. She hates her job.”
    “That’s a shitty attitude, Steve.”
    “That’s a healthy attitude, my friend.”
    I hung up on him. He called me back and I screened his message on my machine. He left an apologetic message. Scratch off another idiot from my life.
    Most of my Pitt friends had moved to other states (I am not a social guy). Mugsy was one of my last three or four friends here. He had been married about a year. He called up Karol with a K and her husband, and we all agreed to meet at TGIF, eat a dinner, and then see Silence of the Lambs Part Two. Mugsy and his wife, along with Karol with a K, her husband, and me. The showings were selling out, so it was up to Karol to buy five tickets for a later showing.
    I have always marveled at the thickness of Karol’s skull. I drove to TGIF, all excited, parked, walked in the place , looked around, found them, and sat down in the booth. Nobody looked happy. Karol with a K told me she forgot about me and bought four tickets instead of five. No ticket for me. I was embarrassed. They were embarrassed. Hard to look anyone in the eye. They looked at the table. What to say? Karol talks super fast when she’s nervous, and she offered to buy me a meal. Mugsy would not look at me. I’m sure I was red. I felt the heat to the face. I walked out. Cried on the way home. What’s wrong with me? I’m crying at the drop of a hat; a weak-minded soul brother. I called Mugsy’s machine to say it was no big deal, and that I wasn’t pissed off. He never called me back.
    Around a week later I called up Mugsy and asked if I could come over and watch South Park. This was a ritual. I’d come over, and he, his wife, and I, would watch the show. Mugsy said, “Sure, come over.” So I drove home and called his room from the lobby, and I got the beep and scratch of the internet. It was getting harder and harder to get my male friends to socialize. They’re whipped. I was losing them all. It wasn’t like that five years ago, when all my friends were still in Pittsburgh and loved to hit the bars.
    I watched my Taxi Driver DVD over and over. I really wanted to shoot up Pittsburgh Vision Services. Every morning as I dressed for work, I cheered myself on, saying I wasn’t taking shit off nobody, no how, no way. I’d throttle Linda, John Sosnak, and Frank. I’d rip out the carotid arteries and they’d flail around like out of control fire hoses. And I knew how to do it, too. Yet when I clocked in I was petrified, and my nervous wink started up.
    One night, I called up my Occupational Vocational Rehab coach’s machine—her name was no longer Kimberly Buckwalter, but Kimberly Lance. A significant part of me did not want to talk to her. In my message I did not say I’d only be in Pittsburgh SEVEN MONTHS, ONE DAY, AND FOURTEEN HOURS MORE. I asked for a new job.
    The next morning I was stacking helmets, and who do I see? The last person I wanted to see at my job: Kimberly. She was pregnant. “Hi, I just had some things to take care of,” she lied. “So I thought I’d stop by and see how you were.” She flashed a Christ-like smile. Really pretty. I looked around. Was anyone watching? I had never seen her in the building before.
    She took me out into the hall. I said I wanted a new job.
    She asked if the problem was environmental or personal.
    I said both. “I don’t want you to tell anyone else, please, but I do have problems with the people here. All I want is a new job. I don’t want anyone castigated.” I gave her no names. That’d be occupational suicide.
    She said she’d get right to finding me a new job.
    Later that day I rode the elevator up with Linda and John Sosnak. They both looked fallen, they both looked pained, and they said hi in a funny way. Did Kimberly just curse them out? What I told Kimberly I told in confidence. Did she investigate, and find everyone I had a problem with, corral them, and shout at them? I froze. She went behind my back and found out who I had trouble with. She screamed at them and told them not to tell me. I said you cannot find all that out in a thirty second elevator ride. “You’re crazy,” I told myself. “Totally gone fishing.”
    I had told Kimberly I can’t hack a nine hour day, and I wanted to go back to my four hour a day schedule. And get me the hell out of helmets and back to Shipping. I told her I didn’t have the stamina for a nine hour day, especially a nine hour day in helmets. I got out of the elevator with John Sosnak and Linda, and Frank rushes up to me out of the blue and says, “I hate people who can’t work full time! I work two jobs, fifteen hours a day.”
    Later in the day I walked into Diane Salidonia’s office—she was one of my supervisors (Linda, John Sosnak, and Diane are all my supervisors), the nicest person imaginable. As soon as I opened the door I saw she was crying. She rushed up to me and yelled, “Larenz, are you okay?”
    I told her I asked Kimberly to find me another job. I sat there, in her office, and the fear of God went through me. Jesus Christ. Holy shit. As soon as I complained to Kim, she did round some of them up, then SCREAMED at them and told them not to tell me. But Diane, Diane, she had nothing to do with it. She was the nicest, kindest person in the world. Now, not only did I have the rep of a wannabe white boy, of acting I was teirs above all of them there, I had the rep of a snitch. Kimberly didn’t know these people. They’d harass me big time, just tuned to a more passive aggressive channel. In that office, with Diane sobbing, I knew I was done with any job at Pittsburgh Vision Services. When I told Diane I had learned a lot of good skills on the job, she cackled and sobbed at the same time, and said, “Oh Larenz, that makes me so happy!”
    So plans were made. I’d do two weeks up on Helmets, full time, then they’d move me down to Shipping, part time.
    Whatever Kimberly said scared the shit out of them. I repeat: Holy shit. From then on, everyone in Linda’s room looked at me with fear. They weren’t afraid of me, but of Kimberly, or what I might tell her. And I repeat, these were tough, working class, sand papered workers.
    Gary was a cracker head—a white crack head—who worked in Linda’s room. He was always trying to hustle money from people. Soon Linda and Frank found out he used the money for crack, and they passed word around: Don’t give Gary any money. Frank and Gary were good friends. Frank was helping him buy a house.
    All of a sudden Frank and Gary were super polite to me (I was still on Helmets). Every day, with the awe and fear of a child, I’d say hi to them both and try and make small talk. They were very receptive. Every day I’d make it a point to say a few words to them, and they acted very conversational with me.
    I heard Gary tell Frank that all the crack dealers in Homewood carried a pocket full of rocks, so they could throw it through your car window if they felt you ripped them off. Gary said this had happened to him a few months ago. As far as Linda goes, she wasn’t too sweet and clean herself. Every Friday, towards the end of the day, her voice would go super-nasal, and she was snorting like a horse.
    One day Linda stormed out of her office, screaming across the room at Frank, and Frank said nothing, he just took his materials and carried them to a sewing station farthest away from her. I tried to comfort him, “You know, we all know this is a crazy place to work.” The next day his friend Martha came over to him and he said he’d gone back to drinking while at work.
    My last day on Helmets Linda exploded out her office ala a supernova, yelling, “LARENZ! YOU ARE NOT RECORDING HOW MANY HELMETS WE ARE SHIPPING OUT! AND I AM ANGRY! THEY SHOULD HAVE TOLD YOU TO DO THAT!” See, this was a non-curse out curse out, so Linda could say, “I wasn’t yelling at him,” But she was.
    I came to work Monday, my first day back at shipping, and my first day back on half time. I had never told my shipping coworker anything about how I complained to my job coach, but he complained, “Larenz, it’s not fair. You get all this attention for being yelled at, when John Sosnak and Cynthia yell at me everyday.”
    My first order of the day was to dolly up a box of white cloth to Frank’s station. I stepped into the elevator, the doors shut with a clank! I rode up the three floors to Linda’s floor, the doors open, and I step out into the heat. Everyone in the room was looking at me, looking up from their work. I saw Gary across the room. I saw Gary across the room. He looked right at me. Just like every day, I shouted, “Hey, what’s up Gary?” he looked away and went back to work. I delivered the box to Frank. “How’s it going, man?” I asked him, as I did every day. he kept on stitching, totally avoiding me. Again, that gut feeling of fear. It was visceral.
    He had to be one step ahead of me. He knew if he ignored me—like he kept up conversation with me while I worked in Linda’s room, then ignored me when they put me down at shipping—that I’d complain to Kimberly. And if she contacted Frank about it, he could shrug his shoulders and say, “What did I do? I kept our agreement that I would not tell him you yelled at us. I played within the rules we all agreed on.
    My next trip up to Linda’s room I passed Jenny, one of the blind sewers, and she said, “Lorenz, you need to be less...you need to be less...sensitive.” Again, all eyes in the room were on me. Utter stage fright. I did not like that job, and what happened that day broke the camel’s back. I never got to say good bye to my coworker in shipping. I felt like an elated failure. Clocked out for the last time, walked down the main hall and I was gone. In a few weeks Kimberly Sharpe would have a new job for me. JUST SIX MONTHS AND THREE WEEKS LEFT IN THIS CITY!
    I didn’t want to talk to Diane Salidonia in person, so I called her office answering machine later that night. My message was circa twenty minutes long. I told her that I quit, and that the problem was with me, and not with any of them. I was cracking up and just could not work. I lied, “I blame no one. I’m sorry I got you all in trouble with Kimberly.” Then I called Linda’s machine and said the same things. I didn’t mention Frank, or my daydream of going back to Pittsburgh Vision Services with a 44 Magnum and paying him a visit.
    I went to my martial arts class that night. After class I told my instructor I had quit my job.
    “Maybe now you can get some sleep,” she said. It felt so good to hear that. But it was not to be.
    After a few hour sleep that night, midnight to four a.m., I lay in bed and screened Diane Salidonia’s call around nine a.m. She sounded like she’d been crying. She said, “I feel sorry for you, Larenz.”
    An hour later I screened Kimberly’s call. She sounded chirpy. “Just calling to see how things are going,” she said. She had never called me before. I still fantasized about her in bed. Here’s the whole entire planet angry at me, and this one beautiful lady is on my side. My saint. My savior.
    I called her a few days later. I tried to tell her I quit, about Frank’s and Linda’s antics. I told Kimberly I was not mad at her, Kimberly, and I told her I knew she yelled at them there, and how it rebounded back at me.
    Kimberly turned panicky. “I didn’t say anything to them!”
    I told her I know she did, I caught all the frightened micro expressions in Linda’s room, along with all the passive aggressive harassment.
    She didn’t reply, “What are you talking about?” She said, “You’re smart.”
    Nope, I majored in Film Studies, where, in acting, every twitch of the lip, every swivel of the eyeball is important.
    The Bridgeville office ran Pittsburgh Vision Services. I told Kimberly, “I’m going to report what happened to Bridgeville.”
    Kimberly wigged out. “Why?! What are you going to tell them?!”
    “How Pittsburgh Vision Services made me pay for complaining.”
    After our phone call I waited all day for her to go to Pittsburgh Vision Services, find out what happened, and call me back. She never did.
    I pondered, trying to make two plus two equal four. I knew Kimberly lied to me, I knew she yelled at those four. Why did my threat to Bridgeville make her more nervous. She was a job coach at Occupatonal Vocational Rehab. Bridgeville had no authority over her. So why worry when I said I’d contact them.
    Maybe she never told her bosses I complained to her. She didn’t want to break my confidence when I told her I didn’t want anyone at work to know I contacted her. Maybe...maybe...think...she yelled at those four and then, and I was not to know that, so she didn’t tell her bosses over at Occupational Vocational Rehab I complained. This sounds right. And key was that if Bridgeville got involved, they’d contact Kimberly and Kimberly’s supervisors, and Kimberly would be stuck. She’d have to explain to her own bosses why she didn’t tell them I complained. Instead of registering my complaint with her supervisors, she castigated those four and told them not tell me. She did not want to break my trust. That fits. All I could do is wait in utter agony to hear her voice.
    I called her office every afternoon for about a week and kept getting her machine. One day, two days, three days, Kimberly never called back. If I was a paranoid schizophrenic, and the harassment at Pittsburgh Vision Services was all in my head, Kim would have called back the day after I told her what happened, and said the harassment was my psychosis. I’ve been in mental health facilities since I was a kid. Paranoids and schizoids are always writing up complaints about other techs or patients. The system bends over backwards to create a gauntlet, so that only the real, the sane complaints go through. So if my complaints turned out to be psychobabble, she wouldn’t have acted on them.
    I needed desperately to talk to someone. I called up Mugsy, and we agreed to meet at Silky’s. We were only there a hundred seconds. We sat down in a booth, the waitress brought our beers, and I began, “I was forced to quit my job. My whole life’s gone to shit—”
    “The Penguins’ game is coming up.”
    “It’s not just a lost job, it’s so much more—”
    “My wife’s family is coming over.”
    “My whole world is shot to shit.”
    Mugsy winced in a major way, and said, “I can’t stand her relatives.”
    I stood up, threw a couple of bucks on the table, and said, “I got to go.”
    He looked shocked. “You got to go? Okay.”
    More crying, like a sista, as I drove home. I waited for Mugs to call me back, to let me know I had some meaning in his life, and that he was sorry. He never did. JUST SEVEN MONTHS LEFT.
    I had been calling Kim a few times a day for a week, and I only got her answering machine. Finally I reached her. I was going to ask her about that new job she said she could hook me up with. You could hear it in her voice, the growl, the white of the fang. She said, “You are going to come down here to my office, I am going to take down all the relevant information, and send you the hell on your way. And I do not want to see you again.”
    I gulped. “Kim, did I do something wrong?”
    “I CHECKED WITH EVERYONE AT PITTSBURGH VISION SERVICES! THE PROBLEM IS WITH YOU, NOT WITH THEM!”
    “That’s, that’s bullshit, they—”
    “AND WATCH THE LANGUAGE! I ASKED AROUND THERE! NO ONE KNOWS WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT!”
    Like a toddler, I began to cry. “Kim, you’re like the last person in my life right now. I lost my only friend here a few nights ago. You’re all I have.”
    “LARENZ, I AM CONCERNED ABOUT YOU!”
    You don’t know how bad it was to lose this job. I know there are others. But it underlines what I’ve always worried about, that I can’t hold a job and be part of things, I can’t be a spoke in the clockwork. I’m too weak.
    It was crazy, she’d oscilate back and forth, back and forth. She’d yell I was an idiot, and then she’d yell she was concerned about me.
    Finally she said, “Larenz, this is suicidal ideation. I will commit you.” She gulped. “No, I can’t do that, I’m just a job coach. What’s your doctor’s name?”
    That was more my turf. “You have nothing on me. I haven’t said I was going to hurt myself or anyone else, and I’m not on drugs.”
    “Larenz...”
    Safer to hang up on her, which I did. And then I mused: maybe she could find some way of getting around the rules and an ambulance crew and a few cops would show up here and take me away. I wondered, if I called her back and said I would rejoin the Western Psyche Outpatient Program, she might not pull a stunt like trying to commit me as an inpatient. I had to be safe. Better safe than sorry. Screw the upcoming job from Occupational Vocational Rehab. I’d go to the Western Psyche Outpatient Program instead. Soon I’d fly the coop anyway.
    I called her up.
    “Larenz!” she screamed, like she thought I was dead.
    I told her my plans.
    She gushed, “That makes me so happy!”
    “I’m good friends with a counselor there, Rocco Marciano. It will be good to talk to him again.”
    “That’s wonderful. I have his number right here.” And she gave it to me. And then she began to cry. Hard. Large, sucking gasps of air. Neither one of us said anything for a minute. She just cried. Then we said good bye.
    Later that night she called me up, all throaty, like she’d been sobbing, and said, “Do what you need to do to get better.”
    What explained her tongue lashing that blew the wax out my eardrums? A strong offense for a weak defense? If my complaints against Pittsburgh Vision Services were all my dementia, she would not have tried to avoid me, and she wouldn’t have screamed when we tried to talk. She would have called me back the same day I complained why I quit and told me to take my medication. So her rage was an act.
    That night I threw a hissy fit over jerking off. My days revolved around this, like a religious ceremony. My yellow-specked area around my TV was like a shrine. But Kimberly had upset me so much that all was deflated. And I prayed, prayed, PRAYED to God , “Please don’t take this last thing from me.” I did spurt forth, but it was more like a faucet leak than a fountain.
    The building I lived in was right across from the Giant Eagle Supermarket. But to get there you had to cross a huge lot that was mostly dark at night. A few nights after I dealt with Kimberly I left my apartment and crossed the street and began to walk across the lot. Out of the blue, a black panhandler approached me. This was surprising. White folk love to give money to beggars, but black folk know they only use it for drinking, and don’t give them a cent. But, what the hell. I gave him a few quarters. So we kinda walked into the store together. I got in line at the ATM machine. He got in line with the ATM machine. That didn’t feel right. I got out of the ATM machine line and walked away. He got out of the ATM machine line and walked away. I wandered around the store for a while, and then checked the ATM machine line. He wasn’t there. I stepped into line and got my cash.
    This was a really bad neighborhood, it could get pretty ghetto. And you really had to be careful; it paid to be paranoid. I kept seeing him in the aisles, and he’d look at me and grin. I picked out all I needed and then got into the twelve and under line. He got in right behind. I left the line and walked up into an aisle to wait him out. I attributed all this to bad news on my part, but better safe—in this neighborhood—than sorry. I waited and waited, and he came charging up the aisle, giggly. He looked at me, grabbed some muffins off the shelf, and walked away. I just stood there, doing nothing. Then I peeked out to look at the twelve and under checkout. The brother was gone. So I got in line, grabbed my bags, and began to walk past all the checkouts to leave. I passed a back lady dressed pretty ghetto. She was just standing there, talking to nobody. And as I passed her, I heard her say to no one, “Well, I guess I’ll be going.”
