Current Occupation: Unemployed (Writer).

Previous Occupation: Human Services.

Contact Information: Worked for over a decade with the developmentally disabled in institutions and group homes.

 

#

Strings in the Mop Closet

One hour before Clermont Institution’s third shift trickles in

the arctic winds howl, windows frost like an ill-kept icebox,

and nonstick drapes rustle with every gustwe do last bed check

on the children labeled "Special Needs" this year. Sedated apnea

permeates the air. You straighten and collect toys,

ones that only made it a day, Teddy Bears dissected in the "mad lab"

with entrails scattered all about. Deadbolts re-checked

on medication cabinets and candy drawers, locked down

and sealed tight, no chance of escape tonight.

I document life as the late news flickers

past the shatterproof screen of the television set:

Which ones bit? Any progress to report?

Did any behave? And who ripped out clumps of hair?

We assume our roles, exhausted and passionless,

raising children in a dilapidated home. All things scoured

with bleach but nothing gets clean.

You pull out that purse, the one I call

"the-just-in-case-there’s-an-apocalypse-tote-bag."

It’s your biography

embracing every style of antibacterial soap, sample vials

of perfume lifted from the cosmetic aisle, diet pills

and bubble gum, and piles of glossy photographs.

There’s one of your husband giving the thumbs up on the GM

graveyard line, Kiki the Pekingese, and your son

not much older than mecamouflaged in the Afghanistan sand.

And you as a teen on a Spring Break beach, a glint of naivety

transfixed on your face, like the world was your palm.

The side pouch contains me now, a confessional of sorts,

filled with Hershey bars and Hallmark cards, grabbed,

discount from your morning gig at Bigsbies drugstore.

These mementos, ones I usually tuck in a covert desk drawer

or simply toss aside, provide a glimpse

"Welcome Aboard" with the ship cruising into the smiley face sun,

"Hang in There" and the dangling cat, when I’ve threatened to quit.

"My Superman" as Clark Kent disrobes in a phone booth,

and "Always on My Mind" signed with an arrow through the heart.

 

 

The faucet in the shower stall weeps to a fixed beat, you seize

me by the hips, guide me over the moldy cement to the grungy

utility room. Mops, upside-down and erect, line the walls like stickman

Rastafarians with Clorox and vomit breath. Your grip betrays

as you hang on to me like a crutch. Clamped tight

we contort like snakes in a box.

Current Occupation: Content and Social Media Manager for Job Resource Website

Former Occupation: Lab Assistant for an Environmental Conservation Firm

Contact Information: Chad W. Lutz was born in Akron, Ohio, in 1986 and lives in the neighboring suburb of Stow. An avid athlete, activist, writer and musician, Chad holds a BA in English with a Minor in Writing from Kent State University. His work has been featured in Diverse Voices Quarterly Journal, The Dying Goose, Napalm and Novocain, Haunted Waters Press and AltOhio.com. He currently works as content manager for a website in North Canton, Ohio, and aspires to run the marathon in the 2016 Olympic Games.

#

Supervise This!

You’re an overlord from the underworld.

A 9 to 5 tyrant.

You’re a pain in my meatus.

The epitome of heinous.

But I appear to be stuck with you for as long as I live.

 

You never call me by my name,

But you insist I call you, “Sir.”

You groan more than an abandoned Civil War-era house.

To say that you’re boring would be like saying the sun is hot at its core.

 

Your mere presence is like a stab in the face of happiness and stability.

Listening to you speak is like reading the dictionary for fun.

You’re bulbous and enormous.

And, for the record, I’m only talking about your head.

 

But it appears that I’m stuck with you, at least for now. Until I find a new job.

 

I need a new job.

Current Occupation: Insurance Policy Rater
Former Occupation: Staple puller
Contact Information: Lindsay Fowler lives, works, and writes in central New York, and will continue to do so until August, when she will be leaving her not so cushy desk job to begin her MFA at the University of Maryland.

 

#

Music Box

    Clara locked herself in the middle bathroom stall, the one where the dull ceiling light shone brightest.  Closing her eyes, she twisted her hair up into a bun and held it there, imagining herself the great ballerina she’d always been told she’d be.  Her eyes closed, the ceiling light became a spotlight following her closely in the confines of the stall as she executed perfect movements in miniature.

    The chattering of coworkers approaching the bathroom intruded on her internal ballet.  Clara brought her dance to a halt: she couldn’t be caught pirouetting in a toilet stall.  Facing the toilet, she opened her eyes and saw the unflushed remnant of someone else’s toilet paper swaying gracefully, like a sea anemone, in perfect time with the Tchaikovsky that still echoed in her head.

    Her number over, she bowed to flush the toilet.  The bathroom door opened to admit her unwanted audience, and her solitude evaporated.  Releasing her hair from its perfect bun, she exited the stall and returned to her cubicle.

Current Occupation: Student
Former Occupation: Student/McDonald's Cashier
Contact Information: Abigail Hargreaves grew up staring out the back windows of her suburban home in Derry, New Hampshire.  She is currently the Head Residential Assistant of New Student Programming at Hollins University (Roanoke, VA) where she studies Creative Writing and Psychology.  She spends her time prowling the aisles of local libraries and bookstores wherever she may be, splitting her time between Roanoake; Washington, DC; and Derry.

