Michael Mark, 7/28/2014

Current Occupation: Instigator, Hospice Volunteer, long distance walker, short distance meditator.
Former Occupation: Advertising
Contact Information: Michael Mark writes to break things so he can look in and be further mystified. He is the author of two books of fiction, Toba and At the Hands of a Thief (Atheneum). His poetry has appeared and is scheduled to appear in The New York Times, UPAYA, Awakening Consciousness Magazine, Sleet, Empty Mirror, OutsideIn Magazine, Elephant Journal, Everyday Poets, Forge Journal, Angle Journal, The 2014 San Diego Poetry Annual, The Wayfarer, as well as other nice places. He thanks you for looking at his profile, though this isn’t him. Follow Michael @michaelgrow in case he gets lost.

 

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The Code of the Greeter

 

I applied to be a greeter at the Wal-Mart.

 

My smile will make customers smile.

 

Coming in from the July steam, they’ll be cooled

by my wave and ice cream smooth hello –

Hey, didja know we have popsicles here, we sure do!

 

From the harsh cold that is the world these days,

they will be warmed by my sincerity.

If you don’t find what you’re looking for,  just ask

one of our helpers in red – we’re all friends here.

 

And when they walk in with their hands

in their pockets, worried

they won’t have enough to pay

for the nice shirt or the mug

for their mom

that says, You’re The Best!,

 

I will know.

 

I have had my own card rejected –

everyone behind me shaking their heads.

I’ve been made to feel small.  

 

But they won’t ever know my sad story.

I’m the happy greeter –

 

they will always be accepted by me!

Guaranteed!

 

And if they ever see me outside of the store, I’ll just

wave and keep moving.

 

There’s a code among greeters  – keep it in front of the store.

 

Karen M Brittle, 7/21/2014

Current occupation: Therapeutic Horseback Riding Instructor
Past occupation: Writing Tutor
Contact Information: Karen M. Brittle has published fiction and creative nonfiction in multiple journals and magazines, among them Cooweescoowee, Kaleidoscope, Ars Medica and Dressage Today. She has an MA in English with a concentration in Creative Writing from Rhode Island College. Karen teaches horseback riding lessons to equestrians with and without special needs.  She also writes. "Barn Dust" is the first chapter of her book, Barn Dust: Becoming & Practicing as a Therapeutic Horseback Riding Instructor.

 

 

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Barn Dust

 

 

    I am driving my aging Pontiac down Route 95 South, heading from Providence, Rhode Island to Old Lyme, Connecticut, new leather paddock boots stiff against my ankles. As usual, I feel guilty and anxious. That’s my modus-operandi, age thirty. As I drive, because I am awake, I bite my nails; when I sleep, I grind my teeth instead. It doesn’t matter what I’m doing – driving, eating, sleeping, teaching, visiting the child-who-was-my-step-child, walking my dog, making love to my new boyfriend – guilt, anxiety and second guessing underscore all other feelings, all the time.

    For example, I am heading down the road today to do, essentially, a good deed: I am attending a volunteer training at High Hopes Therapeutic Riding, a horseback riding facility that provides services for individuals with special needs. I’m terrifically nervous (will I remember how to work with horses correctly?), horribly insecure (what makes me think I can commit to this when everything else has fallen apart?), and feeling guilty and anxious (mainly because I always do). In this case, I suppose the guilt is there in part because the Pontiac is getting old and I’ve just committed to driving 180 miles roundtrip for a volunteer role, once a week for the next twelve weeks. The guilt is augmented because, since my divorce three years prior, I’ve been on a debt-management program. As I drive, I ask myself: shouldn’t you spend this time at a paid part-time job, instead of volunteering? Just the price of gas makes this stupid. I questioned myself further:  What if this car breaks down on your way? Or worse when you’re all the way down in Connecticut? What then? How will you get to and from the paying job you already have? After all, the car has 150,000 miles on it…  I sip coffee as I drive, trapped in a sequence of never-ending, caffeine-fueled negative thoughts, a symphony of “Who do you think you are?”

 

    A few weeks before, I called to reserve a spot in this Volunteer Orientation & Training. Laura Moya, one of the therapeutic horseback riding instructors at High Hopes, had returned my inquiry call about attending the training. During an informal phone interview with Laura, I found myself saying more than I’d intended. “I feel, well, I feel like learning about therapeutic horseback riding may be… part of who I am.”

    “It’s pretty special,” Laura confirmed, her voice kind and cheerful.

    “I’ve always heard of High Hopes by reputation,” I continued. “Always considered doing your Instructor Training Course. But I feel like volunteering will give me a better idea about that.” As soon as I said it, I felt anxious and embarrassed. Stupid, I told myself, she probably hears this all the time. And this is foolish – you haven’t been on a horse in over five years!

    “Sounds like a good plan,” said Laura. “Come check everything out and see how you feel about it.” She went on to say that even though the volunteer training I wanted to attend was full, she’d find a spot for me. She confided that volunteers with “your kind of horse experience” were rare and much needed.

    My kind of horse experience. As a teenager and young adult, I’d owned several horses and cared for and ridden many others, both for friends and as a paid stable hand. Through Pony Club, 4-H, and the local show circuit, I’d trained with excellent instructors and then gone off to college, planning to major in Equine Studies. My college program focused on three-day eventing, the daring equestrian sport that balances the precision of dressage work, with the bravery needed to jump cross-country at high speeds, and the skill and stamina to follow up with a stadium jump course. Sometime during college, I lost my focus. A career path with horses refused to present itself. And there were all those college English and writing courses: easy As and more socially acceptable, more palatable to my parents. Becoming an English teacher instead of a horse trainer seemed to leave room for other important stuff: marriage, children, free weekends, future financial stability. In another word: normal. Life as an English teacher would facilitate a whole lot of normal. It was time to grow up, I’d told myself (at 20), time to grow up and let go of horses.

    “Therapeutic riding is something I’ve always wanted to know more about,” I repeated, too eagerly, to Laura on the phone.

    “Well,” she said, her voice matter-of-fact but kind, “I think most of us felt that way about it when we first started. Maybe it’s your time.”

 

    I arrive at the volunteer training terrified. I don’t remember ever in my life feeling such anxiety approaching a learning situation, though as an experienced equestrian and an educator comfortable with special needs populations, I should certainly be more than qualified for the basic volunteer roles. The classroom at High Hopes is filled mainly with teenagers and retirees, people looking to fulfill a school requirement or find a meaningful activity to fill long, newly free days. But it’s hard to be new in a place that I hope might hold answers for me, especially because High Hopes is big and impressive, a state-of-the-art equestrian facility built exclusively to serve special needs populations. A quick look around the facility reveals a twenty stall barn, a gigantic indoor arena with premier footing made from recycled rubber tires, a sweeping office space surrounding it, a lighted outdoor arena, a sensory trail system, and pastures that accommodate the herd of 26 specially chosen and trained therapy horses. Usually, equestrian facilities of this caliber are run by wealth, power and profits, and are fiscally based upon client success on competitive show circuits. In contrast, the High Hopes facility is owned by the non-profit organization that runs it, existing with a twofold mission to provide the benefits of therapeutic horsemanship to people with physical, cognitive or emotional special needs and to provide training and education to individuals working in the field of therapeutic horsemanship.

At tonight’s volunteer training, we sit in a classroom that has windows looking into the indoor arena, where we can see riders, some with obvious physical or cognitive disabilities, successfully steering their horses through an obstacle course, working with volunteer support. When the lecture portion of the volunteer training begins, I find it difficult to turn away from the arena view. I listen distractedly as Laura explains that the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH Intl.) is the membership organization through which she and the other instructors at High Hopes are certified. According to Laura, PATH Intl. has existed since 1969 and High Hopes has held a distinction known as Premier Accredited Center since 1979, making it one of the most well-established therapeutic horsemanship programs in the United States.

    Then Laura asks our group of prospective volunteers how many of us have ever experienced a bond with an animal or ridden a horse. Most people in the room raise their hands. “So,” she asks the room. “What do you think the benefits of therapeutic horsemanship might be for people with special needs? You’ve obviously got some insight as a group.”

    Words to describe horses and horseback riding fill the room: independence, powerful, non-judgmental, good exercise. Laura applauds our responses, then adds that the horse’s movement is uniquely therapeutic and motivating for certain populations served. “For people with sensory integration issues, common among those with autism, riding a horse can provide much needed sensory input that we can control and adjust by modifying the horse’s gait. This often calms the sensory system, making it possible for the rider with autism to work on learning goals. Likewise, the horse’s movement is good for people with physical disabilities, such as cerebral palsy or multiple sclerosis. The horse’s walk moves a mounted rider’s pelvis in a way that mimics a typical human gait, which builds strength, normalizes muscle tone and increases mobility. There’s a lot of good that comes from this activity.”

    “Something about the outside of a horse that’s good for the inside of a man,” quips a heavyset older gentleman who wears a cowboy hat, sitting in the front row. This oft-quoted line is one I’m familiar with, and I believe is attributed to Winston Churchill. Around the room, a few people nod, a teen rolls his eyes. Laura clears her throat and seems ready to return to her Power Point presentation.

    Horses are authentic, I think. Authentic, authentic, authentic. That’s why I’m here, I realize. My life is filled with fear, grief and disappointment; my own soul feels hidden, even from me. But horses, horses are authentic. It seems like the one truth I can remember knowing – pre-grief – and it gives me hope. Some faint memory tells me horses might help, even after many years of not having them in my life.

    Across the room, there’s a short woman in her fifties, wearing a shiny, vinyl jacket that has a horse head appliqué and her name, Josie, embroidered on the lapel in faded cursive. Josie has a head of wild curls and she twists her small mouth into a half-smile. “They’re good for you all right,” she says. “Just the smell of horse poop always does it for me.”

    I smile and nod at her comment, which I relate to, and try to make eye contact but she does not return my glance. Josie snorts and there’s something horse-like about it. Horse people, I remind myself. I catch my breath – feel, suddenly, at home.

   

    Part of me has always been drawn to the thin layer of dust that settles over one’s skin, clothes and hair – barn dust. It comes from the dirt the horses drag in on their coats and from the pine shavings on which they lie down at night. It comes from the clean hay stored above. Faintly, the scent of sweat (horse and human) and leather tack. The dust – dry and sneeze inducing – ordinary barn dust, has coated most of the better moments of my life. The smell of it brings me present.

    In the arena at High Hopes, I practice side-walking, which is a volunteer role where one walks beside a rider, providing direction and light physical support if needed. Because I have prior horse experience, I also train as a horse leader, a role which would require that I groom, tack and then handle the horse while a rider with special needs participates in class. I’m excited as this second role will give me direct access to horses for the first time in years. At the end of the training, Laura shows those of us who have trained as horse leaders the turnout board and describes how to bring the horses out to pasture according to High Hopes guidelines. The board, which features names and pictures of each horse, is color coded, as are the horses’ pastures, helping to ensure that volunteers turn horses out in the correct place after class. The entire facility is exquisitely organized, designed to make it easy and peaceful for hundreds of volunteers to come through each week and handle the herd with as much independence as possible.

    The High Hopes herd is fortunate enough to live outside in expansive pastures with gigantic run in sheds. This is a natural way for horses to live as they can move around at will, graze continually and interact freely with other herd members. “This set-up,” Laura explains, “Is a give-back to our wonderful therapy horses. For two hours a day, five days a week, they serve our riders, but the rest of the time, they get to just live out and be horses.” As she speaks, the sky opens up with thunder and lightning. Through the sudden rain, I can see the silhouettes of horses standing peacefully in their sheds, out of the downpour, protected by both the shelters and their pasture mates’ nearness. The sun shines on, even as it rains and thunders, a brave August sky. Rainbow-inducing. All at once, the world feels violent and fresh and true.