    And she followed me out. She stopped at the store exit and just stood there, looking at everyone else but at me. I made sure I stopped under a light half way across the lot. I tried to wait her out. This went on, five, ten minutes. Finally she looked right at me and walked back into the store. I picked up my bags and walked over the rest of the lot to my building. I opened the lobby door, then I opened the two security doors, got off on the fourth floor, and made it into my apartment.
    What the fuck? Am I losing my sanity? What would’ve happened to me if I would’ve left the store with the panhandler. Or if I’d have walked across the lot with the lady watching. It’s fiction, not fact. Nerves, it’s all nerves, I wrote it off as such...you could smell my neurons sizzling.
    I emailed Kimberly a long letter. Eight pages. It was wild. I wrote how, “At first I hated Linda, Frank, and Gary the Cracker Head, then everyone at Pittsburgh Vision Services, then everyone in the city of Pittsburgh, then everyone in the United States.” Maybe I should leave the country, if I’m that perturbed. Though not to England. Amsterdam, maybe. I wrote to Kimberly that, “My shrink, Dr. Lobl., doesn’t understand how bad things are with me.” A slip up: I gave my shrink’s name.
    I had tried to talk to Dr. Lobl (I had his wife as a Chemistry teacher in high school until she died of Thyroid cancer) about my work problems, but it was like the dude was deaf. He saw everything through happy go lucky visors. “Larenz, what’s so hard about keeping a full time job?” I’ve had a lot of explaining to do over the years, as to why I can’t do things everyone else can.
    So I waited the rest of the day for Kimberly’s reply. I was not angry at her for yelling at me. I checked my account every half hour. Nothing. Finally five p.m. came around. Maybe at home she’d check her email and write me back. She never did. Six, seven, eight, nine p.m...what time does she go to sleep.
    Overdosing on Benadryl can make you blather to yourself. I would always take ten times the prescribed dosage. It makes you obsess about the most miniscule of things. All I could think of, in whirlpool fashion, were Frank, Gary the Cracker Head, and Linda, and busting back into Pittsburgh Vision Services and doing some Oom Yung Do on the three of them. At this point I was sleeping four a.m. to eight a.m. , and laying in bed eleven hours.
    Kimberly didn’t email me back one day, two days, three days, every day, on the hour, I’d check my account. Finally I couldn’t wait any longer. I called my Dr. Lobl’s machine. He called me back.
    “Yeah Larenz, what’s up?”
    “I’m really anxious about Kimberly. I emailed her three days ago, and she hasn’t emailed me back, I think—”
    “I don’t have time for this, Larenz! We’ll talk at your appointment, Thursday, 4:00!”
    “But, but—”
    “Thursday, 4:00!”
    So what did I do now? Why was he angry with me?
    Thursday, at 4:00, came around. I had seen therapists for almost fifteen years straight, and I had told them all the bad things I’d done, but never had I seen them as angry as Dr. Lobl was that day. I walked in, sat down, whoosh! He spouts off, “Kimberly sent me your email.” He stared at me. “There will be consequences if you continue to email her.”
    I shrugged my shoulders. “Why? What’s the big deal?”
    Man, did that response anger him. Rage molded his face. It was almost funny. I changed the subject since I saw, unbelievably, he was emotional about it. But he kept brining the topics back to Kimberly. He said he talked to her, and that I scared her.
    “What do you mean, ‘Scared’? I never said a threatening word to that woman.” I opined that while I was not angry with her, I had every right to be, the way she cursed me out over the phone.
    “Okay, so she got a little mad.”
    He didn’t believe me when I said Kimberly went behind my back at Pittsburgh Vision Services and yelled at Frank, Linda, John Sosnak, and Diane Salidonia. And he said, “Your email should have gone to me. Not to Kimberly. It’s not her job.”
    I shook like leaves in wind. Again, fright. So much so that I cackled. As I left, he said, “For the next week, no emails.”
    I said, “What’s the big deal? She doesn’t have to open them.” I looked at his face as I left. Man, was he pissed.
    I went back home and tried to sculpt a coherent hole out of what just happened. Lobl had no right getting angry at me over the phone and cutting our conversation off when I complained about Kimberly ignoring me. Especially if he had already seen my email to her, and she must’ve told him about what she considered my suicidal ideation. As far as “threatening” her, Kim was my “end of the line” friend. I was not angry with her and I did not threaten her.
    A psychiatrist does not have the right to order a twenty four year old man to desist emailing someone. The shrink can warn you, “Occupational Vocational Rehab might get on your case if you keep it up,” but the shrink cannot warn you, ex cathedra, “You will face consequences if you continue.” Even if I was stalking and crank calling Kimberly, he could ask, but he could not tell, he did not have the right to order me to stop. Either Kimberly had sobbed to him, and he was all in a huff over that, or he noticed my attraction to Kimberly, and was jealous (Remember, I complained to Kimberly about him, it was in the email I sent her, and she had forwarded to him). I hoped it was the latter.
    I called up Dr. Lobl’s answering machine and screamed working overtime, “I AM DONE WITH YOU! FINI! KAPUT! I’M DONE WITH SHRINKS FOR GOOD! YOU HAD NO RIGHT TO SIDE WITH KIMBERLY OVER ME! AND ORDER ME TO QUIT EMAILING HER! I KNOW HOW TO WITHDRAW FROM MY MEDS ON MY OWN! GOOD BYE!”
    I screened his return call. “Larenz, I don’t think this is the route we want to go. You sound like you need tranquilizers. I’m sorry I offended you. I want to talk about it. I’m going to keep our appointment for next Thursday, 4:00.” I wanted to reach into the machine, stick my arm down his throat, and pull out his lungs.
    Then I emailed Kimblery. “My psychiatrist said I am scaring you. I will stop emailing you. Don’t ever yell at anyone in my position like that again. Good bye.
    She replied to me via email, “I was busy, that was why I didn’t email you back. And I thought it was more appropriate for your doctor. As for yelling, we remember our conversations differently. Good luck.”
    She didn’t tell me to respond, and didn’t tell me not to respond. I assumed she didn’t want to talk to me. so I was done with her.
    The bottom dropped out of my life. I was one. I freaked as I withdrew off my meds. Wellbutrin and Klonopin, they both had nasty withdrawal symptoms. Especially Klonopin. Benzo withdrawal will eat you alive. I tried to draw it out as slowly as possible, but I didn’t have much of my meds left. I drove around way past midnight, screeching in my head, awash in animal fear. After I quit Pittsburgh Vision Services, I slept even less. I fell into a routine of waking up about one a.m., driving to the local strip club ten minutes before they closed to down a few whiskey and waters, and drive, drive, and drive. SIX MONTHS LEFT! YOU CAN DO IT!
    One morning I was up till about nine a.m., trying to jerk off to Jailhouse Sisters. I couldn’t get it up. Then I got in bed and tried to sleep for four hours. Then I got out bed and dressed and left my apartment. In the hall I saw walking towards me, the fat white chick who lived in the apartment across from me. “Did you hear what happened?!” she asked.
    “No.”
    “They let everyone in Pittsburgh go home from work early! Two planes smashed into the World Trade Centers! They are not there! They are gone! You could see people on fire, jumping, leaving smoke trails! Or two or three people holding hands and jumping on fire!”
    After I talked with her I drove to Rite Aid and bought my Nytol (It’s all Benadryl) and Slim Fast. Every day I’d make the trip to Incredibly Strange Video to rent a Sexploitation movie to jerk off to. After Rite Aid I drove to the video store, and the cokehead owner said they were no longer renting, only selling. I wasn’t going to buy a video a day, so I was done with them. I thanked him and left. I’d have to use my computer more. I watched the news for a bit, then spent all night till nine a.m. surfing for porn on the web. It took me two hours to jerk off to vidcaps of Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS. I got in bed around ten a.m.
    My friend Dave, who lived in DC, was home here for the weekend. It also happened to be my birthday. He blew me off and went out alone. He called to apologize and I told him to fuck off, another numbnuts I don’t need out of my life.
    I’d try and read to keep the cabin fever at bay. I was reading the book Clockers, that was black face at its worst. Leave it to a bleeding heart white liberal to make a hero out of a drug dealer. Dealers should get the electric chair. Those of us, looking out, know this. Those that are out, looking in, do not know this.
    One night I drove over to St. Francis Mental Health—I had been on the adolescent unit there—and I looked through the dark windows into the cafeteria. I looked forward to the Western Psychiatric Outpatient Program again, and chatting with Rocco Marciano.
    So until then, who do I talk to? My folks lived about ten minutes away. It was around nine a.m., a few hours before I wanted to try and sleep. I chugged four coffees and drove over. Being careful not to break down, I told them in general I had quit my job, and that I fired Dr. Lobl. I found a way to tell them without mentioning Kimberley.
    “I’m so sorry you’re having an awful time,” my dad said.
    I left, drove home, got in bed, wrestled around, got out of bed, paced around the room and talked to myself, got in bed around one p.m., and slept about three hours.
    Ten a.m. comes around, and I drove back to my parents’. Recap: I had not mentioned Kimberly in any way. My mom started out, in the tone you would use with an autistic, “Now about Dr. Lobl. What if you were calling this woman and terrorizing her and frightening her, and she went to Dr. Lobl for help?”
    My heart raced. The anxiety walloped me in the face. “I never terrorized anyone!”
    My mom grinned a sharp V. The whole thing with my parents was like a dainty, feminine slap to the face at a cocktail party.
    I said, “You, you, you guys, a shrink does not have the right to order an adult patient to stop emailing anyone.”
    “He does,” my mom said.
    “He does not.”
    “He does,” my dad said.
    “No he doesn’t,” I said.
    “He does,” my mom said.
    “He does not.”
    “Son, he does,” my dad said.
    So they knew something, much more than I myself ever told them. How did they find out? Did they talk with Dr. Lobl? If you quit your psychiatrist, does that declassify everything you’ve told him? My parents denied talking to him. The argument turned into a huge blow out, as they laughed it up:
    It became a routine. I would tell them I never wanted to see them again, I’d slam their door and drive home, then drive back the next day and shout at them, or stop over around four a.m. and leave a nasty message in the door. In one note I threatened to sue Dr. Lobl. My parents got a guffaw out of that.
    The ruminating was bad. Wake up at night, get a massive Benadryl high, and go bouncing off the walls like a pinball. Muttering to myself, threatening to go back to Pittsburgh Vision Services and shoot the place up. If there ever was a time to enter the Western Psychiatric Outpatient Program, it was now. Just hang in there: FOUR FUCKING MONTHS AND I’M GONE!
    When Rocco Marciano was my counselor at my previous stint there, he told me I was in his top twenty patients, but he didn’t give me the exact number. We laughed a lot about the cartoon Salad Fingers, John Waters’ earlier films, other movies like Street Trash and Blue Velvet, and the movies of Nick Zedd and Lydia Lunch and Lung Leg. He said, kinda cornily, that higher powers intervened to place me with him.
    So I called Rocco with the number Kimberly gave me. I’d register in the clinic through him. I got his answering machine. I said, “Hey man, what’s up? I’m having a bad time or a bad freak out is more like it, and I need to come back to the clinic.” I left my number and told him to call me back.
    So I waited by the minute, hour and hour, up until bedtime, and he never called back, then the next day, please dude, just call me, time passed, he didn’t call. I lay in bed and writhed like a dying centipede. After a few days, I left him another message. I stared at the phone as if I could will him to call me. I called a third time, nada, nien, zip, he never called back. An insomniac knows his bedroom infinitely better than those who sleep at night.
    One night I left my apartment, took the elevator to the first floor, unlocked and walked out the first security door, then unlocked and walked out the second security door, walked down the lobby steps and out the glass lobby doors into the open air.
    A kid in Crip colors was standing on bicycle, one foot on the ground. He was talking to someone on a mobile phone (“They’re only paying me two dollars an hour!”). I drove to Rite Aid for my Nytol and box of Slim fast. As I drove back onto my street I saw the same kid, with no bike around, and he was talking with another Crip, they were both across the street from my building. They gesticulated wildly, like they were arguing. As I parked they walked across the street and into my building. I assumed to the first security door. I did not leave my car. I just sat there for thirty seconds. They both walked out and away.
    Were they waiting for me to go through the two security doors? What would’ve happened to me if I’d walked in there with them. And then a few months ago, with the panhandler and the lady in the Giant Eagle Supermarket lot...What the hell is wrong with me? Am I going nuts? No, I was not. This was not random. It was about me in some way I did not understand.
    I tried to keep a bird’s eye POV. I trusted my intuition, but as soon as John Sosnak moved me up to Helmets, I’d suffered a streak of terrible luck. And I had never had “paranoid fits” in my life. I was diagnosed as anxious, a neurosis, not schizotypal or schizo affective or schizophrenic, the latter three would make me psychotic. And those illnesses don’t begin this late in life. As a child I’d been in many a loony bin and they never diagnosed as psychotic, or with a paranoid disorder.
    I’d waited two weeks. No call from Rocco. I’d decided I’d get into the Western psyche Outpatient Program by calling their intake. So I called them up, a nice guy answered, very polite. He pulled up my file on his computer, and then he said, “You know what? This takes too long to do over the phone. Why don’t you come in person to the intake and enter the clinic that way. Cause it sounds like you need it.” That Klonopin withdrawal was kicking my ass.
    So I know the Intake at Western psychiatric is empty around six a.m. That’s when I drove over there. They interviewed me a bit, pulled up my file on their computer, and told me to have a seat and wait. And wait. And wait. The place was dead empty. The techs flashed me wide, unctuous smiles. I didn’t think anything of it. No big deal. I saw through a window the office behind the front desk. There was an Indian—like from India—doctor arguing with a pretty blonde girl, along with two other techs.
    Finally the pretty blonde comes out and sits down next to me with a Christ like smile and puts her hand on my shoulder. She had on bubble gum lipstick. She handed me a sheet of paper and told me, “I have made an appointment for you with Suzanne Scruezy, tomorrow morning at nine a.m. She’s a supervisor at the Outpatient clinic here.” Then, “good luck” she said with strange emphasis.
    I drove around for a few hours, chugged three cups of room temp coffee, and slept from midnight to five a.m. I had a distant, distant, DISTANT thought I should buy one of those mini cassette recorders and stick it in my pocket and hit record as I walked into Suzanne Scruezy office. No, be cool. My luck’s not that bad that they’d try and keep me out.
    So it comes close to nine a.m. I drove over to the Western Psyche Partial Program., took the elevator up to the outpatient clinic, sat down in the waiting room, Suzanne Scruezy walked out and called me into her office. She was marshmallow pudgy, mid 40s, had the serious face of cop, like motherhood was boring and a waste of time. I sat down across from her. She pulled up my file on her computer. Then she froze and looked hunted and frightened. “You really don’t need to be here,” I shook. I sweated out my ass crack. I stuttered in disbelief.
    “But, but, but, I do need it. I’m in a terrible, awful state. All I do is ruminate in my apartment all night, and make an attempt to sleep during the day.”
    “Well see, that’s why we can’t let you in. You’re on the wrong sleep schedule. Good bye.”
    Bitch, “I can change my sleep schedule to make it in here. I need to get out. I’m agoraphobic.”
    “Well see, you can’t come to the program. It will trigger and stress you too much. I am an expert on insomnia. It takes years to reverse a sleep schedule. Come back to us then. Good bye.”
    “That’s not true. I’ve righted my sleep schedule plenty of times. It takes a few nights.”
    “Okay, but you don’t look good. You look scary. If you came here, you’d upset the patients. For the last time, Good bye.”
    Her reasoning was desultory, one dumb reason after another. I kept shooting them down, and she’d come up with another one, yanked out of her big fat ass. I got pretty loud. “Kimberly Sharpe has an office up here, doesn’t she?”
    “She has an office around the corner. She’s here on Thursdays.”
    “Lady, I tell you now, and believe me later, but I will find some authority and rat you out if you don’t let me in!”
    We both stood up and walked out in the hall. Then I saw Rocco leave his office. He must’ve heard me. He was shitting bricks. “What’s up, dude?” he asked. A wreath of swear ran round his forehead and a blotch of sweat above his upper lip.
    I asked, “You, how could YOU, do this to me?”
    “Rocco,” Suzanne warned, “He’s going to someone with this.”
    I walked out the building with the yellow sheet the pretty blonde gave me at the Western Psyche intake. I thought the sheet was proof of some kind that the Partial program was fucking me over. I had sweat through my deodorant, drops of sweat tickled me as they ran down my face.
    The Western Psychiatric Outpatient Program was closing ranks to protect Kimberly. Apparently, me just be around her, or even on the unit itself, was dangerous to her—not physically—in a way did not understand.
    I remembered my previous months at the Western Psyche outpatient clinic, before Pittsburgh Vision Services. There was a muscle bound counselor named Charles. He’d always flirt with the prettier patients, and try and exchange numbers with them so they could meet up after the patient left the program. He pulled his shtick with Clair, a very pretty patient. And she did not fall for Charles. So Clair and I were in a group run by Charles and Rocco. Out of nowhere, Charles yells at Clair. He tells her to leave the group and go home. Right that minute. He gave no reason why.
    She kept bitterly asking, “Why Charles, what did I do?” she said it like she already knew the answer. We all did. A few of us patients talked about it with Rocco afterwards. We all agreed Charles was a dipshit. Rocco said, shaking his head, “He really is, but we’re supposed to back up other staff..”
    I arrived home, tried and failed to jerk off to vidcaps of Barb Wire Dolls, and looked up mental health advocacy in The Yellow Pages. I was scared no one would believe me. I tried the first number. A lady answered, I told her my story, and she totally believed it, like it was a common tale. She said she could help me file a complaint. I tried another agency, and I chose this advocate cause he was closer to my apartment...I made an appointment for the next day at ten a.m. I lay in bed the rest of the day limp and blue. I did not sleep. About five a.m. I got out bed and watched all the shitty shows on at that hour.