 

#

From a Cardboard Box

Tiffany J. Hawkins

Between 880 and 881 Vista View Road

Cardboard Box #2

New York, New York 10013

(812) 555-6843

 

May 16, 2013

Mr. Hiring Manager

A Place to Work

51 Big Shot Lane

New York, New York

10013

 

Dear Mr. Hiring Manager,

I need a job. Like most people in this country, I did the whole college thing and came out with a stack of bills – and I don’t mean dollar bills. I majored in education, but I’m open to just about anything at this point. I think you’ll find I’m adaptable. Whatever I can do to assist you works for me. I won’t even ask for wages enough to live on – I know those don’t exist in an entry-level position.

See, I did five internships while I was in college. I can type and answer phones, make coffee and push paper like a boss. I know a bit about everything. I could talk philosophical circles around you, analyze data like nobody’s business, and write a killer email. Of course, you probably won’t ever get a chance to see me do any of this in action. You’ll look over this letter just like the rest of them and call me just another member of Generation Me.

That’s the problem with all of you. I’d never say this to your face, but my generation isn’t self-centered or lazy. We just don’t have enough opportunities. It’s so competitive. You’d never survive it.

Still, on the off-chance you’re still reading (perhaps you find my candidness refreshing), I’m up for an interview. Of course, I won’t be able to dress appropriately. I’ve been unable to find work since I left my fast food job in high school to go to college and can’t afford new clothes. I promise to wear something, but I don’t know that it will be more than a plastic bag. You’ll find my email address on my resume, though I only ever check it once a week. The library kicks out bums like me. I guess you have to have money to make money.

Let me know if you’re interested. I’m free anytime to chat. Most days I just sit in my box and write poetry on the walls.

Best,

Tiffany Hawkins

Current Occupation: Writer
Former Occupation: I've been so many things, how do I choose?  Party bus owner, detention specialist, art department coordinator, bartender, concierge…
Contact Information: Pamela Skjolsvik is a wife, mother, crazy cat lady and coffee enthusiast. Her exploration of death professions morphed into her memoir "Death Becomes Us."  She has been published in Creative Nonfiction, Ten Spurs, Witness and various online zines. She also blogs at www.thedeathwriter.blogspot.com.

 

#

Biohazard Cleaner

    Working as a proofreader for the phonebook is akin to working in a death profession.   Not only are we environmentally incorrect tree killers, we’re also stupid and cumbersome in comparison to modern day technology.  It’s glaringly apparent to anyone with a smart phone that the yellow pages are destined for a slow and painful death in the next few years.  But, for now, it’s my job and I’ve got to do it.  I stare down at the full page ad in front of me looking for misspelled words or a dyslexically rendered phone number from one of the artists. It’s a full page, multi-color ad that mentions floods, fires, dirty carpets, and in smaller print—biohazard cleaning.  I can’t believe I’d never thought of crime scene cleaners before.  While Durango isn’t exactly the murder capital of the world, plenty of people die at home and aren’t found for days.  It’s the perfect profession for me to explore right now in that it won’t be too dark, depressing or emotionally taxing after the last couple of weeks I’ve had.

    When I meet John Rivas at his place of employment, we settle into his cluttered, paper strewn office. I find the messiness of his personal space somewhat ironic, considering he’s in the cleaning business.  During introductions and getting to know you chit-chat, I discover that he’s a fast talker.  I don’t know if that’s his normal conversational speed or if he has somewhere else to be.

    “So, how long have you been the general manager at Best?”

    “Nine years.”

     “And are you the person that they send to a biohazard cleanup?

    “Usually, yes.  I try to go on every biohazard cleanup, every trauma scene cleanup, as we call it.”

    “Is there a special certification that you all go through?”

    “We’re all certified through the ICRC and that’s the acronym for institution for cleaning and restoration certification.  And we do get certified through them.  Basically the main thing the training dwells on is our safety.  How to keep our staff safe while we’re dealing with blood and bodily fluids.”

    “How is it to deal with the families?”

    “It’s tough. They’re distraught.  They’ve got some things that are going through their mind.  They’re not all there.  So you just have to reassure them and help them feel that they’re going to be okay and that you’ll take care of the mess. I always invite them to stay somewhere else for the next couple of days while we take care of whatever we need to take care of.”  

    “Do they typically just want to leave?”

    “Yes, they want to leave.  Or they’re not even there.  A lot of times I’ll deal with a relative. Let’s say it was a husband or a boyfriend. She can’t even function so I’ll deal with a family member, a son or a daughter, something like that. Um, I’ve never really been in direct contact with like a wife or a husband of someone who has killed themselves.  It’s usually just a family member.”

    “So, are you mostly dealing with suicides?”

    “Most of the ones we’ve done are suicides.  Yes.”

    I ask him if the company he works for handled the cleanup of a fairly recent murder that occurred in an infamously shady motel in town.  They did not.  Nor did he think anyone with special certification cleaned up that scene, but he doesn’t want me to mention that.

    “What kind of scenes have you had to deal with?”

    “Suicides.  And death.  People dying in the home and forgotten about.”

    “Like de-com-posed?”  I stutter saying the word.

    “We did one recently up at Tamarron.  A guy died in the locker room and it was a holiday weekend.  Monday they found him.  After a few days the body fluids start to run out.  There’s a little to clean up.  Not much.  I’d say most of the time it’s just suicides.”

    He thinks for a moment like he’s on a game show.

    “We’ve done jobs where deer have jumped through plate glass windows in the home and pranced around the house while they’re bleeding to death.”

    For some reason this cracks me up.  It’s so left field.