 

    Attending the volunteer training at High Hopes Therapeutic Riding wasn’t just a whim. It was what I did because I had to do something. For years, I had been caught in the grief of divorce, the loss of a step-child who I love and cared for as my own. I had met and married my first husband at the age of 23, sponsoring his immigration to the U.S. as well as that of his then four year-old daughter. Five years after we married, my ex had his permanent US Green Card and I filed for divorce, knowing our marriage was beyond salvation. Shortly before beginning divorce proceedings, I learned about thousands upon thousands of credit card debt that I hadn’t known existed. I also learned our home was in foreclosure. Although the debt had been run up behind my back, and carefully concealed, it fell mainly to me in our divorce settlement because by that time, I was employed, had an advanced degree and technically didn’t have a child.

Technically is a key word, though. During my six year relationship with my ex-husband, his daughter from a previous marriage had become the center of my life. For most of those years, I was my step-daughter’s primary caregiver, despite not having a biological or legal connection. During the divorce, I would learn that step-parents have no legal rights to see, know or contact the children we have parented. Although we’d never taken the legal step of adoption, I had, perhaps naively, considered this child my daughter in every way, so very completely. I was, and still am, so intensely proud of her. During the time I was married, I had considered caring for, guiding and protecting this child to be my main purpose and responsibility in life. I was “Mom.”

    Divorced and suddenly separated from my step-daughter, the anxiety in which I’d been treading water for years grew violent – a whirlpool that overtook my entire existence, my whole consciousness. I saw myself as a complete failure in life: a financial failure; a professional bore; a person unable to trust, love or be trusted; and worst of all, I saw myself as someone who had hurt the person – the child – I loved best in the entire world.

Then, grief, layered, made me stop wanting to love – the scariest part.

   

    A week after the volunteer training, I find myself leading horses in therapeutic riding lessons at High Hopes. In the first class, I lead Petra, a Norwegian Fjord pony, for a class taught by Kitty Stalsburg, a PATH International Master Level Instructor and the Executive Director at High Hopes. As I will learn over the coming weeks, Kitty is the heart and soul of High Hopes. Having served as the Program Director for more than twenty years, Kitty was instrumental in designing the current facility; growing the program to serve riders with diverse physical, cognitive and emotional needs; building the reputation of the facility within the local horse community and the national and international field of therapeutic horsemanship. Though I don’t know any of this at the time, I admire Kitty, with her thick braid of brown hair and deep laugh lines, from the moment I meet her. Here is a true New England horsewoman, frank and direct, bustling about the barn in her riding breeches, even as she is responsible for an executive role at this well-established and obviously impeccably run non-profit organization.

The class Kitty teaches that day is for a group of preschoolers with special needs who are excited and perhaps a little anxious to be on horseback for the first time; the ponies all wear fleece bareback pads to allow these riders the maximum benefit from the horse’s movement and warmth. The lesson involves the riders pointing left and right as they ride at a walk through a line of evenly spaced orange utility cones, a side-walker on each side should a rider lose his or her balance or need emotional or directional support. The riders are encouraged to use the voice commands “walk on,” “whoa” and “trot” to communicate with their horses. They work on an exercise called “apple picking” where they reach way up above their heads to pick imaginary apples for their horses, a creative activity that stretches their core muscles and challenges their balance. I smile when one of the children says, “I love Petra. She’s my girl.” The children ride in 30 minute rotations, so Petra, our team of side-walkers and I serve two children that morning.

Petra is sweet and gentle from the moment I enter her stall until her last rider dismounts. After his ride, the second student lingers with his volunteer, patting the pony’s shoulder. Petra happens to shake her head at a fly. And when her very ample forelock shakes away from her face, the little rider gasps. “Look,” he says, pointing, amazement all over his face. “She has eyes!” I will never forget the sweetness of his surprise, the happiness of sharing a moment of wonder with him.

My next class that first day is a little more challenging. I am leading for a more independent rider – Jenny, a blond haired girl about ten who doesn’t need a side-walker. She rides Filly, an Arabian mare who is nearing the end of a long career at High Hopes. The rider is nervous and somewhat resistant. “I have a headache,” Jenny complains, and I remember considering how/when/ if I should pass that information on to Marie, the Instructor-in-Training who stands a little awkwardly in the center of the ring and relays directions that we try to follow. Kristin Mason, the supervising PATH Intl. Advanced Instructor, stands beside the Instructor in Training, quietly supporting her teaching efforts.

    Before I find the moment to speak up about Jenny’s headache, she gets distracted by the Instructor in Training’s direction. “At the letter F,” Marie calls, referring to a dressage letter on the arena wall, “Ask Filly to T-ROTTT!” (I am surprised when Jenny instantly stops complaining about not feeling well. It’s amazing how trotting cures headaches.)

    But then our next problem begins. The rider can’t get Filly to trot. And, although Filly is still attached to the lead line, neither can I. When I tug more emphatically on the lead line, Filly gives us a half-hearted extended walk, but that seems to be all she is willing to give us.

    “Eyes up!” calls a tall, red-haired instructor who has entered the arena without me noticing. I recognize Lauren Fitzgerald, who was introduced to us at the volunteer training as the instructor responsible for training the therapy horses. Now, she tries to help Jenny and me to manage Filly. “Look where you’re going and don’t pull on her,” she says in a definite, confident voice. I realize Lauren is addressing me, more than the rider. “Let Filly do her job – she knows it!” Great, I remember thinking: over ten years of horse ownership, six years of Pony Club, and a brief stint as an Equine Science major and apparently I can’t even get out of the way to let an aging therapy horse do her job. Ugh.

    Eventually, the rider and I prevail and Filly trots half-heartedly down a long side of the arena. “Good!” Lauren calls. “That’s it!” I recognize a hint of a New Jersey accent in her brassy arena voice. My rider posts – rising up and down in sync with the two beat rhythm of the horse’s trot – which earns high praise from the Instructor-in-Training. I turn around to high-five my rider and Kristin Mason quickly reminds me to keep both my hands securely on Filly’s lead rope. “Oh, right, sorry!” I remember calling back.

    My rider says quietly, “It’s okay, you didn’t know.” Her words make us allies.

    “Thanks, Jenny,” I say, and we smile at each other. I wonder for a moment about what Jenny’s diagnosis might be. Due to High Hopes’ confidentiality policy, I will not be told the specifics. Before the class began, Kristen Mason informed me that Jenny would need me to provide encouragement but that basically she was high-functioning and should be able to follow the Instructor in Training’s directions. As the moment passes, I realize that the specifics of Jenny’s diagnosis don’t matter to me. I have actually enjoyed Jenny’s company as well as that of the younger riders in Kitty’s earlier class. I also realize that it is the first time since losing the relationship with my step-daughter that I’ve enjoyed the company of children, that looking into Jenny’s eyes hasn’t broken my heart or made me think instantly of my step-daughter, despite the fact that they are fairly close in age and share a precocious smile and bright blond hair. I realize, with a deep and sorry pang of mixed emotions, that it might be possible for me to enjoy being around children again, to heal just a little. Somehow, the day with horses has facilitated a kind of peace that in my intense grief, I had never expected to know again.

    When I leave High Hopes after that first day of volunteering, I’m not sure how I feel about it. Volunteering as a horse leader is more challenging and complicated than I expected. I remember driving north, towards home in Rhode Island, and considering whether or not I should go back the following week or quit. Maybe, I actually have mixed feelings about healing, about whether I want to let go of grief which, painfully as it is, keeps thoughts of my step-daughter at the forefront of my mind, memories of her so close to the center of my being. Even minor happiness feels confusing, undeserved.

Driving home, I consider all this, taking a deep breath of the hay/ fly-spray/ barn dust smell that lingers in my hair. I can’t help knowing that this smell is good for me, that I will go back for more. Just then, I believe I remember, faintly, who I am.

 

Robert Boucheron, 7/14/2014

Current occupation: Architect, self-employed
Former occupation: Architect, firms in New York, NY
Contact Information: Robert Boucheron is an architect in Charlottesville, Virginia, website boucheronarch.com. His academic degrees are Harvard B. A. in English, and Yale M. Arch. His stories, essays and book reviews appear in Atticus Review, Bangalore Review, Cossack Review, Digital Americana, Harvard Review, New Orleans Review, North Dakota Quarterly, Outside In Literary & Travel, Poydras Review and other magazines.
 

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Ice Cream Turkeys

     My first day on the job at Baskin-Robbins, I practice scooping ice cream from the tubs in the display case. The metal scoop has a button in the ball to nudge the ice cream. Squeeze a lever on the handle to move the button. Weigh the balls of ice cream on a scale. Three ounces—no more, no less.

     Peg, the other employee on duty, tends to customers. The scoops rest in a trough of warm water. Rinse them, and rinse the troughs with a jet to clean the water. Fran, the manager, shows me how to pack a pint carton.

     “Don’t hack and dig—lift gently. If you pack it tight, you compress the air out of the ice cream, and that lowers the quality. If you pack it loose, the pint is underweight. Customers come back and complain when they find an air pocket.”

    I practice packing pints. By the third carton, I get the knack.

     “Now I will teach you how to make a real, honest-to-god, old-fashioned ice cream soda.  Start with plain vanilla ice cream.”

    Fran shows me how to add syrup and soda, how to use the electric mixer, and what the result should look like. I suck my ice cream soda through a bright plastic straw.

     Fran shows me how to make a milkshake, a sundae, and a banana split; the two types of cone, plain and sugar; and the tiny pink plastic taste spoons. A Baskin-Robbins innovation, the spoon allows the customer to get a free sample, as many as they want. For that matter, employees can eat as much ice cream as they want.

     “Go ahead,” Fran says, “make a pig of yourself. After the first day, you won’t want any more.”

    I did not eat lunch, the training has lasted more than an hour, and I am famished.

     “When there are no customers, and you are caught up with restocking, I want you to clean. Butterfat in the ice cream gets on the glass, the ceramic tile walls, everything. Mop the floor. Customers drip on it, and they track in dirt from the street. When you have nothing to do, what do you do?”

    “Clean.”

    “Peg will show you how to work the cash register. I have to get to work in my dark, airless cubbyhole. One more thing. Ice cream is a treat, and Baskin-Robbins is a fun place. Would it kill you to smile?”

    “Prices are posted on the wall,” Peg says.  She has a tired expression and never smiles.   “Memorize them. Don’t turn away from customers. When you give change, count aloud from the amount of the sale up to the amount they gave you. Put it in a hand, not on the counter. If they ask for a receipt, fine. Otherwise, don’t.”

    It is September 1976, New Haven, Connecticut. The store is on Chapel Street in the center of the city. Fran and Peg are townies, in their late twenties. I am a Yale graduate student, twenty-four years old. Relations between townies and students are guarded.

     Steve, the store owner, interviewed me at the store last week. He is lean and focused, a former Marine. He looks to be in his thirties.

     “I have no hobbies” he said. “I read only for news. I belong to no church, club or political party. This is my life. I’m an entrepreneur.”

    When the coast is clear, I scoop myself some ice cream. I try butter pecan, mint chocolate chip, coffee, peach, double fudge, raspberry swirl, daiquiri ice. The colors are intense: deep brown, flaming pink, sea green and sky blue. My stomach rebels. Fran was right.

