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sPARKLE & bLINK
Q uiet L ightning
sPARKLE & bLINK
as performed on Nov 30 10 @ 111 Minna Gallery © 2010 by Evan Karp + Rajshree Chauhan
978-0-557-84341-1 front + back artwork by matty byloos :: mattybyloos.com cover design by dawn andres :: dawnandres.com edited by evan karp :: evankarp.com
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Q uiet Lightning
is a monthly submission-based reading series with 2 stipulations you have to commit to the date to submit you only get 3-8 min submit ! !
alia volz n IGHTFISHING first published in The First Line bucky sinister t HE g RAY s IDE o F t HE m OON 22 jonathan siegel t HE s EVEN(teen) d EADY a MERICAN s INS ian tuttle d EATH v ALLEY (p ARTS 1-3) ali liebegott
c HA c HING!
kim addonizio s TOLEN m OMENTS 58 b LUES f OR r OBERT j OHNSON
andrew o. dugas
s LEEPWALKING i N p ARADISE
lauren becker l AUGHTER first published in Wigleaf peg alford pursell m AGPIES first published in Emprise Review charlie anders a LAMEDA charlie getter t HE a PE p OEM 90 80 76 72
» guide to other bay area reading series + info
When my brother, Andy, went away to college, he left me his fishing pole, a well-read copy of The Wind in the Willows, and a stack of Playboys. “I don’t know what you’re going to do with this,” he laughed, holding the skinny yellow pole like a baseball bat, “but I sure as hell don’t need it. You could take it by Royal Pawn, see if you get five bucks.” Andy pointed the pole at the worn-out paperback he’d given me. “Hang onto that book in case you get Castorapple in fifth grade. Don’t make Mom buy it again. It’s about some talking animals— your kind of thing.” Andy was nineteen and super tall. He could fly right up to a hoop. He was getting paid to go to school in Arizona. I was ten, the shortest kid in my class. Andy hung a big duffle bag over his shoulder. He’d already taken his things out of our room and put them on a rented truck. “And don’t let Mom catch you with the chichi mags,” he said. “Don’t be stupid, man.” That was the last thing he said. The front door of our apartment closed behind him. I couldn’t keep from crying anymore. I chased him out the door and down the hall. “What’s the matter with you?” he said, kneeling down to my height. “You’re getting boogers in your mouth. Just chill out, don’t stress Mom, and when you get some free time, come visit
Alia Volz me out there.” He kissed me on the forehead then walked through the door under the EXIT sign. I held my ear against the door and listened to his feet thumping down the metal stairs. It was July something, no school, ten million degrees in Koreatown. Mom wouldn’t be home from the hospital until 8:30. I squatted in the half-empty room and fanned the Playboys out like a deck of cards. I opened to a lady in a Dodger’s hat holding a baseball bat between her chichis and biting the handle. On the next page, the same girl sat Indianstyle on a pitchers’ mound. I got the scissors and glue out of the kitchen drawer and carefully cut her out of the picture. Next, I chopped up some of her friends and glued them back together as mutants. They had chichis for heads and extra arms and legs. The front door creaked. I jumped out of my skin. “Papito, you here?” said Mom. “Guess what, the jefe’s wife had a baby girl today, so we got off early.” I tried to bulldoze everything into the closet. Mom planted her big white work shoes right in my way. Her mouth came down close to my eyes and white ticked-off teeth flashed behind her lips. “Qué carajos estás haciendo?” she demanded. “Pornography in my house?” She smacked my head sideways. “Did your brother give you these?” She made me carry the whole stack—plus the 9»
mutants—out of our apartment and down the stairs at the back of the building. “God is punishing me, I know it. I know I am not perfect, but I try to raise good boys.” Mom always went on like this, when we acted up. A door banged above us. An old lady with a shower cap on her head leaned over the rail. “Shhhhh!” she said. “You disturb whole building!” “See this cochino?” yelled Mom. “Ten yearsold, he wants to be a pervert!” The old lady shook her head. “Throw him in garbage,” she said. “Maybe teach lesson.” She went back inside. Twenty million hours later, we reached a red door at the bottom. Mom poked my back with her fingernail. I held the magazines between my arms and chin and turned the handle. Heat blasted into the stairwell. We stepped into the passage separating our building from the next one over. Here was the big green dumpster, so I knew we were three floors below my window. Mom made me throw all of the Playboys into the trash. I got grounded. No TV, no Need 4 Speed 2, nada. I had to stay in my room for days. Mom worked, like always, so she called the babysitter over to keep me locked up. Rosalba was our downstairs neighbor. All she ever did was yap on her cell. I could hear her through my bedroom door. I lay on my belly and flipped through the paperback Andy had left me. It was marked-up with hard-to-read notes. Andy had underlined some
Alia Volz weird words: scrabbled, cellarage, loosestrife, cressandwiches, dabchicks, weir. Mole. Mom had moles on her skin. But they didn’t talk. This one talked. I opened the door partway and stuck my head into the living room. “Ssss,” I said. “Ssss, Rosalba.” “What’s up? I’m on the phone.” She held her hand over the receiver. “What’s a mole?” “It’s like a pimple, but different. If you pop it, you could get cancer.” She cackled and said into the phone “Bitch, yes you can… Says Mrs. Kao, that’s who.” “What’s cellarage?” I said. Rosalba lifted her painted-on eyebrows. “You’re not even supposed to be out here. You need to use the bathroom or something?” “No.” “Back in jail.” I locked myself inside. There was nothing to do, so I read through the part where Mole discovered the River and met Water Rat and Toad and Otter. He acted a fool and fell in, so Water Rat had to save his ass. I read until the sweat on my neck felt like slobber. I opened the window and sounds from Wilshire sloshed into the room. Tires screeched, somewhere out of sight. A car door slammed. “What the hell’s the matter with you?” someone yelled. “Kiss my ass!” 11 »
“Yeah screw you!” A chopper passed overhead. Some neighbors argued in a language I didn’t know. I leaned out into the passage. I could see sunlight flash like a death ray off the cars passing by. The next-door building was taller than ours. I didn’t know anybody who lived there. I turned over. The crystal blue sky ran like a river above the buildings. Pigeons knocked heads to look at me from the rooftops. One jumped up and flapped down to the dumpster for a trash snack. I grabbed the fishing pole. The line was way too short. I cut it and tied the hook to a super long piece of kite string, which I threaded through the loop at the tip of the pole. I kept the other end in my hand, so I could feed the line out or pull it in. I let the line out the window, all the way down to the dumpster. I waved the pole slowly, until the hook snagged. I reeled in a take-out box dripping white sauce and had to throw it back. Next try, I got a balled-up diaper. I jerked the pole up and down until it fell off. Wilshire was quiet, so I knew it was the madrugada--the only time when no one yelled or honked. No noise but the 101 shushing in the distance. The smell of Mom’s café heating on the stove tickled my nose. I slipped out of my room to see if she’d let me have a sip, even though I was in trouble. She sat at the table. She looked tired, but calm. She smiled when she saw me. She poured a few drops of café into a tiny blue cup.
