Bradford Middleton, 12/29/2014

Current Occupation:  Low-grade sales assistant for big supermarket company.
Former Occupation: Student, Music PR, writer, admin serf.
Contact Information:  Bradford Middleton lives in Brighton on England's south coast.  When he moved there he struggled to find work and this is a story from that time. It is a time he misses…  For more from me follow @beatnikbraduk on Twitter.

#
THE DAZE LASTS FOREVER

Jack had only been living in Brighton for eighteen months but it was already starting to get to him and his increased anxiety levels made him question constantly whether he had made the right decision to relocate from London.  If someone had grown bored of London then what hope life becoming more interesting in a town one-tenth the site where a night out on the JSA can leave you broke and close to the edge.  When he had first moved it had seemed idyllic and he found it easy to meet people in all the wonderfully weird bars around town. The only problem was these people tended to be too cool to want someone like Jack as a friend, if they could be bothered to have any friends at all. Jack had once been a cool kid but he had long forgotten the joys of youth; he had just had his fortieth birthday and the idea of any youthful exuberance had long vanished.

What had ultimately led him to this situation were his lack of work opportunities; he was well-qualified, some employers thought him over-qualified, with a fair bit of previous experience in a few different type of roles from retail to office but nothing was coming through.  The situation made him sad and angry as he saw the futility in looking for suitable work in the twenty-first century. He often asked himself what it would take for someone to give him a job. It had seemed easier to find work when he was a reformed junky with virtually no experience or qualifications than it did now and his increasing desperation to earn some money had seen him engage in some interesting conversations around town.

    ‘Here, drop this off for us and I’ll give you a cut?’

    ‘Erm, no thanks… I’d rather not be your courier; I can’t afford to be caught in possession again, let alone with all that!’

He didn’t understand where this situation had come from and it left him frustrated and antagonistic towards the authorities he had to deal with. It seemed he had a better idea of how to do their job than they did themselves and the constant question of ‘Why can’t you get a job?’ from which ever Job Centre Plus drone he was dealing with would drive him inextricably closer to the edge; spiralling out of control until he landed in the pub a short time after. Did they honestly think he didn’t want to work? With all the financial problems Jack had it was clear it wasn’t so much a case of wanting to work it was a case of needing too; his student debt was huge as were his credit card bills and overdrafts. It was a ridiculous situation that needed to be resolved. Every time he entered a shop or an office or anywhere for an interview they would chat for a few minutes and it would become apparent to Jack that they were scared by what was on his CV – time in the music industry, a master’s degree in something useless and lots of time spent in office jobs. 

    ‘Why can’t they just get it into their skulls that I just want a job? I don’t want their job!’  Every interview had ended encouragingly but then within days, if not hours, there it would appear in his inbox yet another rejection letter with no apparent explanation.  He had thought of a million ideas to get around this increasingly awful situation but all of them required the one thing he did not have – money.  Jack’s life had entered a dark space and it was increasingly difficult for him to picture a way out; a way out from this mess of a life.

    Every day was now the same.  He would wake early and invariably lean over and discover the remnants of a joint from the night before in the ashtray and proceed to smoke it whilst making a cup of coffee before hitting the streets in yet another vein attempt to find work.  He would often see the homeless masses getting free food from a local charity near the pier every day and he would often try and scam some but because it was clear he had somewhere to live he never succeeded despite often being ravenously hungry.  He would try and pop into at least five or six places before coming home for his first food of the day, a sandwich and another joint and if he had sensed it was going to rain heavily or was feeling particularly negative after the morning’s activity he would sit and vegetate in front of his television for the remainder of the afternoon.  At least he still had a television, it was his friend and he would always find something to cheer him up when he was feeling down.  Those moments of happiness made the bleak moments seem worse so he only ever watched when he was particularly morbid.  If he was lucky enough to have some food in the cupboard he would cook himself some dinner before settling down with a bottle of cheap, gut-rot wine whilst he would carry on smoking joint after joint.  He only needed some smoke and some wine to stave off insanity and it cost so little in comparison to what else he would need if it wasn’t available.  When he had first moved to Brighton, before he had found a decent dealer, he had run out and had to exist for over a week without it.  It had driven him to the brink of insanity as he went out every night in order to numb the pain by drinking himself into oblivion.  It was rare that he ever ran out but on the few occasions when he had it had always ended in a number of the worst hangovers he had ever experienced.  It was as if everyday was becoming a nightmarish vision of how he was to spend the rest of his life; a sad reflection for a middle-age man who really just wanted to work enough to clear his debt.  He vowed never to let things get this desperate again.   

    Jack lived in the middle of the city, not far from the famous West Pier that had famously burnt down but still cast a ghost-like shadow over the town with the remnants of its decaying structure noticeable above the water.  It was a nice area, a bit expensive but then the life he led suited being in the middle of town as it meant he could walk anywhere he would need to on a regular basis, whether it be the Job Centre or one of those horrendous job club places that he was constantly being referred to or even, on those rare occasions when he could afford to buy food, the supermarket. 

However in amongst all the grand million pound homes around his neighbourhood there was still some squalor and it was in one of these shared houses that Jack lived.  Nine flats spread over four floors; his was the smallest and had no view, but at least it was a roof over his head even if some months he didn’t have enough money to cover rent.  With every passing day life got harder but still Jack persevered with attempting to get it back on track.  He kept thinking of something his dearly departed Gran had always told him, ‘If it doesn’t kill you it can only make you stronger,’  well if that’s the case then bring on anyone in a fight because Jack had never felt stronger than he had since moving into the house-share.

 Occasionally when it wasn’t raining he would walk down the hill to the beach.  The beach was his one place of solitude and reflection; he hated it during the summer due to the invasion of the tourists and Londoners who would swarm down on the trains.  His favourite time of year for the beach was those glorious days of winter with the sun high in the sky and the beach all to himself. He would often sit there, invariably smoking a joint, and just stare out at the sea, wondering how it was beyond the horizon, was it as bad there as it was here.  He doubted that it could be and damned himself for not taking his language classes seriously enough in school all those years previously.  If only he had learnt another language maybe he could now be working in Europe and living a nicer life, or at least it was a nice dream to have. 

It can only be about thirty miles to France, he would often think, feeling nostalgic for his parents who had retired out there some years before.  They too had no idea why their only son was in this predicament and tried as best they could to sometimes help him out with some money that they too could hardly afford.  The even scarier thing was that all of Jack’s friends seemed to be in a similar situation when it came to work.  It appeared hardly anyone worked a full-time job in Brighton, there were some who even had to commute to London everyday just to work but it was mostly a motley assortment of students, drug dealers and bar workers who actually lived and worked here. 

On one of those magnificent spring days when the world seemed to be just right Jack had visited the beach.  As he was walking back up the hill to his poky little room he bumped into Tom.  Jack had first meet Tom at one of those laughable long-term unemployed groups and they had got on pretty well but there was something about Tom that made Jack feel slightly uneasy.  Frustratingly he could not fathom what it was that gave him this feeling but it was all to become very obvious within a matter of minutes of them meeting on this occasion.

“Hey Jack” Tom shouted seeing his friend walking up the slope leading to the bottom of West Street.  This had taken Jack by surprise. Despite his long time in town he was still a largely anonymous face and not many people noticed as he stalked the streets everyday. 

Walking towards each other Jack moved his hand out to shake Tom’s when they came together.  Within a few minutes they were in the Fiddler’s Elbow, a rather ramshackle pub just off the main thoroughfare of West Street, the main strip of bars for visitors and out-of-towners at weekends and the sort of place that would turn into a virtual war zone on a Friday or Saturday night.  Within seconds it was obvious to Jack that Tom was off his head on something but seeing as he was paying for the beers, with whisky chasers no less, that were currently in front of them on the bar, he didn’t particularly mind.  There were so many people who were like that in Brighton that Jack had become accustomed to it. 

“Well, what do you think?” was the next thing Jack heard from Tom and it obviously confused him as he hadn’t been listening, he was just grateful for the free drinks. 