     The store smells strongly of sugar and cream. The banks of fluorescent lights overhead are as bright and cold as the arctic. I close my eyes for relief. In my baggy uniform of brown pants, white shirt with a broad pink stripe, and logo cap, I make a poor impression.

     “Get a grip,” Fran says. “Adjust the cap so it doesn’t fall over your face. There’s a strap in back. Maybe I can find another shirt in back, a smaller size. You look sloppy. And sleepy.”

    I roll up the bottom of my pant legs to avoid tripping. Hidden behind the display case, they can’t be seen. To settle my stomach, I drink plain water.  I am still hungry.

     When she has a moment, Fran shows me the Bally Box, the walk-in freezer in back. Dozens of five-gallon tubs are stored on wire shelves, big cardboard cylinders with names stamped on them: Pralines ‘n Cream, Jamoca, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, Baseball Nut. Some of the tubs are coated with frost. There are plastic buckets of buttercream icing, tubes of dye, boxes of cones, and boxes of supplies like paper napkins. In less than a minute, we shiver.

     “I need a smoke,” Fran says.

*

     Steve is in the store to sign checks, monitor inventory, and do other business. He is growing a beard. In one week it is already thick. Fran watches as he runs me through a drill. I scoop, weigh, pack a pint, make a sundae, make an ice cream soda, and work the cash register for an imaginary order. At the end, I hold my scoop at parade rest.

     Steve turns to Fran.

     “He got the basics. Don’t forget to void the transaction on the register.” He heads to the office.

     “Does he ever relax?” I ask.

     “Silly question,” Fran says. “I’ve worked for Steve for five years. He delegates the daily operations, and I do bookkeeping for his other business ventures.”

    He leaves with a stack of papers.

     “Overworked and underpaid,” Fran says. “But I keep him out of financial hot water.  And I get to order peons like you around. I’m naturally bossy. Can you tell?”

    “Is Steve married?” I ask.

     Fran snorts. Does this mean yes or no?

     “Are you?” I ask.

     “No, but it’s sweet of you to ask. No boyfriend, either. Maybe it’s the facial hair. I have a better mustache than the men I date. And bigger balls.”

    When Fran catches up with paperwork, she decorates ice cream cakes. The cakes are round or square, vanilla or chocolate, decorated with buttercream icing in swags, ruffles and flowers. The store sells them by custom order. Fran keeps a few on hand for emergencies. With a squirt gun, she has inscribed “Happy Birthday” on one in a flowing script. The roses look real, in shades of yellow, pink and white, with green base petals and stems. They even have thorns, little spikes of brown amid the dizzy swirl of sugar.

     “My specialty,” Fran says. If you stick around long enough, I’ll teach you how to make them. We all need a little oomph in our lives. Roses made of sugar and shortening—what could be more heartfelt?”

*

     Some Yale college students are in the store, back from summer vacation. They read the names of flavors aloud, laugh, ask for a taste of this and that, and agonize over what to order. I smile, dole out pink plastic spoons, and hover with my scoop.

     “You can mix flavors,” I say. “The prices are 35 cents for one scoop, 65 for two, 95 for three. Cone or paper cup, same price.”

    A girl dressed in Army green and camouflage exclaims over one of the seasonal flavors: “Ah, Baskin-Robbins at its most synthetic!” She orders one scoop of vanilla.

     I try not to stare at the girl. Each student pays, and they exit the store, laughing and licking their ice cream cones. They linger on the sidewalk in the late summer sun, then drift away.

     “Get a grip,” Fran mutters.

     Later the same day, students enter from my graduate school class, including Lisa. Lisa is married, from Long Island.  We are next-door neighbors, in third floor apartments in shabby houses behind the Yale gymnasium. Lisa’s husband Tim is exactly my size. He borrowed my suit for a job interview and returned it pressed and dry cleaned. He got the job.

     “What are you doing here?” she asks.

     “What do you think?  Scooping ice cream. Would you like a taste?”

    “No, I always get the same thing, Rocky Road.  It’s unhealthy, but aren’t they all? One scoop in a sugar cone, please. I might as well go all the way.”

    We exchange ice cream and money. Lisa lingers as the other students leave. She licks her treat thoughtfully.

     “Do you really need this job?” she asks. “Check with financial aid. They have all kinds of scholarships, teaching assistant gigs, little pots of money for the asking.”

*

     One evening, the store is crowded after a nearby movie theater lets out. The theater shows “blaxploitation” films. The downtown population of New Haven is mainly black. A child of the suburbs, I have little experience with race. I work quickly to serve customers in the order they came in, glancing from faces down to ice cream and up to faces. I mistake one woman for another, and she takes offense.

     “We all look alike to you, don’t we?”

    “Sorry, ma’am. I got distracted.” I placate her, ring up the sale, and move on.

     My work partner for the night shift is Stanley. As we slide our bodies in the narrow aisle behind the display case, he avoids colliding, and he reaches around or past me with ease.

     “This is nothing compared to a restaurant,” he says. “I worked as a galley slave and on the floor as a waiter. Waiter is better. The tips are good money, but watch out for crank customers. They can ruin your night. Plus, the kitchen screws up your orders, so you have to check each plate before you serve it.”

    Stanley has slick, black hair and a breezy manner. He ought to be in a nightclub, dressed in a tuxedo. Instead, his shirt is spattered with ice cream. The glare of the fluorescent lights makes him look thin and washed out. The glass hood of the display case makes a loud thump when I drop it, missing his wrist.

    “That thing can do serious damage,” he says. He shows me how to open and close it with the least effort. When the store empties, Stanley does not restock or straighten up or clean. He talks. He has no point to make, no story to tell, and no strong opinions, but silence is a threat. Out of boredom, he lights a cigarette.

     I busy myself with chores, wiping the glass and tile until they sparkle.

*

     The store is crowded, I am in the middle of a transaction at the cash register, and the customer asks me to change a twenty dollar bill. Peg is busy at the far end of the counter.

     The customer is a young black man from out of town. He wears a silk scarf knotted at the throat. He keeps up a stream of talk, while others wait behind him. As I close the register, I sense that something went wrong. I serve the next customer and the next, and I forget about the incident.

    “The register tally was twenty dollars short,” Fran says the next day. “That usually means someone is stealing from the till. I’m not accusing you, but I have to answer to Steve.”

    I tell Fran about the man with the scarf.

     “A quick change artist! They roll through looking for an easy target, and you were it.  Didn’t Peg show you? Always place the customer’s money on top, like so. Do one transaction at a time, and close the register after each transaction. If they ask you to change a bill, politely ask them to wait, and finish what you’re doing. Close the register. Then if there’s no one waiting, you can make change.”

    “I’m sorry.”

    “If it happens again, I have to take it out of your pay.”

*

     Steve calls a staff meeting. It is timed between the day and night shifts, five o’clock. Four of us stand in back, near the Bally Box, with one employee up front to serve customers. Fran stands at Steve’s side, holding a clipboard. Steve now has a full beard, dark brown, and he wears a Marine windbreaker.

     He reviews employee rules, like punching time cards in the wall clock beside him, how taxes are withheld from paychecks, and the schedule for raises. For the first three months, an employee is on probation. Steve mentions the quick change artist and the daily register tally.

      “I want all of you to try harder, be more accurate when ringing up sales and making change. No loans from the till. No smoking in the store.” 

     Fran nods.

     “Now, about the tub count. At the start and end of each shift, you count the tubs in the Bally Box, and you record the number on this log. Some of you are not doing this.” He looks at me. “Inventory is down one tub. If someone is stealing ice cream, I will find out.”

    “No one told me about the tub count,” I say.

     Steve looks suspicious, but he lets it go. After some business with Fran, he leaves.

     “What would I do with a five-gallon tub of ice cream?” I ask. “It wouldn’t fit in my refrigerator.”

    “You’d be surprised. People sell them, or throw a wild party, or repackage the goods like a drug dealer. Black market Baskin-Robbins—it’s the biggest secret in the ice cream world.”

*

     In November, as Thanksgiving looms, Fran tells us to make ice cream turkeys. A novelty dessert, they are wildly popular. Fran already has a dozen orders, and she expects dozens more before the big day.

     “This is how to fill slack time. I still want you to clean, but I need to stockpile turkeys. You start with a melon mold. You fill it with Jamoca Almond Fudge, cover the open side with wax paper, and store it in the Bally Box.”

    “That’s it?”

    “Later, you invert the mold, add two sugar cones for drumsticks, and glaze the bird. As a final touch, I add stitches in buttercream icing and a ruffle on each drumstick. Here’s a picture of the result. Isn’t that special?”

    “How many should I make?”

    “As many as you can. A week before Thanksgiving, we go into production mode. I’ve stayed here until midnight, decorating my heart out, doing stitches with my eyes closed. The Bally Box is stuffed with turkeys.”

    “Are they a money maker?”

    “You better believe. Steve likes that.”

    “What about you?”

    “I get paid for overtime. As an artistic medium, I prefer decorating cakes.”

*

     Ice cream has the following composition by weight: 10 to 16% butterfat, 12 to 16% sweetener, 55 to 64% water, 9 to 12% milk solids, and less than 1% stabilizer and emulsifiers, which prevent fat and water from separating. By volume, ice cream contains as much as half air. Sherbet contains dairy products and egg white. Sorbet contains only fruit juice and ice. Baskin-Robbins sells all three types of frozen confection.

     The company was founded by Burt Baskin and Irv Robbins in Glendale, California, in 1953. From the beginning, the store featured thirty-one flavors. The recipes are a closely guarded secret. Fran has all the facts at her fingertips. She attended a training seminar for managers.

     “That was when I was gung-ho for Baskin-Robbins. Now, I’m just a jaded employee.”

    She is teaching me how to make roses. Mine look like drippy lumps.

     “You need to get a feel for the pastry tube, how to hold it. Not to mention what a rose petal looks like.”

    Gracefully, with perfect economy, she forms a rose.

     “See?”

    “You make it look easy.”

    “Also, the buttercream has to be the right temperature. Cold and you can’t squeeze it, warm and it sags instead of holding the shape. Your tube has been out of the freezer too long. That’s why your petals plop.”

*

     I arrive at the store at five o’clock for the night shift. It is late November, and the sky is getting dark. Fran has her coat on.

     “Last minute change of personnel,” she says. “Stanley called in sick, so you’ll be working with Mark. Mark is new, you’re in charge. Do you know the store procedures, how to lock up, and so on?”

    “No.”

    “Crash course.” She hands me a key. “This is the front door. If there’s an emergency—a fire, earthquake, burst water main—call that number on the wall. That’s Steve’s home phone. Don’t call the police or the fire department. Any questions good I don’t have time to answer I’m out of here ciao!”

    I am still in my coat, holding a key in my palm, blinking in the fluorescent glare.

     “Hi,” I say to Mark.

     “Hi.”

    “So you just started?”

    “Yesterday.”

    “With any luck, it will be a quiet night.” I walk to the back to punch in and take off my coat. I return to the street door and try the key in the lock. It fits.

     Customers straggle in. I straighten up and clean, while Mark studies a high school physics textbook. Thanksgiving is past, so we no longer have to make ice cream turkeys. When the movie theater lets out, we have a flurry of customers, and I lose myself in the activity. I look up to serve the last customer, a man in a sportcoat. He produces a handgun and points it at me.

     “Take all the money out of the register, and put it in a paper bag.”

    His voice is even, his manner is calm. He looks middle class. The gun looks larger than the ones on television.

     Mark is frozen, I see from the corner of my eye. It is about eight o’clock, and people are passing on the sidewalk. Maybe someone will enter the store, I think, witness the scene or scare the man away.

     He wags the barrel of the gun.

