Eugene Durante, 12/30/2013

Current occupation: police officer

Former occupation: Caterer

Contact Information: Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, Eugene Durante is an NYPD patrol officer and front row observer of the offbeat. City University of New York educated, Durante received his B.A. degree in Criminology and his Master's in Public Administration.  A brutally honest person, "Gino" is well-known for not stroking others and not getting stroked in the process.

 

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A Tale of Stop (And Not) Frisk

I'm on a Manhattan-bound train staring out the window as it leaves Brighton Beach. The train is nearly empty after midnight, and I'm positioned by the door in what would, over years, become my "patrol stance"- standing sideways, facing the length of the car, right elbow resting on my firearm, and left boot heel wedged into the door partition.

I'm on the left side of the train as it lurches northbound picking up passengers either en route to a night shift, or a New York night out. The crisp air rushes in the door at every stop as I embrace the silent effect of the late night/cold weather radio. With exactly one year on the job I haven't yet learned how the best crime fighting efforts are not attributed to police brass or politicians, but rather the cold and rainy tendencies of mother nature.

My assignment to late night train patrol was precipitated earlier that winter by a 'lushworker.' He was cutting open the pockets of sleeping passengers to remove personal items while they slept. The crime was not atypical for the hour or area, and the perpetrator's description from eyewitness accounts was a male black, 18-30 years old, wearing a black jacket, black pants, and armed with a box cutter. My platoon had been briefed numerous times about the robbery pattern, and with rookie ambition we certainly contributed our share of the stop and frisk reports generated that year by the NYPD.

As the train pulled into the Neck Road station I noticed an unusual figure across the way. He furtively moved on the Coney Island platform. His back was towards me, but in just a few seconds I had him locked in my vision. He was a tall black male with braided hair. He wore a full length black jacket and black pants. His hands were in front of him and he was awkwardly walking left to right while facing the wall. I could not tell if he was kicking the wall, marking it with paint, or moving back and forth while urinating. I quickly sprung from my leaning position, and off the train.

Utilizing the advice of veteran train patrol officers, I tactically stepped out of view down a few exit stairs and surveyed the cloaked figure. Fortunately his train had also just left and I knew I had plenty of observation time before I would move in. His behavior persisted, so I crossed over for a closer look. While sneaking up the far staircase on his side, I made a common rookie mistake.

My radio had come screeching alive and I quickly muffled it with my hands. The male froze, then looked around. I was surprised he picked up the noise from the distance, but Neck Road is an eerily silent and creepy place late at night. Prior to renovation the station was a spawning ground for rats and pigeons. Even today there isn't enough revenue to justify staffing the token booth after sunset.

Broad shouldered, the curious figure turned my way and stood silent as I slowly approached. His hands were at his sides and his fingers were spread apart. He looked about 40 years old from the sporadic gray hair at the base of his braids. I sensed he was no stranger to being stopped by the police.

"How you doing," I casually stated, utilizing a common New York greeting. 

"I'm lost," he said, "I fell asleep on the train."

Getting closer, I noticed his black dress shoes and black suit beneath the trench coat, and I let my guard down a bit

"Must have been a good sleep," I said, "You’ve drooled on yourself."

He started wiping is outer coat with a handkerchief as he awkwardly looked away and not at the stain as most people would. Then I noticed his walking stick and backpack on the floor next to the garbage pail.

"I know my home station perfectly," he said, gathering his articles, "but I have no idea where I am now. Thank you very much for being here."

"Just check your belongings, Sir. Unattended items grow legs quickly in Brooklyn. These scummers will steal your walking stick if you didn't pay attention."

He smiled, and with that we broke the ice.

Escorting the gentleman to the other platform, he quickly reminded me of a forgotten lesson from the police academy, let the blind person grab your arm for better guidance. We exchanged names as I led him back to a bench and awaited the next train.

He asked how long I was on the job. I replied, and I then inquired if he was born blind or lost his vision over time.

“I lost my sight in the last decade, but I can still see silhouettes,” he said,

“That’s very fortunate,” I encouraged.

“Sometimes I wish I never had vision though,” He said while adjusting his long coat in the seat. “I think I’d have less anxiety overall.”

Not understanding his point, he went on to explain…

“Instead of becoming a man and earning my independence in the world, I have to live with my mother and sister for support. I’m blessed that I still have family, but I always dreamed of moving out of the ghetto after college. It’s sad enough that I’ve changed, but I have witnessed myself become a different person to others. To the outside world I’ve become a “He,” as in, would “He” like a chair or a booth, or would “He” like another cup of coffee… as if I never existed.”

His voice cracked a bit now, “You have no idea what it feels like when I go shopping and I ask the salesman if a shirt is a light or darker tone of black, and he answers me, “Does it really matter?”

“You know, I used to always date hot women, and now I’m alone. Heck, I don’t even know what the Spice Girls look like!”

Becoming reflective for a moment, the blind man stared toward the darkness saying nothing. Then the rattle of a train in the distance started vibrating the tracks. We boarded the next train together arm in arm to his home station. On our way we discussed our experiences growing up in Brooklyn and how the city was changing. Stepping off the train he softly pushed my arm away. “I got this,” he said, and he breezed up the stairs and out to street level in no time. I offered to walk him home, but he insisted I should not.

“I understand. We both have reputations to protect in these parts.” I joked. We extended a meaningful hand shake and that half-a-hug gesture that men do so well.

“Hey, Durante” he said, ”Thanks again for being there, and more importantly, thank you for treating me like a regular guy.”

I watched him walk away as my rookie radio reverberated off the walk-up buildings along Marlborough Road.

Looking back, I recognize how poignant the compliment was. Although I do not remember his name, a heartfelt compliment was rare experience prior to September 11th. As police officers, we’re conditioned to think our careers are defined by newsworthy events, but too often we overlook the touching moments that help us become better cops and better human beings.

Posted in

Rachel Cann, 12/23/2013

Current Occupation: Unstated
Former Occupation: I have been a waitress, a teacher, an eldercare provider, a taxi driver, a real estate salesperson, director of a battered woman's shelter, and manager of a  Florida motel where I made beds and cleaned toilets. When the interest rates went to 18% I was lucky to get a job selling timesharing.
Contact Information: My writing was first inspired by  Walter Farley's Black Stallion series. I went to college at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, followed by Boston State Teacher's College for a Master's. Emerson College granted me an MFA in 1989.  Presently I am writing a feature film script called Abuse of Power.  I'm a feminist and a grandmother.

 

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Non Carborundum Illigitimi

 

The streets of Boston were virtually naked that summer I drove taxi. It almost wasn’t worth the trouble to take a cab out in the last week of August.  The college kids weren’t back  and most of the city people were on vacation.  When I heard that Felicia, my good friend from Florida, was coming to visit, I was glad.  I’d been dropping her post cards all along, and the last one, on the back of a beautiful color chrome of the city at night, said simply: Men, Men, Men.  

Felicia was married to a urologist and except for a vacuous sex life had everything the good life allowed: the yacht one could see bobbing from the back yard, the country club memberships (tennis and golf), the furs, worn only every now and then so they didn’t get shabby, and the time to make herself feel sexy.  She was religious about her attendance at the masseuse, aerobics classes, and tennis clinics.  

It was at the Sun coast Tennis Club, where I first made her acquaintance, and because of her affectionate nature, I was strongly attracted.  Felicia had come up the hard way having been deserted by her father early on.    Her mother’s second marriage to a wealthy man ran into complications when she got religion, becoming enamored of a bible-thumping degenerate who quickly divested her of her holdings, by prior arrangement with Felicia’s step-father. A multiplicitous plot which ultimately left Felicia and her mother penniless.

When Felicia  met her  husband-to-be, the urologist, she’d been wearing a blood-stained white smock, ironing packages of meat on a conveyer belt in a supermarket. Love had blossomed over the cold cuts, hard as that is to believe, though you hear tell of marriages made in stranger places, today, like the internet; it had never happened to me. She was beautiful, with long blonde hair, which she came by naturally, and cream-colored skin.  Loved her husband steadfastly in spite of the fact that their sex life was a pity.  Felicia had to make do with clandestine thrustings, every now and then, couplings which, as she reported to me, seldom brought satisfaction, but necessary, since she was so high strung.  

But she was in fine spirits when I picked her up at the airport, glad to see me.  I met her at the airport’s luggage rotisserie, and it was quite possible she had grown since I’d seen her last, for she towered over me, and when we hugged, my chin kind of meshed into her cleavage.  “Hey, girl,” she said, whirling me around, as if I weighed nothing.  She looked so fine, I almost felt bad, piling her and the Gucci luggage into one of the garage’s clunkers. As a part-timer and a woman, if there was a cab nobody wanted, it had my name on it and I took no umbrage, proving myself no prima-donna.

“I’m taking the whole weekend off,” I said, dying to show her the city with its world-famous architecture and historical points of interest. Nobody knew Boston as well as a cab driver, unless you were unlucky enough to get a Haitian or Cape Verdean. Born and raised in here, there wasn’t much I had missed from Beacon Hill to the site of the original Liberty Tree to the Ritz. I knew every obscure fact, every chic café, even the very sidewalks and alleys where there’d been a massacre or where a certain college boy had been killed in the Combat Zone. The macabre has its appeal.  

“This looks nice,” she said, as I pulled into the taxi stand in front of my shitty building.  Like Felicia, I’d been financially up and down, adhering to the gospel truth that one day if it was feathers, the next would be chicken as long as I didn’t let the bastards get me down. Non Carborundum Illigitimi on my Latin teacher’s desk had made an indelible impression leading me to blame the men in my life for my circumstances instead of my own stupidity. I’d made a lot of foolish choices, but taxi-driving was the only job I could think of which left my mornings free to write. At the rate I was going, by the time I got around to writing the Great American Novel, a burning desire, most of the men I’d use as characters would be dead, so I didn’t have to worry about libel. I’d run the gamut of men, so many speed bumps on my life’s highway; men who would always say I was ‘too much’ when it was them that was lacking, leaving me broken-hearted and shy.

I’d never allowed Felicia to pick up a check without paying my fair share.  Those country club lunches could be expensive. Replacing the propellers on my 14 foot Cobia, nick-named The Pulitzer, every time I hit a sandbar also ran me quite a bit. (Red  right returning, green is for what??) When I did have money from the sale of my house I’d put it into money markets instead of the bank so that by the time I’d made the transfer there’d be oodles of bounced checks. A financial genius, I wasn’t, just your common garden variety fake writer that you can find any time at Starbuck’s sipping a latte, balancing a laptop, checking the email. At least I knew who I was and I hated what I’d been reduced to: a wannabee writer.  

“You won’t think so when you get inside,” I said, responding to her compliment. .  The halls were dark and dingy.  The utilitarian lobby, banked by mailboxes on one side, and elevators on the other, held a wall-sized mirror, the bane of my existence, one of those mirrors which made me look fat and squatty.  My apartment was gradually taking on a comfortable character, as we settled in.  Lots of people lived a lot worse according to my ex when I complained that my son, Sean, had to sleep in a closet.  The floors were scuffed parquet and the walls were as white as they could be considering the amount of teenage traffic.  

“I wouldn’t hurt your feelings for the world,” said Felicia, looking around a little agog.  Compared to my house in Florida, this apartment was claustrophobic.  “But Renaud insisted on making a reservation at the Hilton.  I thought we could use your place as a base and sleep there at night.”  