    I chugged three cups of room temp coffee and drove out to the advocacy agency. The advocate was a geeky white boy, kind of weak-limbed, all book smarts and no real life smarts. Our people use this kid’s picture to define the word “cracker.” I showed him the sheet from the intake and he said the paper didn’t mean anything, that it was just an entrance form, and after listening to me, he, unlike the female advocate I called first, did not think there was anything wrong, that it was all a misunderstanding, all much ado about nothing, there’s no problem. He said, “Go home, I’ll call up the Western Psyche Outpatient Program, I’ll get you in, and then I’ll call you.
    So I drove home and lay awake in bed, clockwatching, waiting, waiting, WAITING for the advocate to call back. Coffee hangover induced vomiting. Finally, around 4:30, the phone rings. I ran over to it. It was the advocate. The first thing he said, straight out, “They are not letting you in.”
    I shivered like someone turned the AC down to arctic levels. “Why not?”
    His voice quaked. “They just aren’t.”
    “Why? I need a reason. They just cannot do this.”
    I kept asking why, what reason did they give, and he never answered the question, all he would do is repeat, “They are not letting you in.”
    Then he says, “I got the phone number to the St. Francis Outpatient Program.”
    “Naw man, I’m tired of the system screwing me. I want in the Western Psychiatric Outpatient Program.”
    He said he talked with Rhodya Fink, the head of the whole Western Psyche program, and Rhodya said they are not letting me in. Period. Did she bully this guy in some way?
    His voice grew taut. “You know, Larenz, I care a lot about you {Save me the horseshit, bud} and I don’t want you hurting yourself to try and get into Western Psychiatric. Whatever you do, don’t go to their intake with slashed arms.”
    I was far from doing something like that. And so our conversation ended. Ten minutes later the phone rings. Again, I race over to it. It’s the advocate, stress detectable in his voice, “Go to the Western Psychiatric Intake yourself and try and get in. Go there and try to get in. Just don’t hurt yourself.” Was it his ass if I did hurt myself?
    I looked in The Yellow Pages for attorneys that dealt with mental health issues. I found a lawyer with a free first appointment, Scott Seewald. He had an office on the fiftieth floor of The US Steel Building. I call up and made an appointment on Wedsnday of next week. A long time to wait, too long. I needed input now.
    Later that night my martial arts instructor pulled me aside and told me they’d have to “let me go” until I was in better shape. “Your form and strength and flexibility, to be blunt, are terrible. Can’t you see a doctor about your insomnia?”
    “I’m done with shrinks,” I said.
    That class was one of my few chances to be up and around other people.
    The next day around noon I left my building to walk to my car, and I saw a beat up auto parked right in front of the entrance. I knew all the cars that usually parked there, and this was not on them. Two brothers were asleep in the back seat. I drove to Rite Aid for boxes of Nytol and Slimfast, drove back to my place, and as I passed the street just before my street that same beat up car turned out behind me, and they rode me close, like bumper to bumper, too close. So I did not park at my building. I drove past it, then made a right. They kept going straight. I looked back and saw all their faces, all wide eyed, like, “Where are you going? Aren’t you going to your apartment?” I hit the gas.
    I drove around for an hour, then back to my building. I didn’t see anyone following me. I parked, and as I stepped out of my car I saw two Crips sitting on the steps leading to the first security door, looking at me with fish eyes, watching me the whole time, just itching for me to come over. As I stepped back in my car to drive off they stood up and walked out the door and left the building.
    For another whole hour I drove all over the place, then back to my apartment. No one was around. I made it into my apartment alive. So I sat down on my futon and tried to make sense of a nonsensical, Alice in Wonderland situation. What would have happened to me if I’d walked up to the security door with them sitting there? Why target me? I don’t look or dress upper class, like I have a lot of money. So it’s not that. Think...use your head...Frank. Frank and Gary. Everyone at Pittsburgh Vision Services knew I lived there. Gary had strong connections to the gang underworld due to his crack habit. So did Linda. When I quit Pittsburgh Vision Services and threatened to go tattle on them to the Bridgeville office, maybe Kimberly screamed at Frank and Linda even more, cause it was now her ass on the line too. If Bridgeville found out, Kimberly would have to explain to her own bosses why she didn’t tell them I complained. Everyone might have been pissed at Frank and Gary for being so petty, and potentially getting them into more trouble. Look at all the trouble Kimberly’s going through to keep me out of Western Psyche outpatient. So, to put the whole thing together, Frank decided to get revenge on me and hire a few Crips through Gary the Crack Head to stomp me into putty. Yes, Frank had that much of a persecution complex. To him, I was a snitch twice over.
    So I put myself in Frank’s place. Everyone at my former job knew I took martial arts. Frank would have said, “Okay, Lorenz knows Karate, so whoever jumps him, they, the Crips, have to make sure they have a knife, or a gun, or maybe five or six gang members, all of them versus him.” It wouldn’t just be an old fashioned, old school beat down. So stay one step ahead of them. Buy a piece.
    About a week later I left my apartment to drive to Rite Aid, bought my Nytol and Slim fast, and drove back. But instead of parking, I drove past my building, did random laps around the neighborhood, and only then did I park at my place. One of the same dudes from last week from last week burst out the lobby doors, yelling to his cohorts who had left and were two blocks away, “He’s here! He’s here! I told you he was just driving around!” But they just waved him off, like they were sick of waiting. Then he looked at me. I stepped back into my car and drove off, and he walked away.
    That night round four a.m. I sat up at the Denny’s bar. The guy nest to me looked at me and winced and asked pushed over his pancakes to me and asked if I wanted any. I saw the attorney tomorrow. After that I’d drive down to the South Side and buy a piece.
    I brought my parents with me to see the attorney, hoping he’d respect me more. I explained the scene in the Western Psyche Intake, with the argument in the back office. I went on about Kimberly and Suzanne Scruezy and the boss of the whole program, Rhodya Fink. The attorney believed they rejected me, but said it must be a problem with my insurance. My parents thought the same thing. What?! No! You, reading this, go back and look at all that’s happened! I heard what I heard and saw what I saw. The outpatient clinic was protecting Kimberly from me. I was a threat, albeit nonphysical. The lawyer said I needed to go to a shrink and have the shrink recommend me to the program, and if the clinic refused to let me in, THEN the attorney could take action.
    After the meeting my parents asked me if I wanted to go to Katz N Kids deli.
    Many months before, when I returned home from my failed cross country trek, my parents rode me hard. “Why don’t you ever have a girlfriend? Or a full time job? Don’t you want to be like your friends? They date around. They work nine to five jobs. Zoltan just got married.”
    I replied to them that I was already too aware of everything they said, and I told them never to pull that stunt with me again.
    So at the deli we chatted in our booth. My dad said, “So...let’s talk about...your friends. How about, let’s see...how about Scott. He has a girlfriend in LA, doesn’t he?”
    My mom said, “Or how about...Greg. He’s married with a baby, isn’t he? He works full time in Manhattan, doesn’t he?” Ad infinitum, the whole meal. But my mind was elsewhere. I needed that gun.
    My parents dropped me off at my place. I redressed in a suit and tie, and I drove over to the hardware store on the South Side. I wanted a revolver, much less chance of the gun going off accidentally. As a black man, buying a gun is the same as renting a car. If you go into a car rental agency, be sure to dress up in suit and tie, or else they’ll keep you waiting forever, and won’t rent to you. Same with buying a gun. Make sure you don’t look the least bit ghetto.
    The clerk asked if I had a criminal record. I said no. So he made the call, gave them my name, we both made small talk as the party on the other line ran my name. I came up clean. Whew. That was easy. I chose the Crimson trace. 220 Bucks plus tax. And a box of bullets, Federal Premium Hydro Shock hand gun ammo, for thirty bucks plus tax.
    The dealer only accepted cash, so I needed to walk to the nearest ATM machine four blocks away. The store would close in an hour. I did not get to sleep last night. On that sidewalk, I felt like I was on a ship in a storm. My eyes burned. I did not walk, I LUMBERED. How I hated the world, and all the people I passed. They looked at me funny.
    At the ATM there was a line. A brother stood not in line, but next to it. He asked me, “Sir, have you used this machine before?” He started to talk about how his family was bone broke, bad plumbing, etc. I’d been through this con before. It wasn’t connectd to Frank, just my copyrighted version of bad luck. I left the line and walked around for half an hour, hit Dee’s Café for four whiskey and waters, and walked back to the ATM machine. No one tried to hustle me. I ran back to the hardware store just before they closed, and bought the revolver.
    Mine, mine, mine.
    I arrived home and turned off all the lights and placed the revolver under my desk light and turned it on, so the gun was spot lit. I grabbed my camera and photographed it at different angles, the last picture looked right down the black of the barrel.
    I had bought a Safari Holster with the piece. The holster was front-waisted, so I could put my shirt over it so no one would see—just don’t shoot your dick off.
    So from then on, every time I returned from my apartment it was like a cop TV show. I’d park my car, pull the Crimson out, de-safety it, and hold it out with both hands as I kicked open the lobby doors. I’d sweep the whole area, ready to shoot. Then I’d unlock and kick open the first security door and sweep. Unlock the second security door, kick it open, sweep. Then safety and reholster the revolver and ride the elevator up to my apartment on the fourth floor.
    I called up Dr. Buchdahl to get a recommendation to the Western Psyche outpatient program. I had seen her for a bit as a child. She had an office right across from my Dr. Lobl. I called her up, left a message, waited, and she called me back the next day. I told her I needed a recommendation from her. She seemed polite, but she wanted to know about Dr. Lobl. I had never told her I saw him, and I didn’t feel like talking about him. I think she picked up on that. It seemed to decide something for her. She told me she’s chock full of patients and had no room for me, but urged me to get help, because, “It sounds like you need it.” Later I lay in bed trying to fall asleep and she called my machine, “Um, why don’t you try, um, doctor Lobl?”
    I don’t know what Dr. Lobl was saying about me, but it sure was a doozy. So I pulled out The Yellow Pages and looked for a psychiatrist. I came across Dr. Garfinkle. I had seen him a few times when I was fifteen. So I met with him, and he would not give me a recommendation until I gave him permission to look at the records of my previous psychiatrists. When I said I don’t know if I want to do that, then he really wanted their names and their records on me. A week later he had run through the records and called me up to tell me he had no room for me. “But keep on looking, cause it sounds like you need it.”
    What did Dr. Lobl write that was following me around? I had vaguely mentioned to my parents I should sue him. I never followed it up, it was just a comment. Did they tell him? Remember, when I talked with my parents about all this shit, they knew immediately about Dr. Lobl and Kimberly, etc. Are the privacy laws out the window once you quit your shrink, and they can tell anyone anything about you? As far as his records of me go, did he write in them, to protect himself, that I was litigious? Maybe he felt he needed a reason as to why he went ballistic on me that final appointment, his extreme lack of professionalism. TWO MONTHS LEFT!
    One morning, a few hours before bed, I drove by the bus stop on Shady and 5th, I saw Diane Salidonia waiting. She was the one, the kind hearted one, who, back at Pittsburgh Vision Services, did nothing wrong to me but Kimberly had yelled at her anyway and made her cry. I pulled over and asked her if she wanted a ride. She stepped in. It was super cold and the snowflakes fell at the size of silver dollars. It was nice to talk to her. I told her I was sorry I got her into trouble. She didn’t say anything back. Then I said, “Let Frank and Gary the Cracker Head know their boys are pretty unprofessional.”
    I saw about four more shrinks, and it didn’t matter how much I told them Lobl was a crank, once they got my records, they didn’t want to have anything to do with me, and left me with a “Sounds like you need it.”
    The Marin family and our family were best friends. My parents and the Marins had grown up together. Bob Marin, the father, was a doctor on an inpatient—not outpatient—floor at Western Psyche Institute and Clinic. All those months my parents grew anxious, and they bugged me, “It doesn’t matter that Bob’s an inpatient and not an outpatient doctor. All we need is for him to say the word, and you’re in the Western Psyche Outpatient Program.” But that would be cheating. I was fine with help from an advocate or a lawyer, nothing nepotistic about that. But I didn’t want to get in through Bob, a family friend.
    So I made an appointment to meet with Bob. ROE were he was just there to listen, and he would take no action. Problem is I come off hyper vigilant. It’s those damn film school days. Bob didn’t believe a word I said. At least the attorney and the advocate pretty much believed me. Bob used himself as an example, his story ending with, “I was so stressed out I did not perceive the situation correctly.”
    The night before Christmas Eve I was up at the Denny’s bar, listening to the Christmas Muzak. I chatted with a sista next to me. I didn’t find her attractive, I just wanted to talk. A black waiter came over to talk to her, and I saw they were a couple. She introduced him to me, but he must’ve thought I was flirting, since he looked agitated and ignored me. Then, the next night, I sat at the Denny’s bar with a few other louts. I guess the waiter from last night forgot who I was, because he treated me, treated us all, with a lot of sympathy and care.
    Way past midnight, on New Year’s Eve, I was driving around, and I saw a pretty Asian chick waiting for a bus on Murray. Buses were closed for the night. I stopped and asked her if she needed a ride. She got in. Surprised me. Shouldn’t be so trusting. I dropped her off at her apartment in Squirrel Hill. She gave me a peck on the cheek and stepped out. I got home, kicked open both security doors with my piece, holding the Pierce Stance, and made it up to my apartment. In my bathroom my aim was not too good and I pissed myself.
    For a long time I wanted to buy a Joel M. Reed picture, Sex by Advertisement. I would have bought it from Incredibly Strange Video but they didn’t have it. I tried all over the web, never did I encounter a movie that was that hard to find. I emailed the director, he replied he had no copies. I checked amazon, but they didn’t have it, so I put word out all over Amazon that I was looking for it, and a few days later an Amazon seller contacted me. He said he had it on video, used (This was long before Amazon had solid standards). So I used a credit card and bought it for ninety dollars. The seller told me if I wanted to track it in the mail, not to use Amazon, but a site called www.buyrite.com. I was all excited. I couldn’t wait. After four days it hadn’t arrived.
    I’d go down and check for mail two, three times a day. I should have checked the web site he gave me. instead I emailed the seller. He responded, “Oops. I forgot about it. I’ll slip it in the mail today.”
    So I checked my mail another three, four days. No video. I was beginning to worry. I emailed him again. “Damn it! Why do I keep forgetting? I’ll mail it out today.”
    I went onto www.buyrite.com, the site he told me I could track the video on, and when I clicked on “Track my Order” the words popped up “Coming Soon!” He had conned me. I freaked. My heart raced. I shat myself. I checked back at Amazon, and they said you can get a refund up to fourteen days from the purchase date. I had bought it eight days previously, so I was able to get a refund. Whew. I complained to Amazon. I told them this seller was a joke, and gave them the web address of the phony site he used. “I told on him.”
    And then, THREE WEEKS later, a package arrived in the mail. I opened it. It was Sex by Advertisement. Now you tell me what happened. I cancelled the order. I did not pay for it. I got all my money back. So why would he send it not when I asked him to, but three weeks later? Why would he send it at all?
    When the package arrived, harassment over the web began. For the first time since I bought the computer, AOL warned me that emails I received had viruses attached. So I didn’t open them. AOL directed me to send them to the AOL authority, which I did. Every day, something would come. I just forwarded them to AOL HQ., which was called TOS.
    I belonged to the Microsoft Depression Forum. I had it listed on my Favorites menu. The idiot trying to sabotage me must’ve dug into my Favorites and also must have been able to tell I wasn’t opening the viruses he was sending me, because he sent me a nasty tidbit in the topic of an email, so even if I didn’t open it, I’d see the topic, “Larenz71, Join the Microsoft Depressive Forum!” He’d go to forums I belonged to and spread word around that I was a blonde haired, blue eyed, crew cut skin head. Every day I’d wake up and see some type of harassment. I’d log in to find I’d been kicked off another forum. It baffled me: Why would they believe him over me? It really limited my time on the computer. I’d end up getting enraged, and for a message to the forum I’d just slam and bang the computer keys and press enter: “dfgffhdeestrth”
    One night I crawled naked from my computer to my bathroom. My head was like bumper car arena. Frank, Gary the Crack Head, Linda...I should have shot the place up. A final stand. Sometimes I’d park by the Schenley Golf Course to watch the sun come up. I’d sit there and blast off on tangents about Western Psyche Outpatient Clinic, Kimberly Sharpe, Rocco Marciano, Suzanne Scruezy, and even the attorney, who said the reason they weren’t letting me in was about insurance...everyone, everything, everywhere...
    One night, in my neighborhood, I parked my car near a bus stop, just to day dream and ruminate. There was a guy there with supermarket bags. He kept looking at me, and finally he bolted, I mean ran, he took off. In this neighborhood it paid to be paranoid.