     I hunt for a paper bag. Normally, there is a stack under the counter near the cash register, white paper bags printed with Baskin-Robbins polka dots. Tonight, all I find is a flimsy plastic bag printed with “Thank You!” I spot a brown paper grocery bag wedged in a crack.

     “Is this okay?”

    “Yes.  Hurry up.”

    I open the cash register, place all the dollar bills in the bag, then the rolled coin.

     “Do you want the loose change?”

    “Clean it out.”

    I scrabble the coins from the drawer and dump them in the bag. I fold the top and push it across the counter. The man grabs it with his free hand.

     “Don’t try anything,” he says, as he walks sideways to the street door, still pointing the gun in my direction. He exits, looks to the right, and turns left.

     My heart is racing. I exhale, try to calm down. It’s over and no one got hurt. A woman enters the store.

     “A pint of Cherry Jubilee, please.”

    “I’m sorry ma’am, but the store was just robbed. I have to close.”

    “Can’t I just get . . .”

    “Sorry.” I usher her out the double glass door and turn the key in the lock. The bolt has shot, but a small push bows the two leaves. It would be easy for someone to break in.

     “Mark, do you know how to do this?”

    “No.”

    I return to the counter. The phone is a pay phone. I fish in my pants pocket, find the right coins, and insert them. I dial the number on the wall. It rings ten times, and I hang up. I try again.  On the sixteenth ring, Steve answers.

     “The store was robbed at gunpoint.”

    “How much money did they take?”

    “I have no idea.”

    “Did you do much business tonight?”

    “Some. I can’t figure out how to lock the street door.”

    “Stay there. I’ll drive into town.”

    Twenty minutes later, Steve appears, wearing his Marine windbreaker.  He glances around the store.

     “What about the lockbox?” he asks.

     “What lockbox?” 

     He shows me the lockbox, which is screwed to the underside of the counter, hidden below the cash register.

     “In the course of a night shift, you slip large bills into it. That reduces the amount of cash in the register in case of a robbery. I have the only key.”

     He opens the lockbox, which is empty. He shows me the bolts at the top and bottom of the street door. They slide into the head and sill of the frame to fix one leaf of the double door.

     “You guys can go home. It’s almost nine o’clock.”

    Mark and I punch out, put on our coats, and return to the front.

     “I had an employee who got robbed once,” Steve says. “He jumped over the counter and chased the crook down the street, shouting.”

*

     The financial aid office runs a referral service for architectural odd jobs, small free-lance projects. Mrs. Grant gives me the name of a couple who want to finish their basement. They hire me to measure the raw space and draw a plan. The billing rate is three times the hourly wage at Baskin-Robbins. Lisa was right.

     I walk into Baskin-Robbins with the brown pants and the pink-and-white shirt neatly folded.

     “I washed them,” I say to Fran.

     “So, armed robbery was not in the job description. What can I say? Did you go to the police?”

    “They sat me down in a cubicle with a binder of mug shots. The man may have been from out of town. He wasn’t in the binder. It’s unlikely he will be caught.”

    “You were at the end of three months’ probation. You would have gotten a raise. Steve likes you.”

    “He does?”

    “Go figure. He’s not good at expressing emotion.”

    “What about the loss from the robbery?”

    “Peanuts. It hardly made a dent in the balance sheet. Besides, insurance covers it. An ordinary business expense.”

    “It wasn’t ordinary to me.”

    “Oh! Remember the missing tub? The police raided Stanley’s house and found it in a chest freezer. Steve fired him.”

    “How did the police knew where to look?”

    “An anonymous tip. Like I told you, ice cream is hot.”

    Fran is decorating an ice cream cake with sprigs of green holly and red berries.

     “Actually, I’ll be leaving, too.”

    “What will you do?”

    “Attend culinary school to become a pastry chef.”

    “Have you told Steve?”

    “Not yet. Maybe after the new year. I can’t leave him in the lurch. Besides, who wants to be unemployed for the holidays?”

    Fran sets down the pastry tube and lifts the cake she has just decorated.

     “Now, is that a masterpiece or what?”

 

Chelsey Clammer, 7/7/2014

Current Occupation: Direct Care Counselor for Youth Experiencing Homelessness
Former Occupation: Student Justice Advocate and Manager of a Bookstore
Contact Information: Chelsey Clammer is an award-winning and Pushcart Prize nominee essayist. Her writing has appeared in The Nervous Breakdown and The Rumpus. She has work forthcoming in South Loop Review and New Delta Review. Clammer is the Managing Editor and Nonfiction Editor for The Doctor TJ Eckleburg Review. You can see more of her writing at: www.chelseyclammer.com.

 

#

Same/Different

 

    The rules rip away your sanity. And this isn't even about the dress code or the monitored internet usage or the expected and proper implementation of words such as “thought partnership” and “overcommunication” and “cloudbrary.” This is about the same shit every day of do this, no do this, no don't do that, and no—just don't. It’s a different day. It’s the same shit.

    The same shit consists of: where are those meeting minutes, file this file, you're late, think of the stakeholders, now listen to me, if you had my experience.

    Your boss same-shits you on every day that ends in the letter “y.” You used to think that expression was funny. But after a few months of taking orders from a boss who fucks off more than you do but gets paid thrice the amount that you do (you're not supposed to know that, but you know it because you know how to hack into the executive shared network, and you do so on a regular basis purely out of boredom), you find nothing funny. Because you're broke and semi-working and she's rich and barely-working. Because even though you take a forty-five minute “smoke break” (she does not like that you smoke–it's very unprofessional) in which you really go to buy a Lotto ticket (you need the money to get out of here), in the small amount of time you are actually in the office (which is a blessing as she for some god-only-knows reason agreed with your plead to work remotely part-time), in those two and a half days that you actually sit at this desk under this strobing florescent light that you worry will give you a stroke or an aneurysm, you notice she does even less than you do. No one is watching over her. You buy your Lotto ticket with a prayer pouring out of your body. You walk back to the office as she exits the building with a “stakeholder” to grab some mid-day drinks. You hide behind a car so she does not see you. You do not feel lucky.

    The honeymoon period of your new job lasted for a few months but ended the moment she berated you for being five minutes late, and then the next day berated you for leaving five minutes early. Yes, after that two-month-new-job-honeymoon-period you wanted a divorce. Three months later the separation is final as they re-assign you a new supervisor. But she is too pliable, too nice, and bows down to your old supervisor who, funny enough, is actually your new supervisor's supervisor, and so your old supervisor uses this “coincidence” to do more than keep tabs on you but actually spends a good third of the 7.75 hours a day in which she does nothing at work but hawk-eye you. And so your divorce has turned into an intensely tacit custody battle over how you spend your time.

    It is a week later. You are almost alone in the office. You watched the lot of your insipid and robotic coworkers take off a half hour before 5pm. You noted how your old supervisor saw the procession of her employees leaving early and how she said nothing about it. You stay. And you will stay until your old supervisor leaves. Though now your old supervisor who pushed around your new supervisor so much that she terrorized her so badly that your new supervisor finally broke and relinquished her duty of guiding you in your successful implementation of the agency’s core values to your old supervisor who is now, thus, back to being your commander. She sits in her own desk down the hall. It is just the two of you. You stay and you will stay until she walks by your office on her way out the door.

    Eventually, she walks by your office on her way out the door. But first, she pops her head in because if she didn't pop her head in then it would seem like she was ignoring you, which is so not what she's doing, because what she is really doing is scrutinizing you, as always.

    Staying late?

    Yeah. I want to have this report done before Wednesday.

    But we don't need it until Friday.

    I know. I just want to get a jump start on it so we can have time to collaboratively edit it.

    That's a good idea. I like how you are changing and working on all of your weaknesses that we determined last week.

    Yeah.

    Well, goodnight. See you tomorrow.

    And the exit door opens, and the exit door closes, and you are now really alone, because now she is gone and now you can breathe. You sit at your desk staring at your computer screen, staring not at the report you haven't even started yet (it is Tuesday), but at level thirty-nine of Bejewled and deciding if you should harvest the 25,000-coined Moonstone now or wait. You have been playing this game since noon.

    You wait fifteen minutes after her departure to make sure she really did leave, that she's not hiding, not waiting to catch you leaving after you said you were staying because you wouldn't put it past her to do that. After fifteen more minutes of Bejewled and after clearing out your computer's browsing history, you get the hell out of there before any more of your sanity can crack.

    And it is the next day. A different day. A new day. You walk into your office at precisely 9:02am, and there she is, leaning against your desk, her arms crossed, a smirk on her face as she looks up at the clock hanging above the employee bulletin board and you take a deep breath to prepare yourself for however it is she will same-shit you today.

Michael Roloff, 6/30/2014

Current Occupation: Writer, Translator, Scholar (Handke specialist  ex visiting scholar Department of German University of Washington, Member Seattle Psycchoanaltic Society and Institute.
Former Occupation: publisher Urizen Books, long time NY editor.
Contact Information: My resume can be found at:     http://www.roloff.freehosting.net/index.html Twitter @mikerol69

"Telemarketing Lingo" is the introduction to a book entitled "WRITE SOME NUMB'S, BITCH!" (a famous marketers incentive to his salespersons!)

 

#

Instead of an introduction: TELE-MARKETING LINGO

 

Like any subculture, Telemarketing has a lingo of its own, and it makes its very own contribution to "the language." As a purely electronic undertaking, Telemarketing, however, reduces its operatives as well as those it operates upon to ciphers, and perhaps for that reason alone T.M.'s linguistic contribution is cipherous as compared to that of any real trade or an industry that grew out of a trade or craft. Compared to either fishing, say, or the automobile industry telemarketing, which with the advent of predictive [that is, “automated”] dialing reached its maturity some twenty years ago, is merely an offshoot of marketing, of selling. It is built entirely around and on telecommunication, and most of its usages do little else but add a wrinkle or a double-entendre to an already widely used word.

Telemarketing depends upon the wizardry of some fine sleight of voice artists, especially its "badge deal" aspect [see below] does, many of them criminal or living in that gray zone between the alleged legitimacies and illegitimacies, certainly in a zone of comparative financial impotence, and you would expect such wizards also to be verbally more inventive – but there is little to invent in as materially and experientially poverty-stricken a domain as telemarketing. "Predictive dialing," or anything approximating it, is a grind, a chaining of human beings to electronic machinery and to "pitches” that would be better off delivered by an unbroken record, as of course they meanwhile are. Imprecations, such as Troy Emerson's "Write some numb's, Bitch," to his "day" and "nite" men, to get them to "produce," signifies that that part of the trade's language, at its best, is of the world of David Mamet's "Glengarry, Glenross." The poetry is meager and desperate; in Troy's case, that of an ex-prizefighter, it also smacked of punch-drunk grandiosity.

 

A]:

 

A.G. = The "Attorney General," and its office, the bane of telemarketers, at least in most states.

 

A.M. on a "Tap" [see below] = answering machine.

 

 

 

B]:

 

"BADGE DEAL," raising money for the uniformed services of all kinds, done, best as this writer was able to ascertain, by criminals! A shakedown for police unions, benevolent associations veterans associations. From this develops what is called the "badge book," journals that either do or not print the advertisements solicited and voice- wrested from businesses to support allegedly civic-minded police & fire unions, search and rescue operations.