“No problem,” I said.  “Sean is old enough to fend for himself, and as long as I check in now and then, the Hilton sounds fine.”  The Hilton had a pool and a bathtub (which I was desperate for since my tub refused to scrub clean) and it was close to the museum where we could spend the whole of Sunday when attendance was free.  

Felicia unpacked a few things and hung them in my closet.  Then she sat on the sofa bed in my living room, crossed her silky legs, and took a small velvet case from her carry-on.  “The first thing I have to do is put these in a safe deposit box.”  

“By all means,” I said.  “I don’t even feel safe being near this much gaudy display of wealth.”  There were enough pieces of jewelry in that box, that if I didn’t love Felicia, I could have hit her on the head, then and there, and gone around the world twice.  The aquamarine ring was my favorite, deep and blue, like Felicia’s eyes.  

“I know you like these,” she said, taking a pair of silver filigreed earrings out of the box and dropping them into my palm.  “You can borrow.”  

“Let me take you to the Hilton and then I’ll put up my cab.”  

We packed an overnight bag and just as we were ready to leave, my son came home from school. He was in the ninth grade. Of all my friends, Felicia was his favorite.  He greeted her with open arms.  “You’ve grown so big,” said Felicia.  “How do you like it here?”  

“It’s okay,” he said, noncommittally. Effervescing was not part of his nature.

Felicia rummaged in her carry-on case.  “I brought you a present, Sean,” she said.  “I hope you like the Red Sox.”  It was a small book about baseball players.  

“They’re okay,” said Sean, with studied nonchalance. “Thanks.”    

“He loves it,” I said.  “That was so thoughtful.”  

In truth, baseball was a sore subject. I couldn’t get him to go to a game, or even to hit baseballs in one of those cages ever since he’d been a home run champ in Little League.   A coach in the transition league took my son’s frail ego and mashed it into the dust when he told him the only reason he’d been so good was because he was six months older than the other kids. Bearing your children’s pain as well as your own was almost too much.  

“No orgies, no staying up late, no unruly guests,” I said, laying down the house rules, adding in a lah-di-dah voice: “Mu-tha will be at the Hilton if you need me.”  

“Later, guys,” said Sean, waving us off.  “I won’t need you.  Have a good time.”  His couch-potato eyes were already glued to cartoons on television. Such a sweet kid, he’d had tears in his eyes the day I first wore a one piece bathing suit instead of a bikini.  Probably hated me for not agreeing to work at the Store 24 across the street from where we lived, worried when I went out to drive cab that he’d never see me again. I couldn’t bear the strain of being in one place, night after night, even at his expense. Something in my gypsy blood needed expression. I loved the bright lights on the theatre marquees, the gussied-up crowds headed for the Symphony, the happy young ones trying to tip with Jell-O shots when they’d run out of money.

I knocked myself out showing Felicia a good time.  We didn’t stop talking for three days, tromping the cobblestone streets of Boston till our feet ached, wandering through churches, ancient cemeteries, and my favorite museums, checking at home every time we needed a change of clothes.  We drank wine or Bloody Marys in every new hotel from the waterfront to Back Bay, a kidney bender if there ever was one.  It wasn’t until Sunday when we were dressing to go out that Felicia asked:  “Where are the men?”  

We’d been having such a good time catching up that I’d almost forgotten, but in all that time, in bar after bar, the only unattached men we’d seen had been the starch-shirted bartenders shining all the brass within reach just to keep from falling asleep.  “On Labor Day anyone who’s anyone migrates to the Cape for one last bash.  It’s no fun with so much traffic, but if you want, I’ll rent a car and take you.”  

Felicia was wearing an anniversary gift from her husband, a lacy, lavender designer creation with a gravity-defying décolletage.  Next to her, in my black Young Edwardian sundress with a tasseled shawl over my shoulders, I was about as spectacular as a wall plug next to a Christmas tree.  Unlike the mirror in my lobby, the Hilton mirror was brutally honest. If you looked close, you could even see a few gray hairs.

“I look like your duena,” I said.  “I’ve put on so much weight, driving taxi, this is the only thing that fits.”  

“You’re too hard on yourself,” said Felicia.  “You look fine.”  There was no point in belaboring the issue.  While some might argue I was still in my prime, Gummi bears and Coke had taken their toll.  Mrs. Fields cookies had plumped out even my shoulders. About the only thing I had going for me was the arch in my neck if I held my head just so.   With the hunt still on, we took a cab to the waterfront Marriott where one glass of wine lead to another. Across from us sat a dark-skinned man in a navy blue suit which glowed like anthracite against the white of his cuffs.  Except for the three of us, the bar was empty.  Every time he caught my eye, I looked away.  “Oh, dear,” I said to Felicia, becoming quite agitated.  “I can’t tell if this man is flirting or just fascinated by your earrings.”  

Felicia pointed through the picture window at a cruise ship passing in the harbor, covertly glancing his way.  “He’s very definitely staring at you,” she said.  “Invite  him over or send him a drink.  I’ll make it easy.  I’ll go call my husband to give you a chance to get acquainted.”  

No sooner had she left, the bar maid brought us both a drink that we hadn’t ordered.  Arvind, as he was called, invited himself over and I thanked him.  “I couldn’t help but notice your beautiful friend,” he said.  

“Beautiful, but married,” I answered, bristling a bit, but not so much as he could notice. I prided myself on a certain dignity. Bostonians were like that. That’s why they called us ‘proper.’ Since I was hardly a blue-blood, a lowly taxi-driver, at that, I was adept as the next at putting on airs, arching my neck so that my nose seemed to be sniffing disdainfully air only royalty could breathe.

Arvind took my hand in his well-manicured one, intuitively caressing one of my calluses with his thumb. I pulled my hand away, embarrassed. “Then let’s not talk about her,” he said, leaning closer so that he could nearly breathe my still-active pheromones.  “From now on, it’s only us that interests me.”  

What a smoothie!   He was handsome and well-fixed, every inch of him exuding  cosmopolitan charm.  I felt my breasts swell inside my drawstring sack dress and an involuntary stickiness propelling itself from under my arm pits.  As soon as I could do so graciously, I extricated myself, and found Felicia, who was finishing her conversation.  “Newly-divorced and lonely,” I whispered, excitedly.  “Pakistan import-exports, and a lawyer, to boot.”  

Felicia blew kisses into the phone and hung up.  “Go for it!  Maybe he’s got a friend for me.”  We walked back to the lounge, arm in arm, smiling about our good fortune, appetites shoved to the rear, despite the mouth-watering steak smells wafting about our heads.  Arvind was congenial, standing in back of us, making small talk as the dinner hour passed.  

“I’m famished,” said Felicia, at last, looking at her watch.  It was after midnight and unlike New York, any restaurant I could think of had already closed.  “We’ll have to make do with room service at the Hilton,” she added, decisively, gathering up my antique jet-beaded bag and my machine-made shawl, her fingers playing with the fringes until Arvind picked up the check and paid.

“Why don’t you come along?” she asked, then, giving him a brilliant smile.

In the cab, sitting between Felicia and myself, when he immediately reached for her hand, my blood began a murderous boil.  What a fool I’d been caught up in this contest. Wouldn’t I ever learn?  Men were plentiful in my cab. Fat or flabby, rich or poor, even in my dotage, all the way into my eighties, like Collette, who took young lovers, men would probably make themselves available. Some of them seemed to like Rubenesque women.   As I studied the cab’s window glass and the silvery sides of   the Federal Bank beyond, I heard Arvind say: “I don’t have my limousine tonight. But tomorrow, we’ll get it and I’ll show you the Cape in style.”  

Somehow, we made a dignified passage through the hotel lobby, trouping past the bandoliered and tasseled staff stifling their yawns at the reception desk. I could barely read the numbers I punched inside the elevator to get to our room. We were Soaveed to the eyeballs and I suppose that had everything to do with what happened next.  Arvind got on the phone to order champagne and steaks while  Felicia ran around the room, plumping up pillows, kicking shoes under  beds, and turning the television dial until the credits came on to an x-rated movie.  “I’m not hungry,” I growled. What could they be thinking of?  I shut my eyes, resting my head on a pillow, tried to ignore them.  

Before long, as we waited for room service, I heard the unmistakable sound of unzippering and the rustling of clothing and little love-making kisses from the settee on the dark side of the room.  When I opened my eyes they were going at it like animals!  Felicia’s dress was somewhere around her neck and Arvind was on top.  “Give me a break, Felicia,” I screeched, jumping up and taking her earrings out of my ears.  “I can’t believe you’re doing this .”  

“We weren’t doing anything,” said Felicia, lobbing a look of indignation in my direction. She began to repair her dishevelment with long, raking fingers, pulling her dress down, catching a hair comb just before it hit the rug.” And you, you pompous proletarian,” I sputtered to Arvind.  “You and your damn limousine… pretending to be interested in me.  I’ve never been so insulted.”

Arvind came over and sat beside me on one of the beds, hanging his head in his hands as if he couldn’t bear to look at me.  “I’m a beast,” he wailed, his back shuddering with the enormity of his sobs.  “I’m so ashamed.  Her beauty just overwhelmed me.”  

Felicia teetered to the phone, shell-colored sling-backs making a whistling sound on the rug.  “First thing in the morning, I’m leaving,” she said, huffily.  “Operator.  Please give me the number for Delta.”  She wrote down the number for the airlines on a little pad of paper.  

“But Felicia…,” I stammered.  “This is ridiculous.”  I begged her not to leave.  Felicia refused to be swayed, just glared at me and made her reservation.  I begged Arvind to leave.  “Can’t you see that we’ve all had too much to drink?  That you’re coming between life-long friends, for a one night stand?”  

“No.  No,” said Arvind.  “Felicia’s much more than that to me.”  

I found a bag in one of the drawers and began to collect my belongings, hair curlers and sun tan lotion and my half of the plastic bubble bath the Hilton’s staff had left for us.  “If you must be so childish,” said Felicia, frostily.  “Let me call you a cab.”  

“I’ll get my own,” I declared, nearly falling into the closet.  I took an armload of my clothes out of it, looking about the room to be sure I hadn’t missed anything, noting Arvind’s socks on the back of the velvet settee.  

“Walk her to the lobby, Arvind,” said Felicia.  “One can’t be too careful in the city.”  

I wasn’t on the sidewalk two hanger-juggling seconds, when a cab stopped.  I wasn’t in bed long enough to fall asleep when the doorbell began buzzing, long and loud, piercing the worst hangover of my life. My head felt as if it were in a vise.  “Who the hell is that?” Sean yelled from his closet.  

“Felicia,” I hollered back, fighting a rising nausea.  “And mad as hell.  Don’t let her in.”  But I thought better of that idea. Reason took hold when I least expected it. I had her luggage, after all, and I didn’t want to be waking the neighbors. I staggered to the living room, with my hands shielding my eyes, thumbs pressing the temples. Miserable, leaning on the door jamb for support, I buzzed her in.  A cold blast of air preceded her when she came through the door.  My head throbbed from imploding synapses and poisoned gray matter.

Felicia stomped past me as if I didn’t exist and switched on an overhead light in my bedroom so she could see what she was doing, ripping designer dresses out of my closet and throwing them haphazardly, hangers and all, into her luggage.  “You forgot this,” she said, flinging my bathing suit through the air with such precision that it landed on a lamp shade.