Alia Volz “More, more,” I said. “You should be asleep.” Mom stirred sugar in with a tiny spoon. The first sip always made me shiver. After that, it was sweet and smooth. I drank slowly to make it last. “Why can’t we go fishing ever?” I said, getting to the point. I had been dreaming about it. Mom wrinkled her nose. “Fishing?” “At the river.” “You want to go to the Los Angeles River? No fish there.” She laughed like it was the funniest thing she’d heard all day. “That water runs black.” “We never even went,” I said. Mom relaxed into a smile. I climbed into her lap and she rested her chin on my head, the way we used to sit back when she was fat and squishy and I was small enough to hide there. “I wish could take you to my river,” she said, meaning the one where she grew up, in Cuba. “During the summer, it always jumped its borders and flooded parts of town, killing chickens and dogs —or maybe a little boy if he was a travieso like you. Sometimes the foam traveled as far as Cinco Pesos. And on the banks was a forest of mango trees and vines that looked like snakes, snakes that looked like vines. You always had to watch where you stepped.” “Why can’t we go?” “We can’t go back,” she said, “You know that already.” Mom had left Bahía Honda on a boat before Andy was born—way, way before I was born. 13 »
She only talked about it late at night, while I was between dreams. It was my real place, even if I hadn’t been there yet. Mom’s body tensed. “Ya. Get back to bed. And don’t think this means you can come out tomorrow, Señor. I’m still mad at you.” I couldn’t relax in bed. My sheets felt scratchy and hot like wool blankets. I got onto my knees at the window and positioned my pole for fishing. The fat moon hung right above the gap, like it was strung-up between the buildings. Flashlight bright, it shone into the fishing hole. Something glittered down there, like an eye. Like an eye belonging to a cat or a rat or a fox. I wanted it, whatever it was. I swung the line past my prey then dragged the hook along the ground. The sparkle didn’t budge. After a few tries, I managed to hook and reel it in carefully. It twinkled all the way up to my window. I’d caught a shiny silver watch. It even ticked. Day two in jail. Just throw-backs, so far. I sat on the windowsill, one foot on the carpet in my room and the other one bumping against the concrete outside. A half-eaten Chicken MacNugget swung at the end of my line. “Here fishy-fishy.” Four pigeons were tracking the nugget. They lingered around the dumpster, pecking at the ground, trying to act casual. “Y’all don’t fool me,” I told them. “You want this.” A pigeon flapped and dove from the top of the dumpster. He knocked most of the nugget onto the
Alia Volz ground. Two birds ran for it and crashed into each other. There was barely anything left on the hook. I started reeling it up. Suddenly, a fat grey bird swooped from the roof and snaked the chicken, hook and all. He carried it up past my room. I thought that if I held on, he would take me up there too. I swung both legs out of the window to make lift-off easier. I closed my eyes, filled my lungs, and clamped onto the pole. The line tensed. The big bird leaned against it. I ducked to slip out the window and felt my butt lift off the sill. The hot air whooshed underneath and floated me up, out of the gap. If I opened my eyes, I would see the whole city thrown out around me—all the buildings and cars made into small toys. Beyond all that, the dark green woods and the River would roll out to the sea. I opened my eyes. The line dangled from the end of the pole, busted. Stupid bird took my hook. I stood between Rosalba and the TV. “I’m starving,” I said. “Fix yourself something.” Rosalba stretched her neck to see around me. “You’re old enough.” “But I need a hot meal. I’m still growing.” She laughed. “You’re lucky it’s a commercial right now.” She walked into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. “You want a quesadilla or grilled cheese?” “Quesadilla,” I said. She pulled out the 15 »
ingredients. At warp speed, I grabbed the watch and fishing pole from my room. Under the cover of crackling oil, I snuck out the front door. I flew down the stairs, jumping the last four of each flight, and hit the street. I was a convict on the loose. The cars chugged in place on Wilshire. I weaved between fenders and crossed to the shady side. The after-work crowd was out. I dodged through a forest of suits and high heels. When I ran past the upstairs lady, she flattened against the wall. “Slow down crazy boy!” she yelled. I ran on—past the fish-stinky restaurant where they kept crabs in a tank by the door and the three fingernail shops that smelled like Mom’s remover; past PK’s Liquor, Happy O Donut and the dirty bookstore; past a bum with flags flapping all over his shopping cart and sticking up from his hair; past a fat lady wearing a skirt so short I could see her red chones—right up to the Royal Pawn. I rang the bell. The door buzzed and I pushed inside. I was blind. Then I saw a hundred TV’s, all piled-up on a shelf. There were mini TV’s, TV’s as big as cars, a TV that was all red and one with a busted-in screen. “Fishing pole, three dollars,” said a rough voice. I jumped. An old man sat behind a glass case in the back of the shop. His round glasses flashed like a cat’s eyes. “Not a big item in L.A.” “No way I’m selling it.” “I got a Viking hat for you. Special deal, five dollars.”
Alia Volz “I need a fishhook and some line,” I said. “What are you catching?” “Pigeons, mostly.” The old man gimped over and looked closely at my pole. He had brown, shiny skin and was barely taller than me. White hairs grew in his nostrils and next to his mouth. He smelled like the caca air from under the sidewalks. “You need strong line, 30-pound minimum. Pigeon beaks are too sharp for regular line.” He lead me to a shelf heaped with hammers, saw blades and tools I couldn’t name. He took a box down from the shelf and showed me the fishhooks. “$5 variety, $10 variety, $200 variety.” The change in my pocket added up to $0.76. “You should stick with fish fishing,” he said. “It’s easier on your gear, cheaper.” “Know where I can fish fish?” I tried to use a normal voice, but excitement made it high. “Well it’s not far to the Los Angeles River. You could take the bus. There’s a faster way, but that’s not for everyone. Not for children.” I held out the shiny silver watch. The old man studied it. Now his voice became high and crackly. He said, “I guess I can trade you some strong line and a hook for this ratty old thing.” “Take me to the river,” I said. “Sure about that?” I was. I jiggled the watch so it twinkled. “Well come on then,” he said, snatching the watch out of my hand. 17 »
Royal Pawn was much bigger than it seemed. We passed rows of microwaves, DVD players, clocks, guitars. The air grew cooler and smellier. It tasted nasty in my throat. We reached a green door marked CITY OF LOS ANGELES, DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC WORKS. AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY. “Right through here,” said the old man. He opened the door and shoved me through. “Have fun,” he said, as the door clicked shut between us. Everything turned black. I beat on the door and yelled, but he didn’t answer. I heard water dripping, farther down the tunnel. I followed the sound, feeling my way along the wall. My eyes slowly adjusted. The passage I was in had a low ceiling and narrow concrete walls. Where the concrete was busted overhead, I could see metal pipes, like guts. There were scratching sounds all around. I’d seen rats the size of cats down by the dumpster. There was nothing to do, but walk on. Suddenly, everything shook and rumbled. I screamed. It stopped. I heard a man’s voice that seemed to come from above say, “Yo bring the jackhammer over here, man! You’re in the goddamn wrong spot. Jesus, we’re supposed to fix the street not tear it up.” “Aw shit, I don’t believe it,” said someone else. The voices came through a chunked-up hole in the ceiling. “Help!” I yelled. No answer. The shaking and
Alia Volz pounding started again, so I ran. I reached a deadend and had to choose which way to go. I picked the tunnel that seemed to have more light. Mom would be worried loca. Rosalba would have called her by now. I smiled thinking of how she would regret grounding me, but I was too scared to have much fun. I was probably hundreds of miles under the city. Maybe I’d be down here forever. I started to cry, but it sounded like ten people crying, so I shut up. I walked on and on in the darkness. Hours passed—or maybe days. Finally, I came to a metal ladder and climbed into a higher tunnel. It was brighter, circular and metal. There was a sharp corner. Rounding this, I saw the opening. I had to cover my eyes against the light. I almost walked right off the edge of the pipe. The Los Angeles River flashed below me, like a knife in the sun. White water bubbled over the rocks. Purple leaves as big as umbrellas swayed above the grassy bank. A fish the size of my head leaped and landed with a fat splash. I held the pole tight, plugged my nose and jumped. My feet hit the bottom hard and I fell butt-first into the water. The splash caught me in the face and soaked right through my clothes. It felt gritty and smelled even worse than the tunnel. I stood up, dripping, and wiped my eyes. I stared around. My heart dove into my stomach. There was no nice, clear water here! There were no trees, no grass, no butterflies, toads, badgers, 19 »
boats. No fish, for sure. How could this be a river? As far as I could see, it was a paper-bagcolored trickle, not even knee deep. Clumped-up cans and paper cups cluttered the mud. Trash all over. Where the riverbanks should have been, concrete walls cut into the sky. Tags covered both sides, up and down, saying: PHAT PHUCKER, MI13, WASTELAND, CHATA Y EUGENE 4-EVER. Most of it was too mixed-up to read. I threw my pole spear-style up onto the bank and scrambled out, using cracks in the wall for grip. I sat on top with the sun pounding my back and drew up my knees so I could hide my face behind them. The river I dreamed about probably didn’t even exist—not in the real world. All I wanted was somewhere sweet-smelling and cool and full of living things. That was just a baby-ass fantasy.
t HE g RAY s IDE o F t HE m OON
1 Dorothy walks into Rainbow Grocery wearing her ruby red Doc Martens. I'm looking for the good witch, she yells out. Everyone raises her hand or points to someone. 2 I watched The Wizard of Oz on a black and white TV when I was young. I had no idea Dorothy's world became color once she landed in Oz. It was long before people like us had VCRs. Either you watched it when it came on once a year, or you missed it. 3 At the age of fifteen, I knew what Uzi fire sounded like, but I had no idea what it was like to kiss a girl. There was a weird window of time in the '80s when the gangs were better armed than the cops.