    “It’s more common than you think. So. Yeah. They see themselves and they charge head first into the plate glass. And they end up slicing their necks open.  They’re freaking out and they’re stuck in someone’s house bleeding out.”

    “So with the suicides, is it mostly shotgun?”

    “I have never done a shotgun. It’s either small caliber or handgun or it’s a hunting rifle.  And the hunting rifles are hideous, hideous to clean up.  A small caliber handgun is usually pretty easy to clean up. There’s usually just one entry hole.”

    “So it’s not…”

    “I can show you the difference if you like.”

     Rivas swivels around to his computer and brings up a picture.

    “Oh.  Okay,” I gasp.  I don’t really want to look at bloody rooms, but here they are.

    “I’ll pull two different examples up.”

    “Were these photos taken here?”

    “Yeah.”

    I feel like I’m at a morbid show and tell.  I walk over to Rivas’s computer screen to get a closer look. Like a macabre Jackson Pollack painting, shades of brown, pink and red are splattered across the white walls of the room.

    “This is a high power rifle suicide. And the results are however big the room is, it isn’t big enough.”  He points at the picture.  “This is brain splatter from twenty five feet away.”

    He brings up another photo.

    “And this is a small caliber. See? It’s quite a big difference.”

    There is just a pool of blood on the couch and onto the floor.  Gross, but not particularly daunting as far as cleanup goes.

    “How many of these do you do?”

    “I say we do probably three trauma scene cleanups a year. Maybe four.”

    “Oh.  That’s not bad.”

    “No.”  He brings up another photo. “This is the one I did last month.”

    “Oh my gosh it’s everywhere.”

    “Yeah and again it’s a high caliber rifle.”

    I can’t believe how horrific these photos are.  There isn’t a body, just what got blown away.  I feel sick.

    “The first few I went to were all small caliber and I thought, oh this is gross, you know, a small puddle of blood on the floor.  But that was nothing compared to the hunting rifles and the 30 aught 6’s under the chin. Those are bad.  It was a little tough.  I mean, there’s somebody’s blood on the floor and brain on the ceiling.”

    “So, how much does it cost to have this kind of thing cleaned up?”

    “We don’t do a trauma scene cleanup for less than a thousand dollars and it goes up from there.  But most homeowner insurance pays for it.  That’s one thing that the family members usually don’t realize—that it’s covered by insurance.  It’s tough to talk to them when you’re at the job to do the cleanup, because they’re already distraught.  We just let them know that we’ll take care of everything and we’ll talk in a few days about payment.”

    “So, how many people go on these cleanups?”

    “The less people the better.  You don’t want a whole bunch of people tromping around, especially if the family is still in the home.  We go in with full Tyvek suit, which is white. And sometimes we get messy. The last thing we want is the family seeing us with their loved one’s blood on us.”

    

    He confesses that these scenes sadden him, especially when he knows beforehand what happened to the people involved, like a man who killed himself in front of his girlfriend.

    “One minute she’s cooking dinner, the next, she’s sprayed with blood.”  

    I admit to John that I wouldn’t want to know the specifics in order to keep that professional distance, but come on—this is real life, blood splattered, human drama.  Whether we’ll admit to it or not, most of us slow down at a car crash and crane our necks to get a better look—either from curiosity or for the mere confirmation that all is still well in our insular little world.

    Rivas asks me about this project, curious to know the other types of people I’m interviewing.  I rattle off the obvious, embalmer, coroner, and hospice worker.  When I tell him about my plans to talk with Mike Graczyk, an AP writer who has witnessed almost every execution in Texas since 1984, he is intrigued.  

    He shakes his head.  

    “Man, it’s one thing to clean up after someone dies, but I don’t think I could watch someone die.”  

    Lethal injection is clean and clinical and doesn’t require a Tyvek suit or an enzyme solution.  

    The hunting rifle picture fades from the computer screen and is replaced by a screen saver of John and his girlfriend.  Their faces are squished together, beaming with happiness.  

    “So, this project.  Is it eventually going to be a book?”

    “That’s the plan.  So, I probably won’t be the first person that will come to mind when you get another trauma call, but I’d like to give you my number just in case.”

    “You mean to ride along?”

    “Yeah, if that’s okay.”

    He tells me that it would be fine if I rode along.  With only three or four trauma calls a year, I may luck out and never have to see one.

Current Occupation: freelance educational writer and part-time English instructor

Former Occupation: retail manager

Contact Information: Ruth Rouff lives outside of Philadelphia in southern New Jersey. She received a BA in English from Vassar and a MS in Education from Saint Joseph's University. Her poetry and creative non-fiction have appeared in various literary journals, including SLAB, Four Ties Lit Review, and SNReview.org. In 2012, Townsend Press published her young adult non-fiction book, Great Moments in Sports.

#

Plush

    It was the night before Easter, and Joe Kirby and I were condensing the plush at the Plum Hill Kmart. In other words, we were squeezing the leftover Easter merchandise from a 25 feet run of counter space to about 10 feet near the front of the store. We were also setting up the summer merchandise—coolers and other cookout stuff. At this late date, the Easter merchandise was pretty well picked through. All the remaining plush bunnies and ducks from China with their blank staring eyes, along with the remaining plastic pastel Easter eggs, cheesy plastic Easter baskets, candy eggs, jelly beans, and chocolate bunnies were now designated with a 50% off sign.