“I’m sorry mate, I’ve got a lot on my mind today… run that by me again?”

“No worries, what I was saying was my mate down in Hove, he’s got this mental whiz at the moment and I was wondering if you fancied  little business deal where we could sell some on at a great profit to each other?”

“Hmm, I’m not sure, times may be hard but I don’t think they’re that bad yet.  Anyway, I used to have a bit of a problem with amphetamine’s a few years back and I wouldn’t really trust myself not to take all of it and in all honesty that is the last thing I really need right now.”

Jack secretly knew that his rent was leaving his account tomorrow and there was barely enough to pay that let alone get involved in some shady deal with a guy he didn’t even know that well.  But unfortunately Tom was having none of this and demanded drinks off Jack as he had generously bought the first round, the only problem was that he had no money on him and if they visited the cash-point Tom would clearly see the four hundred pound lying in Jack’s account and that could only lead to the situation worsening.  He would clearly have to talk his way out of what was becoming an increasingly fraught situation but was unsure how to progress.  Suddenly, and probably as a result of the mixture of amphetamine sulphate and the beer and whisky currently circulating in his body Tom stood up and headed towards the toilet.  Jack’s moment for escape had come, unexpectedly, and after downing the remains of his pint in super-quick time he was off, out the door, running, and towards the Lanes where he knew he could lose just about anyone.

After about an hour he finally felt safe enough to contemplate going back out into routinely packed commercial areas of Brighton and as he walked up North Street towards the clock tower, which meant he was now only ten minutes from home, he suddenly heard a scream of pain in the near-distance.   It was then that he saw Tom beating down a man, who was simply lying there covering his face and body with his hands and arms.  People were watching in a state of disbelief, this sort of thing simply didn’t happen in Brighton, well at least not at four o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon, and everyone seemed too scared to get involved.  Jack had seen plenty of fights whilst growing up in south London but he had never seen anyone dole out quite as ferocious beating as Tom was currently doing.

Jeez, it must be the speed that’s making him like that, Jack thought as he turned away again and began walking fast up the hill onto Clifton Terrace.  ‘I hope he didn’t see me’ crept into his thoughts but that was constantly being contradicted by the thought that he was too pre-occupied to even notice anyone, let alone him.  This calmed him and reassured him of his own safety and it wasn’t long before he was home, listening to the even more calming strains of the 13th Floor Elevators whilst smoking a monster joint that he began to forget the afternoon’s event.

The next day things changed again with the astonishing news of a job offer, only for six months, but still it was nevertheless a job and something with which he could put up a fight with the bank and at least fend off the threat of bankruptcy for a few more months.

 

 

Posted in

Matthew Duffus, 12/22/2014

Current Occupation: Adjunct Instructor of English
Former Occupation: Apartment Manager
Contact Information: Matthew Duffus's work has appeared in a number of literary magazines, including New Ohio Review, Cimarron Review, and Barrelhouse Online. He lives in rural North Carolina.

 

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Mr. Do-Better

 

 

    The school’s bookkeeper hadn’t finished introducing me before I began to wonder if I’d made a mistake. Out of breath from rushing all morning, I stood before a group of fourteen third graders deemed too disruptive for mainstreaming with their peers on my first day as a substitute teacher. My hands were shaking, and I could feel the first trickle of sweat dampen my undershirt from the fluorescent lights beating down on me.

 

When I’d signed up to substitute teach, I’d had visions of the subs I remembered from high school who took roll, wrote long lists of assignments on the board, and spent the rest of the day paging through magazines. They were more interesting than our regular teachers, if only because they were different, as an exotic kingfisher is different from an ordinary robin. I fantasized about being the cool, eccentric sub who read Ulysses while his students filled out worksheets and completed problem sets. I never imagined I’d be the nervous, fish-out-of-water type faced with a crowd of suspicious prepubescent troublemakers studying me for weaknesses or flaws.

    “It’s a man,” someone whispered before the door had clicked shut behind the departing bookkeeper.

    A tall girl with fairy-tale-blond hair and a mess of freckles accosted me beside the teacher’s desk in the back of the room. “Do you paddle?” she said.

    I gave her my best Dirty Harry squint and said, “Only when I have to.”

    It was the twenty-first century. Surely even schools in Mississippi had given up paddling.

    Not so. The girl, Bonnie, led me to a filing cabinet across the room, where an old fraternity paddle hung from a hook. It had been covered in gray duct tape, with Mr. Do-Better written on one side in black marker and a picture of a crying face below it. Before I had a chance to take this in, Bonnie tugged on my arm again.

    “It’s my birthday,” she said.

    “Happy birthday.” I tried to sound excited without losing the dictatorial tone I was cultivating.

    “The class got to sing when it’s your birthday.”

    “We’ll do that later, okay?”

    She went back to her chair, frowning, convinced that I would forget about this, which I did. My guilt would be short-lived; several weeks later I learned that she told this to every new sub.

    I turned to the other thirteen faces in the room, all of them focused on me. I’d had no orientation before being thrown into the fray, and as I stood before them, I had no idea what to do. According to the schedule on the chalkboard, they were in the middle of Language Arts, but I couldn’t imagine how that differed from Reading, which occurred right after lunch. I hadn’t spent any time among children since I’d worked in a church nursery as a teenager. I didn’t know how to talk to these kids. I didn’t know what they were supposed to be working on. And I didn’t know where to find the lesson plan I’d been assured was somewhere in the room.

    Finally, one of the students broke the silence. “You ain’t a teacher,” Justin said. The students’ names were taped to their desks, so at least I didn’t have to worry about memorizing them on the fly. “You’re a man. Why aren’t you at your job?”

    “This is my job.”

    “How old are you?” Ricky said.

    “Twenty-six.”

    “Whoa. You’re older than my mom.”

    The desks were arranged in two rectangles, four desks on a side, all facing in so that they could talk to each other about the specimen before them.

    “Does your kid go to school here?” Jerry said.

    “I don’t have any kids.”

    “Why not?” Justin said.

    “Mr. Doo-fus, you need to get you some Ro-gone.” Ricky rubbed his hand through the copious amount of spiky hair on his head.

    Somehow, I turned their attention away from my balding presence and got them focused on the subject-verb agreement worksheet they’d been completing when I’d arrived. Within minutes, however, while I was helping Starr and Jerry, a voice rose from the other side of the room.

“And then Stone Cold stomped on his head like this,” Ricky said, hopping out of his chair, camouflaged legs pumping up and down on his invisible opponent

    “Sit down,” I said.

    Ricky looked up at me, brow creased, cheeks puffed out, his best impression of a wrestler ready to rumble. “Who’s gonna make me,” he growled.

“Ricky, sit.”

    The class whispered at this challenge to my already-tentative authority. The longer Ricky remained out of his seat, glaring at me, the louder the whispering grew.

    “Ricky,” I repeated, “sit your butt on the chair.”

    He did so, shocked, and someone whispered, “He said butt.”

    Sitting up straighter, Starr leaned across her desk and said, “Miss Samsel says bottom.”

    “Can we say butt, too?” Justin said.

    “Yeah, can we?”

    “Mr. Doo-fus said butt.”

    I’d already given up correcting their pronunciation of my name and addressed my breach of decorum instead. “No one is going to say that word any more. If Miss Samsel says bottom, that’s what we’ll say.” All of a sudden, the thirty minutes we’d spent on classroom management when I’d begun teaching Freshman Comp in graduate school seemed useless.

    I looked at the clock. I’d been in the room twenty minutes. Only two hours and forty-five minutes until lunch.

*

    In the office that afternoon, while the class was at Music, I avoided the three teachers sitting on the couch by the vending machine and focused on the decrepit photocopier across the room. Finally, after the third time the copier jammed, one of the teachers said, “The top-feeder doesn’t work. Do the sheets one at a time, on the glass.”

    “Thanks,” I said. “I’m not used to copiers that are older than I am.”