    One morning I sat in my car in my parents’ driveway, procrastinating going in and dealing with them. A pulsing sphere of light shot down from the sky to behind the horizon of houses and trees. When I walked into my parents’ house I totally forgot to mention it.
    They didn’t deride me today. Why were they both so antsy? They pushed me to let Dr. Bob Marin get me into the Western Psyche Outpatient Clinic. Lots of anxious micro expressions from them. I said I’ll get a recommendation from a shrink. They pointed out no doctor would deal with me. “I’ll find one sooner or later,” I said.
    I drove back to my apartment. As I walked down the hall on my floor, I noticed my door was the only door with a peep hole. Don’t ask me, I just work here.
    I slept about three hours. Lay in bed about five hours. At night Dr. Bob Marin called. Lots of “ums” between his words. He told me he called Rhodya Fink, the supervisor of the whole Western Psyche outpatient program, and he asked why they rejected me. Fink used euphemisms to say that Suzanne Scruezy was incompetent, and that’s why she didn’t let me in. WHAT? BULLSHIT! If you care to, go back though this story and you’ll see “incompetence” was NOT the reason. So Bob told me I was in the program. I told him he was not supposed to take any action without my consent, and hung up on him.
    My parents told him too call. I told them not to pull any stunts like this.
    I raced in hyper drive over to their house.
    “You told Bob to call the clinic! I told you not to do that!”
    My mom laughed. “Son, we did nothing of the sort.”
    “The plan was, we get in my way, without Bob! I don’t want to be in the clinic now!”
    My mom smirked: “Son, you will never be happy.”
    Then I went deaf, it was an epiphany of biblical proportions, the reflection of a lit match in the eye. I saw, but didn’t hear, my parents laughing, shaking their heads, all mute, and it came to me, in neon, on a marquee: “You two are evil.”
    They both sobered up. I had shocked them.
    “I’m done with you two. For good. I’m outta here.”
    As I left my mom lost her forked serpent tongue and turned importunate. “I mean, you’ll never be happy if you don’t go into the program.”
    I left, slamming the door. Good riddance.
    I tried to come up with a game plan: I cannot keep this lifestyle up. It’s stressing the shit out of me. My brain stretched taut. Every time I step out I wonder if I’ll make it back in alive. I can’t do this. I just can’t. I asked my parents if I could stay with them till my lease is up. But they didn’t believe a word I said, pointing out Bob Marin proclaimed me paranoid and schizo. But I was dead if I stayed here. What to do?
    Stay at a hotel. I drove out about half an hour to The Palace Inn. It used to be an apartment building, it was twenty stories high. And I had the place to myself. No one vacationed there. I brought my own coffee machine—hotel coffee is usually too weak.
    Per usual, I slept through the day and stayed up all night. My second night there I got in about four a.m. A cab was waiting about a block from the entrance. As I passed him he pulled out and followed me to the lot entrance. Then he stopped, and I parked, stepped out of my car, and noticed a guy sat in his car—the car running, it was super cold. He did not get out. He just watched me. The dude was scruffy and long haired. Caucasian. How did they find me? This is serious. And I couldn’t walk in holding my piece, that’d alarm the clerk. I walked up to the front desk and pointed out to the lady clerk that gangbangers were after me, on her property.
    “Sir, I cannot comment on that. I can say they are not gang members.”
    The next night I knocked on Wolf Face’s window. “Who are you? Quit following me.” He ignored me.
    Then who were they? They had to have the hotel’s permission to be there.
    I tried to put it together in my head...think...a cab follows me to the lot entrance, and then Scruffles sits in his car watching me...these guys weren’t connected to the Crips or my previous job in any way...private investigators. That’s their M.O., to park in front of the house or building they’re surveiling, and sit out there with their microphones pointed at the targeted area. But who paid? PI’s are expensive. My parents had the money. But why hire PIs now, and not when I lived in my apartment? I called my folks up. They said they didn’t know what I was talking about. An out and out lie. They really pushed me to go into the Western Psyche Partial Program.
    And the maids always woke me up around noon to ask if I needed some towels, even though I told them over and over, not to wake me in the afternoon. One night I was in my room, naked, and I did a jump flying sidekick, and I heard someone next door laugh.
    I stomped down to the lady clerk. “Old woman, if there are PIs watching me in your hotel they have to have your permission to be in here. So get them off the property.”
    “I don’t know what you’re talking about, sir. If there’s a problem, I’d contact your parents. They’ve been calling here, yelling that you’ve moved into this hotel cause you’re going to kill yourself.”
    “That’s a crock of shit. You don’t know my parents. They are frightening psychos. I came here to get away from my apartment. It’s a hazardous place to live. I ask you, standing there, me, standing here, do you have cameras in my room.”
    “Only you can answer that, sir.” Note the non-answer answer.
    So I looked around my room. Where would they place the camera? The TV speakers? I looked in them, but it was too dark to see. An empty light switch socket? I looked under the bed. Nothing, except for a big long screw. I left it there and drove to Denny’s for breakfast before bed. When I returned back to my room I saw someone had taken the screw and placed it on my pillow. It appears people will stomp all over your constitutional rights if they feel you’re a threat to yourself.
    So around four a.m. the next night I paged through the Yellow Pages, looking for private investigators. If I could find proof to show my brother and sister that my mom and dad were harassing me this way, maybe they’d put pressure on mom and dad, and get them to lay off. I found a PI agency open twenty-four hours.
    “Hi sir. I wanted to know if you could tell me how I can prove a PI’s following me?”
    He was gruff. “You can hire us and we’ll follow you and tell you if someone’s following you.”
    “I don’t have the money.”
    “Well, you can drive down a one way street the wrong way and see if they follow.”
    “No, I need something on paper.”
    “In that case, take down their plates, and for thirty bucks a plate, I’ll run each one, and print out for you their occupations.
    “Do cab drivers act as PI’s?”
    “They can, but rarely. They’re pretty expensive.”
    Around six a.m., in the dark, I drove to the Denny’s ten minutes away from me, pulled in the lot, and I saw a brother outside, I assumed for me, part of the op. I drove out the parking lot and drove to The Denny’s fifty minutes away, in the North Hills. As I drove up to the lot entrance I saw a North Hills Sheriff’s Dept. car coming the opposite way. By the time I drove into the lot, he was right behind me. He sounded his sirens. I parked; the deputy stepped out, and told me I didn’t have a plate. Someone had stolen it at The Palace Inn.
    So I ate, drove home, the cab follows me from to the parking lot. But he had a Texas plate. Then in the lot I see the PI car parked and running with a Minnesota plate. Before this, both of them had had Pennsylvania plates.
    I copied down his plate, then went up to my room to call the PI agency.
    “Do not call here again! I got nothing to say to you! Good bye!”
    “But I got a plate!”
    “It’s out of state! I can’t run it! Adios!”
    “Wait! Wait! Just let me ask you one thing! Why would a PI steal your plate? Just answer me that!”
    “It keeps you stationary. If you drive around that makes surveillance harder. So with no plate you’re less likely to drive around, cause cops will keep pulling you over. Good bye, and don’t call back!”
    The next night around four a.m. I drove to The Denny’s I had retreated from yesterday. No one was waiting outside. When I got to the bar the waitress, who was black, was pretty terse. I gave her my order and she didn’t move, just screamed it across the way at the chef, who I noticed was the same guy who stood outside yesterday. As I ate, she kept giving me the evil eye. She said to the chef, “Some of our own people think they’re too uptown for us. Like all of us are violent, muggers, and killers, and that we all talk in Ebonics, like we live in The Projects.”
    He kept replying to her, over and over, “I stay out there to catch a bus.” I drove back to The Palace Inn and stomped up to the lady clerk. “Lady, how is it protecting me by terrorizing me with a screw. I don’t need this.”
    “They said it’s to show you that you have no privacy, so that if you try and kill yourself, we will see you and barge in and protect you from yourself.”
    “Hey skank, if I go home, I’m dead. Got it? Dead. Comprende?” My hands shook.
    “If you went home, maybe your parents might calm down and lay off.”
    Later that night I picked out a Playboy I had brought with me. I knelt down on the carpet and began. Every time I got hard, I heard footsteps across the floor above me. So I kept going limp. Every time I tried to get it up, someone would walk across the room over mine. I could not engage. Finally I gathered up my coffee machine, checked out, and drove home. There was no avoiding it. The final act would play itself off in my apartment.
    Like a countdown—T minus ten days, T minus nine days, T minus eight days. I thought it over, and I decided to enter the Western Psyche outpatient Clinic, even if just for a couple of days, to make a point, and even though I told Bob not to get me in. So I called up the intake and I was made officially a patient. My start day would be tomorrow. I had a lot to say in the groups, I’d tell all the patients how the head, Rohdya Fink, Rocco Marciano, Suzanne Screuzy, and especially Kimberly, had tried to Jones me.
    That night I tried jerking off to some Playboys. Too droopy to get a good grip. My phone rang. I picked it up. “Hi Larenz. It’s Kimberly. I’m down here in the lobby.” Holy shit. What did she want? I hid my Crimson under my futon and rushed down through the two security doors into the lobby, and let her in. She was made up and carried a purse and smelled of perfume.
    “You’re the last person I expected to see,” I said. She hugged me, too long.
    “Can we go up to your apartment?” she asked.
    “Sure.”
    We stayed quiet in the elevator as the bell chimed past each floor.
    Back in my room I noticed I had forgotten to put away the Playboys. I think this made her gag. I shoved them under my futon. “That’s okay, I don’t mind,” she said.
    She breathed in deep. “Okay, I want to be here, but if you tell anyone I was here, I’ll deny it.”
    “Fair enough. That’s okay. I won’t tell anyone.” I got seepage. That’s where a trickle of sperm leaks out your dick like a bad faucet.
    “Your eyes are red,” she said, as she ran her hands through my fro. “I am sorry for yelling at you over the phone like that. I’m in way over my head here.”
    “I know, I know. It’s a no win situation for both of us.”
    She went on, “I have a life. If you enter that outpatient program you will kill my career. You’re the most innocent person in all of this, but please, go to St. Francis Outpatient, not Western Psyche. A dark, make up colored tear, rolled down her cheek like a snail.
    “Okay, okay, don’t cry about it.”
    Then she got down on her knees and unsnapped my pants. I pushed her off. “Holy shit! Kimberly! You don’t need to do that! To yourself! Don’t do it to yourself!” She looked up, her face tear streaked; she looked Goth.
    “Jesus Christ, I will not enter the Western Psyche Outpatient Program,” I said.
    She sat down next to me and broke down and put her face in her hands. “Promise me,” she said, “Swear.” She pulled a bible out of her purse. “Swear on the bible.”
    I put my hands on it. “I swear to Allah, Vishnu, and Yaweh, I will not enter your clinic.”
    “Because all I wanted was to help to you.”
    “Because all you wanted was to help me.”
    I saw her out. When we stepped out into the lobby, she said, “Thank you, for, you know what, thanks.”
    FOUR DAYS LEFT. Screw the St. Francis outpatient program. I wouldn’t go in. I’d be gone soon anyway. Frank and Gary the Cracker Head would not follow me to my sister’s in Sherman Oaks, California. That’s off their radar.
    That night I stopped off at The Cricket Strip Club just before close for my four whiskey and waters, drove around aimlessly, returned to my apartment building. I parked and walked up to the lobby doors with my Crimson drawn and de-safetyed, walked up to the first security door, stuck my key in and kicked it open. Nothing. Then the same with the second security door. No one. I safety’d it and shoved it in my Safari holster, my shirt fell over it, and I made the usual thanks to a higher power for not blowing my dick off.
    I got in the elevator, not too relaxed, and stepped off onto my floor, and then, a smashing pain to the back of my head. Someone grabbed my collar and I felt what must be the muzzle of a gun at the back of my head, pushing me forward from behind, virtually choking me.
    He said, “Finally! Gotcha bitch!” I lost my balance, he was pushing me too fast. “Don’t say nothing. Just walk.” I gagged. I made a choking sound.
    My revolver.
    He said, “You didn’t think we could get past those doors did ya?”
    It was weird. I wondered what chemicals my brain was activating, knowing it was endangered. I kept tripping and trying to catch my breath. We arrived at my door. Everything told me to scream for help.
    “Open it,” he said quietly.
    I dug into my front pocket for my keys. Should I go for the gun? I paused. My hands shook. “Go,” he said, twisting my collar even tighter. I pulled out my keys and opened the door. the guy holding me shoved me into the room, I turned around to look at them as his cohort shut the door and locked it. They were both Crips, around fifteen.
    “187, Football,” the gun holder’s partner told his friend. There were only two of them.
    I would have a single chance to go for my revolver. One chance.
    The gun holder said, “Now how does it feel, snitch? You’re a bad role model for our people. Hey Damien, look at the yellow spots on his computer.
    I saw a way out and gulped. “You need me to close the blinds, don’t you? So no one sees?”
    “Yeah G, do it,” the gun holder said.
    I turned my back to them, and walked up to the window with my back to them. My gun. I just stood there. Thoughts of bullets in my body if I miss.
    “Do it!” he yelled. I stretched the string and the blinds collapsed over the window. But the slits were open. I turned the rod to screw them shut. Now or never. He yelled again.
    I dug into my holster, de-safteyed the Crimson, grabbed the handle, spun around and fired. BAP! BAP! BAP! BAP! BAP! BAP! I kept pulling the trigger even though it was empty.
    He wasn’t quick enough. He had dropped his gun to his side, and had no chance to raise it. The five rounds hit him in the chest, like squibs, and he was dead before he hit the carpet. One round splashed through his partner’s leg. He screamed, unlocked the door, and took off. Then I don’t know what happened, I lost my memory. The next thing I know, my neighbors filled the room. One of them pressed rags against the dead Crip. I reached down to hug the dead kid, but my neighbors pulled me away. I saw one of them had taken my gun. The iron smell of the blood and the smoky scent of the gun filled the room. Cops came and called everyone out. I told the homicide what happened, and who was to blame, and where they worked. They interviewed me for a few hours at The Shadyside Substation.
    I spent the next two nights at my parents’ house, while my room was a crime scene. Then, the cops took down the tape, and I could go back in. A homicide took me for a walk around the block. “Plausible Deniability,” he said. “These guys you mentioned at your job. They might’ve put a hit on you, but there is no evidence they paid the two kids, or even talked with them. The kid you shot in the leg said they were there to mug you, and said he knows nothing about a hit on you. He’s not snitching.” The Homicide took out his wallet and handed me a business card of a company that cleans crime scenes.
    Then he put his arm around me and said, ‘Brother, you better leave town. The kid you killed, Football, his brother are hi rankers and shot callers. Word around the camp fire is they’re already after you.
    “In two days I’m moving to Sherman Oaks, in California.”
    He gave a social laugh. “Ah ah. I don’t think you understand. Crips are in just about every city on the map. They’re like a fucking network. And they’re all chimped out over this. What are the chances they’d find you if you moved to California. Not much, if you move to the right place. But they want you bad, like real bad, bad enough to track you in a city with no gang bangers. I think you should leave the country. At least for a year or two. Better safe than sorry.
    After that talk a cop car hung out outside as I got up to my apartment and boxed all my goods. My eyes were on fire. The blood crackled when you stepped on it. I called the moving company and rerouted them from Sherman Oaks to The A1 Storage Company here in Pittsburgh. I called the airport to schedule a flight to Amsterdam. I drove to The Social Security Office in East Liberty. When you walk in there to the immediate right there’s a wall full of brochures, anything you ever wanted to know about Social Security. I browsed, looked around, and finally found what I wanted: “Receiving Social Security Abroad” it listed all the countries you could receive SSI and SSDI in. I read, I read, and...jackpot! They accept it in Amsterdam. Ha. Downers and hookers galore. Having trouble sleeping? Buy some Perkeset. Hostels. Eurochicks. No racism like in England and the US. In that city they think every brother is a hip hop star. White chicks there go ape shit over us, like we’re built with three legs. I didn’t call the crime scene cleaning company. Let the landlords do it. I stopped by a sewer and tossed in my Crimson and its ammo.
    The next afternoon I went back up to my apartment a last time. I wasn’t sleeping at all. One day left here. I picked up one of the rags my neighbors had used to try to stop the blood. The rag was dark and stiff. It did not fit in my pocket.
    I left my apartment for good—good riddance—and drove to Pittsburgh Vision Services. People there didn’t look happy to see me. But I wasn’t there to see them. I was too run down to care what they thought of me. I got to the elevator and pressed three for Linda’s floor. The elevator door opened and I walked out. I saw Gary the Cracker Head across the room. “Hey Gary, how’s it going!?”
    Gary stole a quick look at Frank. Everyone had heard me yell, and now all eyes were on me. Linda walked out of her office. Did she know anything about all this? She looked over at Frank. I walked up to his sewing station, and threw down the blood-encrusted rag. “What do you got to say now?” I asked. He wouldn’t look at me. His fingers shook. “I have no street smarts, yet here I am. Alive. You should have hired more competent people. Peace out, partner.” I gave him the peace sign and walked out.
    I drove back to my parent’s house and spent another sleepless night there. Then, next day, it was time to leave. I’d leave my car in their driveway. I hugged them both and told them I’d call them. I meant it. They drove me to the airport in Moon Township. I felt myself fall into a doze as the plane lifted off. Finally...I was off, I was alive, and I was ready to live life all over again.
