 

C]:

 

"CALLBACK", as in callback line… As you will learn, it is essential to your success as a purveyor of badge pledges, if at all possible never to identify your affiliation to your service company, the "benevolent association" for whom you are calling, on the messages that you leave, especially not that you are calling for the cops: the business folk sense an arm-twisting in the making and never call back; though eventually, at the right blind moment you of course must, but only when you have the mark on line.    Being polite, they will only return a call if they think there is a business proposition attached to that name that their secretary gives them or that they hear on their voice mail. "A Bob Casey called." "What's he want?" "He wouldn't say." It is a telephone hold up, a blind siding. "Once a year we call…" And once you have the mark on line, you do all you can not to let it get off the line, you keep the fish hooked for dear life, you give it no more than the requisite slack as you, grudging-obligingly, beg your potential catch to, preferably, find the exact amount they can swim with happily thereafter on their own. You start with a full page, or if you are milking a steady supporter to a similar amount to last year's [“you’ve given anywhere between 100 & 500.”] ever so gradually allow yourself to be worked down into the standard abyss of the [appr. $ 125.00] business-card sale; and occasionally, especially if you are extraordinarily talented, greedy and vicious, manage to get the catch to commit themselves to a bigger hook. A "call back" line is a number reserved exclusively for those call-backs, not for out-going calls. And all you say when the call back line rings is: "Good morning, after noon, whatever – how can I help you?" The answer to which, to any business, or police-affiliated organization which fails to identify itself, ought to be: "By never calling me again."

 

A CLOSER, good or bad, in telemarketing is the same kind that he or she is in any other kind of business transaction that ultimately demands a commitment, "earnest money," a signature, strength of personality of will to overcome trepidation, ambivalence, indecision, passivity, to nail the sucker to the cross of his idiocy.

 

COLD, cold calling, predictive dialing, Cole Calling, Coles… 451 below zero calling. Some of the finger-do-the walking methods employed by telemarketing

are what is called cold-calling; that is, calling straight out of the telephone book or from the yellow pages, or from lists, or Coles Directory which lists telephone #s by street addresses and neighborhoods. Coles is based on the census, and it ranks households by income. There can be a real confusion between Cold calling and Cole calling. With Coles you know the name, have the address and neighborhood, and have a hunch of how much that name can afford, with absolute cold calling you are flying blind. When COLD-calling you concentrate your telemarketing efforts on a single neighborhood; four-digit suffixes tend to be geographically concentrated; and some operations have hawks cruising populated four digit regions to do near instantaneous pickups of checks and to drop off the receipt for whatever lie has been bought. Absolute zero cold-calling is cold in every universal 451 below Fahrenheit respect: the potential customer is as nameless and frigid as a corpse that is washed down a glacial stream, and the telemarketer who tries to warm up that body, to buy whatever, is just as anonymous or pseudonymous and frigid, no matter his or her siren song, as the coldest intergalactic traveler.

The crudest but by no means least profitable absolute ice-cold-calling is done from permutation lists. In this instance, either the one-fingered cripple or the nimble electronic centipede walks down the list of numbers of a single exchange, beginning, say, with 777, and systematically scurries through every possible of its permutations after the first fixed digits, from 777-0000 to 777- 9999, and the many thousands inbetween. In that manner the frighteningly cold anonymities are sorted into potentially warm and acquisitive customers, fax and answering machines, businesses, domiciles, disconnected numbers, and the rigid finger of the systematic, electronic centipede does so from pre-printed lists or from electronically encoded disks sold to them by a telephone company. A successfully permutated list is color-coded during the course of the cold caller's hunt, and such a completed list can be as pretty if not more so than the most ancient tablets and than many forms of abstract art. The accidental conjunctions of blacks and reds and green mixed in with those many other day glow shades that highlight bring these finished lists into a somewhat systematized direction of Jackson Pollack’s work, or as thumbnail sketches for Rothko’s to come. It all depends on how you look at one such product, whether you know that it is the result not of aesthetic considerations but of one or of several marketers' labor, and of course it depends on what color ink the telemarketers who "work" that list employed.

Once a team of telemarketers has beaten the last fax machine and the last dead-beat out of just one of the many sheets that make up one of these prefixes, what remains are small white rectangular that then, courtesy of yellow highlighter, are turned into what are known as "gold taps" – the idea being that all chaff has been eliminated and that there are real live potential customer at the end of a "gold tap" once you reach it – the telemarketer’s Eldorado. Once sorted into the living and the dead, such a sheet’s leftover nuggets, as to be expected, is expressed in the sublime anal form of the expression "gold lists." Those who have never been reached, who are not fax machines, voice mail boxes or the like remain… as potential nuggets whom the telemarketer, appetite whetted, will try to cull on a fine Saturday or Sunday when they might finally be home! And be there, ready to be picked clean, for years to come.

Bloody-mindedly yours.

With so much Cole and Cold calling going on you would expect its opposite, having to do with "hot” calling, to have a T.M. wrinkle of some kind, and of course it does: "This is a warm tap," "This list has been burnt to a cinders." "That's a dynamite pitch you got there, Reverend." "This is a smoking office." "We were smoking." – However, because the telephone, the distance and evanescence of the medium – combined with both its instantaneity, anonymity and estrangements – is so essentially cold no matter how hot under the collar that recipients of telemarketing calls can become at the sound of the warm siren songs, T.M. is by and large a cold- hearted business except to the extent of the heat produced by greed and competition amongst the marketers, and the occasionally incandescent overloaded circuit boxes at the TM offices.

 

COPS, as in "are you dialing for cops or fire?" on a "badge deal."

 

COXY, a greenhorn in the trade, possibly related to the British "coxie" which is pretty much the same as the American "cocky" – telemarketing is an art, and just because you can pick up and use a telephone…

 

CUT-OFF refers to the person who was contacted and made the "commitment," the buck stops at the cut-off; the cut-off, the same sucker, is whom you try to reach on the next go around.

 

D]:

 

"DAY MAN" or "DAY MEN" see under "Pros" below.

 

DEAL, in these instances, can refer to a promoter's operation… Hector's is a "strong deal" for it enables the marketers to write” good numb's"… There are "Badge Deals", 501 [c] 3 – e.g. charity deals [see below], vet [e.g. veteran’s] deals, etc etc., and each of them mines one or the other human soft spot.

 

DUPE does not stand for the sucker on the other end of the line who is so unspeakably duped, to whom something unspeakable is done or sold, whose ears are suckered into this or that good cause. To dupe refers to the so frequent occurrence of having his or her name duplicated on a list, be it paper or computer, and thus being called to the point of distraction, TV-media-God-instructed obscenity rudeness "just hang up," from just one telemarketing operation. Unless you be a fly-by-nite operator, who hits town for half a year and then moves on, it will be in your interest not to unduly annoy your mark, and so duplications between lists, between taps and lists, are meant to be "duped out,” meaning to eliminate replications – a telemarketing client such as a police department will be responsive to complaints, so are some Attorney Generals Offices, thus endangering a telemarketer’s deal. E.g.: "This list has not been duped out" = it has not been double-checked. "Too many dupes" = i.e. the marketer is wasting her or his time calling those who have been called once too often, who are “burnt out.” This hurdle fails to inhibit the true scam artist who will invent as many “causes” as a mangy dog has fleas.

 

 

DRIVER – in the parlance of telemarketing refers to the "picker" [see below], frequently also described as a “volunteer,” – as in, “We will have one of our volunteers stop by to pick up the check and deliver the [original, tax-deductible] receipt". A courier of that kind who appears once too often at one and the same office, to "drop off" one of these receipts for one too many deals can be shown the door, can have the cops called on him; but a good driver will have ample identification, "Search and Rescue” obviously being the best of them. If you wanted to get a good idea of the businesses of a city you would find yourself such a driver and have them show you the ropes.

 

F]:

To FAX, as in "we will fax you a copy of the invoice…" The introduction of facsimile transmission has been a huge boon to telemarketing, if only because the backside of the invoices of legitimizes scams, which show disclaimers and Secretary of State or Attorney General devised percentage figures, are not faxed with the front. How the advent of e-mail will affect the profession remains to be seen, none have reached me so far among the other junk.

 

FIVE-O-ONE-THREE-C DEAL [501 {c} 3] = a deal where the buyer has the option of a complete charitable deduction for the contribution; e.g. not just apparent but real legitimacy, a good cover, like Newt Gingrich's Lincoln Brigade! A scam artist with a 501-c-3 certification can get rich quick.

 

K]:

 

A KICK-OUT on a badge deal is not a mule of some kind but means that the sucker changed his mind, for whatever reason. Kick-outs produce temper fits, sorrow, tears, depression in telemarketers; and is marked as K.O. on a computer readout where it can mean that someone either didn't pay, that the receipt came back marked Wrong

Address or was returned, the invoice saying they had changed their mind, had said no in the first place; that is, that it had their name and an amount put down by a telemarketer on an hourly salary who is writing "wood" [see below], had only wanted to look over the information, or were over-billed; usually it means that they didn’t pay. At CTs computer readout of the 1.2 million "resie" base in and around Seattle K.O. $ 1.00 meant a wrong address.

 

L]:

 

LISTS are list of "taps"… good and bad… burnt to a cinder, dead, beaten lists… live… A "tracking list" is where and how a tele-marketer, of whatever legitimate or illegitimate deal, keeps track of her or his "sales", so as to, possibly, keep the promoter honest. “Tracking” lists are the sales-persons’ property, and have considerable value – anyone who bought something once is a potential second or third sale. Lists, like individual "taps," are traded, just as, say, magazine subscriber lists among magazines; or Title Companies sell the lists of mortgages to mortgage refinance businesses.

 

M]:

 

"MATTING” is how the check in an envelope is left under a mat and a driver-dicker-picker-courier-volunteer picks it up from under the mat in exchange for the receipt; metaphorically speaking, a "mat" can be a mailbox, a milk bottle, any place where you leave a check made out for deposit only.

 

MOM AND POP operations, easy hits for a badge-deal telemarketer, their specialty, Mom and Pop, as compared to companies with complicated “human resource” officers and charitable giving” boards, are genuinely, humanely, civic-minded, have genuine sympathy for firemen, cops, vets, and so are eminently exploitable.

 

A MARK is either a "resie" or a "biz" in the cross hairs of a telemarketer.

 

N]:

 

In telemarketing a "NUMBER” does not come without a name! – unless you’re "calling" someone absolutely "ice cold." Hector's refrain, "Write some numbs, Bitch!" refers to dollars.

 

N.A. on a "tap" = No Answer.

 

P]:

 

To "PICK” does not refer to cherries but to checks, which are "picked up" in exchange for the receipt, the driver of the vehicle is the PICKER…

 

PITCH, the; or "to pitch"… He's got a lousy pitch does not refer to the frequent smoky timbres of these voices, but to the line they are pitching, to the written pitch that is meant to get the dolt on the other end of the telephone to "buy" the deal… "This is a dynamite pitch." "Billie's got a great pitch." "I pitched him cops last week and popped him for a buck-and a quarter, and this week I got him to go for a quarter page ad for the fire fighters." The art of the profession is in the pitch, and its delivery.

 

A "PRO” in this line of work refers to someone who knows the ropes of a badge or scam charitable deal. When encountering the words "pros" or "day men wanted” in the wanted ads for telemarketers you can be certain that the deal is a scam, which is easily confirmed by calling the number that goes with the ad. If all that the person answering the telephone says is "Good day, what can I do for you," you can be certain that they are eager to conceal who they are and what they are up to.

 

R]:

 

"RELOAD” in this instance is the metaphoric use of a term from hunting, which ought, actually, be "re-shoot", or "kill again;" for what is being "reloaded" in this instance is not a gun but the bank account of the telemarketer, not by means of reselling the mark on the deal into which he bought once before, but by simply saying, a la Dave Barnett: "We thank you for your past support for X. As we did last year, we will send you your pledge and ask you to mail it to us with your check within seven days." RELOADING is the nearest thing to simply saying, "Send money." It helps to have a gentle, pleasant, laid-back, richly sincere voice, a la Dave Barnett, to be a successful reloader.