Bucky Sinister The fistfights stopped and the shootouts began. Breakdancers traded in linoleum squares for crack corners, the windmills and headspins gave way to jump-ins and drive-bys. Crack turned the streets into a pinball game of teenagers running for cover. Glass broke and people screamed like the city went on multiball mode. You wouldn't always see who was shooting, you just ran in the direction everyone else did. I hid where I could, behind cars and trash cans, running into the subway when it was close. I wanted out. I wanted to leave Boston, go back home to Arkansas where my friends were building hot rods one piece at a time, and dating girls who liked fast cars and drank wine coolers. When you're a teenager, it's easy to feel like you're going to die a virgin. But during that time of my life, I was really worried about the dying part.
4 I made it back to Arkansas. I was shell-shocked from years of street evangelism and the violence that came with it. None of it made sense anymore. I quit the church for the trailer park. Someone made me a Jack and Coke. I looked in the red plastic cup and saw a tornado. 5 I heard Dark Side of the Moon for the first time on cassette. Same goes for The Wall and Wish You Were Here. Later the first guy I knew with a CD player had a copy of Animals, and I heard that for the first time coming down from an acid trip, alone in his living room while he fucked his girlfriend down the hall. I couldn’t tell if it was their sounds or the sounds on the album or the sounds in my head and I'm still not sure. 6 They say if you put on a DVD of The Wizard of Oz and turn the
Bucky Sinister sound down, and put on a CD of Dark Side of the Moon at the same time, they totally sync up. They say that if you look in the trees in the enchanted forest, you can see one of the stagehands who hung himself from one of the prop trees. They say that Buddy Ebsen was supposed to be the tin man but he was allergic to the makeup. They say if you tattoo your face you automatically get a GA check. They say if you smoke heroin instead of shooting it you won't get a habit They say live fast die young leave a good looking corpse. 7 The tornado set me down in California, a world of color compared to my monotone childhood.
Jr. College was grad school for young drug addicts, an accelerated program for learning multiple ways of getting fucked up. I balanced my time between cocaine, mushrooms, LSD, and 100 proof vodka. At the end of the semester I got my grades from the school in the mail. I had forgotten about that part, the whole going-to-class thing. I found poets who shot dope in the bathrooms, smoked speed in the alley, and smoked pot like it was legal. They were brilliant sometimes: brokedown angels beatdown revolutionaries scarfaced prom queens glass pipe prophets quicktounged hustlers slowmouthed drunks When I heard a good poem color came to my life briefly. There were no camera phones No Flip Minos If it was happening and you weren't there you missed it.
Bucky Sinister Fuck Dorothy for wanting to go home. Why did she want to go back to her black and white world? What was she going back to? She found the land of color and wanted out right away. The tornado was what saved me. Laying in my bed coming down off coke, my heart beating like a bat's wing trapped inside me, the euphoria gone, I comforted myself in the idea that I was too far from home to go back. 8 Every summer, the American Tornado dropped Dorothies into San Francisco. We were the unwashed and faded-gray version of the Lollipop Guild, greeting them upon arrival. This is for the little girl who would rather have a meth problem than a weight problem. This is for the little boy who tattooed his face so no one would touch him that way anymore. 27 »
This is for every little boy and girl who stood between home and a tornado, weighed the options, and took a chance on the twister. 9 AIDs took the first friends I made, in a synchronized fashion, one after the other, diving into nowhere like Busby Berkley swimmers. From there it was a variety show of ODs, suicides, and freak accidents 10 The lion wanted courage The scarecrow wanted a brain The tin man wanted a heart Rachel wanted fake tits. people gave her shit like it was different from the tattoos and the piercings everyone else got. They were perfect. The wizard knew what he was doing when he slipped those in. I never met a lion but a met a kid with cat whiskers tattooed on his face I never met a scarecrow
Bucky Sinister but I met people who shot speed and talked conspiracy all night I never met a tin man but I saw junkies frozen mid-walk in a statue nod 11 Fake Tit Haiku #1 I don't care they're fake Whoever made them: brilliant! Fake or not, awesome Fake Tit Haiku #2 I loved your fake tits fake or real they are still tits who does not love tits? Fake Tit Haiku #3 Silicone fakies Saline packets too fancy I'll take frozen pea bags 12 The room spun above me. I was back in the tornado, spun by the winds of whiskey and bad decisions. Above me 29 »
I could see the bottom of the bottle through the glass of the coffee table top. All the bourbon that remained was one halo mockingly over my head. The store was about to close and I was out of liquor. Too drunk to stand up but not drunk enough to stop giving a shit. I lost my faith in whiskey right then, the same way I stopped believing in God on that hot night in Arkansas. There would never be enough whiskey in the bottle again. A river wouldn't satisfy me. I was no longer going anywhere or from anywhere. It was just me and the swirl. 13 Rachel told me to leave the house go somewhere and dry out. I trusted her I trusted those fake tits They were at once, a lie and the truth. A perfect duality. 14
Bucky Sinister The house fell on Rachel. She caught strep throat, it turned into a staph infection, and she was dead three days later. Rachel died two weeks after I left the punk house. At her services, pinhole-pupiled punks, staggering drunks, and bong-ripped mourners stumbled past to give respects. I held out for a while went to my favorite bar I said make it be tomorrow and drank glass after glass of twister-drinks one last time. 15 The first AA meeting I went to I saw all these people from my past you were there and you were there and you and you and you 16 Dorothy's sick kicking dope by candlelight in the squat. Her arms 31 »
are a mess of in pick-marks and homemade tattoos. An abscess stands in the crook of her arm like a leaning barn by the side of the road she wants to get it checked out but is afraid they'll amputate it. She holds Toto close and cries, I just want to get back to Kansas. Cat-Whisker-Face looks up from his guitar. Shit, girl, he says, you're on the wrong side of Portrero Hill.
t HE s EVEN(teen) d EADLY a MERICAN s INS
The SEARCH Accumulation The Incessant Gathering Of Information The Gluttonous Hoarding Of Horrors & Elation The Waiting The Prayers The Fruitless Expectations Of Reason The Visions Impregnated With Divisive Delusions The Treasonous Road Of Virtue Hell-bent To Send The Mind Astray From The Soul The Physical World, The Body, The Manipulation The Endurance Of Pain, Piercing, Fasting, Yoga, The Sexual Stimulation Sordid Mounds Of Alchemical Symbols Mathematical Equations Colors & Textures Shapes & Sizes Converging Rapacious All In Around Us Yet Far Too Common As To Amaze Us So Lulled The Beast That Has Become Us And Watch The Wrath Come To Undo Us Without Revolt, Not One Among Us And Is This Not A Humongous Sin To Let Trespass In Predawn Hours
Jonathan Siegel Nightmares Within Of Ne'r Fulfilling Response To Question And Leave Too Much Unanswered Of Him And Her And You Before The End? So, Caught The Cat In Tongued Conundrum Hmmm? A Stalemate Silence, A Stillness Affliction Opposing Factions Of Misdirection Heads Determined For Insurrection Yet Preoccupied With Stiff Erections And Panting Pockets Of Invitation Oh, We Want To Change The Status Quo Release From Bondage The Discontent But Selfless Acts Hold No Reward And Greed Takes Aim With Blood Stained Sword A Slave's Wages For A Savior's Work So Time Must Pass As Lust Gains Worth As Pills Are Popped & Surgeons Slice The Paychecks Dwindle On Out Of Sight The Poor Of Soul So Rich With Sex In Simple Pleasure Do They Infect The Minds Of Young Who Can't Protect Themselves From Envy Of Big Breasts