“What’s wrong, Felicia?  What’s wrong?”  Sean rubbed the sleep out of his eyes, stood there awkwardly in his pajamas. He believed in constancy, a family. Not the kind of itinerant life I had given him, squandering not only my life’s savings but my time. Full of aching, I stared at him and I couldn’t help think how I had failed him, always one step from insolvency, rootless as one of the air plants on a banyan tree.

Click, click, went the locks on her luggage, sounding like cannon shells in my ears.  I got back into bed and pulled a pillow over my head, hoping to stifle the pain, too sick to do more than groan.  Soave fumes were blowing back into my face. Cocooned by my down comforter, though I was, I could hear every word, every rata-tat-tat of her heels on my floor as she headed for the front door. I needed chemicals: Demerol, Percoset, Vicodin.

“Sorry, Sean, honey,” she said, silkily, “for waking you, but your mother is just too, too insecure.”  

“Mom,” came his accusatory wail, saddling me with a guilt I’ve felt to this day. Guilty of anemic productivity, a few short stories published in struggling literary magazines, nothing but rejections from the magazines that agents read. What they wanted was a novel, a novel I couldn’t find time to write because I was too busy earning a living, too tired to do more than read. And it couldn’t just be any old book, it had to be a best seller, with socially redeeming qualities, adding to the paralysis. Felicia had been right. I was just too, too insecure. Thus far, all I’d dared put out were teeny weeny sentences. When would I learn to just let the words fly? Worry about commas and snobby literati later. Quit grousing about that Bennington boy who’d written Less Than Zero.

I burrowed a bit deeper into the softness, hiding the shame and my predilection for suffering, thinking I was just too old for this kind of foolishness, especially the drinking. I would get out of my generic grubbies, put on some make-up, for God’s sake, and join in with the others at Starbuck’s. Begin to forgive myself. Get some backbone. Love my son no matter how angry he got. Make new friends. Sow more wild oats. Even if I was a mother, I wasn’t dead yet. Get out and live life instead of reading about it. Find something better to write than my thinly-disguised memoirs of flawed human specimens and how they’d betrayed me.

In spite of my new resolutions, or maybe because of them, I managed to rise up on one trembling elbow, ready to bolt for the bathroom, feathers tickling my nose, spitting feathers from my lips, to hear Felicia call in a fortissimo voice, the last words from her I would ever hear: “Thanks for leaving me last night. I was almost raped.”

Posted in

Laura Story Johnson, 12/16/2013

Current Occupation: Depends on the time of day, but the coffee always seems to be cold.
Former Occupation: Depended on the time of day, the difference being those were the days before she drank coffee.
Contact Information:Laura Story Johnson writes humorous nonfiction essays that are meant to be read in ten minutes or less because that is the maximum amount of time her children allow her to do anything uninterrupted. Her work has most recently appeared in Great Lakes Review and The Bygone Bureau. In ten minute increments she is currently working on a collection of autobiographical essays titled WOMEN ARE MORE DANGEROUS THAN SHOTGUNS. www.laurastoryjohnson.com

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Odd Jobs

I worked at the Reserve Desk of my college library all four years as an undergrad, the appeal being that it was open until midnight.  The late-night shift was generally quiet and so it yielded some time for me to study while at work.  It also yielded lonely old men who liked to philosophize and pent-up students who liked to streak.  On more than one occasion I was informed that my university education was pointless.  On more than one occasion I watched someone’s bare bottom jiggle past the grey-bearded diatribe.

At the time I counted a bare bottom to be a blessing.  We had it better at the Reserve Desk than at the Main Desk.  After all, we were tucked in the back far from the fray of public masturbation and summa cum laude anxiety attacks.  Our policy at the Reserve Desk was simple: two hours.  That was it, end of story.  A single minute overdue and we owned your soul.  At least that’s what my Reserve Desk colleague liked to tell wide-eyed patrons as he looked for dirt under his long nails.

“Your soul,” he’d murmur through black lips.  I thought he wore makeup, but he was also the first vegan I’d ever met and considering he subsisted on Twizzlers, it might have been a dietary condition.  He was well over six feet tall, pale, and wore only black.  He might have been the first Goth I’d ever met, but at the time I thought he was just sad.  I decided that in addition to shelving and cheerfully listening to our resident elderly antiestablishmentarian, I would add to my list the task of making my ghoulish colleague smile.

In college I resembled Pollyanna, a trait that helped to land me the jobs I needed to supplement my income from the Reserve Desk.  I would turn on the saccharin responding to advertisements that I found on the library’s billboard.  Sunny and energetic: that was me.  It was my voice that got me a job doing some “organizing” with an elderly-sounding gentleman on the Upper West Side.  A dozen people had called him, or so he told me, but he decided to hire me.

When I arrived he let me into his prewar apartment by pushing the door back hard against a stack of magazines.  My glad game enthusiasm quickly waned.  His was an incomprehensible hoarder’s nest.  We squeezed through a path in the junk and I felt light-headed.  He talked nonsense as he gestured about nonsense, mostly about his wife being an opera singer and looking for a broom.  He found the broom and we entered a room that was stacked floor to ceiling with empty, unused postal boxes.

I fixated on the fire hazards while he started handing me piles of papers.  I dutifully stacked them and assumed I was making a recycling pile, but when he told me to put the stack into another box it became clear that he wasn’t throwing anything away.  After an hour he asked me to sweep and criticized my method, accusing me of just pushing dust around.  He took the broom from me after I swept up a miscellaneous scrap of paper.  Removing it from the trash bag and putting it carefully on a stack he asked if I wanted some water.

He led me across the hall and unlocked another apartment.  A mafia-sized freezer sat in the middle of the living room.  Every inch of every counter in the kitchen had a glass on it.  Piles of sheet music encircled the freezer like a shrine.  His wife poured water into one of the glasses and I pretended to drink it.  He told her we were “making progress” and then we returned to the apartment across the hall.  “One last thing,” he said, as he pulled a handcart from a room of wheeled carts.  “Let’s move this fridge to the basement.”

I loaded up a mini fridge and followed him to the elevator.  With a series of keys he opened up a storage room that stretched the width of the building.  The madness consisted of every possible item I’d ever seen collected in colossal quantities.  There was actually a boat down there.  I asked him gently if it was the storage room for the entire apartment building and he said, “Nope, this is all mine.”

Afterward I couldn’t look at buildings without wondering about their hidden secrets.  I became obsessed with a book about people living in tunnels under the subways.  I would stare at the entrance to his building pondering the origin of the word façade.  Eventually the fray of the city crept to the Reserve Desk and the dust of life in New York filled the corners of my own being.  Maybe I was incapable of sweeping.  I stopped picking up odd jobs and took on a pre-dawn shift washing towels at the gym.  My Pollyanna mask started to crumble.  Tired and grouchy I snapped at a Reserve Desk patron one night when he tried to negotiate to keep a book longer than two hours.  I sent him away and put my head down.  My gothic colleague tapped me on the shoulder.  “Twizzler?” he offered.  And that was when he finally smiled.

 

Posted in

Mary Rodriguez, 12/9/2013

Current Occupation: Writer

Former Occupation: Electrical Engineer

Contact Information: Mary Rodriguez lives in McFarland, Wisconsin. Her fiction has been published in WISCONSIN PEOPLE & IDEAS, COUNTRY WOMAN, WISCONSIN REVIEW, and on MADISON Magazine's website. Her poems appeared in MUSED and VERSE WISCONSIN.

 

 

#

Lay Off

 

When things were still manufactured in the United States, and layoffs were what happened during the winter months to roofers and construction workers, Charlie Reardon received more job offers than any other engineering student and opted to go with the company employing the most creative minds in the industry.

Ten years later, all his mentors were gone. The ones still willing to spend the majority of their waking hours perfecting designs became disgusted with the company’s changing environment and left. Others retired to enjoy their prosperity. The rest were laid off.

    Charlie might have been considered the lucky one for a month after his layoff, he was called back to work as a consultant. Arriving the requisite fifteen minutes early, he registered with the surly receptionist, the latest in a steady stream supplied by a temporary agency to replace Betty Donahue who’d been hit in the first round of layoffs. Everyone had liked Betty, even the pesky vendors who got no further than her front desk.

    Jill, a top manager, led Charlie to her office, and informed him the processor he’d masterminded hadn’t been abandonned the minute they’d booted him out the door. Charlie liked Jill because she was straightforward and her guarded manner had him asking the question he was pretty sure he already knew the answer to.

    "Who's in charge of the project?"

    "It’s on Aaron's plate," she said and he stood up. "Sit down, Charlie. Please. As long as you’re here, you may as well listen to what I have to say. I know you have a hard time working with Aaron.”

    “Airhead.”

    “Let me finish. The pay’s extraordinary and Aaron’s keen to have you back working with him."

    "I think you mean doing his work for him, don’t you Jill?”

    “Don’t start.”

    He settled back in his chair. “He’ll claim nights full of work and worry and at the end of the project, he’ll receive a huge raise and bonus, and I’ll get, uh, what do I get, Jill? You tell me."

     “You’ll be paid hourly. Four times your old salary.” She looked up and seemed surprised by his reaction. “We had to reduce head count, Charlie. It’s the stockholders."

    "So they say."

    "Charlie, really, the reason you . . ."

    "Don’t start, Jill. We both know who’s to blame.”

    Leaning back in her chair, she tapped her pencil against a thumbnail. “And who might that be?”

    “Okay, I admit I happen to be the only one around here who has the balls to fight impossible deadlines, but that’s not my worst sin. You know the straw that broke the camel’s back? It’s when I stopped sharing my work with Airhead."

    "Aaron gets things done. His bosses like him. Listen, Charlie, this is your chance to get back in. Unfortunately, upper management . . .”

    "You don’t have to tell me, I know."

    "If you play your cards right, who knows? Things could open up."

    “Sounds good, but I can't work for Aaron again."

    "You should have heard him at the meeting, Charlie. He stuck his neck out. No one wanted you back. They say you're a troublemaker."

    "Because of information fed to them by Aaron."

    "Listen, Charlie, I'm asking a personal favor here. The fact is the project’s in trouble."

    "And you know what?” he said, standing up. “I don't get paid to care."

    The receptionist was waiting for him when he got off the elevator, and had him sign out and hand over his visitor’s pass.

    By the time he got home, Jill had left a message on his answering machine. The company was willing to pay a handsome bonus. Charlie rang back and got her answering machine. He dictated his terms and was more than a little surprised and flattered when she called back to agree to them.

    Setting the alarm that night, Charlie Reardon felt like a little kid getting ready for the first day of school.

    The next morning Aaron, Charlie’s nemesis, was sitting on a couch in the lobby reading the Wall Street Journal. He’d already signed Charlie in, and as they walked to the consultant’s cubicle, instead of filling him in on the project, told a long and winding joke in a faultless Irish brogue.

    Jill once described Aaron as dazzling, but added, “On the outside, Charlie. To make up for what’s missing here.” And she pointed to her heart.

    “You have everything, I think,” Aaron said, back to his normal voice. “The weekly meeting’s in the conference room at ten. We’ll be discussing schedules.”

    Charlie logged on and started sifting through the work that had been done in his absence. When he clicked on one of the references, a message popped up denying him access. He got lost in his reading until Jill stopped by his cubicle.

     “Let’s go next door for coffee,” she said. “They’re still serving sludge at meetings.”

    Ten minutes later they entered the meeting room and Jill addressed the engineers and technicians seated around the table.