Joe Kirby was an assistant manager.  I was also an assistant manager, but Joe had more seniority than me. Unlike me, he had never gone to college. In fact, he had been working in retail since high school. He was a hardscrabble, assertive guy from Kensington, a blue collar Philadelphia neighborhood that had been going downhill ever since manufacturing began going overseas. Once famous as the manufacturing hub of Philadelphia, Kensington was now best known for high levels of dope dealing and hookers.

From what I had heard, Joe had gotten his future wife pregnant while they were both still in high school. He had never finished high school, but I think he had gotten his GED. By now he had two kids and was separated from his wife. He was 22-years-old. Every work morning he’d pull up to the Plum Hill Kmart in a battered blue Chevy Cavalier with a child seat in the back.

Although there was no denying that Joe was a hard-working guy, there were things about him I didn’t like. For instance, I was standing at the customer service desk one day when a young black guy came in to inquire about a job. Spotting my assistant manager nametag, the guy smiled hopefully at me. He looked clean-cut enough. But when he saw Joe Kirby approach down the midway, his smile turned to an expression of bitter knowingness. I guess it was the way that Joe looked at him—with not so thinly veiled hostility. He knew he wouldn’t get a job at our Kmart.  

Soon afterward, Joe hired a young white guy who showed up for a job. One day he introduced him to me.

“Ms. Rouff, this is Kevin,” he said smiling. We always called each other by our last names when we were around the “associates.” Kevin, our newest “associate,” looked to be about 19 years old. He had wavy brown hair and a rather nondescript face. By the obvious warmth Joe had for him, I took it that he was a product of the same blue-collar background as Joe.  It was Joe who gave the okay for Kevin to work in the sporting goods/automotive department. Because I had managed sporting goods/automotive for several years before being promoted to assistant manager, I still felt a proprietary interest in it. One of my major responsibilities back then had been to keep records of all gun and ammo transactions. I was really scrupulous about it because once in a while the ATF audited us. Back before the Columbine shooters had purchased ammo at a Kmart, in Colorado, Kmart used to sell tons of guns and ammo…not handguns, just shotguns and rifles.

For several months, Kevin seemed okay to me. He did his work—stocking shelves and waiting on customers. He didn’t say much. He seemed like a regular teenage numb-nuts to me—not too bright but bright enough to hold a retail job. Sometimes when it was my turn to close the store and he was working, I enlisted him to carry up the bags of money from the cash registers to the second-floor office in a black vinyl duffle bag we used for that purpose. The bag was heavy with all the cash in it, and I didn’t like carrying it up the long flight of stairs. I was 5 feet tall and weighed about 110 pounds. I had the combination to the safe. Kevin would stand there, an impassive look on his face, as I placed the bags of money in the safe and then closed the heavy door.

But after a while, Bobby, the loss prevention manager told me that radar detectors were missing from the automotive cabinets. He said that he had an idea who the thief was but didn’t yet know for sure. Evidently Bobby was really paying attention to what was going on in the store, not just faking it. We had one loss prevention manager who was caught sleeping in the room with the video monitors. She was fired. At any rate, a little while after Bobby spoke to me, he caught Kevin in the automotive stock room stuffing a radar detector into his baggy green cargo pants. Evidently this wasn’t the first time Kevin had done that.

I thought it could have been worse. Kevin hadn’t been at the store long enough to get his license to sell guns and ammo. I thought it was ironic, though, that he had helped me take the cash to the safe. I wondered what he was thinking as he watched me put the cash into the safe. He could have held up the damn store if he had had the key to the gun cabinet. But that would have been unlikely. Everyone would have known who he was…the schmuck that Joe Riley thought was so great. No, Kevin wasn’t an armed robber…. just a garden-variety sneak thief.

Although Joe didn’t say anything to me about Kevin’s decline and fall, I could tell he was embarrassed by it. For a day or so, he looked abashed when I looked at him. But that was a few weeks ago. Now we were working side-by-side, condensing the plush. Despite the differences in our backgrounds, we got along fairly well. We often talked about the Phillies. We had both been at the store since 7 am. Now it was ten pm, and the last of the customers had filed out. We had locked up the cash, gotten our jackets, and were both looking forward to having Easter Sunday off.

But before we could leave, Joe had to set the alarm system. Walking over to the customer service desk, he punched some numbers into the box, but it wouldn’t set.  He tried it again. The damn thing wouldn’t set. The security company would have to be called. Someone would have to wait until the technician arrived to straighten out the problem. Joe called the company. They said they were sending out a technician. Then he turned to me.

“You can go,” Joe told me. “I’ll wait for the guy.”

“Are you sure?” I asked. I wasn’t exactly eager to hang around, but I would have done it. I knew Joe had kids.

“Yeah, you can go,” Joe said, a tired look on his long, pale face.

So I left.

Poor Joe. Sitting around Kmart late on a balmy Saturday night, the night before Easter…his only companions the stuffed Easter bunnies.  I hoped the technician showed up fast.

So you can see why I have mixed feelings about Joe Kirby.

After the Plum Hill Kmart went out of business, I heard Joe got a job as a receiving manager with Macy’s. That was good. He always was a hard worker.  I hope as he’s matured, he has gotten more open-minded about race.

But I wouldn’t bet on it.

 

Current occupation: Barista 
Former occupation: Barista
Statement: Kendall Sharpe lives, writes and breaths eastern Pennsylvania. From city streets to corn fields he hopes to capture all he sees in surreal clarity. 
 
#
Selected Incident Reports
 
Note: These poems are a collection of found text from incident reports at a Starbucks I worked at in Philadelphia. No text has been added or change, I have only arranged them.
 