And Males The Same Do Grow Insane With Girth & Length In Dream To Gain The Balding Wimp Has No Appeal So Hit The Gym, The Mass With Zeal Our Precious Time Is Spent Lifting The Weight Of Inadequacy Off Our Shoulders Civil Wars Of Fame & Beauty Seems To Be Our Only Duty No More The Noble Do We Pursue So FOOLISH We Monkeys In Our Metropolitan Zoos Who Groom All Day But Still Stink Of Shit Our Urban Dwellers In Fancy Clothes Breathe In Pollution Through Every Nose They Know Not How To Roam The Plains To Feed Off Land, To Grow Their Grains The Heartland Folk, The Farmer's Daughter All Participate With The Slaughter Soon, No Longer To Be A-Live|stock The Creature's Bred To Get Cold Clocked And Chopped & Shipped & Cooked & Chewed To Be Swallowed Down Without A Clue On Just Who’s Blood The Hands, On Just Who The True Butcher Be The Fish, Fowl, Cow, In Frozen Assembly Shopping Carts Don't Have Hearts And Price Tags Conveniently Absolve The Shame Of Affluent Families, Who Pass The Buck To Cashiers Who Shed No Tears When Peddling Flesh We Sloth Like Creatures No Longer Hunt
Jonathan Siegel We Cut Coupons & Prepare Boxed Lunch We Hunch Over Computers And Talk On Phones We Drive Our Cars And Listen To "The Stones" Or "Bach" Or "Jay Z" On iPod Shuffle, We're Lay Z Boys & Girls Pretending To Be Adults Pretending That We’re Entitled To Some Respect Because We've Been Through Some "things" And Understand Loss Too Well Well Whoop-Dee-FFFuckin'-Doo! The Same For Me, The Same For You We All Have Pain, We All Know Strife We All Know What It's Like To Go Through Life So Spare The Speech, Give Up The Preach And Stop Digging For Oil, On Somebody Else’s Beach Freedom Is A Commodity Traded In The Market Of American Propaganda A Monopolization Of A Fictitious Product The Democratic Ideal Has Fallen Victim To Pride And Through Caricature Emboldens The Other Side Who Ironically Have There Point & Pointless Views Because We All Know It Tis “The Victor” Who Will, Eventually, Choose Which History Will Be Told, What Story Will Unfold Which Papers Will Be Sold To The Highest Bidder And It Leaves A Bitter Taste In The Mouth 37 »
As We Ingest Lie After Lie After Lie And Keep Telling Ourselves “It’s OK It’s OK It’s OK JESUS Told Us To Do It”  “What’s A Few 100, 000 Broken Skulls, And Tortured & Photographed Muslim’s Got To Do With It? My Baby Needs A New Pair Of Shoes And Range Rovers Don’t Run On Diplomacy” AND [ 2] “My Designer Jeans Won’t Make Themselves! And If You Think I’m Gonna Risk Chipping A Nail Doing Hard Labor, You’re Outta Ya Mind, Honey I’m Sure… Some… Children Welcome The Opportunity To Work Long Hours For A Half A Bowl Of Rice” AND  “Ooooooieeeeee!!! Is That Gucci? Shiiitt… I Want That!!! Who Cares If It’s Fenced, Who Cares If Someone Had To Pay With Their Innocence & Sense Of Fairness, At Gunpoint That Jacket Is Going For $60 On eBay And I’ll Be Damn If I’m Gonna Pass THAT Up!” “As Long As I Thank GOD At The Oscar/Grammy/Golden Globe Podium
Jonathan Siegel After The Football/Basketball/Baseball/Hockey GAME After The NASCAR Race, After Caber Tossing/Curling/Alligator Wrestling/Log Rolling & Competitive Dance After Every Conceivable Ridiculous Accolade I Can Acquire, I’ll Be Fine After All… That’s What God Does, Right? He/She/It/Question Mark Spends Their Time Makin’ Sure I Win Prizes & Ostentatious Awards That I Get More Than My Fair Share Of Celebrity!" & Hookers & Diamonds & Illegitimate Children Where Is The Truth? What Is The Goal? Where Are We Going? Can We Begin To Agree On Anything? Can We Put Down Our Guns Long Enough To Hear What Peace Really Sounds Like? Are We Strong Enough To Admit A Modicum Of Fault, At All? Can We Possibly See Why Some People Might Hate Us? Can We Repair The Damage We’ve Done To Ourselves So That The World May, Once Again, Look At Us With Fresh Eyes?
Maybe We’ve Just Gone Through Our Mid-Life Crisis As A Country, And Acted Out A Little With Our Fast Cars, & Even Faster Guys & Dolls? Showboated Around A Little Too Much Our Extremely Itchy Trigger-Fingers? Reached The Pinnacle Of Our Childish Ways And That It’s, NOW, Time To Put The Cowboy Hats & Holsters Aside And Start Behaving With A Bit More… Couth? Maybe Wednesday Is A Brighter Day? Maybe The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow? Maybe Washington HAS Gotten It Right This Time? Maybe We’ll Be… Just Fine? * takes deep breath * Then Again…
d EATH v ALLEY (p ARTS 1-3)
1 To Death Valley! To North America’s tattered gash! To strewn boulders and cloud-stirring peaks. To palms and sand dunes and beds without lakes. To gouged canyons and steady inclines, waterless plateaus and abandoned castles. To highways and tourists and spiders and scorpions. To the sun, blank as a wall. To oases bristling with nudists and RV antennae. To teakettles and washboards, telescopes and payphones. To flash floods and disconnect. To visions clear of cataracts. To dreams. To hallucinations. To Death Valley, my dusty muse, my hot exhaling oracle. Death Valley, I’m coming! Death Valley, here I come! 2 You cannot hold a negative in your head. Otherwise I would tell you Death Valley is the opposite of a pear. The opposite of inside flesh, Tender, amniotic. Death Valley is not those things But now those things are what you think of. So take that pear, Bite into its coolness, Let your teeth slip Through its milky meat Soft as a sheaf of petals And hold it,
Ian Tuttle Hold it on your tongue, Press it against your gums And notice that your mouth is dry as talc. The pear is sawdust, and papier mâché Its resin stings, bitter as burnt bread In your throat the invented pear is stuck You choke on cinders and slivers, scratchy as fishbones, You breathe in ash, caking mud within the tissues of your lungs. Death Valley is the opposite of a pear. Can you understand that? Death Valley is a bell without a clapper You step inside it Your heartbeats make it ring. It is a resonant shell, A definition of an absence, The low point of a hemisphere. Death Valley has no currency But time Which is the currency of life And time there perpetually hyper-inflates So it takes two handcarts full of hours To do one thing To think one thought To utter a single simple word. “Birth,” for instance, would take forever. 43 »
Moving slow enough to seem dead still. Death Valley is the opposite of love Which is nothing. Nothing is the opposite of love Therefore Death Valley is nothing Therefore nothing is Death Valley If you love Death Valley, then it is nothing that you love And nothing loves you back. But you cannot hold A negative in your heart. 3 In Death Valley there is a ghost town called Darwin. It is an origin of sorts, where miners came to take out silver, to withdraw old lead. Darwin was once a mining town, now it’s mainly ghosts. Old lean-tos hang on sun-stricken frames. The road has gone to seed and that’s a tough place to go in a desert, in a place with so few seeds. Rabbits run amid rusted out chasses, and the wind peels shingles from rooftops like paper labels from empty bottles. But sharing quarters with these ghosts are about fifty residents, legal and otherwise. Poets, musicians, retired lifeguards, escape artists of many kinds. David Reese is none of these; he was born there, fair and square, has called Darwin “home” his entire life.
Ian Tuttle Talk to him and you’ll hear his slur, you’ll see his stubby fingers. You’ll watch him sway, stout-bodied and grizzled, and wonder what it takes to erode a man like that. The yard around his trailer is a rock hound’s mother lode. Old ores, sample cores, gemstones and geodes and crystalline scraps are arrayed on tables cobbled together from marble slabs. The man’s obsessed. In his yard, among the gems and faded Natural Ice Beer cans there’s a stone the size of an industrial dryer that looks like it’s made of compacted skin. Veined with orange and red and white, and lustrous in the morning sun, it’s set upon its own big blanket. “Marbled Agate,” David says. “Found it a thousand feet up a hillside, embedded in a seam of black Basalt.” It’s a dramatic stone, magnetic as a runway model. “Guy in China purchased it from me, I’m finishing it for him now.” “How’d you get it here?” “See that wire frame trailer out front? The one with the winch? But first I had to free it from the mountain! And roll it down a thousand feet!” 45 »
He tilts his Nascar Number 5 hat, adjusts the brim. “So how’d you get it from the mountain?” Dakota legend had it that by planting seeds in the thinnest crack, a man could split the earth. Picture the water, wetting dark seeds. Picture strenuous roots fingering down between the black Basalt and the moon-colored Agate. Picture those roots growing fat against the stone’s hard shoulder. After six weeks of scrambling up and down the thousand foot slope, watering can in hand, David extracted the stone with a pry-bar and tumbled it to the trailer. Now, here on his patio, the Agate seems like a whale taken from the sea. It’s a mighty stone, from a massive mountain. How is it possible that such little things as carrot seeds could loose it from its place? And how many big things do we let go of, like dreams, and plans, and wild howling hopes? How many times have the little things taken root, and swollen, and crowded the big things out?
from the novel
c HA-c HING!