 

RESET in T.M. lingo means to re-schedule a pick-up of a check that for whatever reason was not ready, or that, frightful thought, is about to "kick out" [see above].

 

"RESIE" – short for residential, i.e. victims of nighttime or weekend telemarketing solicitation, the abbreviation says it all.

To "ROUST" is a variant on to rouse, in telemarketing it applies to rousting a potential deadbeat to pay up. This kind of "rousting” is not done by a roust-about, a cowboy of all trades, but by a driver. An attempt is made at the end of a deal to "roust" all unpaid invoices.

 

S]:

 

SALE is a sale is a sale… even when all that occurs is an exchange of money for nothing but a receipt & “feeling good.”

 

SMOKING, as in "smoking office" which not only refers to the fact that 99 % of telemarketers smoke, but that this is a "smokingly" hot deal, it's hot as in hot shit.

 

T]:

 

"TAPS” does not refer to what is blown at the end of a hard days work but, usually, to an individual slip of paper, frequently a receipt or paid invoice, with name, address and telephone number and a previous sale recorded on it, and, preferably, with the name of the "cut-off," the person who makes the decision whether to "buy" or to "t. d." the proposition. A tap of that kind has bought something once, and anyone who bought something once is a potential sucker for a second go around. Taps, being "proprietary", are the "gold” mines that telemarketers hoard, trade, sell… it is their livelihood… the coin of the realm… and like old mines, taps bear the various adjectives that

describe their worth: taps from hell, gold taps, mediocre taps, taps that never paid, fresh or burnt warm taps…Taps burnt to a cinder. Taps are stolen, traded, copied….

 

 

 

TD means a turn down, usually marked according to what was turned down. TD cops, BT Fire BT S&R [Search & Rescue] TD Vets… etc. ad infinitum. Plus, sometimes, the name or initial of the sales person.

 

V]:

 

A VERIFIER is someone who makes sure that the sales person isn't writing "wood," confirms the address and telephone # on a written sales slip or invoice, and the time for the "pick-up," or who tries to ascertain the credit card number.

 

W]:

 

WOOD, as in "he/she writes a lot of wood" does not mean that the marketer is a good lumberjack, but is on salary and writes fictitious sales, collects salary for two weeks, and then moves on to another stop along this particular easy street. Which is why operations with salaried employees have verification processes; and thieving promoters prefer employees who work exclusively on a commission basis! What they do unto you they do unto each other!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

D.S. Jones, 6/30/2014

Former Occupation: Heavy Aircraft Maintenance.
Current Occupation: Freelance Writer.
Contact Information: Enigmatic, outspoken, and angst-ridden, D.S. Jones is a writer published in Black Heart Magazine, Shotgun Honey, and the Told You So Anthology from Pill Hill Press. Visit thepoetdsjones.com to learn more, or follow him on Twitter @thedsjones.

 

#

Paper Thin

 

life has washed me down

to a paper thin

postcard in-shape of

a man you know

like those

cutout sports

heroes used

to sell shoes,

but the only thing

I am selling is my

life away—one

hour at a time

to the man

who owns this

place (hangar)

and the cards

on the others

hanging out

to dry

with me

Emerson Hodell Dyer, 6/23/2014

Current Occupation: Waiter
Former Occupation: Bartender, Journalist
Contact Information: Very little is known about me.

 

#

The Car Driver and The Neighbor

 

On the top floor of a three-story apartment building is a window with a neon beer sign. The car driver looks down below the sign at two cats engaged in a stand-off under a small tree between the building and the cars parked on the curb. They growl and make arching movements with their backs and the car driver hopes the tension will continue even though it is distracting him somewhat from his main purpose tonight. But not by much – he finds that he can watch the stand-off and keep his car in the periphery, simultaneously, which is convenient because his attention span is not near long enough to keep surveillance on the car, a white Crown Victoria, for the duration of the evening and into the next morning. The car driver sees the cats as a sign from the universe, an approval of task, and he is thankful as he wedges whole slices of buttered toast into his mouth.

 

Maybe it is too soon to label it a pattern, having happened only four times, but spray-painted words have been appearing on the Crown Vic at regular intervals recently. Of the fears in his life, missing a potential fare is foremost. His sleep schedule is erratic with naps and broken slumbers, but presumably the perpetrators are not daylight vandals.

“If they are daylight vandals,” he once said to his across-the-hall neighbor, “then what the hell?”

“Sneaky fuckers,” the neighbor had said. “I’ll find out who’s behind this, bro.”

 

Looking down at the cats he can’t avoid thinking about the bar that he owned with his brother. It was not a nice place, though to own something, anything in this town had been a goal of theirs ever since they vacationed here in high school.

“This place is like a dream,” his brother had said as they stood on hotel balcony looking out at the endless line of cars on the boulevard.

“Yeah, a wet dream,” the car driver had said.

After high school they saved money and made the move, his brother working at their home town country club for two years while he waited for the car driver to finish school.

Within four years they had the money and bought the first building available, a mostly concrete space in a strip mall near the ocean.

 

The cat stand-off, for all of its promise, comes to a close with no blows having been exchanged, and, having not rested very well ever since the third graffiti, the car driver slowly falls asleep on the cold kitchen tiles below the window.

 

In the morning there are new words sprayed onto his car, though he cannot make out the phrases from inside. The phrases are explicit, brazen. When the car driver sees them he is embarrassed, angry. He gets the paint can and brush from his trunk and begins the process of salvation.

 

The neighbor lights a small bowl of marijuana and, seeing the car driver below, opens his window and puts his head out.

“Hey, dumbass!” he yells.

Startled, the car driver spins around and looks up at the neighbor, who has since found out who is doing the graffiti. Or so he says.

“I know, I know.”

“Just tell me when you’re ready. We’ll go fuck em up good.”

“Yeah, yeah,” says the car driver.

Shortly after sitting back down at the table in his kitchen, the neighbor gets a text message from a friend.

“Christie lookin xtra sluty @ 48th, def can catch a nipslip yo.”

The neighbor moves his head back out the window.

“Run me up to 48th?” he says.

The car driver is standing several feet away from his car, squinting as he inspects the new paint.

“It’s not dry yet,” he says without looking up.

“I got a nipslip I gotta get, bro. You can tag along.”

The car driver is out of shape and has not been on the beach without a shirt in some time and knows that he would seem ridiculous should he appear fully-clothed.

“Ten bones,” says the car driver.

“Five.”

The car driver looks up at his neighbor, the closest thing he has to a friend.

“Fine,” he says. “But I’m gonna cruise while you film.”

The neighbor grabs his handheld video camera and moments later they are avoiding traffic by using two-lane residential roads, the neighbor in the backseat taking occasional pictures of himself with his phone.

 

After dropping the neighbor at the beach, the car driver makes the rounds at a few apartment complexes nearby, two-story wooden jobs stacked in lines down the street with worn cars tilted against the curbs on either side of the road. His brother’s newest sedan is not one of them, so the car driver returns to the beach access lot where he dropped the neighbor.

A jeep with a surfboard protruding through its back opening is pulling out of a spot and the car driver reverses briefly to let it out, noticing as he idles a mother of two tucking her two young sons into the back seat of a sport-utility.

It wasn’t a good location, the bar, but they put everything they had into it, re-painting the walls, patching up holes in the bathrooms.

In the beginning the clientele was older and they served mostly well liquor and draft beer, barely making enough to cover the mortgage.

They were always one good promotion away from living the dream.

 

“How much longer?” the car driver says.

“What?” says the neighbor, laughing.

“Did you get the nipslip?”


“Yo, hold on, bro.”

Through the filter of the phone, the wind is like someone shredding construction paper over and over.

“Dude, you aren’t even here,” the neighbor says.

“I’m close, I mean, I just pulled into the wrong access, I think” the car driver says.

“Well, yeah, I got mad nip-slippage, so come scoop me up and we’ll go get lunch. Tiffany and Constance are supposedly eating at Ciao and I can catch them on the way out. I got some good shit to ask Constance about,” he says, before saying, “whaaaaat,” though this is probably directed at someone who he is with.

The car driver reverses out of the access, keeping the phone away from his ear as the neighbor continues with the noise, the car driver honking as he sees the neighbor filming two young women in bikinis making out underneath the free-standing shower at the end of the wooden walkway.

The neighbor holds up a finger, signaling the car driver to hold on.

 

In the parking lot at Ciao! the neighbor replays the footage that he has just obtained, sometimes holding the small video camera forward into the front seat so that the car driver can see for himself.

“This is guaranteed five thousand hits,” says the neighbor, very confidently. “I’m like a month or so away from crazy amounts of ad money.”

“Nice,” says the car driver as he watches the front door of the restaurant, though ‘crazy amounts of ad money’ would mean one less client, presumably. He considers lobbying to be his personal driver, sort of on staff.

They have lived across the hall from each other for around seven months, the car driver being somewhat annoyed with the neighbor the first two months due to early-morning loud noises coming from the neighbors side of the hall. These turned out to be the temper tantrums of the neighbor’s girlfriend, supposedly caused by some sort of drug withdrawal, which manifested itself in the form of objects being thrown around the room to wake the neighbor up in order to make him aware of the severity of her condition. She was a chore for the neighbor, but also paid for mostly everything. When she finally moved out he spent several weeks smoking marijuana, finally coming up with the idea to start his own business as a recorder of local people of interest, much like numerous other businesses on the internet do with national and international people of interest.

“Make sure you tell me right when you see those chicks,” says the neighbor, still watching the footage. “This is gonna be so funny.”

These stake-outs are normal occurrences during trips with the neighbor – sit outside of a strip club here, wait outside of a restaurant there – but the car driver has never been able to decide how to pass the time effectively. He is always assigned to the look-out post.

“Can I go in and just make sure they’re here?” the car driver says.

“I know they’re here, dude.”

“How?”

“Because they tweeted.”

As the neighbor continues to watch video in the backseat, the car driver decides to look over his client list, which he keeps in the glove compartment. Written on the back of an envelope, he currently has just seven names. In his mind he also keeps a ranking because, in the event of two of them calling at once, one regular must take precedence. He has shared these secret rankings with only one person, Tiffany, who holds the top spot and has not been charged for a ride in several weeks. She is his Scarlett Johansson, his Emma Stone. Naturally dark-haired, Tiffany is now blonde, the tips reaching just past the top of her fake boobs, and she fills the Crown Victoria with the scent of peaches and lightning and gold each time she gets in.

The car driver is startled from his list as the neighbor darts out of the backseat, leaving the door open as he jogs towards the two women.

“Constance, Constance,” the neighbor says.

The women giggle, stopping to humor him while shifting between various flattering poses. Their sunglasses cover most of their faces.

Rolling down his window, the car driver hears the neighbor ask Constance whether it’s true or not that she has been sending nude selfies to numerous different guys, his camera rolling as the girls giggle again.

She is coy in her response, the car driver making out key words that add up only vaguely.

The neighbor seems to be asking more questions, drawing laughter and feigned sensitivity from the women, and soon points back towards the Crown Victoria.

The car driver quickly pretends to be reading the list again before looking up to see the women waving in his direction – he has famous friends, and maybe an admirer or two, he thinks.

Later he will watch the clip on the neighbor’s computer and know that he was there, a backstage insider to this celebrity sighting.