    With my back turned, I heard one of them sniff. “You’re in for Miss Samsel, right?”

    I wasn’t sure which of them had spoken, so I introduced myself to the group.

    An older woman with large, round eyeglasses two decades out of style and a frown that must have taken years to perfect, said, “Awful lot of ruckus in there this morning.” A few weeks later she would tell me that she’d been teaching for forty-two years, then turn her back on me when I didn’t show enough humility in response. “Guess teaching isn’t as easy as you thought it would be,” she said.

    “It’s my first day here,” I said, trying to be agreeable without conceding to her.

*

    The classrooms were arranged in clusters, one for each grade, with a byzantine network of hallways that took me a month to figure out. On that first day, I got so lost that I made two circuits and still had no idea how to get back to my room. My head throbbed from stress and lack of natural light—none of the classrooms had windows. I was confused enough that if I’d come across the door to the parking lot, I would have rushed to my car without looking back. But I couldn’t even find the way out. Finally, I stumbled upon a first-grade class lining up for recess.

    An overall-clad student teacher came over to me and said, “Are you lost?”

    “God, yes. I think I’ve been past this room twice now.”

    “Three times, actually.” She smiled, the first pleasant expression I’d seen all day. “Whose classroom are you looking for?”

    My brain shut down. What was her name? I knew it started with an S. “Miss S-m-l,” I slurred, hoping she’d make something recognizable out of it.

    “Miss Samsel?” She turned to her supervising teacher, who offered a complicated set of directions. Without waiting for questions, the older woman led the perfectly-behaved six-year-olds to the playground.

    The student teacher nudged my shoulder with her own and said, “Between the two of us, I’m sure we can find it.”

    We walked down the hallway, past the fourth grade’s illustrated Harry Potter stories and the second grade’s construction paper menagerie and took a left turn I hadn’t noticed before.

    “One of my sorority sisters had you for English,” she said. “She used to go on about how much she liked your class.”

    I was thankful she didn’t continue by asking what I was doing there, mainly because I wasn’t sure myself. I’d finished my master’s degree the previous spring, then taught as an adjunct in the fall. In October, I found out that nothing was available for the next semester, so I applied for every file clerk, receptionist, and groundskeeping position on campus, without getting so much as an interview in return. With only a hundred dollars in savings, fear of impending destitution set one of my eyelids permanently twitching. By the end of Christmas break, I’d broken my lease, moved in with my girlfriend, and applied for substitute teaching.

    We arrived in front of Miss Samsel’s room to find the students already back from Music. Even with the door closed, I could hear yelling. Not kid yelling but adult. Harsh, irate yelling. Experienced yelling.

    The student teacher looked at me, ashen, and said, “Think I’ll…” She left me without completing her sentence.

    I walked in right as the adult voice said, “Where is your teacher?”

    “There he is,” Justin said. He was almost as tall as me, and his arm seemed to stretch halfway across the room as he pointed.

    The woman wheeled around, cheeks red. “This boy,” she said, nodding at Jerry, whose shoulders she’d clamped down on with both hands, “came into my classroom and said there was a fight in here.”

“I was making copies.” As I said this, I realized I’d left all their worksheets in the photocopier tray, in the office.

    The woman released Jerry, who fled to his seat, then turned to the rest of the class. “Y’all need to settle down and listen to—what’s your name?”

    “Mr. Duffus.”

    “Y’all need to listen to Mr. Doo-fus.”

*

    After the kids left for the day, I began writing a summary of the day’s events for Miss Samsel, as my subs had always claimed they did when I was in school. The morning started out okay. But then I sent Nick to the office, and he never came back. In the afternoon, Justin and Ricky refused to do their work. I think Jerry got in a fight, but he wouldn’t tell me who with…

    I stopped and looked around the room. The walls held portraits of all of the presidents, Washington through the second Bush, and the students’ varied attempts at replicating Picasso’s Blue Period. How had Miss Samsel convinced Dee to draw a blue guitar when I couldn’t get him to sit in his chair for five minutes at a time?

Opposite these portraits, on the wall closest to the door, was a bulletin board containing what had become the bane of my existence, Miss Samsel’s complex punitive system. She had covered the board with fourteen small envelopes, each with one of the student’s names on it. An old ice cream bucket held small strips of construction paper that corresponded to the various offenses—red for talking out of turn, purple for leaving one’s seat, etc. The slips were faded, though, and some of the colors looked the same to me. This confusion was exacerbated by my fear of what would happen if I turned my back on the class for too long while tending to the bulletin board.

    “I wasn’t out of my seat, Mr. Doo-fus,” Ricky had whined at one point that afternoon.

    “That’s for not doing your work.”

    “Nuh-huh. That’s purple—”

    “—yeah, purple—”

    “—Purple, Mr. Doo-fus.”

    The class had transformed into a Greek chorus, narrating another of my failures. I searched for a black slip amid the bouquet in my fist, while their refrain echoed against the cinderblock walls.

    “Fine,” I rasped, my voice hoarse from more yelling than I was accustomed to. “I’ll write names on the board and let Miss Samsel decide what to do tomorrow.”

    “You can’t do that—”

    “—the colors—”

    “—in the envelopes!”

    “Quiet!” In my college classes, when the students grew too loud, I simply stood before them, silent and frowning, and waited for them to calm down. If that didn’t work, I resorted to sarcasm. This group of eight-year-olds, however, had reduced me to the behavior of a soccer hooligan. Earlier in the day, I’d lifted Dee off the ground, my hands gripping his armpits, when he’d left his seat for the third time in a ten-minute span. “I’m the teacher today,” I said, more for my own benefit than for theirs, “and this is what we’re going to do. You only have thirty more minutes, so get to work!”

    Over the next half hour, almost everyone’s name ended up on the board. None of them seemed upset about being in trouble, but they were all offended by my unscientific system.

    “Give me a green, Mr. Doo-fus,” Justin said.

    “Yeah,” Bonnie added. “Green’s for bothering your neighbor.”

    Sitting at Miss Samsel’s desk after school, surrounded by framed photographs of her smiling family and neatly stacked piles of books and hand-outs, I decided to tear up the note I’d started. The names on the board would get the point across.

*

    Outside, the January air revived me, the cold breeze soothing my flushed face. The sun blinded me after seven hours indoors. School buses lined two sides of the building, light reflecting off their yellow hulls. On my way to the parking lot, I dodged through the crowds of students running toward their buses, their backpacks bouncing up and down behind them. Halfway across the main drive, I heard someone call my name.

    To my left, the upper half of Jerry’s body hung out a bus window, his hand waving frantically. “Hey, Mr. Doo-fus,” he called again, cheeks plumped as he smiled at me. “See you tomorrow!”

    Tomorrow. The school’s bookkeeper had asked me back for the rest of the week, all with this class. Starr had told me that Miss Samsel was pregnant, and I prayed she wouldn’t end up on bed rest, leaving me trapped with these kids in her windowless room until the end of the year.

I never made it to the high school, my preferred destination. Over the next three months, I spent almost every day at the elementary school, first as a sub and later as a teacher’s aide in a special ed. classroom. During that time, my girlfriend and I were evicted from her apartment because my cat violated her lease, I caught every flu or cold that buzzed through the school’s halls, and I totaled my car coming home one Thursday in a thunderstorm. But no matter the weather or how bad the day had been, I could count on seeing Jerry hanging out of his bus window, calling my name. As the days and weeks accrued, more faces joined his, from every grade. At the university, students rarely acknowledged me outside of class. Here, they charged up to me in the hallway for hugs and high-fives, risked their teachers’ scoldings to call out to me if I passed their open doors. I was the only male teacher at the school, and by the time a rumor began that I’d been hired permanently for the following year, part of me actually wished it was true. My co-workers’ jaded attitudes, the subsistence-level wages, the constant discipline problems, none of it could dampen the thrill I felt when a student raced up to me to tell me about her day.