    “Charlie’s here to help out. If you have any questions or need a decision made, ask Charlie. Now, let’s go around the table. Introduce yourselves and tell him what you’re working on.”

    Aaron entered the room after all the engineers and technicians had filled Charlie in on their area of expertise. He walked around the table distributing the timeline and projected cost.

    "Do I put in the hours the project needs or follow this schedule?" Charlie asked.

    "Let’s remember our objective," Aaron said. “On time and on budget.”

    Charlie turned the page over. A flowchart he’d created before he’d been laid off showed the tasks that still needed to be accomplished. Aaron’s initials identified it as his creation.

    After the meeting, test writers stopped by his cubicle to fill him in on their progress. They seemed happy to be working with someone who could give them direction, especially the younger ones.

    Charlie went back to eating healthy, exercising, and sleeping eight hours a night. He loved his work, especially following up on all the little details until everything locked into place.

    Charlie wouldn’t let it bother him when Aaron's wife dropped off their new baby because her sitter failed to show, saw him spend an entire afternoon on hockey strategy for the team he coached, or watched him leave early to attend one of his kid’s events. Charlie reported to Jill and she’d given him free reign.

    But one afternoon, he stormed into Jill’s office. “You’ll never guess.” She continued tapping on her keyboard. “I’m sorry, Jill, am I interrupting something?”

    “Preparing a presentation for corporate.” She looked at him. “Okay, I could use a break. Go ahead, Charlie. Unload. Does it have anything to do with Aaron?”

    “He came right out and asked me what I was earning.”

    “You didn’t tell him.”

    “I told him minimum wage.” Jill smiled. “Then we got to talking about our progress or lack thereof, but he was just biding his time. Finally he’d worked up enough courage to tell me he’s thinking about becoming a consultant so his wife could go back to work fulltime and asked me what consultants like us, that’s what he said, as if he and I were in the same line of work.”

    “And what did you say?”

    “Told him you have to negotiate for what you think you’re worth.”

    “Charlie, I’ve told you before and I’ll tell you again, if anyone finds out about the bonus, especially Aaron, it’ll disappear. I don’t need that kind of aggravation.”

    “Relax, Jill. Aaron’s just sniffing around. He’s got some balls though, asking me what I’m charging after laying me off.”

    “Charlie, it’s the stockholders. Corporate . . .”

    “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Listen, I have work to do. Thanks for letting me blow off steam.”

    “That’s what I’m here for.”

The company’s first layoff made front-page news but by the time they got around to Charlie, layoffs didn’t even merit a paragraph in the business section. They had nothing to do with anything but showing a profit on the books, and occurred like clockwork days before the end of a fiscal quarter.

    Back at the height of their success, company employees were getting stock options worth more than their annual salary. The downfall started when it went public and entrepreneurs entered the marketplace who knew nothing about technology but everything about turning a profit. Deadlines moved up and product was shipped out riddled with problems.

    Then, after innumerable promises to the contrary, the first layoff occurred. And it was massive. Throughout the day, managers entered cubicles, interrupted meetings, and combed the cafeteria tracking down redundant employees.

    They were the top story on the news that night. The segment concentrated on a frail middle-aged lady with a steady hand who peered through a microscope and soldered electrical connections. But interspersed with the main story were shots of workers, looking like convicts being walked to their cells, being escorted to their vehicles by either a Security Guard or a Human Resource representative.

    Things had begun to stabilize the night Charlie fell into bed after working most of the weekend and woke up before the alarm with a possible solution to their most plaguing problem. Excited to implement it, he drove into work while it was still dark.

    The fix improved performance but didn’t get rid of the problem. Before the weekly meeting, he was able to run enough tests to verify it wouldn’t negatively impact functionality, and his mind was busy dissecting other solutions as he entered the conference room.

    At exactly ten, Aaron walked in, followed by Jill and BJ, the manager who’d laid Charlie off. Aaron told a joke and while most of the group were still puzzling out the punch line, he said, "When I was golfing with BJ this weekend, we decided on a Friday ship date. I promised him a final project report by the middle of the week.”

    Charlie began mentally cataloging all the loose ends.

    "Can you do it, Charlie?" Jill asked, and BJ nudged Aaron.

    "Jill,” Aaron said. “Charlie's been working long hours for more than a month. He didn't have that much to do." He turned to Charlie. "I want your report on my desk by two o'clock tomorrow."

    "Another early day?" Charlie snapped, and a few technicians snickered. Aaron knew enough to smile like he’d caught the joke, but an hour later he was in Charlie’s cubicle.

    "You think you’re funny?” he asked. Charlie ignored him. “I want your report on my desk, complete, by noon tomorrow."

    Charlie took a late lunch and skipped dinner. Working off a hard drive that attached to his workstation, he finished the report after ten and printed out two copies before erasing the working files. Charlie knew Aaron scanned his account on a daily basis, and he’d been leaving just enough to satisfy his limited curiosity.

    Most of the lights had been turned out by the time Charlie was ready to leave. Gazing at the sea of empty cubicles, he remembered late nights when the office buzzed with engineers and technicians working feverishly to meet deadlines, and the subsequent celebrations when the project was complete. Arriving home after midnight, he fell asleep in his chair in the living room, waking up disoriented the next morning.

    At work Charlie stopped by the bay where the prototype was being tested and talked with all the technicians and engineers. Back in his cubicle, he composed a list of concerns, suggesting follow-ups on inconsistencies no one could explain. If he’d still been working for the company, he would have fought Aaron on the deadline and gotten a time extension. At ten minutes to noon, Charlie put one report in Aaron's mailbox before walking to Jill’s corner office.

    Aaron had told Charlie repeatedly that only he needed a copy of his report. Charlie suspected Aaron was planning to claim he wasn't satisfied with it, submitting a copy the next week with his name on top, claiming he’d added multiple changes, perhaps even apologizing for Charlie’s sloppiness, blaming it on his five-week vacation which is how he referred to Charlie’s layoff.

    Jill waved him inside.

    "So," he said. "Am I free to go?"

    "You’re done?" Charlie put the other copy of the report on her desk. The folder stayed in his lap. "I guess you can go,” she said. “How about lunch? My treat."

    "No thanks."

    Jill picked up the report. "I'm sure it's your usual good work?"

    "I wish I would have had more time, Jill." He held the file containing his concerns.

    "Ah, Charlie, you'll never change." She leaned back in her chair and opened her file drawer. "So, what are your plans? Anything exciting?"

    "Nothing set in concrete." He waited for her to talk about extending his contract.

    Aaron knocked and popped his head in. "Thanks, Charlie," he said. "I'll read it tonight." He seemed to lose his train of thought when he saw Jill putting a copy of the report into her file drawer.

    Charlie stood up, still holding on to the file.

    "Thanks for your help, Charlie," Jill said. “And keep in touch.”

    "Will do." He tucked the file under his arm to take hold of her hands. "And you send me a check or three."

    She laughed. “Being cut as we speak. I sent the paperwork through yesterday after the meeting.”

    Aaron coughed into his hand. Charlie held up the file.

    "I took the liberty of writing a conclusion, follow-ups really, the inconsistencies I’m not able to explain."

    "That wasn’t necessary," Aaron said, the eagerness in his voice belying his words.

    “Oh no?”

    Aaron was no longer smiling. “Hand it over, Charlie.”

    It was Aaron’s tone of voice that had Charlie walking toward Jill’s shredder.

    “Charlie, what are you doing?” she asked.

    “You heard Aaron. It’s unnecessary.”

    He fed the contents of the file into the shredder. Aaron tried to wrench it free, but the pitch of the screaming motor scared him into letting go.

    Jill took hold of his arm. “Okay, Charlie, come on. I’ll walk you out.”

    At the elevator, she pressed the down button.

    “Asshole,” Charlie muttered.

    The elevator doors opened and Charlie followed Jill inside. She pressed the button for the lobby.

    “You do have a copy of what you shredded, don’t you Charlie?”

    “You heard him, Jill. Not necessary. Just like me.”

    She turned to say something, studied his face, and changed her mind. They rode down to the lobby in silence. 

Posted in

Robyn Segal, 12/2/2013

Current Occupation: unemployed writer

Previous Occupation: working through red tape

Contact Information: Robyn Segal is an artist, writer and mother. She has a B.A. in Mass Communications and a Master's of Science in Public Administration. Her short stories and essays have been previously published in the Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review, Equally Wed Magazine, Literary Yard and Connotation Press. She lives in North Haven, Connecticut with her four children and wife.

 

#

Fired!

    I was reduced to bargaining. After considering all my options, I agreed that I would reset my alarm clock to 10:30am, no 10:45am, and then I would get up and do “something”. Within minutes I was back asleep. I was dazed and disoriented when the alarm clock buzzed its static buzz two hours later. I re-negotiated the terms of my previous agreement. I would get up and do “something” if the sun came out. In the meantime, it was raining and if my luck held out, it would continue to rain until 3:00pm. That was when the kids came home and I had to don my costume and make-up for my role of “a mom coming home from work.”  Well not really. I had told the kids a few weeks ago that I was working from home. At first they viewed my claim with suspicion. We live across the street from the school so by recess it was obvious from my car still parked in front of the house that I had not gone anywhere. Their suspicions were further validated by my matted hair and pajamas that I had been wearing all day and then two days and ultimately nearly a whole week. Finally, one of the kids blurted out in an accusatory tone, “You got fired didn’t you?”

    “No, of course not” I said in a deliberately matter of fact way.  “I told you I wanted to spend my time with you and have decided to work at home.” Then added, “Don’t you like having mommy here when you get home from school?”

    My ploy to shift the focus back on him worked. He quickly tired of the conversation and when out to play. I seized my chance to spend time together after school by taking a nap in the lawn chair in the yard. I rationalized that it was like spending time together as we were both outside and if he came in the backyard for any reason, I would be there so we would be together.

    I had never been fired before. I was one of only two employees and we worked out of a windowless warehouse. Our employee handbook was copied from some other company and our boss came by once a week for an hour for our weekly staff meeting. A part of me was secretly happy to be fired.  I graciously accepted my termination, even embraced it, believing this was the universe telling me to take another path, sit back and enjoy the ride, grab life by the balls so to speak, and pursue my dreams.

I spent the first week watching everything I had TiVo’d for the last six months. I spent the second week shuffling through the on-screen program guide looking for new things to TiVo.  I pushed my do “something “deadline” back because of Mothers Day.  There was nothing happening on Mother’s Day to stop me from “grabbing my life by the balls” except that in the absence of going to work, you have to look beyond the usual 9-5 to mark time. The anticipation, planning for and participation in Mothers Day theoretically took up the whole first half of May. With my eye on Memorial Day, I could see where this was headed so I reluctantly acknowledged that I better come up with a plan or I would be TiVo-ing my way through Charlie Brown and the Great Pumpkin.

Being home all day and night is an un-natural state of being.  Without the social contact of work, the television became my new window to the world.

    The television gave my day a kind of order. From 9:00am-11:00am there were back to back episodes of Little House on the Prairie. At 11:00am, I discovered The Hallmark Channel aired Highway to Heaven which wrapped up what I began to think of as my mornings with Michael Landon. At noon, I watched Locked Up Abroad, basically, a daily tribute to the naïve actions of young 20 something people, “away on holiday”, when they suddenly find themselves (their words) “strapped for cash” and stumble blindly into the drug trafficking business, only to get caught by third world customs officials, forced to sign a confession in a foreign language, sentenced by a corrupt judicial system for an undermined period of time. The final segment of the show is an unabashed testimony of shame for what they did to their family’s friends and themselves, followed by brief epilogue.  Every day a new pair of innocent convicts tells their story in voice over from their third world jail cell.