 

11/1/08

 

Around 8:30am Katie informed me that

a "customer" had been in the bathroom for a long          time

I knocked on the door and waited

as he walked by

        I heard something drop on the ground

I looked

    down

there was a needle laying on the floor.

I tried to get the man's attention but he ignored me.

 

#

 

8/29/12

 

The store was closed

I was locking the door

the man tried to enter – I told him we were closed

 

he asked for a sandwich

    I said, "No"

 

He told me if he found me there again he'd rob me

I asked, "why?"

        and he tried to take my phone

 

I ran away.

 

 

#

 

No date

  Around 930am [NAME REDACTED] went on his final ten
he alerted Informed me that their was a syringe wrapper in the sink
along with coffee all over the floor
Alberto Z. cleaned up the mess

and then a male (white, 50's -60's white beard, hunchback and white hair) entered the restroom
Chris knocked on the door, for the customer to exit

Finally when a family needed to use the bathroom in question
the hunchback customer left the area.

The family was instructed to use the ladies restroom
so that I could suvery the men's room

Once inside I found a burnt crack rock in a metal
     holder.

*a note on the bottom reads: Police called Arrived 1 ½ later =(

#

 

 

 

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.

 

#

Job

The pressure was on. I needed to make money to save the leaky house from foreclosure. Paul was tapped out, he said, but he found me a rent-controlled apartment that needed total renovation, which he would pay for, before we could move. I didn’t have a plugged nickel.  Forwarding Sean’s school records would take time, anyway, so we jungled up, making the best of cramped quarters. The suitcases went in and out of Paul’s closet for changes of wardrobe and I was careful not to mess up the orderly row of his archaic Italian-made shoes. He was unused to having us on a daily basis, not accustomed to having us as his responsibility. A cleaning guy that did Buster’s Tudor mansion in Brookline kept everything status quo, so I didn’t have to do much in the domestic department, but keep out of Paul’s way.

The term ‘low maintenance’ hadn’t been invented yet, but I knew that was one of the reasons Paul, my significant other, loved me; I always paid my own bills.  I found a temporary gym teaching job in an advertisement in the newspaper.  It was cold and rainy the day I went for the interview and I wore my peach velour jogging suit, zippered to my Adam’s apple. My tennies were canvas Converse, the only ones I will wear. Leather makes my feet sweat. The owner of the agency who was interviewing also ran a dance and exercise studio for toddlers. I handed him my resume and he gave me a clipboard with the application on which I checked off on a list of all the things I felt competent to teach: softball, basketball, tumbling etc.  

“How is it you know all these things, if you weren’t a P.E. major?”  He was a big man, in his late fifties, wearing a gray suit, which seemed to give his complexion the pallor of a smoker. His ear lobes were so elephantine, they nearly brushed his shoulders. .

“I was very athletic in high school.  Somewhat of a tomboy.”  Just to make him feel better, I asked for the list back and scratched out square dancing, explaining:  “I’m a little bit rough on my doesy-does. But as for the rest, soccer, for example… I was a referee and team mother for my son.”  

“Oh,” he said, thoughtfully, looking at the list again through the half-moon in his spectacles.  “Have you ever been arrested?”  My heart caught in my throat, wondering if he was picking up on the guilty look on my face.  I completely forgot that a criminal check was de rigueur. I had done my share of civil disobedience, and my one brush with the law in a moment of temporary insanity had been forgiven, so unless 7 ‘dog at loose’ charges counted, I could relax.  Kind of. There was a time when just the sight of a mahogany desk could cause me to hyperventilate, but now I would just be going through the motions.

“No, I guess not, or you wouldn’t be applying for a job,” he said, answering his own question. “We have a lot of applicants.  I don’t want anyone making waves.  You have to mingle with the other teachers and keep your opinions to yourself.”  I wasn’t good at mingling, but I’d give it my best. In truth, around strangers I’d always been shy to the point of painfulness, but teachers….no problem. My mother had been a high school chemistry teacher.

If he had other applicants, he wouldn’t have offered to rent me a car when I told him over the phone I didn’t own one. I think he would have hired anyone that breathed. “I learned about keeping opinions to myself on my first teaching job,” I said. “But I still wonder what happened to Danny Benson.”

Not a day goes by that I don’t think of Danny, the only one who could answer oral questions in my combined 3rd/ 4th grade in a 3 room schoolhouse way up in the boonies of New Hampshire. It was a former mill town with lots of inbreeding, I’d been told, and they had him listed along with two others in my class as retarded. All you had to do was look in his eyes and see the sparkle of promise, of who he was and who he was not. When I would ask, for example: “What is the capitol of Texas?” Or: “Can anyone tell me what a pistal is on a flower?” Up would come his ten-year-old hand, even though he couldn’t write his own name, or even print it.  

“I went to the superintendent about a special needs child.  Danny had been dyslexic, I’m almost positive, but they didn’t have a name for it back then.  I should have made bigger waves than I did.  But I was young and afraid for my job.  Danny’s probably pumping gas somewhere.”  

“Sometimes it’s hard to keep quiet,” he said, hardly registering any empathy with my sad story. “But that’s exactly what I want you to do.  And another thing, you must keep covered up at all times.  These are parochial schools you’ll be going to and I don’t want any of the boys whistling.  You’re not on the stage, you know.”  