Behind the Gates

Julie L. Brown

    I was anxious to see Elizabeth. As I walked out of the airport into the balmy evening, she pulled up in her silver BMW; a miracle of perfect timing bestowed by the cell phone waiting lot. She jumped out of her car and gave me a big hug. “Yay! You’re here! Look at you! You look wonderful!”
    I’ve been told I looked ten years younger than my age. The dreaded daily trip to the gym had its benefits. Being carded—a process I loathed at eighteen—was now, at forty-two, a welcome excuse to celebrate and brag to all of my friends. My brown hair had yet to show signs of gray. I pulled away slightly from Elizabeth and took in the wrinkles around her tired eyes and the strands of gray intermingled with blonde in her ponytail. My friend was starting to look old.
    “You look great,” I said.
    I had not seen Elizabeth in ten years. After spending every day in college together, then weekend nights out while she pursued a career as a government staffer and I as an accountant, we now used Facebook to keep up with each other’s lives. Since she had married and moved back to her hometown in upstate New York, we had rarely spoken. There was no need. Via Facebook photos, I witnessed the birth of her two children, their first day of school, and the family vacations to Disney World.
    When she suggested I join her at her family’s second home outside Tampa for a long weekend, I thought, why not? Dating an attorney who often worked weekends—he was too old to be called my “boyfriend”—I had nothing keeping me in D.C. A mini-vacation with my best friend seemed the perfect excuse to get away. It would be fun. A ladies-only weekend. Just the two of us. Like old times.
    On the way to her home, we stopped at a sports bar. The décor, typical: wood paneling, neon beer signs, and numerous flat-screen televisions.
    After we sat down, I asked, “So, how’s Matt?”
    Elizabeth curled a stray hair behind her ear. “He’s great. He still likes his job.” She paused as a tanned waiter took our order of hamburgers and beers and left. “The kids are doing well in school.” She hesitated. “I’m thinking about going back to work. The kids are old enough now. Senator Schuman has an opening in his district office.” She shook her head, dislodging a fleeting thought she did not share. “How’ve you been?”
    The waiter brought our beers.
    “I’m okay. Work is going well, and I’m still dating ‘The Man I Never See.’” I laughed. It seemed hollow even to me. We raised our bottles, the necks touching. At the same time, we said, “To us.” Always the same toast. We clinked bottles and drank.
    Elizabeth laughed. “I can’t believe you still peel the labels off your bottles. I remember finding pieces all over our dorm room, even in the shower.” I joined in her laughter.
    Later, we drove through the gates of her community, past the pool and tennis courts, turned right, and parked in front of her two-story townhome. Inside, she gave me a brief tour—lots of white, pastels, and wicker. When we reached the guest room, I called it a night. After working a full day, combined with the traveling and drinks, I was exhausted. The thought crossed my mind that if we were still in college, our night would be just beginning.
    The next day, after a late breakfast, we decided to go to the pool. As I started to lock the door behind me, Elizabeth said, “No need. We live in a gated community.”
    I peeked over my shoulder and looked into her green eyes to confirm that she was joking. She was not. I glanced at the knob and then back at Elizabeth. She must know that the gate and the overweight rent-a-cop who manned the adjacent booth would not stop anyone who wanted in.
    She returned my gaze, but said nothing.
    I bit back one of my lectures and shut the door.
    The pool restaurant and bar delivered to our lounge chairs. The weather was perfect. We ate and laughed and drank all day. We only moved to use the restroom or take a dip in the pool. One glorious day and just what I needed.
    That evening, we retreated to her place, tossed huge salads, and took our dinner and wine to her fenced-in backyard terrace. Palm trees provided natural privacy. We settled into the wrought-iron chairs.
    “So, do you miss D.C.?”
    “I do,” Elizabeth said, as she brought her legs up onto her chair to sit “Indian style,” as she did in college. I envied her flexibility. “Sometimes, I miss being in the middle of the action.” She smiled at me. “I miss my friends. What about you? Are you planning to stay there?”
    “Probably. My work is there. I can’t envision myself anywhere else.”
    “One thing I don’t miss is the crime.”
    “There’s crime everywhere.”
    Elizabeth circled the top of her wine glass with her finger. “Maybe, but I feel safer where we live now. It’s not only that, I guess. I’m not sure how effective I could be in this political environment.” She laughed. “I’m not sure how effective anyone could be.”
    “I know. It’s frustrating. Politicians only care about politicking, not working together to govern.”
    “That may be true, but some are more willing to face reality than others.”
    “What do you mean?”
    “Take, for instance, those bleeding-heart liberals who refuse to address the need for entitlement reform.”
    I bristled. Trying to keep my tone light, I said, “Those ‘bleeding-heart liberals’ are providing a safety net for those in need.” I peered into my glass, swirling the wine within. “Including minorities.”
    Elizabeth rolled her eyes, flicking her ponytail over her shoulder. “This isn’t a racial thing. Really, Kara, all I’m saying is our country has some major issues we need to resolve, and we can’t continue to ignore them. People may be happy with these entitlement programs now, but when the funds run dry, then what?”

#

    That night, I prepared for bed and turned on the television to catch up on the news: the Tampa Bay Marlins won, the president gave another speech on healthcare, citizens in California protested the elimination of more public services, and a suburb north of Tampa had had a series of break-ins over the last few weeks. I stopped my preparations for bed at this last story. In communities unaccustomed to crime, the perpetrators had broken in, but had not stolen anything of material value. The story ended with a police spokesperson asking for the public’s help. I made a mental note to mention the break-ins to Elizabeth and fell asleep.
    The next day, we drove to Sarasota for a day at the beach and shopping. We stopped for lunch at a Caribbean restaurant. At a table for two on the sidewalk outside, I mentioned the news story about the break-ins. Elizabeth waved her hand, a dismissive gesture. “The community probably wasn’t gated.”
    “The crimes happened in an exclusive suburb.” I paused. “You do know that living in a gated community doesn’t protect you from crime—”
    “Do we really have to go there now?”
    I could not let it alone. “I believe it’s part of the problem with this country. More people are migrating to gated communities to insulate themselves from larger social issues, and—”
    Elizabeth, preparing to take a bite of her jerk chicken pasta, placed her fork back down on her plate. “Kara, please drop it. Okay?”
    I dropped it.
    For a few minutes, we ate in silence. But it was not one of our comfortable, companionable silences of the past. Members of the same sorority in college, Elizabeth and I had enjoyed many wild and crazy nights together with our sorority sisters. Elizabeth liked to party back then. As the level-headed and calm one in the group, I made sure we stayed out of trouble and arrived home safely. We had spent many nights—after the bars and clubs had closed—talking and debating and solving all of the world’s problems. Why couldn’t we talk now? If we can’t talk about our political differences, who could?
    We returned late to Elizabeth’s home. While taking a long, hot, relaxing shower, I vowed not to discuss politics with her and have fun the rest of the weekend. I put on shorts and a t-shirt and left the guest room. Walking down the hallway to head downstairs, I noticed a drop of red on the pristine white carpet. I bent down for a closer look. Blood. Fresh blood. Puzzled, I turned at the noise behind me.
    A man held a knife to Elizabeth’s neck.
    My stomach clenched. I gasped and brought my shaking hand to my mouth. Elizabeth stood there, her wide eyes pleading for me to do something. Anything.
    I wondered if the man could hear my heart beat. I looked at him. He stared back at me with an intensity as painful as a laser beam pointed at my eyes.
    Elizabeth whimpered. “Please don’t hurt me. Please. Take whatever you want.”
    The man did not take his eyes off me. “We’re not here to hurt you, lady. We didn’t think you’d be here.”
    Elizabeth continued to plead with him.
    He pressed the knife deeper into her skin. “Shut up!”
    I flinched. To me, “Don’t scream or she dies. Come with me. Slowly.”
    I nodded and rose.
    He backed up with Elizabeth and I followed, my eyes not leaving his. He indicated with his head to enter her bedroom. Another man stood on the other side of the bed.
    “Sit,” said the first man.
    I hesitated, uncomfortable, unsure of what was going on here. I sat on the bed. He took Elizabeth into the master bathroom. I could see into the bathroom, the reflection of the second man in the mirror. The man holding Elizabeth could see me in the mirror as well. I did not see a phone in Elizabeth’s bedroom.
    “What do you want?” I asked.
    The first man looked at Elizabeth in the mirror. “Open it.”
    With shaky hands, she opened the medicine cabinet next to the mirror and looked at him.
    “Put everything in the bag,” he said.
    Elizabeth continued to stare at him to be sure she understood and then began taking items out of the cabinet. She placed them in the bag. Her hands shook, slowing the process.
    She dropped a bottle of pills. Elizabeth froze. The cap was not secured. Time stopped as all of us listened to the pills scatter across the tile floor like wind chimes.
    Elizabeth stared into the mirror. “Please don’t hurt me.” Her head shook in rhythm with her hands. “I have children. They need me. Please. Please don’t hurt me.” She started to cry again, spasmodic cries that tore through her body.
    I started to rise, fists clinched. A strong hand—firm, but not rough—pressed down on my shoulder pushing me back down on the bed. I looked in the mirror at the second man. He raised a gun I hadn’t noticed and dropped it back to his side. He shook his head “No.”
    “Pick them up,” the first man said. “All of ‘em.”
    With him behind her, Elizabeth bent down awkwardly. The spasms in her hands sometimes caused her to miss the bottle. She retrieved every pill and tried again with the intense concentration of a child coloring within the lines.
    When she finished, he said, “Pick up the bag.” He turned Elizabeth around and indicated with his chin for me to get up and walk toward the door.
    We went down the hallway and down the stairs. Over my shoulder, past the second man, I saw that Elizabeth could barely stand. I looked into the first man’s eyes.
    “We’ve got what we came for,” he said. “Let us leave and no one gets hurt.”
    At the bottom of the stairs, he said to me, “Stay here.” He shuffled with Elizabeth toward the front door. He turned toward me, his gaze steady. I stared back. He pressed Elizabeth closer to him.
    I tensed, ready to spring forward.
    “It’s not what you think,” he said, and then shoved Elizabeth to the side. Hard. He opened the door and the two men ran.
    I rushed to Elizabeth. She had a slight cut on her neck. Her eyes looked through me. She was going into shock. Tires peeled away in the distance. I touched Elizabeth’s shoulder and then went to the kitchen phone and called the police.

#

    In my office in D.C. a month later, an article caught my eye on the Internet. The source was the Tampa Bay Times. Police had arrested numerous members of a stolen prescription-drug ring that targeted neighborhoods in and around Tampa, especially communities of older people. A picture of the ringleader accompanied the article; the man I had last seen holding a knife against Elizabeth’s neck. In his early twenties, he had short-cropped hair. I stared at his dark brown eyes, which looked back at me with the same intensity as they had that night.
    Prior to these robberies, the perpetrators did not have criminal records. Some of them were enrolled in college. Their motive? To steal drugs to give to the people in their community who couldn’t afford them. A modern-day gang of Robin Hoods.
    Later that afternoon, my cell phone rang. The Hillsborough County district attorney introduced herself and asked whether I would testify against the two men who had invaded Elizabeth’s home. As she talked, I clicked over to the story still launched in my browser. I scrolled up the screen to examine the man’s picture.
    “Are you there?” the DA asked.
    The man’s intent expression stared back at me. He had hurt my friend and terrorized us both in a desperate attempt to solve a problem no one else was willing to address. And, in consequence, he would be going to his own gated community. Prison.
    “Yes, I’m here,” I said.
    “Will you testify?”
    I thought of Elizabeth. We had not spoken since our vacation together, but if her recent Facebook photos were any indication, she seemed okay. We didn’t have much to say to each other anymore.
    “No. I don’t think so.”
    “I can subpoena you, you know.”
    I pressed “End” on the phone and, probably, on my relationship with Elizabeth. I clicked out of the news article and leaned back in my chair and gazed out the window onto K Street below.



pills, photograph copyright Janet Kuypers



Julie L. Brown Bio 20130123

    A corporate executive for over twenty years, Julie L. Brown was a basketball player and Dean’s List student at The George Washington University, where she received a B.A. in Radio and Television with a minor in Economics and an MBA in Finance and Investments.
    Julie has been an avid reader since the age of three. She combines her love for sports, politics, and current affairs in her writing.
    A native of Fairfax, VA, she currently resides in Seattle, WA where she recently completed her first novel.
















rehab

Patrick Fealey

    we talk like intimates because we will never see one another again. it’s that kind of openness. sometimes addresses and phone numbers are exchanged. we talk but mostly they are strangers spilling their lives to people they won’t have to live with. 5 kids at 22, 3 fathers, an estranged mother, a robitusson addict, a manic-depressive, victims of domestic violence, alcoholics, suicide attempts. the coffee is weak. the sandwiches not enough. but they clean that place until it shines throughout every tragic day.








some of all of them

Patrick Fealey

    a heartbroken man dances into midnight on the gunwales of a stranger’s boat, sucking on a bottle of grain alcohol while sid vicious sings “my way.” a heartbroken man awakes in the bed of a strange woman. the floor is littered with condoms and wrappers. he recalls she was on the boat. a heartbroken man gets out of bed at 4 p.m. when his desire to die is surpassed by his desire to get the hell out of her house. a heartbroken man relents to dinner with the strange woman and she looks at him and says,“what are we?” the heartbroken man says:“irish.” the strange woman doesn’t like the answer.she now looks heartbroken. the heartbroken man eats his steak and salad while the heartbroken woman sits in silence. a heartbroken man sleeps alone at home and he dreams of the woman he once loved. he is with her in the back seat of a car. she has no head, but she is a live neck and body. a heartbroken man awakes in the morning to find his flannel shorts are wet with semen. a heartbroken man wonders about the dream and finally decides it was one hell of a steak.








we will fight our country’s battles

Patrick Fealey

>     his name was kaiser and he had no interest in learning. he was interested only in violence and sports and the martial arts. he was a mutant among us, had been held back twice. taller, leaner, more muscular and stupid as a can of corn that loved to sing “satisfaction.” his claim to fame was that he had won the presidential fitness award two years in a row. he did more pull-ups, more sit-ups, more push-ups, faster and better than anyone in the school, which was terrified of him, including the teachers. he beat the shit out of people whenever and wherever he felt like it. a liberal teacher, mr. anderson, said it was because kaiser was without a father, his father was in prison. so we should allow him to hurt us. i wanted to bring my gun to school for him. kaiser had been done wrong and i was going to do him worse. and i guess i did do him pretty bad when my hockey team beat his. we were both captains and he didn’t take my checks well nor my hockey stick to his shins. people didn’t do that to him. in the locker room he drop-kicked me to the back of the head and while i was unconscious he retreated into the u.s. marine corps.

>     P.S. I sent this poem to Kaiser twenty-five years later. He was on facebook, had a rounded profile, belly in a dirty white t-shirt, a drunk. He said, “what the fuck is this shit? Who the fuck is this?” I told him and he said, “I don’t remember you. I’m sorry if I caused you any hurt. I had issues back then. Ha ha ha.”
