    From 1:00pm-3:00pm I flip between three different channels to watch concurrently three repeat episodes of Law and Order. I have timed the whole operation so that I can flip between the three channels avoiding nearly all the commercials and never miss more than a second or two of each show. One afternoon, to make things interesting, I bet myself that I would not hit one commercial for the whole Law and Order marathon. I lost. To punish myself, I sat through a whole set of commercials before I could turn the channel.
    As luck would have it, there was a commercial with a snappy little jingle that I liked so much that I spent the next two days learning the words to the song Free Credit Report.Com. In weeks to come, I developed a certain fondness for the main character in the song who, like me, didn’t get a free credit report and was now forced to drive an economy car. He also had to dress like a pirate which kind of made me feel better about my own situation.

While I was grabbing my life by the balls, I was doing less and less every day. One afternoon I forced myself to look through a box of books that I was planning to read but never had the time. All of the books were works of non-fiction and among them was a book called Lost to the Sea. I wrapped myself up in a blanket and curled up in my chair to read.

    The book was a tedious account of life aboard a commercial fishing boat in Dutch Harbor.

    The author seemed preoccupied with giving the reader the boat’s compass bearing, which appeared about every three paragraphs. In the past, I would have donated the book to the Salvation Army and started reading another, but in this un-natural state, I continued to toil away , learning which is the best place to “put down pots” for the big haul. Around chapter three, I found a show on The Discovery Channel called The Deadliest Catch. It was a reality show about life on a commercial fishing boat. It was as if the lifeless words and colorless story I had been struggling to read burst into Technicolor. I did some research (scanned the on-screen program guide) and discovered that the series was in its fourth season. Thus I dedicated the rest of the week to the work of finding any and all earlier episodes that had previously aired. I then dug out a couple of blank pieces of paper from my “old briefcase” and created a system to track episodes as I “captured” them on TiVo. In all, there were 63 episodes and my diligence paid off when I found all of Season One airing at 2:00am daily. I began using fisherman terms, referring to a string of consecutive episodes as a “line”.  When the current season aired a new episode, I referred to it as the “main line”.

    Of course, all of this referring in fish terminology was done in my head as I was now spending days at a stretch in total isolation with the exception of the people that work at the school across the street.  I chat with the secretary in the morning, the lunch aids at recess, and the school social worker is my new best friend.  I mark time with them as they count down the days till summer vacation, their summer vacation.

    I was beginning to worry about my ability to re-enter the work force so I made a rule that I had to apply to at least two jobs every morning before I could reach for the remote.  I found the silence in the house intolerable so I decided to interpret the rule to mean that I could have the TV on while looking for a job, but only the news and I couldn’t use the remote.

There were times when the only incentive I had to fill my quota of sending out my two resumes per day, was the promise of watching something I had TiVo’d the night before.

Long after I had fallen asleep one night in a drunken television stupor, the sound of the television jerked me awake.

I fumbled for the remote and hit rewind then fast forward then rewind before I found what I had heard through my dreamless slumber. “Tomorrow on Today” the announcer blared, “learn the latest on the Rob Lowe nanny scandal, fashions for the third trimester and a special interview with Matt and the Dalai Lama.”

I glanced at my messy night stand and the unread book, The Essence of Enlightenment and thought, “I got to TiVo this.”   I scanned the channel guide and scrawled until I came to the Today show, hit record and fell back asleep.

    The next morning I rushed through my daily job search so I could watch Matt and the Dalai Lama.

    Forgoing my daily dose of Highway to Heaven, I grabbed the remote and scanned through the list of recorded programs till I found what I was looking for. I hit pause and poured myself a drink as I planned out my next move. I could watch the whole three hour program and wait for the Dalai Lama interview, closely scan the entire program in fast forward and hit play when the Tibetan monk appeared, or use my third option which was a button on the remote called Skip Forward. I spent weeks pondering what Skip Forward was, but was never able to determine how far the Skip Forward button “skipped” through a program, and with three hours of Today to wade through, I decided to scan in fast forward.

    After scanning through the first hour, I became impatient and picked up the pace, by speeding up the fast forward. As I rounded the corner to the third hour I realized that Matt wasn’t even on the air anymore. Rewind, fast forward, rewind, fast forward. Another two hours past and I could not find Matt or the Dalai Lama. Impatience turned to anger, disbelief turned to shock, denial turned to despair. My TiVo had betrayed me. In my vacuum of a world, I had lost all perspective. The fisherman of the Berea Sea had become my co-workers, my job was learning the words to Free Credit Report.Com and New England Technical School beckoned me from my arm chair to consider a career as a dental assistant.

    The sun was out, it is almost noon and I have run out of counter offers to negotiate for a few hours of television. Left with no option, I start to look for a job.

 

Posted in

Nancy J. Rodwan, 11/25/2013

Current Occupation: Independent Filmmaker and Freelance Intellectual Property Rights & Clearance Specialist

Former Occupation: College Permissions Manager, W. W. Norton & Company

Contact Information: Nancy J. Rodwan is the award-winning director and co-producer of the Poetry in Pictures Series of short films. In addition, she has directed, shot and edited several other short films and a feature length documentary. She studied film at New York University. She lives in Detroit, MI. Her publishing credits include Upstreet Magazine, Greenprints and San Pedro River Review.

#

Santa Fe Cattle Co., Ada, OK

 

Unlike the other girls,

No makeup or hair product.

The restaurant’s t-shirt sits

Loosely on her small resilient frame.

Hair pulled back in a functional ponytail.

Large studded belt keeping

Faded jeans rested on her boyish hips.

 

Busing tables while the other girls

Wait on customers or play hostess.

No time for giggling or gossip.

Tub filled with the destruction

Left by table twelve pulling her

Shoulders down

 

The pale narrow eyes fit neatly

With her sharp determined features.

Strong and willful.

Never mean or spiteful.

She could be a descendent of Mick Kelley.

 

She knows things,

Useful things:

Like how to get her

Siblings off to school.

Make $20 last until payday.

Which machines work at the

Suds ’n’ Fluff.

 

She also knows:

How colors feel

How words force imagination.

How long it will be until she is free

Of the Santa Fe Cattle Company.

 

Posted in

Peter Neil Carroll, 11/25/2013

Current Occupation: Writer
Former Occupation: Teacher
Contact Information: Peter Neil Carroll is the author of a new collection of poetry, A Child Turns Back to Wave: Poetry of Lost Places (Press Americana, 2012) which won the Prize Americana. A previous volume is Riverborne: A Mississippi Requiem (2008). His poems have appeared recently in HEArt Journal Online, Sand Hill Review, Poetry Bay, American Atheneum, and Written Rivers: A Journal of Eco-Poetics. He lives in northern California.

#

Workers in Paradise (Alabama)

 

 

Carthage

 

No place to eat in rural towns

I pick apples at Piggly Wiggly,

distracted by loud shouts  

as a cock-eyed, toothless man

disputes the register printout.

Where’s my buttermilk! My shrimp!

Two checkout women

laugh hysterically.

One covers her mouth, whispers  

I love Tuesday, he does this every Tuesday.

 

        *

Courtland

 

Not a shop seems open on Main

but three rusty pickups squat

outside a shuttered door. I push

inside. An elderly chef, her flowery dress

touching the floor, calls out

 

God bless! and dishes sweet potatoes

baked with pecans, collards,

ham hocks, beans, and gravy. Her partner

in Church of God T-shirt delivers dessert:

I sure hope this beats pie in the sky.

 

        *

Florence

       

My lodge of choice might have at least one

working light bulb, one thin towel,

a plastic cup.

 

The harried manager, a newcomer  

with wife and kids cramped rent-free

in a franchised dump, scrambles

to please a paying customer.

 

Poor man, we meet in every city,

over his head in cracks and grunge,

busy, busy, striving.

 

Posted in

Marc J. Sheehan, 11/18/2013

Current Occupation: Communications Officer, Ferris State University
Former Occupation: Communications and Publication Officer, Grand Rapids Art Museum
Contact Informtaion: Marc Sheehan is the author of two poetry collections — Greatest Hits from New Issues Press and Vengeful Hymns from Ashland Poetry Press.   His short story “Objet du Desir” won the Stella Kupferberg Memorial Short Story Contest sponsored by the public radio program Selected Shorts and was read on stage in New York by David Rakoff.   His story “The Dauphin” was broadcast on Weekend All Things Considered as part of its Three-Minute Fiction series.   Other poems and stories have been published by Paris Review, Prairie Schooner, Passages North, Michigan Quarterly Review and many others.

 

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La Rueda de la Fortuna

 

            At first, the ceiling light over my desk wouldn’t come on right away. It was motion-activated and sometimes I’d have to walk away and come back again, or stand there waving my arms like a madman to make it work. If my co-workers thought I was actually crazy, they didn’t say so. At least, not to me.

            Then one morning the light wouldn’t come on at all. I sat there in the gloom and thought about putting in a work order to have it fixed, but then realized I felt like I was getting the flu. Since I didn’t have any projects on deadline I decided to go home and told the administrative assistant what I was doing as I headed out. She looked at me, or at least in my direction, so I assumed I was all set. Once home I warmed myself up some tomato soup and ate it with oyster crackers while watching a Spanish language version of Wheel of Fortune.

            The next day I stayed home and left a voice mail at the office. I got cut-off mid-message when I called in again the third day.

When I returned I pushed the elevator button in the lobby and got nada. I sat down on a bench and was steeling myself to take the stairs when a guy who works down the hall from me strode in. He hit the button with his elbow as he continued tapping away at his i-Phone. The doors opened right up. I couldn’t remember his name and he was still texting anyway, so I just sidled in after him.

            If the company issued a memo about re-arranging offices, I never got it. There was now a long corridor of endlessly reconfigurable dividers where my cubicle used to be. Had there been any family photos on my desk I wanted I might have looked into it, but the thought of dealing with HR made me so tired that I was afraid I would fall asleep where I stood. I had to walk seven flights down to the lobby because the elevator still wouldn’t work for me. I went to bed as soon as I got home.

            It was dark when I woke up. There must have been a storm or something because my digital alarm clock was dead. I couldn’t tell what clothes I was putting on, but I didn’t think it mattered. Other houses on the block had lights, so I took a walk to see if I was the only one affected.

            When I got back my key wouldn’t fit the lock. I didn’t know what else to do so I was going to drive to the police station, but my car wasn’t in the garage. I slumped to the front porch and sat there for a long time. Finally I stood up and the moon appeared from behind a cloud as if it had just been switched on.

 

Posted in

Marc Swan, 11/18/2013

Current Occupation: Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor

Former Occupation: Free-lance writer

Contact Information: Marc Swan lives in Portland, Maine, a working seaport with a thriving arts community. He has new work coming out in Slipstream, Common Ground, Pearl and Owen Wister Review, WORK Literary Magazine, among others. Simple Distraction, a collection of his poems from 1989 to 2009, was published in fall 2009 by tall-lighthouse in London, England.