But it wouldn’t last. I would be headed back to graduate school in the fall. I wanted to be a writer, not another underpaid cautionary tale bogged down by teaching multiplication tables and the parts of speech. Who’d ever heard of an elementary school teacher writing the Great American Novel? Until then, however, I made sure to wave to every last kid before heading off for the day. I may not have taught them much about math or reading or art, but this was the least I could do.

 

Posted in

Drew Pisarra, 12/15/2014

Current Occupation: Digital VP
Former Occupation: Book Clerk
Contact Information: Before shelving his contemporary dancetheatre career, Drew worked as a dry cleaning cashier, a hotel domestic, and a newspaper boy. Writing is a preoccupation.

 

#

4 Limericks for the 8-hour Day

There once was a clerk from Kilkenny
who pinched every possible penny.
When asked his two cents,
on finance, he tensed
then mumbled, “Oh, I haven’t any.”

There once was a graphic designer
who favored black slacks and eye-liner.
Her décolletage
was contoured mirage
uplifted by stuffed three-ring binders.

There once was a Chief of IT.
His M.O. was Type A not B.
The kind of a guy
whose IQ was high
but scored low on camaraderie.

There once was an HR Director
who purchased an old lie detector.
In search of a laugh,
she tried it on staff
and ruined her new surge protector.

 

#

Paean to the Paperclip

If Corporate America has karma
then reincarnation follows thereafter
and we’ll all return as office supplies:

some as staplers to double pin-prick
with hairbreadth metal
that traps in collapse;
 
some as brads to puncture
before unfolding robot wings
unseen below,

some as prong fasteners
reaching through pre-made holes
for their own metal straightjackets,

some as bulldog clips,
some as butterfly clamps,
some as ravenous hole punchers.

I myself hope to come back
as a paperclip
serene in its simplicity,

a single wire curled into two
steel tongues
like a CFO’s infinity

which, when bent out of shape,
still functions well enough
to unlock a pair of handcuffs.

 

#

Memorandum

To: The Executive in Office 15-A

From: The Front Desk

Priority: High

Date: No as in Never

Re: LOVE

No one is belittling your search for love. No one is saying it’s easy. But over the past few months, it has become clear that we cannot help you. Our skillset does not extend this far. We are here to answer phones, type up correspondence, to file papers you’ll never look at again, to lick stamps. We’ll even fax should the need arise.

Additionally, we are willing to bring you coffee (black, one Splenda), to laugh at your jokes (briefly), to nod sympathetically (again briefly), and to act as a block for unwanted visitors/callers. We will go and have gone beyond our official job description. We think. That said…

We are NOT open to your casual touch, to your face getting so close we can smell a weird combination of baby aspirin and energy drink on your breath, to your gaze when it strays downward for more than one indiscreet second or to your second inquiry following our first emphatic no.
 
There are many fish in the sea but this fish will not be hooked no matter how many times you cast your line. Please cast in another pool. Please leer in another building. Please lean over another shoulder at another desk. In brief: Please stop.

Respectfully yours,

XX

 

Posted in

Benjamin Schmitt, 12/8/2014

Current Occupation: Poet/ Teacher
Former Occupation: Customer Service Worker
Your Short Biographical Statement: Benjamin Schmitt’s poetry has been published or is forthcoming in Grist Journal, Solo Novo, The Monarch Review, Blue Lyra Review, Packingtown Review, and elsewhere. His first book was published in 2013 by Kelsay Books. It is entitled The global conspiracy to get you in bed. He currently lives in Seattle with his wife where he teaches workshops to both children and adults.

 

#

On wealth

There is money to be had
in dark corners
we follow
the bleeding shadows
hating the rich
as we walk toward the crevices
between children and foreclosed homes

There are dreams of such light
we must dig for them
until decadent pleasures become routine
showers and three coarse meals
and the brightness will diminish us
into phantoms
without guilt

There is a kind of wealth
that is restful
and happy as well
not indolence
but a success story of accidents
striving to be accomplishments
in an increasingly safer world

#

Customer service

I pen these words
for America. A short poem for a large nation
set to the rhythm of an assembly line.
My grandfather turns the levers
and wheels spin, machines clamor,
steel clashes against steel,
sparks whisper dying chants
before fading into the concrete floor.
My other grandfather
makes his triumphant exhortations in the boardroom
with his trumpet he becomes a master of business
creating dollars and francs in the air.
I am the son of rich and poor
I have a college degree that is of no use to me.
Do the same things anger you?
Let’s start a group and meet on Tuesdays,
our swelling outrage will build
into an adagio of idleness. Don’t worry,
there is a new game coming out
on PS3. Don’t worry,
you can always leave a comment on the internet.
Now that my grandfathers have died
we are stuck working in customer service.
Rude people paid to not be rude
to rude people whom we will enjoy being rude to
once they go to work.

Posted in

Nancy White, 12/1/2014

My current occupation:  Administrative Assistant, The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center
Former occupation:  I'm assuming you are requesting my occupation at the time period of the article.  Also, Administrative Assistant.
Contact Information:  Born in Washington, D.C.  I grew up in a military family and spent my formative years traveling the globe. I've called Columbus, Ohio home for the last thirty years.  I have one daughter and an Italian Greyhound.  Both are loved equally.  I graduated from Capital University with a major in English/Technical Writing.

 

#

The Boss From Hell

 

    Take it from me, the house number on her return address was 666.  Ruby, Corporate Secretary for a national landscaping company, hired me to be her administrative assistant when I was 28 years old after a five-year hiatus due to my daughter’s birth.  As things do happen in life, my husband thought our neighbor across the street would be better suited to him than me and, therefore, I joined the ranks of single-working mothers.  Prior to my hire date, my friends and family considered me to be a kind and considerate person, but there were darker sides to my personality yet unknown to me about to make their debut.  Little did I realize that with new-found employment I would also gain insights that would serve me well the rest of my life.  

    The office was located on the sixth floor of a skyscraper with floor to ceiling windows all around decorated with live plants in every niche and corner of any size.  My first day included an introduction to Susie, who held the position before me.  Her desk, just two desks away from mine, would come in handy should there be questions later.  Honestly, upon meeting Susie I understood why Ruby needed a new admin.  We were about the same age, but she had gray frizzy hair, wore thick glasses and pushing away from the dinner table looked to be a challenge for her.  Susie gave me a tour of the building, introduced me to everyone, had lunch with me that first day, and brought me up to speed on the projects on my desk.  I was very optimistic about my new position and eager to begin.

    Ruby was in her fifties, a rather imposing woman about 5’5” tall and weighed approximately 300 pounds.  She possessed a bust of gigantic proportions.  When she wore a necklace, it did not hang down.  It lay horizontal around her neck and upon her bosom.  The Corporate Secretary title came with a large salary, and it was quite obvious she enjoyed a pampered life style.  She possessed an extravagant wardrobe accessorized with lavish jewelry and stylish shoes.  Her shoes were the envy of the office and were often the topic of conversation at the break room.  She always wore heels without a back, commonly called mules, but that makes them sound dumpy.  Her shoes were anything but dumpy.  Some of them had gem stones, some had feathers, and some were alligator.  She wore a pair of shoes to work one day that were mink.  Jimmy Choo, if he were designing shoes then, would die of envy.   She could be heard before being seen because the heels would slap against the sole of each foot as she took a step.  Hair perfectly coiffed and makeup applied like mortar, she sailed into the office every morning at 9 a.m. sharp.  

    The first week on the job ran smoothly, but as the days went by, I began to feel like the little Dutch boy with his finger in the dam.  My job responsibilities were not as described to me during the job interview.  Work days for me resembled episodes of the Twilight Zone.  What horror awaited me each day at the office I never could predict.

    Ruby’s office was approximately 50 feet from my desk, and when she wanted me she would bellow my name down the hallway.  Of course, everyone in the office could hear her.  All work activity would cease, and I would go directly to her office.  Let me give you an example of reasons why she would call me to her office.

    “I need coffee.  Get me some from Starbucks, not that nasty office coffee.”