I promised to wear no make-up and pull my brown hair back into a bun. Just past 40, I was young enough to get away with just a slash of lipstick.  He handed me a whistle and looked apprehensively at my resume. My job history resembled a patchwork quilt you might find in your grandmother’s attic. Full time mothering took up some years and I had been unemployed for the past 3. I’d needed to recuperate from a bad case of “nervousness” during which I wrote my heart out: sturm and drang, pathos, ethos and eros. When I couldn’t afford to rent an IBM typewriter, I maniacally got down on the hardwood floor, amidst the dog hairs, and wrote end to end on a huge roll of computer paper.  These gaps were enough to cause a prospective employer to be suspicious.

“Are you sure this is your resume?  Why would you be wanting to teach gym?”  

“I’ve just relocated from Florida and I love kids, the meaner the better.  I have no trouble keeping a class under control.”  I think I’ve developed a talent for giving the “evil eye,” passed down from generation to generation in my family. Somehow, my penchant for loving “bad boys” has always worked in the classroom. The ones that need the attention the most usually stand out. Resentment, anger, or misery in their eyes, maybe, or a defiant swagger to show how tough they are. Haircuts that might need a trim.  I like to pat hands in passing their desks, sometimes chuck them under the chin and make them smile. Give them passes for the bathroom, when I know they don’t need to go, along with semi-serious warnings about what would happen if they weren’t quick about it. “I will send out the bloodhounds and the FBI…” I would threaten, my chin and lips set as if in stone. And they always came back, loving me as I loved them. I had been a troubled child in elementary school and when I was chosen to clap the erasers against the brick walls, I remember the pleasure at being given a break, the secret pride of feeling special.

“And what about the little ones?”  

“I can tolerate them,” I answered, trusting he had a sense of humor.  “You don’t have to worry about my strangling any.”  I could take anything for the few short weeks until summer vacation, looking forward to being outdoors in nature, scrub grass and dandelions, burning up some calories. Building that house in Florida, in 100 degree heat, and drinking Cokes to keep hydrated, had broadened more than my horizons.  I should never have fired the builder. People like me, with a temper, have to learn the hard way. “I raised my own to the age of fifteen and he’s still alive.”  

“I’m going to take a chance with you,” he said, at last, never even cracking a smile.  “But don’t do anything to embarrass me.  For a woman, you exude an air of confidence.  Most of the women I hire have trouble with discipline.  They generally quit after a few days.”  

I noticed that the back of his suit jacket hung unevenly, that he walked like a man defeated. He put on a tan topcoat to go out into the rain since he’d promised to give me a ride back to the bus station.  In the background, behind ceiling-to-floor separating curtains, tiny tap dancers could be heard.  Tulle and satin and stage props were piled in a corner like there’d been some kind of train disaster.  Over the scratchy sound of a phonograph record, a baby cried.  The man hunched himself into the wind, opening the door for me as we walked to the parking lot.  The rain had turned to sleet.  

That night, Paul took me out to dinner to celebrate and the next day I was blowing my whistle as if I’d been doing it all my life.   After I locked up the equipment, the basketballs and the hula-hoops, I discovered the little darlings had taken the keys to my rental car.  There went fifty bucks for a locksmith.  On the second day, my rental car was vandalized.  Not only had they pushed the car out of its space, the radiator cap was missing so that on the way home I was broken down for hours on the highway, until Paul came to collect me, grumbling about leaving whatever  crooked business he’d been up to at the Lancaster Street Garage.  And the rental car company retained my security deposit for damages.  The second week, ringworm was diagnosed on my midriff.  On the third, I got hit in the face with a soccer ball, breaking one of my teeth.  Much of my paychecks were spent on a root canal, but the bulk went towards my mortgage.  

The nuns at some of the schools I was sent to were wonderful.  They smiled at me a lot and sent hot coffee out to the schoolyard or ice water, depending on the weather.  .  The last school, however, was run by a woman, a few years my junior. She was thin with a pointy nose and a somewhat overlong neck, with sharp, needing- to- peck eyes, like a chicken.  Even with make-up she was not very pretty, though that in itself did not raise the memoric hackles of my mind. I’d had principals far more formidable, more ogreish: hair-on- the- chin matrons and men dressed in Robert Hall suits. I assumed they had all been formerly oppressed schoolteachers since they seemed so out- for- blood, intent on humiliating the least equipped, the vulnerable, the eager-to-please beginner that I had been. I was always in trouble for something. Wearing boots was rumored to give headaches even if the snow was up to your haunches, sitting on a desk, a cause for concern; (kids could peek). And the worst faux pas of all— sending a teenager home to ask his mother what the word ‘prostitute’ meant when the word came up in an exercise we’d been doing.

Oh, the havoc I’d caused the first time, (requiring an entire school committee meeting to vote on my dismissal) when I’d said “shit,” as in “I will not take this shit.” te. Sometimes, to keep order, I would walk around the room with a long wooden blackboard pointer, swinging it this way and that so it whistled a warning before it came down hard on a miscreant’s desk, narrowly missing some fingers.

Things had changed since then, however, and not for the best to my way of thinking. (Thank you, Madelyn Murray O’Hare.) Blue-jean-wearing teachers were called by their first names, gum chewing was allowed. No ‘after school’ for punishment, or they might miss the bus. Staff and students alike bandied about the “F” word. Security guards with walkie-talkies roamed the halls as if the school were a prison. Metal detectors regularly appropriated Bowie knives and other weapons of destruction.