 

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Missing Bullets

 

There’s a blizzard on the outside and I’m

on the inside in a small well-lighted cubicle

talking to a sixty-three year old man with two

Master’s degrees 1500 miles away.  He tells

me about work, his job on a line packaging

IV bags. Standing beside a conveyor, five

feet high, he lifts and hangs one IV bag after

another, after another, after another, forty six

bags every minute for thirty minutes and then

he moves to the end of the line and inspects

this product for thirty minutes, then he runs,

literally, into the warehouse, back to the line

with containers filled with IV bags to be placed

onto hooks he calls bullets one after the other,

after the other, after the other, forty six

bags every minute. This is in a sterile work

place he tells me then he talks about the incident,

the shift when he couldn’t keep up with the one

after another IV bags to bullets activity. He tried

and he tried and his anxiety peaked. He couldn’t

breathe, couldn’t inspire or expire regularly. He

moved away from the line into a quiet space

and took a nitroglycerine capsule and waited

and he still couldn’t inspire or expire regularly,

so he took another and when that didn’t work

he went to the nurse and then by ambulance

to the hospital. He laughs, There I was trying

to breathe in my bunny suit watching the bags

fall one after another, after another, after another

Posted in

R.V. Branham, 11/11/2013

Current Occupation: editor, publisher, translator
Former Occupation: Treasury Dept. terrorist, social worker, stock photo researcher, tech typist, & co-host of a floating æther-den
Contact Information: R.V. Branham has worked as a short order cook, firewood bundler, security guard, tech writer, aerospace clerk, book-seller, photo researcher, newspaper editor, paste-up ninja, Treasury Department terrorist, assistant X-ray tech, rape crisis counselor, social worker, translator, and interpreter. [Optional: As a ’70s survivor, he co-hosted a floating æther den (as if there were any other kind back in the day). ] He is author/compiler of Curse+Berate in 69+ Languages (a 90 language dictionary and phrase book of insult, invective, obscenity, blasphemy, and other political speech, now in its 2nd. printing, from Soft Skull Press). His fiction has been anthologized in Dinosaurs 2, Full Spectrum 3, Ghosts 2, Hybrid Beasts (a Red Lemonade e-book anthol.), and Midnight Graffiti; and in magazines including Back Brain Recluse (UK), Ellery Queen’s Mystery Mag., Midnight Graffiti, Isaac Asimov’s SF Mag., Tema (a bilingual Croatian mag.), 2 gyrls quarterly, & online in In Other Words Mérida, Red Lemonade, & Unlikely Stories, with further stories forthcoming in Fall 2013 in The Writing Disorder, and W*O*R*K. His essays and interviews have been in the Australian artist book anthols. Mother Sun and Drawn To Words, as well as in Gobshite Quarterly, Paperback Jukebox, Portland Metrozine, and Red Lemonade (online).  Two of his plays, Bad Teeth and Matt & Geof Go Flying had staged reading productions in Los Angeles, CA., and in Portland, OR. He is publishing editor of Gobshite Quarterly, a multilingual en-face magazine (now in broadsheet format), and as publisher of GobQ/Reprobate Books has published El Gato Eficaz/Deathcats (an en-face Spanish/English edition of Luisa Valenzuela’s classic magico-realist novel), as well as Douglas Spangle’s A Bright Concrete Day: Poems, 1978—2013, with bilingual chapbook & e-book editions of El Gato Eficaz/Deathcats , & collections of Russian and Croatian writing forthcoming in 2014 & beyond.

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The Guns Of …

 

juuichi: Kyle was southbound on I-5, headed for Salem, headed for another interview with another branch of the State of Oregon Department of Corrections.

He glimpsed the Koin Center redbrick tower, capped with a grotty verdigris pyramid, from southbound I-5.

A trick of winter light made the Koin look like a yellowbrick tower, a sister city to Oz’s Emerald City…and the rainbow coming from Swan Island was a perfectly cruel joke.  juu: “Good afternoon, Social Security Administration.”

Hold music at the other end. God. Classic Rock.

Stuck in the Middle With You… The teleservice rep waits twenty seconds, then disconnects. Takes the next call.

“Afternoon, Social Security Administration.” ku: Only an hour before Kyle had been dreaming of the Wicked Witch of The Willamette and how she’d fired his ass when his halfsister Sam kicked at the door (to a room so recently the office of her air bus-crash-killed Leslie and now Kyle’s guestroom) and reminded Kyle of his Salem job interview and threatened to toss his useless shite out on-to the street unless he arose and shone and got his tush in gear and Kyle yelled that she ought to be emailing suckup requests to publicists and threats to writers for her Journal Of the Plague Years deadline.

Ten miles north of Salem a freezing rain hurtled concentrated balls of styrofoamlike ice against his windshield.

He sipped tepid coffee and watched the road for patches of ice, black, white, or other.

The defrost strips in the hatchback glass behind him were losing the battle to condensation and cold.

Kyle turned the heater off…it made him drowsy.

The defrost, however, kept the front windshield clear.

One mysterious black big rig in front of him with strange plates bore casks marked “radioactive,” now what the hell was that about, wasn’t it illegal to carry nuclear waste on interstate highways?

Kyle wondered if the “radioactive” casks were from Hanford or Trojan as he got into the left lane and passed the big rig.

Traffic alternated light and heavy, with clusters of tripleload eighteenwheel-eighteenbaldtire rigs and customkitsch-mural vans and bigwheel trucks and recreational vehicles loaded with smaller vehicles, followed by halfmile blur after blur of 90 mph big nothing.

Ten years spent driving in Ellay, another in New York, and a month in Tokyo’s kana-neon metatraffic, made this stretch of interstate a cakewalk, though he would gladly do without the icing. hachi: “Social Security Administration. Thelma Louise speaking. Thank you for holding,” a teleservice rep says to a client, though her name is not really Thelma Louise.

Her name is Gloria Reid and she asked for Travis Bickle as a pseudonym but had to settle for Thelma Louise.

Gloria is furious because the others have not returned from their breaks and she cannot yet take hers. She has to go get Easter lilies for when she stops by Kaiser Sunnyside to see her dad, not that her dad will wake up from his coma long enough to notice. She looks at the greeting card just got for her dad.

The bastard.

“How can I be of assistance?” shichi: “Oh, and don’t wear levis or jeans, not even black levis or dress jeans,” was the last thing he’d been told by the Department of Corrections secretary who responded to his snailmailed-in resumé to set up an interview.  — “Why?” — “In case the guards have to shoot.”

Kyle had on a cassette boot of a Sinéad O’Connor concert:

“What else should I be,” he repeated.

The left lane ahead was declared null and void as orangered cones converged.

“…All apologies.”

A drugtest-yellow car with Washington plates just ahead and to the right of Kyle briefly swerved into his lane and he braked, no choice, Kyle had to brake, he braked on a patch of black ice, thwomp, glided into the cones, thwomp and thwompthwompthwomp, large orangered cones raining on his windshield and a cone cracked the windshield spider weblike and Kyle braked again to avoid hitting a State of Oregon truck stalled before him and he saw the shivering and frightened inmate-workers who had picked shrubbery and pruned litter and who now sat in the back sharing a bag of hickorysmoke metastasnacks, Kyle saw them as his head met the windshield visor.

He saw the hills and trees, too, all floating-worldlike, as cloud banks scudded into hills. Saw the crumpled bloodsoaked tissues. And the clouds, no not scudding, more rubbing against hillside trees to scratch their H2O hiho 25 watt silverlined acidrained backs.

Kyle was not certain which upset him more, the bloody napkins or sky and earth exchanging places. He made his way into the prison parklot some twenty minutes later, after using every napkin in the glove compartment, in the back seat, in the passenger footwell, in discarded fastfood and musicstore bags, to clean his blood from the windshield and visor and dashboard and from his forehead.  — “Could you come into the office,” his seventh supervisor in nine months had asked him that final day of his ninth month and the first week after returning from the government shutdown furlough and he unthinkingly said, “sure,” and went to see his seventh supervisor (called by all and one “The Winged Monkey”) and when Kyle found another supervisor (a.k.a. “The Scarecrow”) was also in the office Kyle realized that the idiot bastard seventh sonofawingedmonkey bitch of a seventh idiot bastard sonofawingedmonkey bitch had sandbagged him and The Winged Monkey gave Kyle a letter to read and said, “I’m sure you know what this is about,” and Kyle said, “No, I don’t, because when you came on board you told me people weren’t happy with my performance but that you would make your mind up and let me know if you saw any problems, that you’d give me warning, and every week I asked you if you saw any problems or areas for improvement and you told me every thing was fine,” and The Winged Monkey then said, “Well, this is never easy,” and Kyle replied, “I wouldn’t know whether it’s easy to put a knife in someone’s back,” and The Scarecrow protested and Kyle added, “and If I weren’t the gentleman I am I’d call you the lying sack of shit you most certainly must be,” and when The Scarecrow said that was uncalled-for Kyle asked why the asslicking union steward who helped fuck him under was absent, wasn’t a steward supposed to be present, and The Winged Monkey said, when Kyle calmed down enough to talk about it, then, he’d be glad to help in any way he could and Kyle said, “So sorry…get me another spouse,” and by the time he was asking them about the bogus sexual harassment charge that kept finding its way into and out of his personnel file the rentanasshole guards were taking away his federal employee ID badge and escorting him from a federally-leased facility and he had come back a week later to retrieve his personal shit, already tossed into an empty photocopy box, and was threatened by an eagerbeaver rentanasshole guard when he protested that his enamel Starbucks cup and his potted cactus and a framed photograph by now-semifamous badboy photographer Beausoleil (bought eons ago at Butters Gallery and now worth some bucks) were missing.

But that eagerbeaver rentanasshole had given every one grief and shit.

Kyle watched inmates play basketball in the one spot of sunlight available in the entire state, play behind a high razorwired fence as he made his way to the main building which looked so much like his old high school as to creep him out bigtime…down to the moss making its way up the north side of the building. One cocky inmate danced the funky chicken and Kyle felt a burst of envy and loathing. Kyle hated dancing and could at best approximate a grand mal seizure when in the thick of rock club mosh pit or school gym floor. Release, yes, but not grace or beauty.

“You’re like Lester Bangs,” Gloria had told him once. — “How?” — “Bangs said writing about music was like dancing about architecture, but you do dance about architecture.” — Dancing made Kyle think of school, specifically high school, and high school made him think of dancing and this prison made him think of both.

The only reprieve Kyle ever found from the Bataan Death March called high school was in tennis. Tennis had been his high school sport and he had aced Singles, was an Ace, he reveled in the selfishness and found a palpable and animal grace only when playing, he danced then, a thousand dances, but the fuckwad coach had wanted Kyle to get with the program, wanted him for Doubles and Kyle hated Doubles, fuck the program, Kyle hated any team effort and finally just quit and broke the fuckwad coach’s nose when the fuckwad coach refused to take No for an answer. And, yes, there had been a fumbling grace in his bloodied wrestling with the fuckwad coach who refused to take No for an answer, a sort of first-dance-at-the-prom quality to the scene, not that Kyle ever went to the prom.

A Robert Mapplethorpe flowers wallcalendar behind the bulletproof-windowed guard desk was good for a hoot but the building itself made him want to run for his car and drive away, drive away and keep driving until his gastank tanked. The lesions on the neck of the railthin modelprisoner who administered Kyle’s typing test after he was let through electronically-controlled slamming barred door after electronically-controlled slamming barred door with deafening buzzes and clicks did nothing to assuage this unease.