    “Find out who delivers lunch and get their menus.”

    “Take my car and get it washed.”

    “Pick up a prescription for me.”

    “Call so-and-so and when you get him on the line transfer him to me.”

    One day it would be, “Mail this proposal to so-and-so” and the next day she would say, “I can’t find the so-in-so proposal.  Have you seen it?”  Reminding her that she told me to mail it yesterday didn’t help because she would deny ever telling me to do so.  Therefore, I came up with the idea of the Contract Log the very next day.  Every contract or proposal she gave me to send out would require her signature on the log before being processed.

    “I can’t find the Acme contract. Do you have it?”  

    After the obligatory search, I realized the requested contract had vanished into thin air.  I didn’t know if I was losing the contracts or if she was eating them.  Not logged out either, where the heck could they be?  Only one original with signatures of a proposal or contract existed.  If you lost it you had to start at the beginning and type it over.  I would keep Xerox copies in case we would need to recreate documents, but you still had to type it over again.  

    We had many file cabinets as well and sometimes she requested a certain file.  Strangely, missing files also became an issue and there would be no place holder card indicating who had checked it out.   It’s mystifying.  The paperwork in this office seemingly sprouts legs and wanders off when the mood strikes.  In my previous job before the birth of my daughter, performance appraisals declared me to be quite an organizational wizard and not being able to find contracts and files bothered me.  I was beginning to worry about being fired; not an enviable fate for a single working mother.  Seeking advice, I asked Susie, who now worked in Personnel, if she experienced the same issues with Ruby that I was experiencing, and Susie said she’d rather not comment.  She wanted me to form my own opinion of Ruby.  I thought that was an odd response at the time, but I knew Susie was a somewhat reclusive person.  She always ate lunch at her desk and as far as I could tell didn’t cultivate close relationships at the office.

    So one day about four months into my landscaping career, Ruby tells me she’s going out for a long business lunch.  While she’s gone I decide to go in her office and sneak around to see if I can find one or two of the most recent missing contracts or files.  Maybe Ruby just misplaced them.  Desk drawers opened, all the files within examined, next the closet, then all the boxes in the closet and all for naught.  Back at her desk I try to imagine if I was a misplaced file or contract where could I be?  I lift up her overly large desk pad and low and behold there are five files and three contracts lying there.  I look at the files and documents to see if they are the missing ones and they are.  So I’m putting two and two together and realize this was no accident. For some reason, Ruby has been squirreling these away and dishing out the guilt about “losing them”.  I paper shredded the files and documents and went back to my desk.  Now they are truly “Missing”.  And the feud begins.

    Ruby comes back from lunch, walks past my desk with her shoes slapping against her feet as she progresses down the hallway.  No verbal exchanges made.  About an hour later I’m on the phone when Ruby screeches down the hall, “Nancy, has someone been in my office?”   I didn’t answer because I was on the phone.  She comes to my desk and even though I’m on the phone with a customer; she asks the same question again.  I tell the customer I’ll have to call them back and hang up.  

    “No one has been in your office.  I never let anyone else in your office.”  Anyone else besides you and me I’m thinking to myself.

    “Are you sure?” she asks again.

    “Why do you ask?”  

    “I’m missing something.”

    “Oh, what would that be?  I’ll help you find it.”  I said trying to be helpful (not really).

    “Never mind!”  She screeches and returns to her office.

    So I was right.  She did it on purpose.  Why?  Why would your boss hoard important information and claim that you lost it?  It just didn’t add up.  So, of course, being a stellar example of a professional employee, I started complaining about her at lunch and break times to my co-worker friends.  What was the method to her madness?  Why?  Why?  No one seemed to have an answer.  

    One morning she said I had to go home and change clothes.  Since when are slacks and a blouse with a peter pan collar inappropriate?  I had to take an hour of vacation to go home and change.

    Soon after that Ruby told me she was waiting for an important personal call from her best friend, Barbara, and let her know as soon as Barbara called even if she was in a meeting.  Barbara called, and I filled out the message receipt for Ruby and time stamped it two hours later and put it on her desk at the time indicated on the message.  She came back from her meeting, called Barbara and came out of her office angry and commenced to yelling at me in front of all the employees whose desks were nearby.  

    “I missed the fitting,” she tells me.  “Barbara says she called almost three hours ago, why didn’t you let me know she had called?”

    “What does the time stamp on the message say?”

    “3 p.m.”

    “Then, that’s what time she called and I put the message on your desk.”  Two can play at this game.  She stormed away from me back down the hall to her office and slammed the door.

    Maryanne was the HR admin whose desk was next to mine.  She would overhear me mumbling about Ruby under my breath day after day, incident after incident, and she made it her mission to bring a little happiness into my life.  She says to me one day, “Where does Ruby get all of those beautiful little shoes that she wears, I wonder?  She has the smallest feet and the biggest a*s I have ever seen.”  Of course, I laughed until I choked.  

    A couple days later Ruby is walking down the hall and Maryanne whispers to me, “Don’t you think those little bitty shoes must suffer something awful every time she steps down onto them?”  I nearly laughed out loud as Ruby passed us.  Then Maryanne notches up her game.  Every time Ruby walks by us she would say under her breath so only I could hear her, “Ooh, Ouch, Stop, That hurts, Please, Ooch, Ouch, please, torture, pure torture, stop, ouch,” as if the little bitty shoes were suffering in earnest.  

    One day my babysitter had a schedule conflict and called and asked me to come at noon and pick up my daughter.  Well, not having anyone else to watch her I took her to work with me.  I’m thinking how much trouble can a five-year old be in one afternoon?  She was fine for the first hour or two and then she got restless.  My back was turned while I was filing.  My daughter apparently wandered down the hall, into Ruby’s office and I hear this very familiar little girls’ voice say, “You’re not as fat as my mommy says you are.”  Ruby’s booming demand that I come get this urchin out of her office closely followed.  

    It wasn’t me that said she was fat, but it might as well have been.  It was all out war from that day on.  She never did anything inappropriate to me that I could prove and the same was true of me.   I got so upset about my employment situation that I was stressed to the point of breaking.  Every time she asked me to do something, which most of the time was something irritating, I would say to myself why don’t you just die and go away.  I’m not proud of my lack of professional behavior, but I felt driven to it.  Every night when she left for the night and said good night to everyone, but me, I would say to myself why don’t you just go home and die.  You’re mean and evil, and no one likes you.  

    And then it happened.  On a Wednesday at 5 p.m. Ruby said good night to everyone but me and left the office for the day.  I had to finish processing a contract before I could leave.  About 15 minutes later, someone comes running in from the parking lot screaming, “Someone call 911. Call 911 now.  Hurry.”  He found Ruby dead in the parking lot sitting in her Mercedes with the driver’s door open, one leg in the car, one leg on the pavement.  She had a brain aneurism and died on the spot.  She had complained of a headache all day.  

    Those who were still at the office rushed out to the scene.  Alone in the office I remained at my desk until the ambulance came and took her away.  Once you go out to see what’s going on it becomes real.  Guilt consumed me all the way down to my toes and back.  What kind of a person wishes for someone else’s death every day?  I sat at my desk and cried.  Ruby had a husband and a daughter.  She had a life.  I wished her away from her loved ones.  Who did I think I was?  Guilt consumed me and I fell into a depression.  

    Susie chose that time in my life to seek me out.  She would ask me to lunch almost every day, and we would chat about unimportant things.  Then she asked one day if I’d like to go to a movie on Saturday, and I said sure and before you know it Susie and I were becoming fast friends.  She and I had a standing Saturday night “date”, dinner and a movie.  Who knew she could be so friendly?  She had never married, but she gave me the most sensible advice when it came to relationships.  She taught me how to take care of myself when it came to men, money and career choices.  If someone I dated didn’t like Susie that was our last date.  We were together all the time.  She amazed me.  

    Then one day out of the blue she says to me, “It’s not your fault you know.”  

    I knew what she was talking about without asking, “Why do you say that?”  