My jerk-face boss called everyone and every thing, “You. Fucking. Faggot.” The faggot could be his brother, a pen, or the price a vendor quoted him. My job was to sit alone in a windowless room and catch the rainfall of faxes he dropped through a hole cut in the wall that separated my office from his. The faxes were pages of numerical codes for semi-conductors and their prices. I entered their codes and prices into a prehistoric computer where only an archaic green cursor flashed despondently. My desk was covered in stacks of these faxes, thick like phone books, and all day I’d move through them. Whatever I didn’t finish by day’s end would be thrown out, my work obsolete because the price for semi-conductors changed daily. I started to keep a list of how many times I heard my boss say, “You Fucking Faggot” and filled a pad with tiny hash marks. The only good thing about my job was I had my very own ashtray and could smoke in my windowless office. I pretended to be Nawal El Saadawi, or any prison memoirist for that matter, and penned my ground-breaking poem called, “How Data Entry Can Make You an Alcoholic” while chain-smoking, scrawling down the details of my grim existence as a data entry clerk. The only other good thing that happened at this job was once a week a sales rep would bring a pink box of donuts to our office, and I’d sneak into the break room after a trip to the bathroom, hunch
Ali Liebegott over the box and cram as many donuts as possible into my mouth. We had an insane bookkeeper that wore only nylon sweat suits so whenever she walked you’d hear the swooshing sound of two plastic bags rubbing together. On Fridays her husband came to get her and he wore the exact same sweat suit as her, except it was the men’s version, and both of their sweat suits seemed ironed, with creases down the front of each leg. They were in a same sweat suit relationship. The bookkeeper split her time between going out of her way to pay the company’s bills late and writing fraudulent complaint letters to the squeaky dog toy company, where she bought toys for her white Yorkie with omnipresent eye boogers. She confided in me that every few years she wrote the dog toy company demanding compensation for her dog that had almost choked to death on one of their faulty toys. In a few weeks she’d receive a huge cardboard box of new dog toys from the company. She was adamant none of the company’s bills get paid before the due date so she threw out all the pre-printed envelopes enclosed with each bill that had bar codes to allow the post office to process the payment speedily. Instead, she placed each check in a plain envelope with a hand written address. * Oh, my sad life in Yonkers! My days spent doing data entry and my nights and weekends spent as a clerk at a pet supply store, teaching my sixteen49 »
year-old coworkers how to count back change. Rorschach was a puppy and after each workday, I’d take her to the park for extended walks. Her legs were growing faster than her body and she was starting to look like one of those jacked up pick up trucks. One night when we were out for our last walk of the night, a man stepped suddenly out from the shadows and blocked the path in front of us. It’s hard to know if he was going to attack but she barked twice firmly, warning him. Even though she was still a puppy, the man turned quickly away, afraid, and walked in the other direction. I understood more deeply after that night why my female friends wanted to borrow Rorschach whenever they went running at night. * A person gets sick of being robbed or attacked, just like they get sick of anything else. Right before I moved to New York, I had the terrible luck of being in two restaurant robberies in the same month and having some kids throw a beer bottle at my head as I walked down the street holding hands with my girlfriend. * I’d lived in Yonkers a few months when some girls I’d been arrested with in San Francisco invited me to a potluck. I was so happy to go into the city and out of my house where I was starting to find out why my room only cost $300. The lease-holder was an unemployed mooch who increased the price of all the rooms in the house until her part of the rent was covered. I think her small room off the kitchen with only a curtain for a door was originally a pantry that
Ali Liebegott she’d converted into a den in which to smoke cigarettes and watch sports all day. When I went into the kitchen to make one of my many bowls of oatmeal for the day I’d hear her cheering for or against a team through the curtain. I tried to avoid her because she’d always ask me for rides or to lend her money so she could go to 7-11 and buy a packet of Tang. Her best friend also lived in our house, across the hall from me, where she kept ten million rabbits in cages. She worked at a bank and dated a bunch of non-committal men who all seemed to have the same shellacked hair. She was always reading self-help books about non-committal men. One day her car broke down and she devised a plan to go to a Saturn Dealership on a rainy night with the lease-holder and slip in their parking lot. She was convinced she could get a free car out of it. The night I decided to go to the potluck, I felt guilty leaving Rorschach at home after working all day but I desperately needed to have some kind of social experience and was excited to attend my friends’ potluck. Because I didn’t want to make an oatmeal casserole, I decided to bring a six-dollar bottle of wine, even though I wasn’t drinking. It was dark when I arrived at their apartment and I felt slightly intimidated being in the Lower East Side among all the tall apartment buildings. There was a gate on the street with an intercom and doorbell and I rang their doorbell from the street and waited to be buzzed into the lobby. The first gate opened and then the door to the lobby. As soon as I pushed 51 »
into the apartment building I had the feeling someone was behind me. When I turned around a short junkie was pointing a knife at my stomach. “Give me your money or I’m going to stab you,” the junkie said. “Money?” I said incredulously. I had three dollars in my pocket and a brown bag with a six-dollar bottle of wine. I heard myself repeat, “Money?” Talk about picking the wrong person to rob. The last three months of going on dates with guys from the dog park and eating thirty-cent rolls from the supermarket flipped through my brain. I could help the junkie get elected President more easily than give him money. He stepped closer and touched the point of the knife blade to my stomach. “Give me your money or I’m going to stab you,” he said, this time his voice quieter. Despite all this, something told me he was an amateur by the way he held the knife flimsily like the edge of a Frisbee. My adrenaline turned to outrage when I realized I’d found myself in the middle of another robbery, and I wrapped my fingers around the neck of the wine bottle and began to swing it at his head. You can kill a person by hitting them in the head with a bottle. You can smash their skull. And even though I was fed up with being robbed, subconsciously I knew I didn’t want to hurt him. Everything happened so quickly yet in memory it’s covered in a haze of slow motion. Did the bottle slip out of the bag? Or did I intentionally miss his head and smash it into the tile wall behind him? I think
Ali Liebegott before I even started swinging the bottle I wanted to try and scare him away instead of hurting him. I can still remember how the fluorescent lights gleamed in that lobby and reflected on the white tile wall. The dark red wine ran down the bright walls and the junkie’s face was frozen for a second after the bottle smashed into the wall behind him. He scampered away like the stranger who’d stepped out of the shadows a few weeks before that Rorschach had protected me from. When he left my hands were shaking from the amount of adrenaline pumping through me. I looked at the wine spilled all over the floor. It was bad math. I’d chosen to give up my sixdollar bottle of wine instead of the three dollars in my pocket. I started up the four flights of stairs towards my friends’ apartment, the adrenaline so thick inside me, my knees shook on each step. I rang the doorbell and waited empty handed and still shaking for the door to open. My friend was on her knees in the kitchen, her head cocked inside the broiler to check on the giant simmering pan of paella when the door opened and the rest of the kitchen was filled with people laughing and chainsmoking and drinking wine, oblivious to the fact that just moments before I had a knife pointed at my gut. Rorschach was oblivious too, at home asleep with her tiny puppy paws, flicking in her dreams, and her pink lips quivering as she barked. “Hi,” I said. “Hi,” everyone said. The vibe in the room was amazing. Like the 53 »
liveliness of a party in a movie. I didn’t want to be histrionic and ruin the party, but my knees were still shaking in fear. “How are you?” everyone said. I said it casually, “I just got held up by knifepoint in the lobby.” “What????” they screamed. “I swung a bottle at some junkie’s head.” Then some people ran downstairs to see if he was still there while someone sat me down in a kitchen chair and someone handed me a cigarette after cigarette. In the lobby, the junkie was long gone of course, and the only thing that remained was the bright tile wall streaked with red wine, and the brown paper bag and shattered glass lying in a puddle on the ground. After awhile, the party turned back into a party and I tried to listen to their stories and jokes, but I felt so fragile. Everyone kept offering me wine, but I refused. “I’m not drinking,” I said. The whole night at the party no one could believe I lived in Yonkers. “You have to get out of there,” my jail friends said. “You can stay in our spare room until you find a place.” “I know of a temporary job until you find a permanent one,” one girl said. After the party, they escorted me to my truck, I locked the doors and drove back to Yonkers. When I got home I was still shaken from being held up and I walked Rorschach, terrified of every shadow. As we walked around the neighborhood, I tried to
Ali Liebegott remember if any of us had cleaned up the broken glass in the lobby.
s TOLEN m OMENTS
What happened, happened once. So now it’s best in memory—an orange he sliced: the skin unbroken, then the knife, the chilled wedge lifted to my mouth, his mouth, the thin membrane between us, the exquisite orange, tongue, orange, my nakedness and his, the way he pushed me up against the fridge— Now I get to feel his hands again, the kiss that didn’t last, but sent some neural twin flashing wildly through the cortex. Love’s merciless, the way it travels in and keeps emitting light. Beside the stove we ate an orange. And there were purple flowers on the table. And we still had hours.