— “One twenty words per minute with corrections.” — Kyle felt his forehead seep again as if he were becoming a miracle, a bleeding church madonna. “Bad day,” said Kyle to the modelprisoner, trying a winsome smile on for size. — “Would you like me to get paper towels,” the modelprisoner enquired, unsmiling. Those lesions, whether or not K-S scars, looked like states that Kyle drew to win free drinks in bar bets. — “No. Thanks. Where’s your ’loo?” Kentucky. — “What?” — Maine. “Sorry. Restroom.” Michigan. — “Right.” — Upper and lower peninsulas. A pause. “I’m sorry. Where’s the restroom.” Florida. — “Bog’s down the hall twenty feet, turn right.” Alaska. As he went to the restroom he could hear the modelprisoner say, “Asshole.”— Kyle could hear a guy in the corner stall impersonating a scat singer while having a trombone solo of a dump.

Kyle pressed and pressed the dispenser lever and unbleached paper tumbled down until he found what he reasoned to be an uncontaminated layer. roku: “How can I be of assistance?”

“I just don’t know who to talk to…I talk to IRS and they say to talk to you people and I talk to you people and you people tell me to talk to the IRS.”

“Well, what’s the situation?”

Gloria is so bored she looks at the latest issue of Journal Of the Plague Years, so bored she reads a review of a Hong Kong rollerdisco lesbian vampire kungfu movie she’ll never see, a review written by her bastard brother Geof, who cannot even be bothered to drop by the Kaiser Sunnyside vegetable garden to visit their bastard dad (or even go halves on lilies). Gloria always feels like an idiot when she reads her brother’s reviews and feels some how cheated, conned and manipulated, shat up on. She has this image to say thought of Geof dividing all and sundry toys or candy or booty when they were children.

— “Two for me, one for you, three for me, one for you, four for me.”

Gloria was annoyed with the intensity that Kyle loved reading her brother’s reviews, no, that’s not right, with the intensity that he loved hating them (“heavyfisted and hamhanded”) and the way that Kyle went out of his way see the movie so he could write a letter to Geof’s editor to slamdunk Geof’s pretentious review. When Gloria brought up the fact that Kyle’s sister is her brother Geof’s editor he agreed, yes, well, Sam would not print one of my letters, she’d consider it nepotism to do so.

And those slacker shits still haven’t come back from their java breaks. She’s not even sure whether those shitheels are even telling her the truth about her brother Geof actually dropping by to visit her yesterday, wanting to take her to lunch (and that is so out of character for him that he probably did do so, some how intuiting that she would be out of the office that day, that is so so so like Geof) but she would not put it past those shitforbrains to make up Geof’s visit, either, they know that she and her brother are not particularly close.

“The situation is that some one down in Florida or Alabama or Mississippi or Arizona, I don’t know where, they move around a lot, some Mexican, probably, is using my social security card and I keep having problems with my taxes.” go: Shutupshutupshutup, Kyle thought as he sat in an office filled with tschotschkes and plastercasted praying hands and Sears Special portraits of grandchildren, sat and faced his interviewers, a man with a face like the potato famine and a wretched toupee and a woman of the bluerinse tribe whose aging earlobes drooped under the weight of her mothership earrings.

They expressed concern over the bruise on his forehead and offered to send him to the nurse but he declined and the interview began.

Answers thirty seconds max, listen and pause, then back to thirty seconds max. He silently practiced his Japanese, bringing the kana images into his head, counting backwards from ten: juu, ku, hachi, shichi, roku, go.

—“About this last job, you were only there nine months.” —

Shi, san, ichi. Listen, pause:

— “Yes, well, I had been working there nearly three months and was encouraged to apply for a promotion and, well, my supervisor left the agency and I had another supervisor and then another supervisor and then another supervisor and after three more supervisors it was determined that the position wasn’t a good fit, but I think of it as a valuable learning experience.” —

Thirty seconds max, without getting too personal and naming names like The Winged Monkey, The Wicked Witch Of The Willamette, The Pod Lady, or The Scarecrow.

— “You’ve got quite a varied background,” said the man. — “Yes,” the woman said, “a very interesting background.” — “Very interesting,” the man agreed.

Very interesting, according to Kyle’s exwife, meant terminally excruciatingly boring. Interesting only rated elaborately boring.

Kyle had blown the interview any way when he assumed that the man was the woman’s supervisor. — “How do you feel about the prisoners,” said the man. — “About working with them,” added the woman. — “Well, if they’re paying their debt to society and if they do good work, well, I wouldn’t have any problems.” —

The two interviewers nodded, said “Good” in unison. — “And how,” the woman asked, “do you feel about working with people from different backgrounds.” — “Different backgrounds,” repeated the man. — “Do you mean ethnic backgrounds,” asked Kyle. — “Yes.” — “Well, I’m half Hispanic on my mother’s side, and I’ve lived in Los Angeles and New York and spent time in Japan during The…” (He caught himself just in time and did not say The Dirty Little.) “Any way, I like to think I am pretty tolerant.” — “And religion?”— Kyle looked at them, saw their persistent eyes. “Well, again, I’ve lived and worked in several places, different countries, different cultures, and I’d have to agree with Martin Luther’s comment that he’d rather hire a capable Islamic Turkman than an incompetent Christian. I don’t care what you believe, I care about what you do.”

There was a pause.

— “Interesting,” said the woman. — “I don’t remember Martin Luther King saying any thing like that,” said the man, “I am a great admirer of Dr. King.” — “…I meant Martin Luther Luther.” — “Oh,” said the man, “that Martin Luther.”

The woman chortled.

They asked him about HIV and the public’s attitudes and took notes as he spoke of the tragedy and spoke of an exseminarian junkie pal who sucked needles and shared dirty dicks and contracted AIDS in 1989 and been on protease cocktails since 1994, only to contract the emergent elohim strain and fall into a decline and die last year (and it astonished Kyle that only Gloria and a post-grad biochemistry professor had ever called him on inventing terminal diseases). Kyle chose to delete the sordid bits about shared needles and dicks and projectile diarrhœa, instead turning the dead exseminarian and rat’s-assignation shit-heel bastard pal into a noble posterchild for a tragic epidemic.

“We’ll let you know.” They rose from their seats.

“Next week.” He shook their hands. The woman’s grip was confident and the man’s was clammy and tentative.

The man showed Kyle out, back down the ammonia-soaked hall. The gleaming lino caught the wan winter light from barred windows and bounced it all over white walls.

Kyle told the man some thing he had told no one else about, never ever before, told the man about his diabetic grandfather and about how when he was a freshman in high school he took his grandfather’s syringes and cleaned them with bleach and gave them to junkie friends so they wouldn’t get hepatitis, or some thing worse. And then Kyle began to talk about his mother’s suicide, when he was five years old, maybe four. The man looked at Kyle, smiled a provisional smile.

“Interesting.” shi: “I keep getting problems with my taxes.”

“You’ll have to talk to the IRS. We can’t do any thing.”

If Gloria does not get coffee soon she will fall into deep sleep. Kyle was always good for that, always good for a cup of Starbucks java du jour, all you had to do was ring him and he’d punch idle and then run to the elevator and shoot down for a cup of double joe.

The quid for this pro quo was that you had to pay for Kyle’s cup of joe. Kyle never took longer than five, seven minutes, max…unless he argued with that asshole security guard who told every one that the World Trade Center was payback for Waco. And Kyle then asked what The Dirty Little was payback for. For some one who claimed to loathe dancing Kyle certainly did mix it up with people. Always finding some fibula of contention. She laughs when ever she remembers what Kyle finally told the rentanasshole: “May your genepool evaporate.”

She misses Kyle.

He was very considerate in his own contrarian and weirdo way. One day Kyle saw a photo of her son on her desk and didn’t press when Gloria said he was going through a phase and living with his grandma, and never asked embarrassing questions about paternity…an issue of rococco complexities, involving butcher and baker and turkey baster.

Kyle just asked when his birthday was and when that day came showed up to the office with a giftwrapped deeveedee of Rebel Without A Cause…one of Nicholas Ray’s finest films.

Their one “date” had been a disaster, sort of, they went to Satyricon and the band was so god fucking damn good that the usuallytoohip crowd was actually dancing and Gloria wanted to dance but Kyle did not and finally just split, she joined the dancing and turned around to see him gonegone.

It was cool, sort of, to run into him at Cinema 21 when she went to see City of Lost Children, and a bit strange because neither of them wanted to ruin the moment by talking about the whirling weirdnesses of shit around his departure from Social Security.

She felt she should tell Kyle how the Wicked Witch of the Willamette and The Pod Lady visited her a few times to get her to rat on Kyle and only stopped when she filed a grievance with her uncle at the regional office in Seattle. She remembers Kyle’s cackle as the Cinema 21 ran a trailer for a revival of Taxi Driver, but also remembers that the whole sardinepacked theatre freaked, too.

“Then let me speak to your supervisor. I just told you that IRS says to call you people and then you people tell me to call up the IRS, so I want to speak to your supervisor.”

“Please hold while I connect you.” Then: “I’m sorry, my supervisor isn’t available.”

“I can wait.” san: The phone was in voicemail mode by the time Kyle unlocked his halfsister’s front door and deactivated the alarm system and caught the mendelbrat Siamese cat before he bolted out.

Kyle retrieved and heard three messages.

The first was from the Oregon Department of Corrections and asked when he would like to schedule a second interview. Wellwellwell, they got through to the one supervisor who apologized to him for every thing, who had even offered to be a reference (the supervisor was called “The Cowardly Lion”) and who wrote him a letter of recommendation on Official Use Only stationary.

The second voicemail was from Janet Planet… Shit on a shingle, Janet Planet was the department secretary who had warned Kyle about the sexual harassment scam, told him that the coworker every one called the Pod Lady and supervisor who did this number on him had also done this to a blind black man and a gay Nicaraguan paraplegic before him, that not only did they get the charges to stick, but that no one even noticed that the same Pod Lady person made the same charge over and over again to the same supervisor (who was called “The Wicked Witch Of The Willamette”) and Janet had told Kyle the basic script, that the claims rep open files would be moved into the Pod Lady’s office by The Wicked Witch Of The Willamette and the employee who had to get into the Pod Lady’s office to look up claims rep open files would be berated by the Pod Lady and immediately receive a verbal and then a written warning from The Wicked Witch Of The Willamette, charging them with sexual harassment, all of this within an hour, and that a union steward who was paralyzed on his left side was kept out of the loop…and since he was retiring any month now for the last two or three years he was relieved to be relieved, and Kyle knew that much and felt a bit guilty about not telling Janet that the other union steward had interrogated him instead of listening to his grievance and asked if he’d ever been arrested for sexual assault or other sex crimes and twisted the fact of Kyle’s having been a sexual assault hotline volunteer from 1991 to 1995, told Kyle that that was just part of his degree work and when Kyle said he only got two semesters credit out of his five years of volunteer work she asked him if he got off on hearing assault victims accounts, if he went home and used their pleas for help and stories as masturbation fodder.

Kyle had told her that his specific task was to counsel the families, not the victims, that fathers and husbands and brothers and sons needed counseling, too, and that those were the people he’d been trained to help, and no he had never found their anguish particularly sexy.

Janet Planet told Kyle she just now took a call from Oregon Department of Corrections regarding references and that The Wicked Witch Of The Willamette intercepted The Cowardly Lion’s message and closed the door to her office.