    “I wished that woman dead every day I worked for her.  If I hadn’t landed my job in the Personnel I would have quit.  I couldn’t take it any longer.   I just wanted you to know that you have company in that dark place your in right now.”   

    The weight of the world had been lifted off my shoulders.  It was a burden, a secret that we shared.  It was the burden of knowing I had become something loathesome and the secret of knowing something hideous lived inside me, but I wasn’t alone

    Susie and I were closer than sisters ever could be for 24 years.  During all that time, we never missed a Saturday night dinner/movie.  We were so different from each other that people often wondered how we could be so close, but we knew we were the same inside.  To the world, she appeared to be a reclusive bookworm who barely spoke to anyone at work and had the only office in the building that looked like a F5 tornado had just touched down.  Ask her for any particular report and she would go to a sloppy stack of books and paper in a corner of her office and pluck a few choice pages from somewhere in the stack and that would be the document you were looking for.  I don’t know how she did it.  The world didn’t often get to see her kindnesses, generosity, and graciousness.  She did not brag about such things.  Her wardrobe resembled clothing previously refused by Good Will.  Shopping for new clothes remained low on her priority list.  She donated almost half of what she earned to those in need.  She always thought of others before herself.  

    I, on the other hand, was a wise-cracking, cigarette-smoking, and gum-chewing harridan.  I’d do anything for a good laugh.  I was probably the last person in the world anyone would want as a friend.  She was my confessor, my plus one, my ‘sister’, my best friend, my confidant and I loved her until the day she died of a heart attack far too young.  I still miss her every day.  Knowing her made me a better person and for that I am grateful.  Ruby, I want to thank you for hiring me and changing my life forever.  Looking back, it was the nicest gesture anyone has ever done for me.

Rest in Peace.

 
Posted in

Katie DeBruhl, 11/24/2014

Current Occupation: Museum Donor Relations Coordinator
Former Occupation: Music Education
Contact Information: Katie lives and works in her hometown of New Orleans. She is a lover of creative pun-usage and bad dates. This is her first piece of creative writing in the last decade.

 

#

Hello, Dolly

 

I’ve had a lot of incredibly odd jobs in my 25 years on this planet. All were temporary, none have paid well, and though there were aspects of them I did enjoy, the stories I was left with after my departure ended up being more rewarding than any of the paychecks.

 

It began when I was thirteen. My dad, Steve, owned a cell phone store in Algiers that catered to a unique collection of characters. He decided that it could one day become a family empire and that I needed to start at an early age in order to appreciate the blood, sweat, and tears it takes to push a Verizon four-person family plan. He had me start small. I was put in charge of charging. I had to watch over a collection of batteries as they sat on their charging stations until they reached their maximum potential and then switch them out for another set. I did this for hours one Saturday, told Steve I felt I had bigger fish to fry at 13, and that I thought the family business could survive without me.

 

One of my favorite stints was a job I secured my senior year of college. Through an odd twist of fate, I became the booking intern for everyone’s favorite 90s rock band, Hootie and the Blowfish. Yes, they still exist. No, Hootie no longer plays with them. My job was to make sure that the rest of the Blowfishes would be able to make a few extra dollars playing the state fair circuit in South Carolina. I got this job because the guitarist was an adjunct professor at my college and he really liked women under 22, so demographically I was a shoe-in. It was a bizarre six months and a perfect leeway into what I believe is the strangest job of all:

 

After the academia high of graduating college and Blowing Hootie a kiss goodbye, I packed my things to move North. I drove to Chicago determined to make a name for myself in the arts world. I applied to record labels, galleries, theatres, coffee shops in theatres, coffee shops next to theatres, theatrical coffee shops… nothing worked. As a last ditch effort to escape the job I had transferred with, the illustrious American Apparel, I decided to tap into an old passion of mine. I had become what every recent graduate dreams of becoming, a personal shopper at the American Girl Doll Store.



For those of you who don’t know what an American Girl Doll is, it’s an overpriced tiny toy person that is used to represent different historical periods, and now represents how fucked up the economy is because you spending $150 on “Felicity of Colonial Times.”  

 

Things at the doll store started off well. My co-workers were all in their 50s, and told me they were in it for the discount, though very few of them had children…My job was to follow 8 year olds around as they picked out everything on their wish list and dump them into the large basket I held behind them. The kids had to make sure Samantha had a new ski outfit for the upcoming family trip to Aspen, or order the new bunk bed scenario with faux popcorn and a mini magazine of US Weekly, since Molly sometimes has friends over and what are you gonna do then? Bottom line, it was bad. And I didn’t think it could get any worse.

 

That was until I met Donna. Donna was in charge of the Doll Hair Salon. You see sometimes, little girls don’t take good care of dolls, and their hair gets really messy, you know? There was a actual hair salon in the store, with chairs this big, that the dolls would visit, and the hairdressers would work their magic and everyone would leave with some sort of braided crown or sleek ponytail.

 

Donna took her work very seriously. She had just celebrated ten years at American Girl. Ten years. She ran that salon. She even had certain clients who would return to her because her work was that good.

 

One day, I made me the rookie mistake of telling a young soul that Depression Era Kit wouldn’t look good in a high ponytail and that maybe she should just do the half up/half down. Donna heard my suggestion and stormed over, exclaiming I didn’t have the expertise to make that call. Donna then told me that the ponytail cost $35 and the half up only $20. And we all worked on commission. I was cheating her out of a potential 50-cent sale. And she did not let me forget it.

 

For the next week and a half, my lunches mysteriously disappeared from the company fridge. I would look into the trash can in the break room and my Lean Cuisine was always on top, always half-eaten. Donna, who mysteriously got out for lunch a few minutes before I did, would watch me, staring longingly at my half frozen feast, and say things like “I’m helping with your diet.”

 

After being starved out of work, I finally decided to address the issue. I walked up to the salon on one of the slower hours, and as she was sweeping tiny fake hair, I had asked her why she was so upset at me. After taking a long sigh, she told me she needed the money. She had three kids. I suddenly realized that this wasn’t just a way to scrape up rent money for her. Donna liked her job. She was good at it. That was something I had never experienced. She found where she thought she belonged and where she could enjoy spending her days.

 

I knew that I couldn’t find that same kind of satisfaction Donna had while working there, but I longed for it even more so at that moment. So after making peace at the salon and surviving a brutal winter, I quit the doll store, moved out of Chicago, and I am still searching for the happiness that she had, in whatever hairstyle it comes in.

 

Posted in

Charles Rammelkamp, 11/17/2014

Current Occupation: RETIRED
Former Occupation: ADJUNCT ENGLISH PROFESSOR and TECHNICAL WRITER
Contact Information:  Charles Rammelkamp has published a novel (The Secretkeepers), two collections of short fiction, two volumes of poetry and half a dozen chapbooks of poetry.  A new chapbook of poems, MIXED SIGNALS, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press.

 

#

Chopping Wood

 

“You should write a novel about this place,” Bill Foster advised Brookmeyer at his retirement luncheon the week before.  “Blow the lid off the agency.  The nepotism, the racism, the cronyism, the incompetence.  Most of these managers couldn’t find their own ass with both hands in their back pockets.”  Foster knew that Brookmeyer dabbled in fiction and poetry, assumed he wanted to launch a major literary project.

But it was precisely the pure bland nothingness of the bureaucratic government work that had driven Brookmeyer to retire in the first place.  Whole days spent in administrative drivel without any sense of accomplishment, just the dull anxiety of deadlines.

The word “bureaucracy,” originally coined in the eighteenth century, had had a satirical intent from the start.  It referred to a body of non-elected government officials devoted to the administration of its on rules, policies, procedures, but had come to include any large organization with the same purpose.  Sociologists and philosophers had argued back and forth over the centuries about the necessity and efficacy of bureaucracies.  The German, Max Weber, believed they were the most rational way to organize human activity.  John Stuart Mill wrote that bureaucracies stifle the mind, the individual, and inevitably become “pedantocracies.” Kafka’s fiction was suffused by the notion that bureaucracies were dehumanizing, alienating.