b LUES f OR r OBERT j OHNSON
Give me a pint of whiskey with a broken seal Give me one more hour with a broken feel I can’t sleep again and a black dog’s on my trail You’re singing hell hound, crossroad, love in vain You’re singing, and the black sky is playing rain You’re stomping your feet, shaking the windowpane I put my palm to the glass to get the cold I drink the memories that scald Drink to the loves that failed and failed Look down into the river, I can see you there Looking down into the blue light of a woman’s hair Saying to her Baby, dark gon’ catch me here You’re buried in Mississippi under a stone You’re buried and still singing under the ground And the blues fell mama's child, tore me all upside down
s LEEPWALKING i N p ARADISE
from the novel
For the first few years that Tommy lived on Cole Street, Blind Johnny Ray never hit him up for spare change. It didn't matter that his favorite bench was just two doors down from Tommy's place, or that Tommy passed him, sitting there, at least twice a day. Tommy began to wonder if it were him. Johnny always seemed to be chatting with other neighborhood folks, smiling and laughing, his teeth flashing in the San Francisco sunlight. In his trademark sheepskin coat, he lounged upon that bench like a mountain man making a guest appearance on the Tonight Show, a silver-maned Grizzly Adams with dark glasses and cane. And if anyone offered him coins or doggy-bag leftovers, he didn't seem to mind. But he never asked Tommy for anything, not even a quarter. Things changed around Tommy's third Christmas in the neighborhood. One windy Saturday, Johnny was making a scene outside the Postal Chase, the local mailbox and shipping store. With a metal newspaper box as a workbench, he was trying to box up and wrap some toys, red and blue Power Ranger action figures still in their plastic and cardboard packaging. He'd be managing just fine, his fingers feeling
Andrew O. Dugas along the edges of the box and folding over the burlap, but the tape dispenser kept falling and the wind pulled at the paper until he had to stop and redo everything. After a few rounds of this, the paper was crumpled almost beyond use and tangles of tape clung to Johnny's sleeves. He was hurling curses like thunderbolts, causing all the café goers and holiday shoppers to cross the street to avoid the yelling crazy. Tommy was prepared to do the same, but his girl said awww and pursed her lips in a way that made him dizzy. So he stepped up, going over to Johnny and offering to help. It only took Tommy a couple of minutes and he even paid for the shipping to Albuquerque, much to his girl's delight. Then they went back to his apartment, stopping for a bottle of wine at Alpha Market. A few days later, Tommy passed Johnny on his bench and ventured a hello. This time Johnny answered and Tommy felt a warm rush of surprise. Johnny invited him to sit and Tommy joined him. “Hey, thanks a lot for your help. With the presents for my boys, I mean.” Johnny told him about his two sons and how, no matter what, he sent them Christmas presents every year. “My wife threw my ass out and I can't be with them on account of I'm a derelict and all.” His dedication seemed very sweet, but just by piecing together certain details, Tommy figured his kids must have been fully grown by then, college 63 »
age at least. He wondered what they thought of all the action figures arriving like clockwork year after year. Of course, it was more likely that his wife had long since moved and the toys were piling up in the Albuquerque Post Office. Johnny didn't exactly have a return address. “No problem, Johnny,” he told him. “No problem at all.” The next year, right after Thanksgiving, Johnny stopped Tommy on the corner and, touching his wrist as lightly as a butterfly, asked if he could help him wrap and send the presents again. “And maybe write out the card for me? Since you're a bona fide journalist and all.” Tommy laughed and said yes, the same way he said yes every year after that. Tommy didn't know it at the time, but that first experience outside the Postal Chase had automatically qualified him for platinum membership in the Blind Johnny Ray Benevolence Society, an ever-shifting group of Cole Valley locals that looked out for him. They thought about Blind Johnny when they sifted through the spare change on their bureaus and wondered about his shoe size when they cleaned out the closet. They set aside containers of leftover chicken and rice when cleaning up after dinner. This generosity did not extend to all the bums in the neighborhood. Tommy was surprised to find that, despite its hippie heritage, Cole Valley was not particularly civic-minded when it came to the homeless. Yet everyone treated Johnny like just
Andrew O. Dugas another neighbor. There was something about his gentle manner that, even if he was clearly inebriated, elicited kindness instead of revulsion. They just didn't see him as a homeless person. Johnny began “accepting” Tommy's help. Technically, Tommy observed, Johnny never panhandled. He didn't stand on a corner asking random strangers for spare change, and he didn't lean against a wall with a paper cup extended for offerings. Rather, he would wait until he encountered someone he knew and accept any help offered. Whatever it was or wasn't, Tommy never felt like he'd been panhandled. A few times, though, Johnny did reach out. After a bad night at The Dog, Tommy came home exhausted. As he passed Johnny, the blind man mumbled something. “What did you say, Johnny?” Johnny's head dipped forward. “Nothing.” “No, what's up?” Tommy came around and sat down. “Can you help me?” Johnny seemed embarrassed. “I'm hungry.” He hadn't eaten since the day before, so they walked down to Haight Street where Tommy bought him a burrito. They sat in the little park by the Metro tunnel on Carl Street. As Johnny ate, Tommy collected the scraps of foil wrapping and crunched them into a silver ball. The night was quiet and the sky full of pink fog. 65 »
The occasional mercy burrito was about as far as Tommy's financial generosity stretched. Being a struggling hedonist with no real job, he had little to offer, cash-wise. He tried to make up for it in other ways, with leftovers or little gifts. Tommy supplemented his meager newspaper paycheck with catering gigs, so he often brought home leftovers. Mini-quiche hors d'ouvres and slab-ends of brisket. But the most memorable thing he ever gave Johnny wasn't food but an improbable Playboy magazine in Braille that he'd found in Aardvark Books. Two dollars. It was just a thick sheaf of brown burlap riddled with punched out dots and the famous bunny logo stamped on the cover in black ink. “Can you read Braille, Johnny?” “Sure, man, whatcha got?” Tommy handed it to him and waited as his fingers danced across the cover. Then Johnny chuckled and solemnly promised to only read the articles. Then came the winter that El Niño blew through town like a giant gray industrial mop, dumping endless rain and scouring the trees and power lines. Falling branches punched four million dollars worth of holes in the Conservatory of Flowers, a Victorian confection of white frosted glass in Golden Gate Park. One night, he found Johnny soaked and huddled in a basement doorway. Tommy brought him back to his building, thinking he could stay in the garage. The landlord, Baba Ram Paul, had an
Andrew O. Dugas old microbus up on blocks and it would not be the first time one of the tenants had used it as an ad hoc guest room. After getting him clean and dry, he gave Johnny some old sleeping bags and told him he could come up the back way to use the bathroom off the sun porch. Tommy's roommates weren't crazy about the arrangement, but he shamed them into compliance. This scheme lasted three days, ending the morning that Johnny emerged from the van, stretching and growling like a bear. He didn't notice Katherine, the financial analyst from the second floor, putting out her recycling. She screamed and tripped up the back stairs, ripping open her shin along the way. Baba Ram Paul arrived before the cops and instinctively knocked on Tommy's door first. Tommy recognized the sound of his bony knuckles against the glass. “You know anything about somebody living in the garage?” He was a skinny old ponytail hippie who always wore paint-splattered overalls with lots of pockets and loops for tools. He was not happy when Tommy told him that he was actually responsible. “He has to go, man. I'm sorry. You know I don't mind about the van, but Katherine is too freaked out. I thought she was going to burst a blood vessel, she was crying so much.” “I'm sorry, Ram Paul. I'll take care of it.” 67 »
Tommy knew that not so many years before, Baba Ram Paul would've let Johnny ride it out, as long as someone vouched for him. But times had changed. The city had changed. The New Economy was driving rents into the stratosphere, and Cole Valley had quiet tree-lined streets and charming shops and cafes. People like Katherine or William the Lawyer on the third floor were happy to pay a premium to live there. Every time someone like Tommy moved out, Baba Ram Paul did a quick remodel and moved in the Katherines and the Williams at three times the rent. There was no room for the Johnnies in the new equation. Not even in the garage. At least Johnny had gotten through the worst of the storm. Tommy bought him some coffee at Spinelli's and apologized for the way things had gone down. Johnny clapped him on the shoulder. “No worries, Tommy. You probably saved my life, man.” Tommy went to work and that was the last time he saw Johnny. By then, Tommy's life was changing too. He hadn't met Carlotta just yet, but he was already trying to get out of journalism and into writing that actually paid a living wage. He was getting too old to be working three jobs. He'd been writing press releases and Web site content for some non-profits on a volunteer basis, and was getting referrals for paying assignments. Less than a year later, Tommy gave notice on the Cole Street apartment so he could move into
Andrew O. Dugas Carlotta's place near Dolores Park in the Mission. Throughout the packing and garage sales and dropping boxes off at Goodwill on Haight Street, he'd held onto the old sleeping bags that Johnny had used during the storm. He wanted Johnny to have them. But Johnny was gone. Mike at the Tassajara Cafe had heard that he'd bummed a ride down to LA and then headed east, into the desert. Probably trying to get back to Albuquerque, Tommy guessed. After loading the final box into his car, Tommy drove around the neighborhood and the edges of Golden Gate and Buena Vista Parks, just in case, but there was no sign of him. In the end, he left the sleeping bags on Johnny's bench. Winter was still ahead and someone would be able to use them. Tommy made a silent prayer for Johnny's well-being, then put the car in gear and drove out of Cole Valley.