The next message was from Oregon Department of Corrections, saying that the position was canceled due to budget cuts. Budget cuts, sure. When Kyle asked about such prospects in the interview, the woman of the blue rinse tribe laughed and told him that no matter who was in office that they were scheduled for twelve new state prisons in the next decade.

—“The last growth industry,” the man had said. —“The final frontier,” the woman amended, before asking him if he’d be interested in working on the decommissioned coast guard boats they hoped to have in the Willamette River by late Spring.

Kyle went into his halfsister’s attic, found a convincingly Uzilike water pistol that Sam had used at a few Halloween parties last year. Kyle loaded the water pistol with balsamic vinegar and put it in his knapsack.

He remembered he still had leftover tokens and decided to take the Try-Met downtown.

Stuck to the back of his license was a post-it bearing all the door security codes the office had been through in the nine months he’d been there.

Kyle once overheard a guard tell another they only used ten variations.

He had nine codes, so just maybe, just maybe he would visit the old office. ni: “I can wait.”

“…Well, my supervisor is out of the office and I wasn’t able to ring another supervisor, so if you like I can write up your problem and forward it to National.”

Gloria looks up, sensing something, and careful not to tangle her receiver cord, gets out of her chair. The office is unusually quiet.

— “Why didn’t you just offer to do that before?” — “The problem is that there are only a hundred people who handle this sort of thing nation wide and the wait can be very, very long.” — “How long?” — “Nine to eighteen months or more.” — “Well, I’ve been waiting for more than five years for some one to straighten out this mess, so if it takes another year or two I’m not surprised.” — “Let me logon to my computer and get your name and address and social and other information.”

Maggie, Gloria Reid’s coworker from the next gray cubicle and partner in fucking off, taps her on the shoulder:

“C’mon, Gloria.” — “Please hold.”

Then to Maggie, “Just what is your problemita?” — “Haven’t you heard, Gloria? It’s on the radio, it’s on the voicemail…” — “…What’s on the voicemail and radio?”—“The police are evacuating the building, Janet Planet went to evacuate the seventh floor and we’re the only two left here. Janet sent me to get you.” —“…Why?” — “…Kyle’s why. He’s got an Uzi and ’s attacked pedestrians, knocked a woman down and kicked her head in before running into our park entrance and beating the shit and shinola out of a guard.” — “You’re kidding me. Aren’t you?”

Gloria removes her headset, tosses it on-to her desk, by Kyle’s cactus that she rescued from the Pod Lady’s trash can and placed below an In Memorium trading card from her abuela’s requiem.

The way her father was going she’d soon be adding a card for him.

…Collect the Whole Set, as Kyle put it when they discussed deaths in families.

— “Kyle’s a wimp, he’s too much of a pussy.”—“I know you like Kyle, Gloria, but take a look out the window and check out the roof of the bank and the parklot, look at the SWAT team. I read about what you’re going through, they call it the Stockholm Syndrome!” — “Stockholm Syndrome? …What’s that, fucking your brains out and then committing suicide?” — “…No, Gloria Smartypants, it’s where captives become sympathetic to the captors agenda. Like Patty Hearst. I read it in Psychology Today.” — “…If Kyle’s got an Uzi why hasn’t he shot any one?” — “Stockholm Syndrome.” — “…You believe every thing you read in a glossy pop-psych rag?” — “…Better than that trendy degenerate Rocket To Uranus trash. Let’s get the caboose to vamoose. I swear, just because you like the boy.” — “Like the boy?”

Gloria laughs.

“I forgot.” Maggie smirks. “…You don’t bat for the home team.” — “…Who I sleep or do not sleep with is not a matter of team sports, Maggie.” — “Stockholm Syndrome.”

Gloria looks out the window, sees closeshorn heads on the roof of the parklot off Second, heads with dark duckbill caps and darker glasses and rifles ready to take aim and fire. She also sees two hawks hacksaw across the cobalt sky on crinkly thermals. Also sees a boat on the Willamette, sees its watery wake downriver from the bridge supports. Then she turns to find rifle shadows on the roof of the Marriott off Front Street and of the First Interstate building off Third.

—“But the Pod Lady took a floater today and the Wicked Witch Of The Willamette is on a halfday schedule, she’s long gone.”—“Then go find Kyle and tell him, Gloria, tell him they’re not here. C’mon! They’re sending the police up for a floorbyfloor. We are s’posed to be out of here.”

Gloria remembers: “I still have the oldfartster on hold.” — “Fuck-get his raggedy senile ass,” Maggie says. “That asshole doesn’t have a pissed-off former coworker with a gun coming by to visit. Kyle’s s’posed to be in a stair well or holed up an office on the fourth or fifth, according to the radio. Janet said we’re s’posed to go to the freight elevator. Chopchoppity, Gloria.” — “I’ll bet his Uzi’s a plastic replica toy.” — “Stockholm Syndrome.”

She spies the SWAT team heads atop the smartpark converge, duckbill caps moving closer together, as SWAT teams rifles fixate on their floor at the very least, if not on Gloria and Maggie.

Some one can be heard in the hallway, running. Door beeping as code combinations are entered and rejected and rejected and entered and entered and rejected. — “C’mon, girl,” Maggie shouts as she runs into an office, “Let’s lock ourselves in here…” —

Maggie holds the door open.

“…Hurry…” ichi: The door will beep as it accepts the security code and Kyle will rush into the room, clutching his leaky Uzi water pistol and shouting for the Wicked Witch Of The Willamette.

Behind Kyle will be the eagerbeaver rentanasshole cop who always gives every one shitgrief and who particularly dislikes Kyle, with his own eagerbeaver personal-issue non-watergun and also shouting, yelling, screaming at Kyle, screaming, “Freeze, mother fucker!”

Kyle will lose his traction, slip, on a everrepaired everloosened lip of carpet. — “Jesus, Kyle, duck!”

A blast behind Kyle, percussive, firecrackerlike more a cherrybomb more bulletlike, will make him think of hunting for pheasant out of season with one of his whackedout California cousins, now long dead, hunting for pheasant of all things.

And Kyle will hear Gloria shout and, too late, fall as she throws herself at him, maybe not too late, maybe too early, in the elastic schemata of seconds per seconds of bodies and rest and motion because she will take a bullet and Kyle will take a bullet and a hole and Kyle will then hear Gloria’s shocked voice, hear her give a copcop his surname, “No, not like the sax player, like the Clash song, Guns Of…,” and her, “Yes,” as the cop completes the song title, gets it right—tell him what he’s won, and then hear Gloria dryheave a bit as she tells a paramedic that Oregon’s the Easter lily capitol of the World, her sonofabitch bastard dad used to say that, and tells of her experiences with morphine and percocet during various surgeries and how the slowup speed-down motion of a discharged bullet leads it to rest in the torn flesh of her Newtonian body. Like dancing on the mosh pit, riding on the clubland sea of roiling heads and shoulders. Dancing about architecture. Kyle will hear every thing and feel nothing as he is rolled down the hall to the elevator, not to Starbucks, no quid for that pro quo, no king’s double americano joe ever to put those fragged nerves together again.

 

 

for k. a.

 

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Steve Theme, 11/4/2013

Current Occupation: Director of Sales & Marketing

Former Occupation: carpet cleaner, king crab fisherman, optical networking marketeer, busker, PR flack, bartender, book publicist, technical writer, ad man, journalist, coffin salesman

Contact Information: After a life in the Pacific Northwest, Steve likes to think his blood is half rain. Living in Portland, OR, has convinced him it is the best city on the planet for writers, and even nonwriters. (Blah, blah blah, New York. Get over yourself.) He is currently shopping around his book-length manuscript, Asphalt Asylum, A 6,000 Mile Portrait of Amercia. This story relives one of his hitchhiking treks that became an unintentional, yet unavoidable, spiritual journey. Sample chapters are posted at stevetheme.com.

 

 

 

You Don’t Have a Problem Do You?

 

“You don’t have a problem do you, being around dead bodies?”

Good question. We sat at a hemlock table in a funeral home, surrounded by examples of headstones, silver pendants pressed with fingerprints, concrete vaults, urns of marble and granite, and all kinds of memorial stationary options. I was interviewing to be a Family Sales Counselor, one who sells funeral services, either in advance of death, or after; mostly after.

Funereal arts were not something I’d given much thought to, let alone contemplated as a career. After 25 years working in high-tech, maybe the length of my resume sapped the energy of anyone reading it. So after three years unemployed, selling our house, stretches of underemployments, two kids in college, and another on their heels, my standards for accepting a job consisted of a place where the paychecks wouldn’t bounce.

While staring through a gap in the velvet drapes, into a ghost of February fog, I thought about her question of working around corpses. As a commercial fisherman our crew once transported a man who had died of carbon monoxide poisoning. We laid him on our galley table; didn’t want to put him on the floor and maybe step on him; didn’t want to leave him on deck to just roll around; so the table seemed the right place. With his lips bright red, an effect from the poisoning, he looked like a Pollock. We off loaded him that afternoon to a processor ship with big freezers. Eating dinner at the table felt creepy, but after a long day hunger crushed hesitancy.

“No. No problem.”

“Some people have a problem with that, but we get satisfaction from helping people.”

Helping them what? Work through the five, six, seven? stages of grief?—I’m just some guy in a chair—leave that psychotherapy to professionals. In my previous jobs if I wrote a lousy advertisement it didn’t scar anyone’s soul. Didn’t leave them with an eternal longing. No one cried inconsolably. What if I say the wrong things and send them spiraling into a suicidal depression?

“I like helping people.”

“That’s good, but to do well you need to be a self starter. The pay is commission only, so it’s all based on your sales volume. But for those who really work it, the sky’s the limit.” Her eyes widened. “I have some reps who do very well.”

I’d never taken a job that paid only on commission. Never wanted to. My wife and I had agreed twenty years before that working sales seemed vaguely unclean.

“I’m a go getter, always have been.”

Willy Loman. He’d scared the shit out of me for decades, since the first time I read Death of a Salesman. Middle-aged; never measured up; injured his family; and, finally, believing he’s incapable of success, placed himself into emotional isolation, punctuated by only self loathing.

“You seem personable. When you look me in the eyes you inspire confidence.”  

It’s a good thing I inspired confidence, because I didn’t bring squat for qualifications. She contacted me the same day I submitted my resume. That seemed desperate. “Thank you.” I motioned to the displays around us. “I think my more mature bearing will help me be effective selling these.”

“I believe you’re right.” She sat drawing a doodle. “Unfortunately today is slow. But we have three in the cooler, two services tomorrow, and one of our customers is very near.”

I could picture the grey skin, sunken cheeks. Not like dead people on a TV, no matter how much makeup is applied, those people are still alive. When watching my father in-law die, as the heart monitor flat lined, I could see the color drain from him. Once we pulled the plug, my mother in-law rested her head on his chest and wept.

“That’s good to have some backlog.”

“There’s a lot to learn. Most people don’t know of all the details and laws related to funeral financing, interments, chain of custody. All that kind of stuff.”

For many, avoiding “all that kind of stuff” is an avocation: hair dye; plastic surgery; clicking an online birth year that’s five below the truth; routine procedures, it was only a pulmonary embolism.

“Don’t worry, I’ve already started learning about the industry.”

She eyed me. “You’ve got the job.”

“That’s great to hear.” Like so many times in life, I had absolutely no fucking idea what I was getting into.

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