What could Brookmeyer write about the agency that was at all compelling?  There were “colorful characters,” all right, Foster among them, but this was nothing anybody would ever care to read about.

“Now that you’re retired, you can come back as a contractor,” Ben Taylor suggested. “Get your pension and a paycheck.”

But it wasn’t money Brookmeyer cared about or particularly needed.  He did have that pension, after all, and his nest egg.  Just making more money was not going to give him any sense of accomplishment or mitigate the stress of time wasted in pointless activity.

He remembered the parable about the Zen master who had a satori experience while he was chopping wood.  What did he do after he had the satori experience?  After he’d achieved “enlightenment”?  He went on chopping wood,

That’s what I need, Brookmeyer thought, some wood to chop.

        

 
Posted in

Jon Simmons, 11/10/2014

Current Occupation: Music Critic, Writer
Former Occupation: Administrative Assistant
Contact Information: Writer, beat maker, soothsayer

 

#

A Man Walks the Plank

I’m standing up from my chair to stretch when a tall man walks into the office. He pulls a stubby, black revolver out of his pants pocket and says, “Okay everybody, listen up. I want all the money from the safe and make it quick.” He gestures with the revolver to the conference room door. My boss, Gina, looks terrified. Nobody moves or says anything.

“Hurry up, damn it,” the tall man says. “The safe.”

Gina takes her hands off her mouth and manages, “This isn’t a bank. There is no safe.”

“The hell this isn’t a bank,” the tall man barks. “You were robbed just last week. I read about it in the paper. Now, I want the money.”

“We were?” Gina squeaks. “Robbed? Here?”

I start thinking this is all a big joke, some office prank initiation for me which the five other employees are in on. A big, sick joke. Then again, the bank next door did get robbed last week.

The tall man walks in front of my desk. “You,” he says, pointing the snout of the revolver at my chest. “What do you do here?”

Gina pipes up, “This is a literary magazine. We publish stories, poems—”

“Shut up or I’ll shoot you,” the man snaps, glaring at her. He pauses and thinks, his gun still trained on my chest. “Say, why don’t you write me a poem?” he says. “I’d like that.”

It’s initiation, I think.

Gina shakes her head. She looks like she’s going to cry.

“This isn’t a joke,” I report to the man with the gun.

“A poem,” he demands.

“A poem,” I repeat, buying time.

The man pulls the hammer back on the revolver.  “Ten seconds,” he says. “Nine, eight…”

“A poem,” Gina whimpers. “Please.”

I speak. “This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper…”

“Plagiarist!” He shouts, shaking the gun at me. “I want originality.”

I didn’t think he’d know.

Gina and the others are staring at me, rigid in their chairs.

“Just give me a minute,” I tell him, holding up my pointer finger. “Just a minute and I’ll have something perfect.”

“Deadline’s now, poet man.”

I look out the window. It’s raining. I hope somebody walking by sees what’s going on in here. “I’ve got it,” I tell him. “The rain splashes on concrete, streams into sewer drains. Surely there’s a rainbow in the future.”

The tall man with the gun starts to giggle. His laugh sounds like a wind-up doll, high-pitched and mechanical. With his free hand he’s holding his forehead, trembling with laughter.

“You call that poetry?” he says.

“Look,” I say, growing irritated. “I can rework it if you want. I just need—”

“What I want,” the man says, cutting me off. “What I want is something more character-centered. Understand?”  He wipes the tears from his eyes. “Is that so hard to do?”

I sigh. “Okay, I’ll try” I say. I start again. “Over open sea a man walks the plank, white rope choking his wrists. Falling, he doesn’t think about drowning, or sharks. He wonders what the water temperature is, if last night’s rain has made it any warmer.”

The man with the gun clears his throat. “I don’t understand,” he says, scratching his head. “Why is he thinking about the water temperature when he’s about to die? It’s a bit unrealistic.”

“It’s a poem,” I say. “It doesn’t have to be realistic.” I think about lunging for the revolver. It’s only a couple feet in front of me. But if I missed it would be all over.

“What about this,” the man says, wagging the gun in the air as he talks. “What about: Falling, all he can think of is drowning and sharks. One, or both, is bound to kill him.” He smiles at me, pleased.

I’m ready to tell the man about subtlety when the office door blows open. Three policemen charge into the office, guns out. “Drop your weapon!” they yell, but the man has already dropped his revolver, startled by the bang from the door swinging into the wall. In a matter of seconds they twist him to the ground and slap on handcuffs. Gina is screaming. Everyone has popped out of their chairs.

As the policemen wrangle him up off the floor, the tall man says, as if to everyone, “What right does he have to judge poetry when he can’t write it himself?”

 

 

Posted in

Dan Morey, 11/3/2014

Current Occupation: Business Owner (Landscaping)/ Freelance Journalist
Former Occupation: Retail clerk, hotel maintenance man, phonebook deliverer.
Contact Information: Dan Morey lives in Erie, PA where he operates a small landscaping business.  He is also a freelance writer who has worked as a book critic, nightlife columnist and outdoor journalist.  His creative work has appeared or is forthcoming in many publications, including Splitsider, The Broadkill Review, Far Enough East, Drunk Monkeys, Ducts.org, Red Fez, Paper Tape and The Journal of Asinine Poetry. Find him at danmorey.weebly.com.  

 

#

In Pursuit of Happiness

 

 

I was having a drink with an old friend the other day when he surprised me with a personal question:

    “Are you happy?”

    I didn’t know how to respond.  If I said yes I’d look like a liar or a fool, and if I said no he might think me a depressive bore.  I’ve found that the best thing to do in these situations is to find out what the other person wants you to say and then say it.  

    “Why?” I said.  “Aren’t you?”

    “Not really.”

    “Me either.  Completely miserable in fact.”

    But was I?

    The truth is, I’m pretty content.  I’m in my 30s, single, with no children.  I’ve been told I should feel unfulfilled because of this, but I don’t.  I’m far too self-absorbed to be an effective father, and the freedom of bachelorhood has always suited me.  I run a small, seasonal business that leaves me plenty of time for fishing, leisure travel, and lengthy periods of inactivity.  

    But am I happy?  And what exactly is happiness, anyway?  Most people are continually striving for better jobs, more income and more possessions.  Is happiness linked to accumulation?  To upward mobility?

    If it is, I’m in trouble.  Though I’m convinced that my potential is limitless, I choose to live an easy, unstressed existence.  Sometimes thinking about all the careers I could have lulls me into a sort of romantic somnambulism, a trance-like ecstasy where actual circumstances disappear, and airy fantasies become truth.  Look!  I’m a famous archeologist romping through the jungles of Peru in a soiled fedora!  And now I’m a secret agent, shadowing a conspirator through the souks of Kandahar!

    Daydreaming is enjoyable, but reality inevitably encroaches, and I remember that I’m a 21st century American male, and as such am expected to pursue non-imaginary goals.  At this point my comforting reveries begin to chafe.  Imagination makes life tolerable and intolerable at the same time; illusions are both an escape and a reminder of my unambitious nature.  Sure, I could go to school, mold my physique, apply for training, and eventually become that secret agent.  But just think of all the work involved!  And even if I did accomplish those things, who’s to say I’d be happy?  Experience leads inevitably to disillusionment.  Imagining a life is always better than living it.  If I did become a super-spy, I’d soon yearn to start a dairy farm or manage a hotel.

    I’m an incurable fantasist, a trait I inherited from my late father, who always envisioned himself as some kind of Scottish nobleman.  His passion for all things Scots could manifest itself at any time.  One night, when I was about 12, a friend and I were watching MTV.  Around midnight a wailing erupted outside—an unbearable caterwauling, as if a mob of stray cats was being flayed.

    “Not again,” said my friend.  