Daniel shows me his new apartment. Its empty rooms and drapeless windows. He smiles with teeth only, offering me cheer in this bare cheerlessness. I know Daniel better than that. Our mutual friends accept his offer of superficial contentment. Relieved, they look forward to his housewarming party. We look out his large windows at the industrial area that surrounds his new home. In the loft across the way we see a naked man sitting in front of two computers. One has a very large monitor that seems to not be in use. On a smaller laptop, he appears to view online profiles. In my story of him, the man is trying to decide whether to chat with other men or whether he’s just too tired. In general or from the relentless newness of fucking strangers. He clips his fingernails as he decides. Daniel stands beside me. Close. We laugh and make a bet about whether the man will have company. Daniel is visibly relieved to discover distraction for after I leave. I watch with the curiosity of an outsider. The man across the way is television to me. To Daniel, the man might be a lifeline – a human being who displays his own separateness by
Lauren Becker sitting naked in front of an uncovered window. I can tell that Daniel wants to touch me. Earlier in the evening, at Sailors’, we drank Maker’s neat and Daniel offered, partly joking, to have sex with me if I ever wanted. He doesn’t want that now. Even if I wanted it, he is too overwhelmed by the realness of having left his house keys in the hands of the wife he never wanted to marry, that he married because he should, and that he couldn’t protect from the pills she gave herself from stolen prescription pads. His restless eyes and hands tell me that he doesn’t welcome this freedom. I know him; his smile belies the fact that he wants to be held and assured that it will get better. I can’t do that for him this time. I wish I could. We pretend he does not want that. We pretend he is not lonely and that neither of us is damaged. I need to leave this sad place where Daniel will sleep tonight for the first time. I need to be home in case the source of my own misery comes back. I know he won’t. We laugh and refuse to acknowledge his or mine. We can’t help each other tonight.
He walks me to my car. We laugh at small things – the old woman flirting with him at the bar, his naked neighbor, my near-fall when my boot catches the sidewalk. We hug for more than a moment. He is 6 and a half feet, solid. I concentrate very hard on transferring some comfort to him. We stick to our quiet agreement. I step back. I need to conserve what is left for myself. For when I return to my house, filled with furniture, filled with things. We are still laughing as I get into my car. He will call me tomorrow. I will help him choose a coffee table. He closes my door. I watch for only a second and leave.
He had an older sister whose face reminded Lydia of a cartoon magpie from her childhood. Now that Lydia thought of it, she realized that the cartoon had featured two birds, twins. How fitting, she thought. He was enmeshed with his sister in a way just this side of pathological. The family had always pushed the myth—he'd insisted it was a myth—of the two siblings as practically twins; they were just that close, claimed the mother. Lydia had seen photographs of the two in Halloween costumes, dressed up as Raggedy Ann and Andy. How humiliating, she'd thought, to have to have been Raggedy Andy. She'd stared at the boy in the photos and tried to discern something behind the lipstick-enhanced red smile. The sister's appearance costumed as Raggedy Ann was an improvement; she actually looked like a little girl you could love. When Lydia first met the sister, she was struck by how unappealing she was, her flat face, sharp nose, and thin lips, something Lydia hadn't expected from the talk of her. He and his mother, for example, had often referred to her fondly as a "pixie." Now Lydia listened to him speak on the phone to his sister, occasional words of comfort he slipped in. His sister evidently was going on and on. Her litanies of problems. One of her usual modes of operation; the other was to give a lengthy list of all that she'd recently purchased or was about to, including a few expensive trips for variety's sake.
Peg Alford Pursell Once he'd put his sister on speakerphone and parodied her as she ranted, which might have made Lydia choke with laughter if she hadn't been so repulsed by the nattering voice. Lydia looked up the quote on the Internet first to be sure, then copied it down on a little pad and set it before him. "We exaggerate misfortune and happiness alike. We are never as bad off or as happy as we say we are. –Honore de Balzac." He gave her a little frown and turned away. Oh, so that's how he wanted to play it! Lydia felt her face flush red. Her fingers trembled as she returned to the Internet, her favorite homewares website, where she typed in "sheets." She looked for sets with the highest threadcounts. This time she would get the ones she wanted; screw cost! Oh, what am I doing? she thought, after a moment. She pushed the laptop away and went to the kitchen for a glass of water. Behind her, she heard him, despite his lowered voice, say, "Shut up, shut up, shut up." The words were a tortured whisper. It sounded like he was crying now. There was a small click, then the silence extended. Lydia waited, waited for him to call her to him. She sipped the cool water, watching out the kitchen window a tiny gray bird hop across the porch, its slow progress across the wide floorboards. It could fly if it wanted.
A week after Mary moved out, she called to find out when Audrey was moving out too. Because Mary's name was on the lease—because they'd been giddy in love and thrilled to be living together—and now the landlord needed to start showing the place. Audrey had no intention of staying in the apartment, even if she could have afforded to. The space was too giant for one person by herself, and impossible to share with someone you weren't dating. The privacy-destroying donut layout had contributed to the failure of Audrey and Mary. The lease was just the latest in a long chain of promises Audrey and Mary had wrecked, starting with "We'll only eat candy we make ourselves," the first week they were dating. With Mary's hand-crafted Nordic furniture gone, and her herbal tea and floral sachets no longer lacing the air, the apartment's dust suffocated Audrey. The house slanted more and more, as if the creatures burrowing under the baseboards were getting braver without Mary there to alarm them. Whenever Audrey went online to look at roommate listings, she kept finding herself on the collared slave sites and bondage personals sites instead. Women transfigured into objects that weren’t even person-shaped any more, like human flower arrangements, and every woman's eyes wide and bright. Ball-gags made their nostrils flare, and they looked twice as alive as everybody Audrey
Charlie Anders knew. Mary was so vanilla, she went epileptic if Audrey even mentioned spankings. But now Audrey was free to explore, and this was the only thing that felt like a future she hadn't already seen. Audrey would sit down to research apartments at six, and then she'd look up from a breath-play tutorial, to realize it was midnight and she hadn't even had dinner. That was how Audrey found Master Doug and Lady Bee, and everything fell right into place. "I've found the perfect living situation," Audrey told Mary when she called to check on her progress. "I'll be moved in a couple days." Audrey told Mary all about Master Doug and Lady Bee, who were looking for a live-in French Maid, sex slave and part-time nanny. "I get free room and board, as long as I submit totally," Audrey said. Audrey should have known Mary wouldn't understand. "Maybe you should, I don't know, go to a munch or an etiquette class or something first. I like etiquette. Etiquette is always a good start to anything." This was just like Mary: always trying to hold Audrey back, always wanting to constrain her horizons, and people who strand people in donutshaped houses full of plaster dust shouldn't give advice. When Audrey explained this, Mary hung up. Sure, it was an atypical arrangement, but that just meant Audrey was a pioneer. Somebody had to have been the first person to invent heterosexual monogamy, scores of centuries ago, and that 81 »
person probably got no end of shit for it. What do you mean, you're not just in-breeding with the clanleader like everyone else? What kind of perv are you? Master Doug and Lady Bee lived in Alameda, in one of those cul-de-sacs with a sidewalk that's all ramp and no curb, for kids on tricycles. Their house had a main floor, a loft that was the master bedroom, and a basement. Audrey would sleep in the basement, or else chained at the foot of their bed. She showed up with a little U-Haul full of boxes, and Lady Bee frowned. "We didn't think you would have so much stuff." Lady Bee had an acrylic French manicure, a really pointy nose with a little piercing, a lime-green halter top and capri jeans. Her voice sounded huskier than it had on the phone. "I hope we can fit it all in your hutch." She showed Audrey where they were going to put her: a converted storage area that Master Doug had tried to turn into a rec room at some point. He'd gotten as far as carpeting the walls and floor, and putting a strip of black light along one ceiling edge. Lady Bee asked Audrey what she'd be doing during her days, and she explained about her job at the Literacy Foundation. She was spearheading a project to evaluate how cultural assumptions hamper most literacy programs from addressing the needs of non-white target populations. Lady Bee nodded. "Just as long as you're home in time to make dinner." They had one maid uniform, which had come from a Halloween store, hanging in their front