This principal bustled about the halls with an air of importance and I had noticed the other women teachers giving her a wide berth.  Beneath her superior calm was a tension so constraining that she seemed totally devoid of humor. It seemed as if her brow had become permanently furrowed and her heart hardened.  There was talk in the teacher’s room of budget cuts and the insecurity of having no jobs in September.  On my last day, I was summoned into her inner sanctum, an office within the office, neat and tidy.  I had a premonition I wasn’t there to be congratulated.

“I understand you were giving out money?”  The hollows under her eyes were deeper than they had been the day before.  

“A quarter here, a nickel there, to anyone who made a goal.”  

“Not allowed,” said the stern-faced principal. “I’ve already spoken to your supervisor.”  

“How about candy?” I asked, showing her the bag of nonpareils I’d bought just that morning. On the day before summer vacation, the kids go absolutely wild. It doesn’t matter what class I’m in. It’s always the same.  “Some of the girls, especially, need a little incentive.” Some things never change. Mass menstruation spreads through gym classes like a plague whenever there’s a substitute.  The boys complain of sprained ankles and stomach cramps.  Substituting is one of the hardest jobs for people with little patience. The kids all talk about their “rights” and they do everything they can to get you riled. Scream above the cacophony and you’re accused of losing control. The rudeness of power at the administrative level makes what the kids do palatable.

“Not allowed,” she repeated, clucking with her tongue between her teeth a predictable “tisk tisk.”

“I’m sorry,” I lied, acting dutifully ashamed, hanging my head so low I could practically see my face in the  desk’s veneer. Wouldn’t a simple, ‘our parents don’t want us to give the kids candy’ been enough? Did she have to rat me out to my boss? Look, lady, I wanted to say. I am not the problem here, but, of course, I didn’t.

Respecting authority figures had been rule number one in the world I grew up in. My favorite teacher in 9th grade would rip up our papers if we had a comma off on a poem we’d memorized and make us do redo it.  I still have problems with commas even though the spirit those poems were written in has had a sustaining influence. But I had failed to grow along with the times, always that nice little girl one might want to take a hammer to. And here I was an adult. Shame on me. I should have known sugar was bad.  On the way out, in the hall, I gave a wink to the statue of the Blessed Mother, a sacrilege to some.  I knew I wasn’t coming back. Not on your life. There had to be a job out there that didn’t require Step and Fetchit routines, where respect was given for a job well done. Ultimately, I would end up driving taxi at night in a profession where few women dared because of the danger. There, blending into the shadows, where I could maintain a modicum of dignity, I would learn to have the patience of Job.

 

Current Occupation: Retired.

Former Occupation: I worked at many jobs. I even did some teaching, but most of my income earning life was as a machinist.

Contact Information: Born in Dayton, Ohio, I came West in my 30s. Hold an MFA from Eastern Washington University. Founded (edited for 2 years) the Willow Springs Magazine in 1977 and for six years published and edited George & Mertie’s Place: a literary microzine. [Find his poetry on Amazon.]

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WORKING WITH MEN IN THE MODERN WORLD

 

These machines run themselves so he can come to me

Over the Floordri and between the high-pitched whirring

Of spindles and the chattering vibration of steel

Chomping steel, over the oil spots and concrete, through

The thunderous noise so painful you can't hear yourself

Think, so all-consuming and persistent you can't concentrate

On what other men try to say to you, and in the pandemonium

And distraction of industry grinding out profit and loss,

He tells me with hurt, young eyes—his humanity and flesh

Bleeding, as it were, right there before my eyes into

The oily concrete—that his wife won't fuck him anymore,

That he feels unloved and unappreciated, lonely and

Abandoned, while his machine, not ten yards distant,

Continues to turn out parts and money, and behind me

A blue light on my machine begins to flash to tell me it's

Demanding to be fed another piece of steel, another link

In the never-ending chain of profit and loss, and I think

How nice it would be to be steel, to be a part,

Cut, shaped, turned, stamped and milled by another hand

Than my own, but I'm not a product, not a machine, and my

Own chosen experience has shaped me emotional as I am,

So I look into his eyes and try to tell him I am human too:

"I hear you!" I yell, and he hears me, he smiles

Through the pandemonium of the machines, and I am joyful

Because I see that man's humanity to man will win out somehow

In the end, despite of what some women say or what the world

Demands or seems to demand of mice and men.

Current Occupation: University Lecturer
Former Occupation: Web-designer
Contact Information: Like most writers, Calum Kerr has had a varied work history, from stacking shelves in a supermarket to designing websites and working behind a series of desks. Luckily he now gets to spend most of his time with words, as a writer, editor, lecturer or as Director of the UK’s National Flash-Fiction Day. He lives in Southampton, UK, with his wife, step-son, two cats and a dog. More information about his activities can be found on his website at www.calumkerr.co.uk.

#

Very Civil War

 

They built their barricade from three desks and a broken photocopier. Boxes full of paper were used to plug the gaps and perched on top to create battlements, allowing them to see the enemy’s approach from a safe vantage.

    They took shifts throughout the day, taking turns to watch out for invaders in-between answering the phones and putting invoices in envelopes.

    When the alert was sounded, phones were simply abandoned, tinny voices calling out, “Hello? Hello? Anyone there? What were you saying about a conservatory? That sounded quite interesting…”; piles of invoices cascaded in drifts over thigh-jostled desks; and battle-stations were personned behind the defences erected in the centre of the third floor corridor, outside the office which housed Sales and Finance.

    They rushed to their posts and waited for the advance sorties of the Design and Manufacturing department.