     We peered out the window and there was Father, marching up and down the street playing his bagpipes.  He was draped in full parade regalia: spats, kilt, feather bonnet and tartan cape.  The bejeweled butt of a dirk dagger extended from his sock and twinkled in the moonlight.  He probably imagined himself leading a clan of shouting highlanders into battle.

     This kind of delusional passion frequently manifests itself in my own life.  Though I’ve yet to don a costume, I have at various times asked others to do so.  

     I was in the woods, under a pine tree, with a girl.

    "But I don't want to," she said.

     "Why not?" I said.  

     "I don’t know.  It just feels weird."

     "What's so weird about a wig?"

    I threw the blonde wig at her, and she reluctantly tried it on.    

     "Perfect," I said.  "You look just like Debbie Harry.  Now the makeup."

     "Forget it.  I'm not smearing that black stuff around my eyes."

    The illusion was incomplete, and she failed to live up to my ideal.  Even today, I have difficulty working up enthusiasm for real people—they always seem to disappoint.  This attitude, also inherited from Father, often compels me to snuff out eagerness in others.  If I can’t get what I want, why should they?

     One day in the mid ‘90s my little brother burst into the kitchen with a sample case of fancy cutlery.  

     "I'm gonna make so much cash!" he said.  "After I sell three sets I get to keep half the profit on future sales!"

    Father and I worked together.

     "Did you pay for those samples?" said Father.

    “Sure.”

     "Don't you know a scam when you see one?" I said.

     "But I could sell a lot.  I might be good at it."

     "Right," said Father.  "And I might win the Nobel Prize."

     Mother was also a frequent victim.  

     "I'm going in to work for a few hours,” she said one morning.  “Then I’m taking the rest of the day off for my doctor's appointment."

     "Why don’t you take the whole day off?” I said.  “You really let those jerks at the office push you around."

     "I happen to like the people I work with.  We’re a team, and we have a lot of stuff to get done this week."

     "Team my ass," said Father.  "You think any of those people give a damn about you?"

    Luckily, Mother's enthusiasm was always uncrushable.  Had Father succeeded in souring her outlook, his comfortable lifestyle would’ve been in serious jeopardy.  Like me, he was never able to work for anyone, so he started his own real estate business.  During boom years, he made good money.  When things were slow, he played a lot of golf.

    So it goes for a great many men in my family.  Father’s cousin Ray, for instance.  Here was a man who roamed the neighborhood when it was mostly cow pasture and corn, bumming cigarettes and drinking beer.  Once my Grandmother unwisely hired him to fix her garage door.  When she went out to check on his progress, she found him asleep in the pachysandras.  The door hadn’t been touched, and Ray was clutching a nearly empty bottle of rye whiskey.  

     "Get up!" yelled my grandmother.

     Ray jerked himself upright, shook his head twice in a decisive manner, and said:

     "No sir, I wasn’t anywhere near that gherkin barrel."

     Uncle Robert, on my mother’s side, was similarly disposed.  After he was dishonorably discharged from the Navy (booze), he became a flimflam man, traveling the country playing cards, running cons, and barking at carnivals.  He even taught rich widows how to dance at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami.  He finally settled in Los Angeles, where he took up acting.  One night in the late 80s we gathered around the television to watch him play an obnoxious old man on an episode of Mike Hammer Robert squawked deliriously and taunted the detective who, as I recall, punched him in the nose.

    Uncle Robert’s life seemed exotic to me, and I idolized him.  Later, I realized that wherever he went, regardless of how many people he came into contact with, he was always an outsider.  The last time I saw him, he looked worn and haggard.  Not working hard can turn out to be very hard work.  He died alone in Las Vegas a few years later.

     Father, Cousin Ray, Uncle Robert—these men are all in me.  Their genes are my genes.  I could probably exorcise them with therapy or medication, but why would I want to?  Because they weren’t happy?  I don’t think they were unhappier than anyone else.

“I take that back,” I said to my friend as we finished our drinks.  “I am happy.  As happy as I care to be.”

 

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Gary A. Berg, 10/27/2014

Current Occupation:  University Administrator

Former Occupation:  Reader

Your Short Biographical Statement:  Gary A. Berg is the author of eight non-fiction books and has an MFA in Screenwriting from UCLA. 

 

#

The Reader

I stopped at the entrance of Warner Brother’s Studio and stated my name to the too handsome guard wearing an oversized police hat, as if he too were out of central casting.  “Go ahead.”  I drove down the studio streets wet with rain, past the large sound stages that looked like airplane hangars, past the cute bungalows filled with producers and executives “the suits”, and into the studio facades used for shooting New York City streets.  I finally pulled up to a curb in front of a suburban-looking home in the section built for a wholesome television series in the 1960s.  It is common for directors to order that streets to be watered down before shooting because of the noir, reflective look it gives.  As I step out into the hard rain, I don’t think this technique will be needed today.

Out of college with a degree and living in Los Angeles, I fell into the ranks of the marginal entertainment industry workforce.  I became what is known as a “reader,” or more formally, a “story analyst.”  My assignment was to quickly read scripts, novels, plays, treatment summaries, and write short summaries with an analysis of the viability of the project.

I entered a modern two-story office building at the edge of the lot, dried myself with paper towels in the restroom, and climbed the stairs to the office of my main contact, the story editor.  She was the daughter of a famous writer, beautiful, and looked like she should still be in high school.  

“I want to ask you about this last one you did.”

“Yes, the Civil War one.”

“You recommended it.”

“That’s right.  Thought it was one of the best scripts I’ve ever read.”

“But it is set in the Civil War.  Nobody wants to see that.”

“I do.”

“Nobody.  And you marked it “Recommend”.

“Is that bad?”

“It’s not ‘Consider’.”

“I see, ‘Recommend’ is not ‘Consider’.”

“If you ‘Recommend’ then we have to contemplate buying the property.  Never, ever, ‘Recommend’.”

“Just ‘Consider’.”

“Or ‘Pass’.  You caused a lot of trouble around here.”

“If I like something I either ‘Pass’ or at the outside say ‘Consider’.”

“Basically, your job is to ‘Pass’ on everything.  It’s simple.  Don’t fuck it up.”

Outside it is pouring rain when I came out.  I step into the fake street covering a stack of scripts with my old raincoat.  I almost slip on the slick paint in the crosswalk.  The gutters are filled with rain water rushing down the imitation neighborhood streets.  I run across the lot to my car.  Opening the door, the scripts slip out of my hands and fall into the streaming gutter.  I lunge for them as they swirl down the fake drain pipe and out to the sea.

 

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Thomas Michael McDade, 10/20/2014

Current Occupation: Retired
Former Occupation: Computer Programmer
Contact Information: Thomas Michael McDade is a retired computer programmer living with his wife in Fredericksburg, VA, no kids, no pets. He is a graduate of Fairfield University, Fairfield, CT. McDade served two tours of duty in the U.S. Navy. His poetry has most recently appeared in Release Magazine and The Journal of Military Experience.

 

#

Shrimp Cocktail

A fellow waiter said the guy
living down the hall from him
who was lonely, poor and old
would be in for dinner.
If he sat at one of my tables,
treat him right.
New in the profession,
I didn’t know what the hell
that meant.
Of course, I got stuck with him!
Well, he was pleasant enough,
slicked back, thinning hair,
wore an ascot and drank a daiquiri,
ordered cheap, chopped sirloin.
I knew that plate, a meal
the help could eat free.
When he splurged on a small shrimp
cocktail I saw my opening and sneaked
him jumbos that curled
around the dish like trick shop fingers.
Continuing my kindness streak,
instead of the house dressing
on his tossed salad,
I gave him bleu cheese,
that carried a surcharge.
From the smell I figured
it should be given away.
The tip was the minimum.
His waiter pal told me later
of many better methods
to not only shrink tabs,
but boost my income
doctoring checks and dups
with an artist eraser.
I stuck with the shrimp scam and never
quite understood exactly what “cocktail”
had to do with it.
I quit the bleu cheese when a woman
who was either too beautiful for me
or merely thought she was
complained to the maitre d’.

 

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