Charlie Anders closet. Fishnet stockings, lacey collar, lacey cuffs, garter, cap. "You won't wear this on weekends when the kids are here, of course," Lady Bee said. Master Doug had custody of his kids every other weekend. Audrey wanted to put on her uniform right away, and start her new life. She had a whole fancy curtsey in mind. But first she had to get all the boxes out of the U-Haul and into her hutch, where they left no room for a human. And then she had to drive back to the U-Haul place before it closed. After Audrey waited an hour for Master Doug to come and get her at the U-Haul office, she started to wonder if he'd forgotten about her. They told her she had to wait outside, then locked the doors and turned out the lights. Weird guys started coming up to Audrey and asking if she'd like to go somewhere. She called Master Doug a few times and he didn't pick up. The only light came from a street light that sputtered like a violet wand, and Audrey shivered and fidgeted in her T-shirt and shorts. She was lost. Just when Audrey started to think about calling Mary and begging for a rescue, Master Doug swung into the driveway in his big pick-up truck. He waved Audrey into the shotgun seat. Master Doug instantly commanded Audrey's loyalty, with his craggy face and weirdly soft hands. He had a clanleader's eyebrows, bushy and untamed. His voice sounded high and clear, like a clarinet. "Did you shave your pubes?" Audrey said she had, and Master Doug nodded. 83 »
They didn't talk the rest of the way back to Master Doug's place, and then finally Audrey was ready to take off her street clothes, to shed all of the cares, all the neediness, she'd been carrying around all this time. Audrey thought maybe there would be a ritual or something, but it was just like changing into another outfit. The maid's uniform was too small in the hips and too big in the chest, and the high-heeled shoes pinched Audrey's feet. She couldn't see a mirror, so she was stuck with her mental self-image: gawky, wobbly, worse than naked. She waited for the humiliation to start feeling sexy. Any minute now. Lady Bee barely glanced Audrey over before putting her to work. Shrimp needed peeling, peas had to soak, whiskey sours weren't going to blender themselves. Audrey turned off all her doubting voices, pushed all of it into the work. The work would make sense of everything, if she only opened herself up to it. The stove was one of those antique World War II ones, with the burners that can turn into a frying surface. It had decades of grease stains, which Audrey spent an hour or two trying to lift, until her fingers throbbed. Master Doug and Lady Bee hardly spoke to Audrey, except to give her directions. By the time she'd finished cooking and cleaning, she was too exhausted to take a whipping, and her whiskey sours were too good to let her masters give one. Audrey slept in her nook, in a tiny space she carved out between all of her boxes, with an old quilt and a pillow. After a couple days, Audrey washed the wrong
Charlie Anders thing in the wrong temperature water, and Master Doug put her over his knee and spanked her while she stared at a patch of floor, which she'd already cleaned three times, but somebody had spilled some turpentine there a long time ago and you can't ever get that out. And a few days later, they flogged her. Audrey wondered if they would ever demand her sexual services. But that was their decision, not hers, and she tried not to presume. After a few more days, Lady Bee glanced at Audrey and said something about hygiene. Master Doug said yeah, and told Audrey to bend over the bathtub rim. The porcelain stung her stomach with cold, and she stared into the tub's Clorox glare. Master Doug slid a nozzle into Audrey's rear, with a clown's nose bulb on one end. If he let go, it started sliding out, towards the floor. So he held on. The water inside Audrey felt like a cramp, like she'd been greedy in the face of unwholesome food. She wanted the waters to carry away all her silent rebellions, all her doubts, all her regrets about her life choices—Yes! Scour me clean, remove all my unslavelike daydreams, make me pure!—but it was just a worsening cramp, which stayed even after the water and everything else inside of her were long gone. Master Doug's two children arrived on a Friday afternoon, and for two days Audrey washed and folded and drove Steve and Mitzi to the mall and grilled their cheese and got the hell out of the way of the screen when they were playing Halo, and 85 »
begged and bribed them to get to bed because if Steve and Mitzi stayed up past their bedtime, it would be Audrey who got punished. Sunday afternoon, Audrey watched Steve and Mitzi climb into the back of their mother's Yaris, and then she went back indoors to change back into her maid's uniform, which she'd washed and set aside. Except she couldn't bear to put on the shoes again, her feet already pulsated from standing up all weekend. So she put on plimsoles over her fishnets, and stepped out into late-afternoon blindness. She wondered what Mary was doing now. Was Mary reading in bed? Was Mary at the Vegan co-op, sampling a cube of cantaloupe on a toothpick, all cool and tart, crisp and then fragile in her mouth? Did Mary wonder about her ex, or was Audrey too sore a subject to think about? Audrey prayed Mary would speak to her again one day. Audrey left the cul-de-sac, plimsoles slapping, and kept walking, onto the big two-lane street. Lady Bee was calling her name, but Audrey kept walking and didn't look back. She walked past the Magic Wok and the Tire & Auto Centers, out along the parkway, Oakland shimmering gray across the harbor. The breeze made her maid skirt flutter. The Sunday evening shoppers kept checking out her maid uniform, and one guy at the Tire & Auto Center tried to wolf whistle but choked on it. Audrey walked almost to the Naval Base, arms spreadeagle, like they were tied to a cross or bedposts, like Audrey was surrendering at last.
t HE a PE p OEM
all of the apes, who live in the tree want to be me, want to be me all the apes want to be charming Charlie I I I I swing from the branches sing to the shes eat my fine ape food scratch at my fleas
no other ape can be like me charming you see charming like me all the apes want to be charming Charlie every night in the dark I leap to the ground I walk on the concrete I make my good sound I “oo oo” much better than any around I “oo oo” by litre I “oo oo” by pound “OO OO!” I shout on my chest I pound as I dance around 89 »
around to my sound and all of the apes who live in the tree are jealous of me, with greenest envy the apes are all jealous with ape jealousy but that doesn’t bother a charmer like me whom all of the people come to see some come alone, while others in threes to see little me charming ol’ me some visit just once to look in the cage some drop by a few times per calendar page but my favorites appear, day after day to hear me say “oo oo” to watch me at play and they talk to me through the metal divide they offer me questions for me to decide the ape who’s inside, whose tongue isn’t tied I “oo oo” for yes & I “oo oo” for no and I “oo oo” for answers that I just don’t know they nod when I answer, nod fast and nod slow to a sage in bananas, an ape in the know I was dispensing wisdom on equinox day
Charlie Getter when out of my vision I heard someone say, “that ape is wise and look at his size he seems much more thoughtful than those plain human guys!” I pushed back the leaves and my eyes touched to me the first vision of she who more charming than me could pull out my heart and make it go thump who saw in an ape more than hair and a rump who delights the sight like a bird first in flight who triggers my senses and makes me feel right as the dark descended on my tiny enclosure I felt in my heart that she would come closer to me! to me! I felt in my glee that a human could see how ape love could be in the chilly twilight, I put she-apes to flight and stood by my bars, eyes strained in the light and there she stood with her skirt and her eyes so i reached out and ‘oo oo’d” quite charming-wise! She climbed to the bars and I went up to she and she kissed my ape face and she stroked my ape knee 91 »
but the bars intervene as they always do when a human and ape fall in love at the zoo free! free! come and see me! when the day sees the end of my captivity! when charming we’ll swing through the trees you and me and we’ll build a big ape human family! when the dew starts to glisten and the sky turns to light I’ll ponder the reasons and hopes for my plight but now all you’ll see are the apes in the tree and if one is quite charming the charmer is me we don’t choose if we soar in the heavens above we can’t choose to be eagle or choose to be dove we can’t choose to be human and wear a big hat and drive a red car and live in a flat we are what we are and that’s quite fine I guess when we count how we’re bless’d,
Charlie Getter there’s more, more than less so come, come, come and see me come see the ape they call charming Charlie of all of the apes who live in the tree the charming-est he, is me! you see? all the apes want to be charming you see all the apes want to be charming Charlie!
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