A Skinny Dipping Experience
Turns into an Opportunity for Personal Growth

Dr. (Ms.) Michael S. Whitt

    Manda paced between Jen’s bed and dresser. She twirled a lock of her long curly reddish-brown hair around an index finger. Jen was on the bed filing her nails. Daphne and Carol were looking at Jen’s records for a Bruce Springsteen CD to play when Don Henley’s was finished.
    “Do you think your folks are asleep?” Manda whispered
    “I believe so, Manda. It’s 11:20.”
    “Surely we can escape if we’re quiet,” suggested Daphne.
    “Let’s give it a try,” Carolyn agreed.
    Jen unhooked the screen on a window and slipped out. Manda sat on the sill and jumped down. The two waited for Daphne and Carolyn to follow. Manda and Jen tiptoed across the yard. Carolyn and Daphne, giggling softly, followed. When the quartet reached the street they were a short walk from Lake Silver.
    Manda whispered, “Let’s run, Jen.”
    Manda and Jen ran followed by their two friends. They were soon at the lake. Some of the lake property belonged to Carolyn’s family. They could have gone swimming there, but Manda suggested, “Let’s not go in at your place, Carolyn. We need the dock next door.”
    “I agree.” Daphne responded. “If we put them there, we can get them if someone comes.” Jen and Carolyn agreed. They shed their clothes and frolicked in the water.
    “I love skinny dipping!” Manda exclaimed as she emerged from an underwater swim. She propelled her tall form above the water. “I love it as much as I love playing basketball. Manda splashed water on Carolyn’s long blonde hair.
    Carolyn splashed Manda and said, “Manda, we’re going to be the best ever. And you’re going to be the only sophomore on the first string.”
    “We are,” Manda agreed. “With you, Daphne, me, and our other teammates on the A-String, I doubt that we’ll lose any games.” With that Manda splashed water on Daphne’s shiny black hair. Daphne giggled as her slender body disappeared under water.
    In seconds Jen shrieked, “Ouch! What is that?”
    “It’s me,” Daphne replied as she surfaced laughing.
    “She pinched you, didn’t she, Jen?” Manda asked. “When we’re cheerleading together we will have to watch that brat.”
    “You’d better watch what you’re saying, Manda Blake!” Daphne exclaimed. “Otherwise, when I’m the senior yearbook editor and you’re the assistant editor and a junior, I’ll work you to death.” She giggled showing that she was joking. The girls were gleefully wrapped up in their swim. Nothing outside their circle of friendship entered their awareness; nothing until they heard a male voice from the dock near shore.
    It chuckled and asked, “Well, what is this?”
    They looked up and saw his form moving toward their clothes. Each girl rushed toward the dock, grabbed her garments, and frantically began to dress. While Manda was struggling to put hers on, she discovered with horror her bra was missing. She looked up and saw the intruder, John J. Harris III, walking to his car with her bra. She must have missed the bra, leaving it the sole item on the dock.
    “Johnny has my bra!” Manda gasped. She had a nauseous feeling in her stomach. Amanda thought this would happen to me. I have the smallest boobs of anyone here. I wear a padded bra because I don’t want to look flat. Now Johnny has that bra, and everyone will know. She looked at her breasts and thought, they are too small. That they were shaped like lovely teacups did not enter her perceptions. She realized she had to do something. She began to feel more desperate. She thought if Jen asked for the bra, he would think it was hers. Although Manda knew Jen had grapefruit sized breasts, she did not see this would make it obvious the bra wasn’t hers.
    “Jen, please go get it for me. Tell him it’s yours.”
    “Manda, do you think that’ll work?”
    “Yes, no, yes, I don’t know. Oh Jen, please try. I’m more embarrassed than I’ve ever been.” She could feel her face getting warm. She was weeping.
    “Manda, I’m going. Try not to be upset,” Jen said. Jen sauntered up to Johnny’s car and demanded the bra.
    Johnny chuckled and replied, “This isn’t your bra. I want this bra’s owner to come get it.”
    Jen did her best. Manda had no choice but to walk to his car. Her uncomfortable state was worsened when she saw her bra hanging from his mirror. Manda wished that she could disappear.
    “Give me my bra.” Manda requested in a calm voice, although she did not feel serene. She was grateful that the water dripping down her face hid her tears.
    Johnny smiled at Manda and handed it to her, “Okay, Manda. Congratulations on being elected cheerleader; I know Daphne and Jen are glad you’re on the squad.”
    “Thanks Johnny,” Manda responded. She could feel her face hot from blushing. She was where she almost wished she was dead.
    Until Sunday Amanda anguished about the teasing her small breasts and bra would receive from Johnny’s school friends. She followed an impulse to remove her top and bra. Manda looked at her breasts in her mirror. For the first time since she had started comparing them to others, they looked good.
    “I’m small, but I’m not flat. My boobs are pretty,” She said aloud. “No more bras for you. Jen needs one of the uncomfortable things. I don’t!”
    She went to school braless Monday for the first time since mid-seventh grade. She was still in a state of dread regarding the teasing. Much to Manda’s surprise none occurred.
    “Hi Johnny,” Manda said to him as she walked up to him at his locker, “Bless you.”
    “Hi Good Looking,” Johnny said.“Did I ever tell you that you have the prettiest blue eyes I’ve ever seen? And your blessings are welcome, but what are you blessing me for?”
    “You are a great guy and I like you,” Amanda responded with a smile.
    It was Johnny’s turn to blush. He looked at her with wide eyes, an enormous grin, and gushed, “Gosh, thanks. That means a lot to me, Manda.”
    Later Amanda realized that he did not know why she was blessing him. It never occurred to him to tell anyone about Friday evening’s events. Manda felt happy and relieved. She thought Johnny is a boy with true possibilities. He’ll probably ask me out, and if he doesn’t, I’ll ask him. What ever the case when we do go out, I’ll thank him for making me realize I don’t need a bra.
    As Manda moved to class, she realized she had some important realizations. She had learned sometimes when a situation seems terrible, it turns out good. I was horrified at the time about my bra, but it turned into experiences in which I learned important things. In her last interaction with Johnny, she discovered she had strong feelings for him. She felt his feelings toward her. She never knew she could feel that strongly. She was learning to love her body. She realized she was brainwashed that she couldn’t be considered attractive if the of her breasts’ sizes did not fit a rigid definition. This knowledge was important to her.
















Orphic Song

Iftekhar Sayeed

Language is a perpetual Orphic song – Percy Bysshe Shelley

    The first time I saw the missing woman’s picture, my nails nearly bored through the paper. Tasnia was fair, with golden black hair, straight nose, taut cheekbones and a wide, though thin, mouth. Her eyes drew one to mysterious depths. They were ebony pools.
    Young women were disappearing from Bangladesh – beautiful young women in their early 20s. No one knew the reason. They weren’t being trafficked, according to neighbouring countries. The border guard had no news of them. Yet several hundred girls must have gone missing in less than a year.
    Tasnia’s mother – like many mothers – came to my flat with pictures. Tasnia was the most beautiful victim of them all. Her mother wore a hijab covering her ample hair and revealing her fair face, like her daughter’s but without the proportions. Both mother and daughter were tall. As she sobbed, I assured her that I would do everything in my powers – and both of us knew that was little, though she must have hoped otherwise.
    I looked long at the girl with long, loose hair in a blue shalwar kameez, and placed the photo gently in my shirt pocket, from where it was transferred to the top of my table where I could see it all the time.

    Alighting from a trishaw before my apartment building in Dhanmandi around dusk, I heard rapid steps approaching where I stood. It was the time when the muezzins called the faithful to prayer. The street was lit by a flickering fluorescent lamp. I paid the trishaw-puller and waited. A tall figure in a burqua came breathlessly up to me and asked for a name and address.
    “I am Zafar Shah,” I replied.
    She raised her niqab. It was Tasnia.

    A few hours prior to this event, I had received a call from a young lady. She said that she had been kidnapped, but was being saved by an army Captain. She gave her name as Tasnia, and said that she was on a bus from Bandarban to Dhaka and the Captain had instructed her to find me. Naturally, I gave her my details and didn’t think much of it afterwards – until the angel herself stood before me!
    I lodged her in my flat and went out to fetch some kachchi biriani for dinner. The flat smelled of the delicacy and she ate hungrily.
    She had taken off her burqua while I had been away and I came home to see a seraph in a flowered kameez and white shalwar with black sandals. However, on her long journey she had perspired a great deal and the odour threatened to overwhelm the biriani. But there was something exciting about the smell of her sweat. Feeling self-conscious, no doubt, she asked for some perfume and now a third entity affected the olfactory nerve.
    During dinner, I looked her over carefully for any marks of injury, but there were none. Her fair complexion was somewhat flushed, but that was only natural. Then I was mesmerised by her long, thin fingers gathering the food into the aperture of her mouth – an aperture that had already drawn mine there in imagination.
    The meal was over and she helped me clear the table and insisted on washing the plates while I made coffee. She was obviously a rich person’s daughter, and her inept washing of the plates resulted in a lot of clatter.
    We had coffee over the glass-topped table. The beverage smelled nice, relaxing.
    “Tell me, now, what happened. I am very curious. And before I call your mother I want to hear the story.”
    Her eyes grew large and she spilled some coffee. “Ouch!”
    “You burned yourself. Let me get you something.”
    I had risen from the table to get some ointment when she stayed my hand.
    “It’s nothing!” she insisted in her dulcet voice. She washed her hand in the sink. “But you can’t call my mother. The army is listening in on her phone and watching her place. Sit down. I’ll explain everything.”

    A few months ago – she couldn’t recall how many, so I helped her there – she and her mother had gone shopping in Bashundhara shopping mall. They had somehow got separated and then she woke up in a bus, apparently drugged. The bus was full of other girls, some more awake than others, and so beginning to cry before everyone joined in. The driver and his attendant were in military fatigues and it was clear to Tasnia that the army had kidnapped them. But why?
    “The Captain was a woman of short build and she had her hair in a ponytail trailing beneath her cap. From the first day, she took a shine to me, and called me by my name instead of ‘girl’. Her name was Shabnam – she let me call her that instead of ‘Captain’.
    “We travelled the whole night and came to Bandarban, somewhere outside town. There was a guarded six-storey building and we were herded into one of the dormitories. We wept and pleaded, but it was useless. Yet they were very kind to us and breakfast was luxurious. In fact, every meal was an event, like the biriani we just had.”
    Each girl had her own bed and Captain Shabnam slept among them in a corner, right next to Tasnia, whom she had placed there. At first, she would talk to Tasnia about all sorts of things – but never about Tasnia’s home – and then she resorted to holding Tasnia’s hands. One day, very upset, she told Tasnia what their fate was going to be.
    “You will lose your virginity to the soldiers first, and then when you are fertile, you will be mated with a man called Gilgamesh – “
    “Gilgamesh!” I shrieked.
    “You know about him?”
    This time it was my turn to spill the coffee. It smarted.
    “The Gilgamesh I read about died several thousand years ago looking for immortality.”
    “Then he’s found it!”
    I was shaking my head vigorously, then pacing the dining room. “This is madness!”
    “Shabnam said that Gilgamesh was immortal and with him we would have immortal Bengali children. The language would never die.”
    I turned the fan up because I was hotter now. I went to my room and brought a bottle of Passport. I began rapidly to pour out two pegs into a glass when I noticed her look of disapproval.
    “You drink?”
    “Every time I hear about Gilgamesh, I drink. I hope you don’t mind.”
    She pouted. I took a big gulp and felt my innards warm with the fluid.
    “Go on. Let me hear the rest of your strange story.” I sat down, and added mentally “Before I call your mother and get you off my hands”.
    She sipped some coffee. The fan whirred overhead and played with her dupatta. Just then there was a power failure and the lights went out before the generator was turned on. In that instant, she grabbed my hand in both of hers.
    “Believe me, Zafar sahib, believe me!”
    “Call me Zafar. And go on.” The generator had been switched on and it made an awful noise. But in the light I could see Tasnia was weeping. I returned the pressure of her hands, and smiled.
    “Gilgamesh. I remember his name very well. I heard it many times from Captain Shabnam. The orders had come from the prime minister herself. The Bengali language must be made immortal, like Gilgamesh. But Shabnam said that she would not let that happen to me, if I would do her a favour.” Here, Tasnia buried her face in her hands and broke down.
    I put an arm around her and hushed her. The rest of the story came in sobs.
    “She took me to a room and undressed me. We lay on the bed and she kissed me everywhere, and then she...she made me do things....”
    Obviously, the soldier had had a lesbian incident with her. We both rose, and I hugged her close to me.
    “The next day she gave me a mobile phone with only your number. She had got it from an intelligence officer who was tracing my mother’s calls. Nobody suspected you of trying to help the girls because nobody could. That’s why we mustn’t call my mother – even from your phone. She also gave me money for a bus ticket and a burqua to hide myself. When the army found that I was missing, a search would begin. But nobody would dare to ask a woman to take off her burqua.”
    The power came back on and the awful generator was switched off. We ended our embrace with the story. Now, I believed her – though not the bit about Gilgamesh. Anyway, Operation Gilgamesh would cause untold suffering if it were allowed to continue.
    “Where is this man, Gilgamesh?”
    She looked wide-eyed. “I don’t know.”
    Probably somewhere in Bandarban or the Hill Tracts, a vast area in the south-east. But first things first. The army regularly patrolled Dhaka, by road and by air, so if Tasnia ventured out, they would definitely spot her. She had to change.

    I didn’t know much about sarees. But I ventured out the next morning looking for a pair that would make her look older, different. I came back with a red georgette and a blue chiffon saree with black heels. She loved them. Then I had a tailor brought home, had her measured and by evening her blouses were ready. But that still left her face.
    In the evening, under cover of the flickering fluorescent lamp, we made our way to the nearest beauty parlour. She had her hair dyed first – the gold blacked out. Then she chose long layers of hair that distributed large curls, leaving the face open and framed. She was transformed into a sensuous but slightly older woman in her red georgette saree she wore that night.
    “Zafar, you are a good man,” she murmured leaning against me.
    “Am I? Would a good man desire you so much?”
    She looked up at me, her curls shivering under the fan. I kissed her but she never opened her mouth. The Captain had had a traumatic effect on her.
    “I’m sorry.” She looked down.
    I kissed her on her cheeks. The Captain had been there as well. Then I held her tight – that the Captain couldn’t have done. Her perfume choked me. We inched towards the bed, my membrum virile obvious in its strength. Her heels fell off with thuds. Tentatively, she parted her lips and I kicked off my pants. Kissing her forehead, I gradually raised the crushed saree until I was between her thighs. I eased off her undies and rested my erection against her thigh. She began to breathe harder. I didn’t touch her, but caressed her mons Venus with my member. We were then making love. O Tasnia! The girl in my picture was now in my arms.

    I had a contact in the Hill Tracts – in Khagrachari. Pushpita Chakma was a member of the United People’s Democratic Front, the breakaway faction of the main body, the PCJSS, that had wanted autonomy for the Chakma people but later signed an unequal treaty with the state. Their animus had been against Bengali nationalism, which was odd because they spoke a dialect of Bengali themselves. Nationalism mutates like a virus. Of course, they were Tibeto-Burman, which made them racially different. Their culture and religion were different, too. However, there were other ethnically different groups that did not espouse nationalism in response to ours. But for me, nationalism remained a disease.
    But how was I to get in touch with Pushpita? The army surveyed them like hawks, and no doubt they were under constant electronic survey. I certainly couldn’t call. After much thought, I hit upon the idea of sending her a brief letter by courier. Mail would not be checked! Leaving Tasnia in the care of the daily woman, I set off for Parjatan Hotel at Khagrachari.

    I took my usual room on the third floor – 302 – and stood surveying the pastoral scenery that reminded me of Virgil. I observed, sitting in the verandah after lunch, the scarcely perceptible change in the mix of light and shadow on the hills. The latter painted the green leaves a deeper shade. One inferred the wool-like shadows from the clouds and the clouds from their shadows. Meanwhile, the River Chengi bent and unbent before floating past the hotel. At noon, the verandah became furnace-hot and I had to retreat to the doorway, watching the grazing cows, the Marma girls bathing in the stream in the distance and the smoke issuing from a solitary hut perched on a forested hill.
    There was a knock on the door.
    “Leave the coffee on the table,” I ordered without turning around. I was observing a pair of black drongos noisily defending their territory against a crow. That was the only other sound in the world.
    “We’ll make this a loving cup, shall we, Zafar?” inquired a female voice.
    I wheeled round to see Pushpita, holding a cup. She must have taken it from the waiter. She blew into the cup, took a sip and proffered it to me. I reciprocated.
    Pushpita shared with her tribe only the narrow eyes. She had a straight nose, fair complexion and black hair parted in the middle. She had pink lips. She wore printed shalwar kameez with black sandals. Her perfume permeated the room.
    We put the cup away and hugged. We kissed and rolled on the inviting bed. We consummated our love.
    Cool in the air-conditioned room, under the covers, we conversed of old times and – ideology.
    “So when Bengali girls go missing, Zafar Shah comes looking for them, but when Chakma girls go missing, nobody cares. Typical.” She had a rasping voice, which was very sexy. “Chakmas will never be regarded as equals by you Bengalis.”
    “I’m not a Bengali, I’m a Bangladeshi,” I protested, playing with her hair. She shrugged off my arm. The Indian cuckoo broke the external stillness.
    “And what’s a Bangladeshi but a Bengali who believes in Islam?”
    “You know I’m an agnostic who believes in the civilisation.”
    “You’re very clever, Zafar. That’s why I’ve always liked you. But what room is there for us in this civilisation of yours?”
    “All the room in the world. A civilisation can hold many groups together. Mine always has.”
    “Yes, that is true. But tell me, what do you want from me?”
    I looked her in the eyes. “Intelligence. You know everything that goes on in these hills.” Her eyes narrowed further. A heavy vehicle clattered over the iron bridge over the Chengi outside our hotel. I rose, opened my suitcase and took out my bottle of whiskey. Pushpita and I had been drinking buddies. And I thought the firewater would loosen her tongue.
    She had a sip and nodded approval.
    “Tell me about Gilgamesh.”
    She took another sip. “That impostor! The army has kept him in comfort at Nilgiri.”
    “Nilgiri?” I downed the drink. “Wasn’t that a tourist spot?”
    “Used to be.” She held out the glass for a few more pegs. The air-conditioner hummed and the bird-calls rose faintly above the sound. Then a Tokay gecko cleared its throat and called precisely three times.
    “Paradisal,” I recalled.
    “Used to be,” she repeated. I didn’t want her too sloshed. “Don’t know about now.”
    “How can I get inside?”
    “You must...be...crazy!”
    “Just take me there and I’ll handle it.”
    “You’re determined.” She held out her glass. “Well, I can have you picked up with two escorts tomorrow morning. You’ll be driving all day and a good part of the night. They’ll drop you off and go to Thanchi. There, they’ll wait a few hours and come back the same way, waiting for you before Nilgiri. How do you like my plan?” She pouted for a kiss. I gave her a resounding one in gratitude. “I’ll also have some warm clothes sent. It’s cold up there, remember?” The whiskey had brought out the best in her, but then she had always been thoughtful, and a strategic planner. Years in the hills and forest as part of a guerrilla force had trained her well.
    She put the glasses away, and announced, “This time I’ll be on top.”