    “Wait for it!” Maureen instructed her troops, as a head peered from behind the display ficus in front of the lift.

    A second face became visible lower down, and then Tommy and Dave were swarming up the corridor, elbows dragging them along the nylon carpet, keeping low and moving fast.

    Barbara launched a stapler over the barricade. It landed on the floor and bounced, catching Dave on the ear as it passed.

    “Ow!” He stopped swarming and sat up, clutching his ear. “What did you do that for?”

    “You had it coming!” shouted Maureen. “You were going to nick our milk! As usual!”

    “But we’re all out!” Dave shouted back, climbing to his feet. He pulled his hand away from his ear. There was blood on his fingers, but not much.

    “How is that our problem?” Maureen asked.

Barbara was readying another stapler, but Derek took it off her. It was his.

“You could share. Or… we could swap?”

Maureen didn’t answer immediately. This was a new development. “Swap for what?”

“Tea bags?” Dave ventured.

“Got plenty,” Maureen retorted.

“Coffee?”

“Real or instant?”

“Erm… instant.”

“No deal. What else?”

Dave looked at Tommy and the two conferred for a moment.

“Penguins?”

Maureen felt Barbara’s hand clutch at her in excitement, but Maureen kept her voice steady as she spoke. “At what rate?”

“One biscuit for four splashes.”

“One for two!”

Dave shrugged. “One for three?”

Maureen looked at her colleagues who all nodded their approval.

“Deal!” she called back.

Dave and Tommy both sagged in relief. “Great, thank you!”

Maureen nodded, glad that her plan had worked. Quid pro quo was all she asked, rather than the constant illegal depletion of their milk supplies. “Right, then,” she said to the two manufacturers. “Help us take this down, then. And, Barbara? Get the kettle on.”

Current Occupation: Compliance Coordinator for an insurance company
Former Occupation: Accountant and Real Estate Manager
Contact Information: Yong Takahashi lives in Atlanta, Georgia. She is working on a novel and a collection of short stories. She placed first in the 6th Annual Chattahoochee Valley Writers Conference’s National Short Story contest and in the Writer’s Digest’s Write It Your Way contest. Her works appear in Emerge Literary Journal and Rusty Nail Magazine An upcoming piece will be featured in Cactus Heart.

#

DUMB, DUMBER, AND CLUELESS

 

A decade ago, I worked for three partners in a small company. They worked hard but mostly, tripped over dumb luck. For the longest time, I couldn’t figure out why they couldn’t go to the restroom without each other. I suppose that was where the high-level decisions took place or one of them was assigned to pass out the toilet paper.

To protect the not-so-innocent, I have named them Dumb, Dumber, and Clueless.

 

Dumb

I ended up at the firm because my roommate dated Dumb. He was much older than she was and he treated her like one of his children. He told her what to think, what to wear and how much to eat.

The first year I worked for him, Dumb invited me to his annual Christmas party. He needed help arranging his children’s Christmas presents. He directed everyone at the party to take all the toys out of the plastic packaging. He didn’t want his children to hurt themselves or waste time opening their gifts. He said they were rich children and they shouldn’t be bothered.

Each gift was arranged by child and then by size. The smaller presents were to be placed in front of the larger ones so all the gifts could be seen at a glance. He wanted them to feel like they were at FAO Schwartz.

A few months later, I was invited to an Easter brunch but I declined. I imagined myself in a bunny costume hiding eggs in his backyard.

My roommate and Dumb eventually broke up and he started dating a twenty-year old.  After all, my roommate was turning twenty-five and she began to question his constant monitoring of her calorie intake.

Dumb reassured me when he was finished sowing his wild oats, he would marry me so I could raise his children and run his empire.

I told him there wasn’t enough penicillin in the world for that to happen.

 

Dumber

 

Dumb’s mentor was Dumber. He had plucked Dumb out of one of the trailer parks in their hometown. He discovered Dumb selling porn out of the back of a video rental store. He told me it was his duty to save Dumb’s eternal soul.

At my job interview, Dumber greeted me by saying, “This is a fine Christian organization. We value God, family and business – in that order.”

Dumber was a devoted member of his church. He gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to ensure the new wing of the church showcased a plaque with his name on it.  Prayer meetings at work were mandatory. Every Wednesday, he ordered the “girls” to set up lunch as the men went down to the conference room to pray for all the sinners in the world.

When Mel Gibson released The Last Temptation of Christ, Dumber bought out half the movie theatre so the souls he was saving could experience God’s message. He cried so much he had to be carried to the car. Yet, he couldn’t do business with Jews or Muslims because “it just wouldn’t be right”.

I suggested he watch the movie again.

 

Clueless

I admired Clueless for a while. He seemed like the rational one out of the group. Normally, he kept out Dumb and Dumber’s childish games.

One day, he called me into his office to discuss my future with the company.

“We’d love to have you as a partner someday.”

I beamed.  I thought they were finally realizing my potential.

“Yes, if we ever need a minority partner, you’d be it.  You can fill out the paperwork and we can get all those government contracts. All those blacks, Mexicans, and Orientals are getting all the good deals. Of course, we’d cut you in.  You’d get something.”

What Clueless didn’t realize was that a “minority” partner must own at least 51% of the deal and control the company.

In the end, I couldn’t perform any more personal chores for Dumb, appreciate Dumber’s Christian ways, or be token employee for Clueless.

Lesson Learned:  Money doesn’t buy class, brains, or a partnership at Club Stupidity.