 

The car driver sometimes cruises the airport for fares, almost always encountering resistance from the cab drivers waiting in their legal and licensed cars and vans. They honk at him, throw their nearest disposable items in his direction, on one occasion even blocking him from driving while letting the air out of his tires. He suspects that one or more of them are behind the graffiti that has been appearing on his car, but he can’t be sure.

The cab area, at the moment he pulls in, is almost entirely absent of cabs and he discovers that the lone driver is asleep at the wheel, though parked. No line normally means no business, but a straggler emerges minutes after the car driver turned off his engine.

The man is short and balding and has on reading glasses. He is wearing business clothes.

The car driver rolls down his window, manually.

“Where you headed,” he says, as the man finds the driver of the official-looking cab to be asleep.

He looks around, as if for another cab or a road to walk to wherever he is going.

“Are you a real cab?” the man asks.

The car driver feigns offense, getting out of the car and reaching for the man’s bags.

“Where you staying? I’ll get you there cheaper than any other company.”

The man is apprehensive, but lets the car driver take his bags and put them into the open trunk.

“The Marriott,” he says, adding on the address.

“Alright, we’re on our way.”

 

The car driver watches through the rear-view as the man examines the car, fingering the numerous small tears in the upholstery, smelling the passenger side headrest.

The car driver tries to take immaculate care of his car, but has little control over his passengers’ destructive habits and lacks the heart to call anyone out on it.  

“Where you in town from?” the car driver asks as he exercises his routine precaution of looking in his mirrors to see if anyone is following.

“Are these cigarette burns?” the man says, counting them out loud to himself.

The stoplights and afternoon traffic on the main bypass slow down the trip and the man in the backseat begins to look outside at the car dealers and tourist attractions.

“Is this the quickest way?” he asks. “Because it seems as though there should be a quicker way.”

The car driver’s phone vibrates. It’s Tiffany.

“ay boy ; ) can u take me to happy hour,” she texts.

“Sir, I got fired from all the cab companies in town because I take the best routes. I haven’t always done the right thing, but I’m an honest person now.”

“Wait,” the business man says. “What do you mean you got fired for taking the best routes? That’s what cab drivers do.”

“Think about it, sir. How do cabs make money?”

“By taking people from point,” the business man says before stopping. “Oh.”

“Listen, do you mind if we pick up someone else? It’s on the way.”

The business man, seeming to have relaxed somewhat, nods his head and says okay.

 

The money they were making at the bar, though never more than small, was still money. The car driver and his brother split everything in half, naturally, each electing to work full days without hiring any help. On Tuesdays, they rested and tallied their take.

“Seems like it should be more,” the brother would say.

“I wish it was,” the car driver would reply.

It was only a matter of time before the brother found out about the car driver’s scheme.

 

Tiffany is looking down at her cell phone as she walks from her apartment and the car driver looks around for any signs of his brother, just out of habit.

“That’s who we’re picking up?” the man says.

“Yes, sir.”

“Oh, wow.”

She is wearing a short summer dress that shifts in the wind. There appears to be no bra underneath.

Seeing the man in the backseat, she gets into the front and almost immediately begins a phone conversation, which causes a tense silence in the rest of the car.

When they get back onto the main highway the business man resumes worrying.

“Are you sure that was on the way? Who is this girl?”

“She’s one of my regulars.”

Tiffany gives a wave of her fingers to the business man.

Soon the man is on his phone telling someone to get on the internet and look up directions from the airport to his hotel.

“I don’t see any addresses,” he says, “hey, driver, why aren’t there any addresses? Where are we?”

Tiffany begins to look annoyed and it has become clear to the car driver that she is probably high on weed and adderol, if not more things. He loves her most when she looks this way – a damsel in euphoric distress.

In the backseat the business man’s stress level seems to be spiraling out of control.

“Is she high on drugs?” he says.

“Sir,” the car driver says.

“Can you let me out here, please? I do not feel comfortable anymore, not one bit.”

“Sir, we’ll be there in three minutes. Don’t worry.”

“Don’t worry, easy for you to say. You’re not in the backseat of a gypsy cab with a girl in the front who is high on drugs. In a town you are not familiar with, no less.”

The car driver looks over at Tiffany who, though still on the phone, turns around to face the man, rises slightly, and pulls her dress down to reveal her right nipple, of which the car driver catches a glance.

“Will you please shut the fuck up?” she says to the man before covering back up and resuming her conversation.

The car driver cannot remember ever in his life seeing something that made him happier.

He more or less knows that the business man is not working for the police or the department of transportation or anyone else who might be out to fine or jail him. But the threat, coupled with the graffiti, is enough for the car driver to deliver the business man to a different hotel, deeming this safe after seeing the business man restrict his gaze to the floorboards after the Tiffany incident. This is a standard practice that the car driver is always able to rationalize to himself – surely there will be a shuttle available to right the location of the duped.

 

The car driver sits at his kitchen table with his cell phone plugged into the outlet – his battery is not what it once was. He plays a skill game with crudely drawn cartoon animals, sometimes passing several levels in a day, other times stagnating or giving up.

    The neighbor’s familiar tribal knock causes him to fail the level.

    “Yo, can we ride?” the neighbor says, excited.

    “Where we going?”    

    “I’ll tell you on the way, let’s go.”

    In the car the neighbor promises to pay any traffic tickets that the car driver might incur on this trip as long as he will speed and disregard all other road signs.

    “Nasty wreck, bro. Nasty. My dude says there’s probably somebody dead.”

    The car driver turns down the radio, a rap song.

    “Yo, lemme get that volume back,” the neighbor says.

    The volume is returned to loud.

    “Hey, so why do you want that on the site?” the car driver says, louder than the music.

    “What? The wreck? That’s some Andy Warhol type shit, that’s why.”

    “Who?”

    “Dude, Andy Warhol, he was like the most famous artist of all-time? He was all into death or whatever.”

    The car driver nods and makes a mental note to Google this famous death artist.

 

    The car driver’s brother had said very emotional things, angry statements when he found out for sure that their money was being unevenly distributed. He made vows, swore violence. Did the car driver blame him, even for one second? No. But he also didn’t know what to do to make it up to him. The brother removed himself from all social media, changed his phone number. He told his parents of the car driver’s infidelity and made it clear that they were not to encourage any contact between the two.

 

    In the neighbor’s apartment the car driver watches as the footage is reviewed.

    “This shit is so killer, dude. So killer,” the neighbor keeps saying.

    The car driver is having ideas.

    “So like,” he says, “if I was in a really bad accident say, and like some people got really hurt or whatever.”

    “That’s fucked up, bro.”

    The car driver watched a commercial on the television for a moment, thinking.

    “But what if I really need to be on the site, somehow?”

    “Why do you need that?”

    “So I can be famous.”


    “That’s not how it works, dude, it’s the other way around. You gotta be famous or interesting or a hot chick to get on the site to begin with.”

    “How do I do something good enough to be considered famous though?”

    “Man you gotta figure that shit out for yourself. Oh man, I got so much killer stuff from that shit though.”

    The neighbor gets up and retrieves a few bills from his backpack, handing them to the car driver.

    “This is guaranteed thousands of hits, like maybe ten-thousands. Good look on getting me there super- fast. I gotta edit this for a while, get the video up. I’ll catch you later though, bro.”

    The car driver gets up and stretches, though he doesn’t know why.

    “Do you think that that girl Tiffany is single?”

    The neighbor pauses before lighting his marijuana, laughing soon after.

    “Keep dreaming, bro. Keep dreaming ha haha ha ha.”

 

    The car driver uses the windfall from the wreckage to buy a twelve-pack of good beer, a habit that he swore off with the closing of the bar. But, he reasons, he needs to think, to relax.

    He wakes up the next day around noon and watches video of Tiffany on the neighbor’s website, trying to imagine the perfect thing to say to her next time she is in his car.

    Around four o’clock he fills his tank and gets on the road, driving aimlessly for several hours. He feels oddly content and senses that progress will be made soon, somehow.

 

He first drove Tiffany while working for one of the companies (assholes, all of them) and now she calls at least twice a week wanting a ride here and there, this drink to that club, that club to late-night diner, but never to home.

“Can u pick us up at HOB?” she texts, the night well into its routine.

Waiting at a light on the bypass he replies, “I’m out back. I think the band is hanging out with people.”

Moments later she responds, “where rrr u?”

The car driver maneuvers through the labyrinth of street leading into the music venue, driving the opposite direction from the other cars as fast as possible, needing to make it to the back of the building before the women do. He snakes in and out of rows, cutting through empty gaps of cars. His phone begins to ring just as he reaches the back lot and he sees Tiffany sitting on a curb, her phone against her ear.

The car driver honks.

“Yay!” she says, jumping up and snagging the shirt of another beauty. Three others follow and he gets out and opens both passenger side doors.

“Silly,” she says, getting into the back seat, “we’ve been out here for twenty minutes and the band hasn’t come out yet.”

“I must’ve been,” he says, “thinking of someone else or something.”

The women are small and tan and fit easily into the backseat, each adjusting their clothing or hair and the car driver closes both doors and returns to his seat.  

“We’re starving!” Lily and at least one of the other girls say as they pull into traffic and the car driver asks what they are starving for but they have begun to talk amongst themselves.

He catches errant pieces of the conversation – men, women, cigarettes – as they roll the windows down, decompressing the scent of a gourmet sugar factory that they have sprayed themselves with and replacing this with smoke of two kinds.

 

On the highway the car driver’s phone flashes on the seat, an unknown number. When he drove professionally it was customary to answer calls by saying “cab,” immediately. But sometimes it is the police who are calling and he takes care to avoid suspicion as often as possible.

“Hello?” he says, the volume in the back seat continuing.

“Hey,” an angry person on the end says, “is this the cab that dropped me off at the wrong place earlier?”

“This is not a cab, sir. You have the wrong number.”

“Yeah I don’t think I fucking do have the wrong number. Give me the number to your manager or I’m calling the goddam cops.”

Under different circumstances the car driver might indulge the plaintiff, but with Tiffany’s voice flashing through his car he is no mood and he switches to speaker phone and hands it to the hyper-active women in the backseat.

“Who is it?” one of them says and before the car driver can answer the women are saying dirty things into the phone; filthy, phone sex phrases he did not think them capable of and his own sex straightens in his jeans. He cannot see Tiffany in the rear-view but pictures her dark hair thrashing in the wind as they ride. She lost interest in the dirty talk early, the other three continuing on and at some point it seems likely that the plaintiff has ended the call.

The car driver motions for the phone to be returned to him.

“Who was that?” the girls say.

“Wrong number,” he says.

The girls do some muted murmuring.

“Hey, where is his meter, Tiff? Is this guy a real cab driver?”

“He’s not like a cab cab,” she says. “He’s like a private cab.”

“Private cabs are supposed to be like a lot nicer though, right?”

The one who said this is shhhh-d and called a bitch by the others and they laugh awkwardly.

“It’s okay,” the car driver says, reaching for some licorice in the center console. “I’m just doing this while I figure out some stuff.”

Tiffany leans forward and says to him, her lips touching his ear, “don’t listen to her she’s really high on molly,” and the car driver smells her hair, smoky and sweet. In an instant, the best one the car driver can remember, she shakes her fingers through his hair frantically and returns to the party in the backseat, calling the insulter a bitch again.

The car driver runs his own right hand through his hair, elated.  

 

    There were drugs in the car driver’s life during the time of the bar, consumed sometimes with his brother, sometimes with adult entertainers, sometimes alone. Stimulants, both street and pharmaceutical, used mainly for cheer during downtimes and transcendence during uptimes.