    The hill of Nilgiri stood around 2,500 feet above sea level. We had a long drive and a rugged climb in the SUV that came round the next morning, replete with two stalwart Chakmas in the front. We drove mile after mile, seeing hardly anybody. The place was sparsely populated. We had lunch at the Parjatan Motel at Rangamati, and, fortified, speeded on. We were slowed down by the crossing of the Karnafuli River by ferry. The army would just mistake us for tourists.
    Then we left Bandarban behind, and began the ascent towards Nilgiri. The sun began to set and the eastern sky above Burma was already dark. The men supplied the knife I had asked for. It grew cold and I put on my jacket and thought of Pushpita. She must have guessed my exact size!
    We crossed Nilgiri with its two main bungalows, very much in the dark, for the generator did not run after ten. Only the main bungalow was alit with solar-powered lights. I discerned a guard at the barrier, wielding a rifle and a torch.
    “This is where I get off, gentleman,” I announced a few metres ahead of Nilgiri. My SkyGazer had predicted a moonless night and the stars shone like crystals.
    I headed back to Nilgiri and heard the vehicle move off towards Thanchi.
    My first difficulty was the guard. It was not entirely noiseless for the frogs and crickets made a sound that was good for my feet. I lay out of sight until the guard went inside. He must have been bored. The only traffic had been the SUV.
    I clambered under the barrier and lay still. No steps. I crawled towards the main bungalow. A figure appeared. He was wearing shorts and nothing else. Didn’t he feel the cold? I rushed towards him and held a knife at his throat.
    “Inside,” I commanded. He chuckled.
    “As you wish.” He spoke perfect English.
    The first room was a sort of living and dining space. We went into the second room.
    This was a bedroom, lit by the solar-powered cells that charged during the day. On a large bed a woman in a red, crotchless teddy lay sleeping. Like all the girls, she was beautiful, with a tinge of dark.
    There was a basket chair in the middle and I sat him there.
    “Gilgamesh, I presume.”
    “In the flesh.”
    I ran my knife through his belly, expecting him to drop. Instead, the wound – what little there had been – healed.
    I dropped my bloodless knife. It was useless.
    “You see, I’m not a myth.” He spoke in a deep voice. He had Middle Eastern features, a sharp nose, fair complexion, high cheekbones. He was tall. Every inch a king.
    “How did they find you?” I asked.
    “US intelligence had been tracking me for years. They want to perform experiments on me. They traced me here and asked your government to nab me. But your government had different ideas. They think my children would be immortal. That’s rubbish. None of my children survived me. It was horrible! I stopped having children several thousand years ago. Can you understand?”
    I said nothing but I felt sympathy for the ‘old’ man.
    “Look at that beautiful young girl. They want me to impregnate her. The soldiers have taken care of her virginity without making her pregnant, which is what I am supposed to do. Tell me, my friend, how do you plan to escape from here?”
    “I have plans,” I said more confidently than I felt.
    “You see, they don’t guard me very heavily. Only two or three soldiers and a nurse. They know I can’t go anywhere. But I’ll go with you.”
    Then we heard gravel crunching in the direction of the second bungalow, located in the east, while the bigger one was located in the west.
    “Quick! Hide in the bathroom! Take the knife.”
    The bathroom mirror acted like a periscope. I could see part of the room. A woman in a nurse’s apron came into view. She, too, was beautiful, fair, high-cheeked and tall.
    “Poor girl!” she murmured. You haven’t done with her yet. And she’s cold.” I heard the sound of blanket covering the half-naked girl.
    “I’m not up to it,” complained Gilgamesh.
    “We’ll take care of that.”
    To my surprise, she undid her apron and let it fall. She was wearing a leather skirt and a black crochet top that revealed her black triangle bra. She moved gracefully on her black heels. She undid the buttons on her skirt, one by one, and revealed a lace garter belt and wet look stockings. She strode over to Gilgamesh and I heard her undo her top as well as his pants. The sound of sucking proceeded.
    “Now, you’re ready.”
    A sound of whimpering came from the girl. Apparently, Gilgamesh had followed his orders and penetrated the girl. Huffing sounds followed and it was all over. Gilgamesh came into the bathroom to wash up and spread his arms in resignation as if to say, “What could I do?” He certainly didn’t want to go to the USA.
    “Tonight you rest, Gilgamesh,” announced the nurse in her deadpan voice. “Tomorrow we have more fun.”
    They left and the gravel crunched under their steps, the girl still whimpering.
    “You see what an abomination this is...what’s you name?”
    “Zafar.”
    “Zafar. Please get me out of here. My heart breaks for these girls. All for nationalism!”
    “Call the guard and have him seated here. You sit on the bed so he looks straight at you and not to either side.”
    “Right.”
    The guard obediently came in, called him ‘sir’, doffed his cap and hesitated to sit down.
    “I’m lonely,” said Gilgamesh.
    They started a conversation about the women and the kidnappings in Bengali and English. The guard had dropped his rifle to the ground. I rushed from behind and slit his throat.
    “How are we leaving?”
    “My transport will be within a few metres from here soon. Let me get into his clothes.”
    I changed with the dead man and cradled his rifle. Gilgamesh put on civvies – a t-shirt, pair of jeans and sneakers. He didn’t feel the cold at all.
    Outside, in the pitch-black darkness, the second sentry halted us. He couldn’t see me for the cap. Gilgamesh brushed aside his rifle ever so gently and said we were going to study the planets. We marched out together. True to Pushpita’s word, the SUV lay parked in the darkness several meters from Nilgiri. We entered.
    Gilgamesh wanted to go to Burma so we let him off at Thanchi, where we spent a few days at a Chakma bigwig’s house. Nobody had seen me, so I took a jeepney to Bandarban and an air-conditioned bus back to Dhaka.
    Operation Gilgamesh was over, but the hundreds of kidnapped girls were never found.
















a point or two, art by Edward Michael O’Durr Supranowicz

a point or two, art by Edward Michael O’Durr Supranowicz














Playground Football

Ash Medhurst

    Arthur never really cared for football. The beautiful game offered him nothing but misery and embarrassment. Mr Kenny Rodgers, the P.E. tutor, barked his orders from the playground. “Line up,” he yelled. “Miller, you’re captain.”
    Charlie Miller was always captain. He was Rodgers’ favourite, his number one student. He was the head of the football team, the school’s sports ambassador, and most importantly, he was a class-act bully.
    Clara Boorman was chosen to be the other team’s captain. She gracefully accepted the role. Clara was the best athlete in the school and this drove Charlie crazy. The two of them constantly battled for supremacy and Clara enjoyed his attempts to overthrow her. He had never managed to do so.
    Arthur hated what came next. During the game, if he played poorly, he could hide behind the fact that he wasn’t really trying. When he was chosen last, as he always was, there was nothing to hide behind. There was only embarrassment.
    Arthur knew that neither captain would want him.
    Clara chose first and her friend, Chloe Smith, joined her on the playground-pitch. Now it was Charlie’s turn. Charlie Miller had himself a gang of prepubescent kids who joined him when terrorising Arthur and the other weaker children. It would only be a matter of time, Charlie would pick his friends and Clara would choose everyone else. Arthur would be left to last.
    “C’mon Arthur,” Charlie called.
    “Huh.”
    Charlie called him again. Arthur struggled to gather himself, managed to do so, and went to stand behind his captain. Charlie patted him on the shoulder as he passed. Arthur stood beaming while everyone else muttered in discontent. Charlie’s friends were not impressed.
    The rest of the team-picking was uniform.
    “Why’d you pick him?” cried Arthur’s new team-mates. “He’s shite.”
    Rodger’s admonished the child’s curses.
    “We need a goaly,” Charlie said. “And I kinda feel bad for him.”
    Arthur had heard this.
    The smile that he once held now faltered. He couldn’t bare for people to feel sorry for him. He’d never strived for popularity but he certainly didn’t want to earn it like this.
    Kenny Rodgers blew his whistle.
    The game was on.
    Rodgers had already judged the school field too waterlogged for use, so the playground would hold the game. Arthur hated playground football. He was always put in goal and whenever he had to dive for the ball, he’d cut his elbows or knees. The playground was so small that kick-off had to occur at the goal. When Arthur’s team kicked-off, Arthur expected to be serving the ball, but no, Ryan McGhee took the kick instead. As the ball flew to a fellow team-mate, McGhee pushed Arthur back between the jumpers.
    Charlie’s team, with Will Morris and the captain up-front, possessed a great strike force. Charlie’s first touch was a volley that slipped between Clara’s legs. It was 1-0 already. Miller’s team were in the lead.
    Clara’s team struck back as Chloe and Lewis Boon both sent balls past Arthur. “Thanks a lot, dipshit,” was the shared toast among his team-mates. Ryan McGhee thumped him in the chest. “Play better,” he ordered as he stomped away.
    Arthur was sick of the game and sick of his team. He had to drop to the left in a bid to stop the keeper’s floating shot. He grazed his elbow as he fell. The ball bounced off Arthur’s chest and fell to the feet of a defender.
    “Get up ya pussy,” she yelled as she dribbled away.
    Play continued and it wasn’t long before Charlie equalised. He celebrated like a professional, enjoying every moment of admiration. “Next goal wins,” Rodgers yelled.
    The players groaned but strived for that all-important goal. For quite a while, nothing really happened. People tackled one another. Sometimes a player went to the ground, other times there was a small fight when a player felt he was tackled unfairly.
    The ball rolled to Arthur.
    He kicked it, quite well, or so he thought, to Brian Collis, who punted the ball high into the air and over the school gate. “You stupid shit,” cried Clara.
    “Watch the language,” said Rodgers.
    “It wasn’t my fault,” Brian said. “Arthur’s pass was terrible.”
    Arthur didn’t try to defend himself. He let them throw the blame at him. He was used to the abuse.
    “Collins, go and get a new ball,” said the teacher.
    Brian Collins promptly returned with a rugby ball.
    “Are you kidding me?” Clara said. “I’ll get a new bloody ball.”
    Clara charged away from the playground, and when she returned, Rodgers said: “One penalty each. Miller, you’re up first.”
    Charlie took the penalty and he took it well. Clara claimed that the ball was high, but, unsurprisingly, Rodgers allowed it. Now it was time for Chloe to kick. Ryan McGhee donned the gloves and stood between the jumpers. “Siiir!” Clara cried. “They’re not using their keeper!”
    “Shut it will ya?” Charlie said. “We don’t wanna lose the game because of Arthur.”
    “Come on Miller. Play fair,” Rodgers said.
    Charlie cursed under his breath and told McGhee to move. “Get in goal, Arthur,” he snapped.
    Arthur thought that his day of football was behind him. This isn’t going to go well, he thought.
    Chloe looked happy to be taking the shot; she loved embarrassing Arthur and she had gotten good at it. This time though, when she kicked the ball, Arthur dropped to his knees, cutting them both, and clutched the ball to his chest.
    “You did it!” Charlie cheered as he stormed towards him.
    The whistle blew.
    The game was over.
    The game was won.
    Arthur was soon surrounded by his team-mates and his smile had returned, if only for a brief moment. He enjoyed the attention, but not enough to forget how and why he was getting it – because the boy, who kicked the crap out of him on a daily basis, suffered a pang of humanity and felt sorry for him.
    Arthur managed to break away from the crowd but Charlie caught up and threw his monstrous arm around Arthur’s shoulders. “You wanna come to the park after school?” he asked. “We’re gonna play another game later.”
    “No thanks,” Arthur said. “I don’t really like football.”
















CCI30102010_00001KK, art by Üzeyir Lokman ÇAYCI

CCI30102010_00001KK, art by Üzeyir Lokman ÇAYCI














Road Kill

Rex Sexton

    I sit in my cheap room, watch the raid from the window. PD flashers strafe the dead zone dark. Vice squad walkie-talkies crackle in the chaos, sirens wail, shadows scurry.
    They hustle the whores out first, cuffed, kicking – a prima dumba back-street ballet of fishnet stockings, skin tight shifts, spiked high heels, nightglow flesh – all shrieking, cursing, spitting at the narcs.
    The John’s follow hard on (no pun on that one) and nightsticks rain down, as the brawl of good ole boy beer guts, biker brawn, lunge, jostle, try to run.
    I pack my suitcase, thunder threads tossed in the trash, light another Lucky, slug down cathouse Jack. Paylor the pimp, Bubba the bouncer, are frog walked out next, sweating bullets in their lounge lizard best. Back stabbed, double crossed, facing jail, they look like cremating corpses one flame from Hell.
    Hookers, strippers, poker machines, drugs, booze, dice, ex-cons, thugs – by the time anyone wonders where the bartenders gone (out the back as soon as the first narc walked in) I’ll be dreaming of you Ruby (dead drunk on a Trailways Bus).
    Life goes on.

*****

    Drifter digs, you open the door and flop into bed. A single naked light bulb hangs from a ceiling chain. Devil shapes toss the room as its harsh light swings with the window’s wind. Each night I hear the druggies doing pratfalls in the dark as they stagger back and forth to the washroom down the hall, or try to maneuver through their tiny flops. Across the alley a back street lounge sleep streams until dawn. Jazz and blues fill the night with saxophones and wailing songs. Silhouettes slow dance in the windows.
    I watch them through my window, pillow propped against a wall, sipping rye and blowing smoke while the demons shift around. The music wraps the night in dream. Ruby and I dance inside a memory.

*****

    “Into the night riding that mare Man on the run – danger, beware Nowhere to go, nowhere to hide Into the night, grim reaper behind
    Eyes heavy from smoke and the long night, fingers furtively stroking the cue-stick, I move, back and forth, around the lamp-lit pool table and study the cluster of brightly colored balls which seem to float there.
    The room rocks and creaks around us in the lamp-lit dark, as Johnny Gun and the Rustlers ignite a foot stomping line dance in the rhythm and blues bar upstairs, driven by wailing harmonicas and electric guitars.
    I lean into each shot like a sleepwalker in a trance, dizzy from drink, playing combinations so crazy they make no sense, lost in some Twilight Zone of hustler Zen which, playing stick for meals and flops in two-bit joints, from time to time, never happened before and probably won’t again.
    Shadow shapes crowd the smoky cellar, as still and silent as apparitions in a dream. The usual specters who haunt the gaming dives – grifters, gamblers, sharks and jives, pimps, pushers, and other denizens of the night. Amidst the jamming from the rave upstairs, the clapping hands and stamping feet, I hear the rustle of money changing hands around the room, like the flurry of wind in a crypt, or the flutter of ghosts in the dark.
    “Ever make the wrong move,” I hear Johnny sing upstairs, “in the wrong town, cross the wrong path at the wrong time, play the wrong game with the wrong crowd?”

*****

    There’s a nightclub in a cellar (in my dream) small, dark, empty. A ghost woman in a gossamer gown sits at a piano under a spotlight. She sings:
    “Man in the moon
    Lord of the night
    Talk to the whispering
    Winds in their flight
    Man in the moon
    Tell them to sigh
    I have a new love”
    The singer’s eyes are like holy mysteries. Her pale skin is so perfect, it seems painted on. Her voice is like something you’d hear in heaven, and I’m wondering if she sings her love song to everyone lying on a slab in the county morgue?

*****

    “Easy does it.”
    I try to sit up but a big hand pushes me down. I’m lying on the asphalt looking at the moon. A PD flasher is circling the alley. My head is throbbing. I feel it oozing blood. A rangy lawman crouches over me, holding a gun. He is pointing it down the street and whispering “kaboom, kaboom.” He smiles faintly and then his edgy features cloud.
    “Someday I’ll clean up this town.” He looks down at me and frowns. He has coal black eyes and a prizefighter’s face, wild dark hair with lightening sideburns. “Saw them jump you from down the block.” He pushes up the brim of his cowboy hat with the barrel of his gun. “Three. They went at you pretty good with saps, digging in your pockets. They scattered when they heard my siren. Should of shot the shitheads.” He looks down the street again. “Let’s see if you can stand.”
    The long arm of the law. I grip onto it and struggle to my feet. My head is reeling and my legs feel numb. The lanky lawman towers over me looking me up and down.
    “Better red than dead, I reckon.” He pokes his fingers through my hair. “I’ll run you over to General.” He holsters his gun. “That’s in the next town. We can fill out an official Colsen County police report along the way. Just for fun.”

*****

    “On the run son?” The sheriff lights a cigarette as we drive along through the black windowed backstreets of the small tank town, takes a long drag off it and tosses me the pack. “Car break down?” I close my eyes as his Zippo flares in my face. “Seeing the U.S.A. by sticking out your thumb?” He pulls a clipboard from under the seat and sets it beside him, gropes in his top pocket for a pen. “Get kicked off the Trailway’s for snorin’ too loud?”
    Buildings blur past, crumbling brick boxes, ramshackle houses folding in upon themselves, shanties, shacks, all smothered by tangled trees and dense foliage, and then a dark rush of nothingness, as the highway comes at us, its white line unraveling in my foggy head like a silk snake from the sleeve of an illusionist.
    “My wallet.” I fumble at my back pocket, try to shake away the cobwebs from my shadowy consciousness. “They got it.” My head pounds and my back aches. A couple of my ribs feel cracked. I press around my stomach, under the belt, take a drag off the cigarette, manage not to chocke on it and settle back in the seat.
    “No ID.” The sheriff says flatly and scribbles on his sheet. “Vagrancy?” He muses. He blows a perfect smoke ring at the windshield. It floats like a ghost’s mouth over the steering wheel and dash, vanishes when it hits the glass. “Just kiddin’ bud. Give me a name, where you’re from, where you’re going, what happened.”
    Paylor, Bubba, Ruby, the raid – there can’t be any kind of A.P.B. out on me. That would be crazy. No one back in Maddon even knew my real name, or anything about me, not even Ruby. All they knew was that Stanton sent me, an old cell mate. Besides, that was hundreds of miles ago.
    “Corbett.” I stub out my cigarette in the ashtray, slide the pack back over to him. “Jim.” My fingers feel like an assemblage of wooden clothes pins. I must have really nailed someone. I fold them, stretch them, gingerly touch my swollen face.
    Four flat tires seem to occur simultaneously as the squad car bucks, bounces, bobs along the highway and I look out the windshield to see a migration of snakes slithering across the asphalt under the squad’s headlights, trying to shimmy like crazy to the other side.
    “Snakes in a lane.” The sheriff smiles as we roll across the road kill. “Down the road of no return.” He picks up the cigarette pack with his forefinger and thumb, studies it and puts it in the glove compartment. “I FEEL WHOOZY.” I remember two ton Tommy Phelan saying when I clobbered him a good one in my first big fight in the playground after school – which made everybody laugh. I felt whoozy, right now, like I woke up in the Twilight Zone.
    “Gentleman Jim Corbett.” The sheriff glances at me. His coal black eyes ignite. “Heavy weight champ of the world in 1890? 1910? Sure it ain’t John L. Sullivan?” He laughs softly to himself, stubs out his cigarette and picks up the pen. “Go on.”
    A sign flashes by for SPECTER, five miles down the road. The sheriff looks at me and clicks his pen.
    “I’m just passing through.” I try to keep my voice steady, but I still feel dizzy and the psycho sheriff is driving me crazy. “I’m traveling to Miami. I have a ticket on the Trailways.” I lie (I was dead broke starting yesterday). “But I guess that’s gone too.”
    “So what are you doing here, he gives me a side look, “a snappy stud like you, out in the middle of nowhere, get bored with the Rivera?”
    “I stopped to visit a friend.” I feel the pain settling behind my eyes that I get when I have to make up alibis. I’m not fast at it. “McDonald, Norman. Couldn’t find him. Maybe he moved?”
    “Old guy owns the farm? No, he’s still around. Eee I o in and Yo in.”
    The sheriff chortles as he scribbles something down and then reaches for the intercom.
    “Cole to Willow.”
    “Go Cole.”
    “Driven’ a drifter over to General. Corbett James. No ID. Twenty something. Caucasian. Stocky. Ugly. Got banged up by the boys. Bar fight. Back in a jiffy.”
    “Copy Cole. Hey bring me some Crispy Creams!”
    “Snakes in a lane.” The sheriff winks at me. “Can’t do nothin’ but run over them.” He pulls over to the side of the road, reaches in the visor and pulls out another cigarette, lights it. “Here’s the rest of your report, best I see it. You won a bundle at Smokey’s shootin’ pool. Must have been a bundle or the boys would have let it go. You saw the writin’ on the wall and snuck out the restroom window. Shoved the money down your pants. The boys saw the writing too, went out back and waited for you. They didn’t get to explore down yonder.” He eyes my crotch. “Give it to me.” The sheriff sticks out his hand and blows a smoke ring in my face.

*****

    The radio squawks unanswered calls. Snakes slither across the lonely highway, as I give it to the small town sheriff, over and over again, across his lightning sideburn, with the dropped sap I picked up in the alley.
















Solo Trombone, photography by Cheryl Townsend

Solo Trombone, photography by Cheryl Townsend







Beyond the Gates







Dusty Dog Reviews
The whole project is hip, anti-academic, the poetry of reluctant grown-ups, picking noses in church. An enjoyable romp! Though also serious.

Nick DiSpoldo, Small Press Review (on Children, Churches and Daddies, April 1997)
Children, Churches and Daddies is eclectic, alive and is as contemporary as tomorrow’s news.

Kenneth DiMaggio (on cc&d, April 2011)
CC&D continues to have an edge with intelligence. It seems like a lot of poetry and small press publications are getting more conservative or just playing it too academically safe. Once in awhile I come across a self-advertized journal on the edge, but the problem is that some of the work just tries to shock you for the hell of it, and only ends up embarrassing you the reader. CC&D has a nice balance; [the] publication takes risks, but can thankfully take them without the juvenile attempt to shock.


from Mike Brennan 12/07/11
I think you are one of the leaders in the indie presses right now and congrats on your dark greatness.


cc&d          cc&d

    Nick DiSpoldo, Small Press Review (on “Children, Churches and Daddies,” April 1997)

    Kuypers is the widely-published poet of particular perspectives and not a little existential rage, but she does not impose her personal or artistic agenda on her magazine. CC+D is a provocative potpourri of news stories, poetry, humor, art and the “dirty underwear” of politics.
    One piece in this issue is “Crazy,” an interview Kuypers conducted with “Madeline,” a murderess who was found insane, and is confined to West Virginia’s Arronsville Correctional Center. Madeline, whose elevator definitely doesn’t go to the top, killed her boyfriend during sex with an ice pick and a chef’s knife, far surpassing the butchery of Elena Bobbitt. Madeline, herself covered with blood, sat beside her lover’s remains for three days, talking to herself, and that is how the police found her. For effect, Kuypers publishes Madeline’s monologue in different-sized type, and the result is something between a sense of Dali’s surrealism and Kafka-like craziness.



Debra Purdy Kong, writer, British Columbia, Canada
I like the magazine a lot. I like the spacious lay-out and the different coloured pages and the variety of writer’s styles. Too many literary magazines read as if everyone graduated from the same course. We need to collect more voices like these and send them everywhere.

    Ed Hamilton, writer

    #85 (of Children, Churches and Daddies) turned out well. I really enjoyed the humor section, especially the test score answers. And, the cup-holder story is hilarious. I’m not a big fan of poetry - since much of it is so hard to decipher - but I was impressed by the work here, which tends toward the straightforward and unpretentious.
    As for the fiction, the piece by Anderson is quite perceptive: I liked the way the self-deluding situation of the character is gradually, subtly revealed. (Kuypers’) story is good too: the way it switches narrative perspective via the letter device is a nice touch.



Children, Churches and Daddies.
It speaks for itself.
Write to Scars Publications to submit poetry, prose and artwork to Children, Churches and Daddies literary magazine, or to inquire about having your own chapbook, and maybe a few reviews like these.

    Jim Maddocks, GLASGOW, via the Internet

    I’ll be totally honest, of the material in Issue (either 83 or 86 of Children, Churches and Daddies) the only ones I really took to were Kuypers’. TRYING was so simple but most truths are, aren’t they?

    Fithian Press, Santa Barbara, CA
    Indeed, there’s a healthy balance here between wit and dark vision, romance and reality, just as there’s a good balance between words and graphics. The work shows brave self-exploration, and serves as a reminder of mortality and the fragile beauty of friendship.

    C Ra McGuirt, Editor, The Penny Dreadful Review (on Children, Churches and Daddies)

    cc&d is obviously a labor of love ... I just have to smile when I go through it. (Janet Kuypers) uses her space and her poets to best effect, and the illos attest to her skill as a graphic artist.
    I really like (“Writing Your Name”). It’s one of those kind of things where your eye isn’t exactly pulled along, but falls effortlessly down the poem.
I liked “knowledge” for its mix of disgust and acceptance. Janet Kuypers does good little movies, by which I mean her stuff provokes moving imagery for me. Color, no dialogue; the voice of the poem is the narrator over the film.



    Children, Churches and Daddies no longer distributes free contributor’s copies of issues. In order to receive issues of Children, Churches and Daddies, contact Janet Kuypers at the cc&d e-mail addres. Free electronic subscriptions are available via email. All you need to do is email ccandd@scars.tv... and ask to be added to the free cc+d electronic subscription mailing list. And you can still see issues every month at the Children, Churches and Daddies website, located at http://scars.tv

    Mark Blickley, writer

    The precursor to the magazine title (Children, Churches and Daddies) is very moving. “Scars” is also an excellent prose poem. I never really thought about scars as being a form of nostalgia. But in the poem it also represents courage and warmth. I look forward to finishing her book.


    Gary, Editor, The Road Out of Town (on the Children, Churches and Daddies Web Site)

    I just checked out the site. It looks great.



    Dusty Dog Reviews: These poems document a very complicated internal response to the feminine side of social existence. And as the book proceeds the poems become increasingly psychologically complex and, ultimately, fascinating and genuinely rewarding.

    John Sweet, writer (on chapbook designs)

    Visuals were awesome. They’ve got a nice enigmatic quality to them. Front cover reminds me of the Roman sculptures of angels from way back when. Loved the staggered tire lettering, too. Way cool.

    (on “Hope Chest in the Attic”)
    Some excellent writing in “Hope Chest in the Attic.” I thought “Children, Churches and Daddies” and “The Room of the Rape” were particularly powerful pieces.



    Dusty Dog Reviews: She opens with a poem of her own devising, which has that wintry atmosphere demonstrated in the movie version of Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago. The atmosphere of wintry white and cold, gloriously murderous cold, stark raging cold, numbing and brutalizing cold, appears almost as a character who announces to his audience, “Wisdom occurs only after a laboriously magnificent disappointment.” Alas, that our Dusty Dog for mat cannot do justice to Ms. Kuypers’ very personal layering of her poem across the page.

    Cheryl Townsend, Editor, Impetus (on Children, Churches and Daddies)

    The new cc&d looks absolutely amazing. It’s a wonderful lay-out, looks really professional - all you need is the glossy pages. Truly impressive AND the calendar, too. Can’t wait to actually start reading all the stuff inside.. Wanted to just say, it looks good so far!!!



    You Have to be Published to be Appreciated.

    Do you want to be heard? Contact Children, Churches and Daddies about book or chapbook publishing. These reviews can be yours. Scars Publications, attention J. Kuypers. We’re only an e-mail away. Write to us.


    Brian B. Braddock, Writer (on 1996 Children, Churches and Daddies)

    I passed on a copy to my brother who is the director of the St. Camillus AIDS programs. We found (Children, Churches and Daddies’) obvious dedication along this line admirable.



    Mark Blickley, writer
    The precursor to the magazine title (Children, Churches and Daddies) is very moving. “Scars” is also an excellent prose poem. I never really thought about scars as being a form of nostalgia. But in the poem it also represents courage and warmth. I look forward to finishing her book.

    Brian B. Braddock, WrBrian B. Braddock, Writer (on 1996 Children, Churches and Daddies)

    Brian B. Braddock, WrI passed on a copy to my brother who is the director of the St. Camillus AIDS programs. We found (Children, Churches and Daddies’) obvious dedication along this line admirable.


    Dorrance Publishing Co., Pittsburgh, PA
    “Hope Chest in the Attic” captures the complexity of human nature and reveals startling yet profound discernments about the travesties that surge through the course of life. This collection of poetry, prose and artwork reflects sensitivity toward feminist issues concerning abuse, sexism and equality. It also probes the emotional torrent that people may experience as a reaction to the delicate topics of death, love and family.
    “Chain Smoking” depicts the emotional distress that afflicted a friend while he struggled to clarify his sexual ambiguity. Not only does this thought-provoking profile address the plight that homosexuals face in a homophobic society, it also characterizes the essence of friendship. “The room of the rape” is a passionate representation of the suffering rape victims experience. Vivid descriptions, rich symbolism, and candid expressions paint a shocking portrait of victory over the gripping fear that consumes the soul after a painful exploitation.

    want a review like this? contact scars about getting your own book published.


    Paul Weinman, Writer (on 1996 Children, Churches and Daddies)

    Wonderful new direction (Children, Churches and Daddies has) taken - great articles, etc. (especially those on AIDS). Great stories - all sorts of hot info!



the UN-religions, NON-family oriented literary and art magazine


    The magazine Children Churches and Daddies is Copyright © 1993 through 2014 Scars Publications and Design. The rights of the individual pieces remain with the authors. No material may be reprinted without express permission from the author.

copyright

    Okay, nilla wafer. Listen up and listen good. How to save your life. Submit, or I’ll have to kill you.
    Okay, it’s this simple: send me published or unpublished poetry, prose or art work (do not send originals), along with a bio, to us - then sit around and wait... Pretty soon you’ll hear from the happy people at cc&d that says (a) Your work sucks, or (b) This is fancy crap, and we’re gonna print it. It’s that simple!

    Okay, butt-munch. Tough guy. This is how to win the editors over.
    Hope Chest in the Attic is a 200 page, perfect-bound book of 13 years of poetry, prose and art by Janet Kuypers. It’s a really classy thing, if you know what I mean. We also have a few extra sopies of the 1999 book “Rinse and Repeat”, the 2001 book “Survive and Thrive”, the 2001 books “Torture and Triumph” and “(no so) Warm and Fuzzy”,which all have issues of cc&d crammed into one book. And you can have either one of these things at just five bucks a pop if you just contact us and tell us you saw this ad space. It’s an offer you can’t refuse...

    Carlton Press, New York, NY: HOPE CHEST IN THE ATTIC is a collection of well-fashioned, often elegant poems and short prose that deals in many instances, with the most mysterious and awesome of human experiences: love... Janet Kuypers draws from a vast range of experiences and transforms thoughts into lyrical and succinct verse... Recommended as poetic fare that will titillate the palate in its imagery and imaginative creations.

    Mark Blickley, writer: The precursor to the magazine title (Children, Churches and Daddies) is very moving. “Scars” is also an excellent prose poem. I never really thought about scars as being a form of nostalgia. But in the poem it also represents courage and warmth. I look forward to finishing the book.

    You Have to be Published to be Appreciated.
    Do you want to be heard? Contact Children, Churches and Daddies about book and chapbook publishing. These reviews can be yours. Scars Publications, attention J. Kuypers - you can write for yourself or you can write for an audience. It’s your call...

email

    Dorrance Publishing Co., Pittsburgh, PA: “Hope Chest in the Attic” captures the complexity of human nature and reveals startling yet profound discernments about the travesties that surge through the course of life. This collection of poetry, prose and artwork reflects sensitivity toward feminist issues concerning abuse, sexism and equality. It also probes the emotional torrent that people may experience as a reaction to the delicate topics of death, love and family. “Chain Smoking” depicts the emotional distress that afflicted a friend while he struggled to clarify his sexual ambiguity. Not only does this thought-provoking profile address the plight that homosexuals face in a homophobic society, it also characterizes the essence of friendship. “The room of the rape” is a passionate representation of the suffering rape victims experience. Vivid descriptions, rich symbolism, and candid expressions paint a shocking portrait of victory over the gripping fear that consumes the soul after a painful exploitation.

 

    Dusty Dog Reviews, CA (on knife): These poems document a very complicated internal response to the feminine side of social existence. And as the book proceeds the poems become increasingly psychologically complex and, ultimately, fascinating and genuinely rewarding.
Children, Churches and Daddies. It speaks for itself.

 

    Dusty Dog Reviews (on Without You): She open with a poem of her own devising, which has that wintry atmosphere demonstrated in the movie version of Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago. The atmosphere of wintry white and cold, gloriously murderous cold, stark raging cold, numbing and brutalizing cold, appears almost as a character who announces to his audience, “Wisdom occurs only after a laboriously magnificent disappointment.” Alas, that our Dusty Dog for mat cannot do justice to Ms. Kuypers’ very personal layering of her poem across the page.
    Children, Churches and Daddies. It speaks for itself.

    Debra Purdy Kong, writer, British Columbia, Canada (on Children, Churches and Daddies): I like the magazine a lot. I like the spacious lay-out and the different coloured pages and the variety of writer’s styles. Too many literary magazines read as if everyone graduated from the same course. We need to collect more voices like these and send them everywhere.

    Fithian Press, Santa Barbara, CA: Indeed, there’s a healthy balance here between wit and dark vision, romance and reality, just as there’s a good balance between words and graphics. The work shows brave self-exploration, and serves as a reminder of mortality and the fragile beauty of friendship.



Children, Churches and Daddies
the UN-religious, NON-family oriented literary and art magazine
Scars Publications and Design

ccandd96@scars.tv
http://scars.tv/ccd

Publishers/Designers Of
Children, Churches and Daddies magazine
cc+d Ezines
The Burning mini poem books
God Eyes mini poem books
The Poetry Wall Calendar
The Poetry Box
The Poetry Sampler
Mom’s Favorite Vase Newsletters
Reverberate Music Magazine
Down In The Dirt magazine
Freedom and Strength Press forum
plus assorted chapbooks and books
music, poetry compact discs
live performances of songs and readings

Sponsors Of
past editions:
Poetry Chapbook Contest, Poetry Book Contest
Prose Chapbook Contest, Prose Book Contest
Poetry Calendar Contest
current editions:
Editor’s Choice Award (writing and web sites)
Collection Volumes

Children, Churches and Daddies (founded 1993) has been written and researched by political groups and writers from the United States, Canada, England, India, Italy, Malta, Norway and Turkey. Regular features provide coverage of environmental, political and social issues (via news and philosophy) as well as fiction and poetry, and act as an information and education source. Children, Churches and Daddies is the leading magazine for this combination of information, education and entertainment.
Children, Churches and Daddies (ISSN 1068-5154) is published quarterly by Scars Publications and Design, attn: Janet Kuypers. Contact us via snail-mail or e-mail (ccandd96@scars.tv) for subscription rates or prices for annual collection books.
To contributors: No racist, sexist or blatantly homophobic material. No originals; if mailed, include SASE & bio. Work sent on disks or through e-mail preferred. Previously published work accepted. Authors always retain rights to their own work. All magazine rights reserved. Reproduction of Children, Churches and Daddies without publisher permission is forbidden. Children, Churches and Daddies copyright Copyright © 1993 through 2014 Scars Publications and Design, Children, Churches and Daddies, Janet Kuypers. All rights remain with the authors of the individual pieces. No material may be reprinted without express permission.