    “You have to, like, know how to act when people are looking,” the neighbor says, hovering over several lines of cocaine drawn out on his coffee table. “People who are famous for being famous aren’t as worthless as everyone makes them out to be.”

    An attractive blonde sits to his right on the couch, the car driver sitting Indian-style on the floor on the other side of the table.

    “What do you mean, learn how to act when people are looking,” the car driver says.

    The blonde, almost simultaneously, says “Do you ever want to fucking run all the way across America?”

    “I mean, like,” the neighbor says, “all the videos you see on my site, which is on the verge of fucking blowing up, by the way, the people you see have a talent for acting, like while I’m filming. That’s not how they are, naturally. I mean, you’d be way more boring on camera than you are in real life, and you’re not that fucking interesting in real life, no offense.”

    “I used to run track in high school until I fucking started smoking,” the blonde says. “No, I mean cross-country, why do I always fucking say track? I could run a really long way though.”

    “Then I need you to teach me how to act when people are looking, or at least, you know, give me some suggestions.”

    “Dude, it’s not something you can teach! I’ve been trying to explain that to you. Goddam.”

    The blonde, smoking a cigarette, launches into a tirade about running shoes and the neighbor, after inhaling two lines, says “Put your cigarette out and let’s go fuck, or you know what? Don’t put it out. But I’m sick of all this talking. This fucking coke is weak as fuck.”

 

    He can’t sleep so he drives, clenching his teeth as he sits on the speed limit. The car driver wouldn’t pick up a fare tonight even if there were one. The streets are empty now, but the sun will come up in a few hours and cars will begin to be pretty much everywhere. He uses this time driving to think about what he can do to make the website, to look for signs of his brother, to wonder if he could start his own people-filming website, a rival to the neighbor’s that could make him a notable resident. His goals are few, dire.

 

The car driver uses the rest of the day to catch up on some sleep, waking up occasionally to flip through the three channels that he gets, wondering about whether he is a success or a failure (or neither), and praying that his phone will ring soon.

Around eight o’clock it does, the familiar two-toned ding he has assigned to Tiffany’s number.

“At Market Common, cum git me?” she texts.

“Of course. How many?”

He has to hope that it is the same crew that lavished him with money the night before, otherwise he may wind up back at the title loan window.

“Jus 2.”

Two probably means pro bono and the car driver enters into an arbitration period with himself. The gasoline in his car will take him no more than twenty-one more miles and he crunches the numbers from his apartment to Market Common to her apartment and back to his apartment. Assuming that this is a freeby, he will not be able to accept another ride until more gasoline money is procured. He weighs this against her beauty and is soon turning the key in his car, eager to soon be in Tiffany’s presence.

 

As she kisses and gropes a well-groomed man in the backseat, the car driver realizes for the first time that Tiffany is not a lonely person. In fact, he decides that she has all the companionship that she needs, perhaps even more than she needs.

He pulls into a gas station at her request and she gets out, giving her date another kiss before closing the door.

“Wow,” the guy says, wiping his mouth. “See these to-go bags?”

The car driver nods in the rear-view.

“She couldn’t wait. She made them box everything up because she literally couldn’t wait to get home.”

“Oh.”

“I’m in town for a convention, right? I think I’m coming to the trashiest tourist trap in the country, right? And then we’re out at a strip club last night and I meet this one, Tessa or Tiffany or whatever. We hit it off immediately, go back to my hotel, fuck all night, I mean all night. She’s so fucking kinky, man. I slog through the presentations today, take a quick nap, meet her at the restaurant and guess what? She’s ready to go home, can’t wait to take me back to her apartment. But she’s out of condoms, so here we are. Some fucking luck, huh? I love this town! Love it!”

“Lucky guy.”


“Anyway, thank you man for driving us.”

The car driver feels himself needing to exit the situation and has a rare idea.

“Listen, it’s no problem. I drive her around a lot, and you seem like a good guy so I’ll warn you – she always insists on paying the fare.”

“Really? She said you drive her for free.”

The car driver laughs nervously and the guy in the backseat laughs too, though without nerves.

“That’s not exactly true. She finds ways to pay me and then she always complains about how trashy the people are who don’t pay her fares.”

“Ah, she like does this type of thing a lot, or?”

Tiffany is at the register, swiping her card in the payment machine.

“Fuck,” the guy says reaching into his pocket, “what do I care? I’m only here another two nights. Is forty enough?”

    The car driver takes the two perfect bills, crumples them into his hand and opens his door while removing his keys, sprinting off into the night.

 

    The gas station’s lighting is intense, as if to signal heightened importance or something, and it reaches into the first few rows of pines across the street. The car driver has wisely chosen to stand behind a tree beyond the light. He does not know exactly why it is here, of all places, that he finds himself, but he senses that the situation can be salvaged, maybe.

    The neighbor does not answer the car driver’s first call, or second, but on the third try he gets through.

    “I figured it out,” the car driver says.

    “What’s up, dude?”

    There is rap music on wherever the neighbor is.

    “I got something for the website.”

    “Oh yeah?”

    “Yeah, come to the Shell station off of 21st.”


    “You mean, like, walk there? I’m at the apartment, bro.”

    “Shit. But it involves Tiffany and you’re not gonna want to miss it.”

    “Yeah, lemme go man, I got company.”


    “No, no! I’m serious. You gotta do this for me, please. I’ll drive you for free for a month.”


    “Okay, man, I believe you and shit, but I don’t have wheels, you know?”

    “Hey, just call a cab, I’ll pay for it.”


    The neighbor laughs.

    “Alright, man, yeah.”

    “So you’re coming?”

    “Sure, dude,” the neighbor says, ending the call.

    The car driver looks back at where he left his car and sees Tiffany and the man talking outside of the car, looking confused.

    It’s as if the universe had turned its attention, however briefly, back to him for the first time in weeks. He estimates five minutes for the cab to arrive at his apartment, one minute for the neighbor to get down stairs, and seven minutes for them to travel the distance between here and there. In the meantime he has to think up something, the best thing ever, and then execute it with perfect timing. Whatever it is has to be spontaneous, the first time he has done anything that way in years, and it has to be fun and entertaining and dangerous, and Tiffany will laugh and cry and the video will go viral, probably even spur the neighbor’s website into the local spotlight, if not nationally, and Tiffany will leave the douchebag she is with and they can go out celebrating, maybe ride the SkyWheel or have a drink at a fancy bar where she knows everyone and they will re-live the scene, telling whoever is around and impressing them and inflicting on them a strong desire to watch the video as soon as it is uploaded, sharing it on various social-media sites and texting the link to everyone they know, and maybe even his brother will see it somehow and realize that the car driver is not a completely bad person, that he is capable of some things, though not all things, and maybe they can be friends again, or at least on speaking terms or hanging out terms.

    The car driver’s thoughts zip past each other as he tries to devise a plan, thinking back on videos that made it onto the neighbor’s website, knowing that the neighbor will arrive at any second, and if he isn’t engaged in the act by the time the neighbor is out of the cab and filming, that it will look staged, and so the car driver begins walking slowly through the trees, slightly hunched over, and as he is approaching the end of the light, a cab pulls into the gas station and he picks up the pace, not running but not walking, still wondering what the act will be, comprehending the circumstances and immediately feeling absolutely grateful for the opportunity to do, what exactly, but nevermind, and the cab turns out to be empty, the neighbor nowhere in sight, and so the car driver pauses before crossing the street and watches as Tiffany and the guy getting quickly into the backseat, the cab pulling slowly out of the gas station.

The car driver looks into the cab as it passes him, picking up speed, and sees Tiffany and the guy kissing each other, completely unaware of his presence on the side of the road.

    He stands there for some time, the car driver, thinking of the ways that the situation has changed and considering all of the options that he now has. In the end, he chooses to fill up his tank and drive back to his apartment, making plans on the way to start shooting video of himself with his phone, reviewing the videos, making adjustments, and teaching himself how to act when someone is looking.     

 

 

 

 

David Michael Joseph, 6/16/2014

Present occupation writer
Former occupation teacher/customer service
Contact Information: My name is David Michael Joseph. I'm an Alternative writer, poet, and filmmaker from the great state (tongue in check) of New Jersey, now living in Los Angeles hoping to breath a breath of fresh air into the literary world. I have a passion for story telling and poetry and many times infuse the two into my films. I have made four short films including Festival selections and winners Shadows of Sepulveda and C.A.k.E.

 

#

Letter of Complaint

Kyle Munster,

 

   I am writing this upon my exit from Ceca Logistics. I was physically threaten and harassed while on assignment at Ceca Logistics. There were three incidents, the finally one concerned me greatly.

    The first incident: was in the security room at Ceca Logistic. I was trained by Marcus, thus I had to shadow him. We were told by Mr. Sultano to escort the security camera detail that was fixing the cameras in the building: including the Security camera room. We were told to if there was no staff in the security room, we had to stay with them.    

    Marcus went to lunch and I alone was with the head of the security camera firm. Kyle stormed into the room and told me to ‘get out of the chair,’ he wanted to check a camera. I was puzzled and thought he was playing around. He never introduced himself, was rude and over aggressive. I didn’t think a staff member would treat another in that manner.

     I looked at the camera company owner, confused, and he said ‘it was cool.’ I stood up and Kyle jumped into my face and grabbed my ID badge. The security man jumped in the middle and I left. I later found out he was supposed to do that task but didn’t feel like coming in. I told my supervisor Vince Mcbew if I should confront Kyle Munster about the incident and he said, ‘no, he’d get you fired.’ I felt helpless so I told Marge (the floor supervisor for the staffing company) and I believed she addressed it.

    It is all on the security cameras plus the camera repairman was a witness. The same man later apologized and told me it was a good thing I didn’t say anything because he had to calm Kyle down because he was flying off the handle and it could have been bad. Letting me know this man who was my supervisor was violent and had bad intentions.

    The second incident: was during a meeting in Mr. Sultano’s office. It was a 2 o’clock meeting on a Friday and I was the last person in the office. I was in the process of shutting the door when Kyle ripped the door open, almost hurting my shoulder, he screamed in the office to Vince, ‘where is princess?’ Princess, as everyone knew, was on the floor and he could have pick up the phone and called her extension. He had no reason to be in the office, and way he ripped the door was intentional. This can also be seen from the security camera in Sultanos office. I told Darren Patel but he did nothing.

   The third incident: was when he brought a newspaper into the office, bragging that his high school classmate killed a number of people.

He said, “The guy had a gun and went postal.”

    Kyle looked me in my eyes, making direct eye contact. I had too brushed with a violent staff member within my first two week. Before I started working, Vince Mcbew told me to stay away from him and Marcus stated he had problems as well.

When I was on 5’s, I reminded him he had to clean the printer and his response ‘good luck making me do that.’

    He made my stay uncomfortable, on several occasions and had it out for me. This added to an already stressful job. It was also said that the staff was aware of his behavior. I’m wondering if it takes a major incident to draw the needed attention. This man should not be in a group setting.

   This is the letter of complaint I have been asked to write. I will read this in his face if needed.

 

Alejandro Escudé, 6/9/2014

Current Occupation: High School Teacher
Former Occupation: None
Contact Information: Alejandro Escudé is the winner of the 2013 Sacramento Poetry Center Award. His first full-length poetry collection, "My Earthbound Eye," is now available on Amazon and at www.sacramentopoetrycenter.com. Alejandro is originally from Argentina. He is a high school English teacher and lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two kids.

 

#

The Standard

       

Fox knew he was down. He’d checked the runner in the morning and watched as the number indicating his value as a teacher had taken a tumble.

“Four points,” he muttered to himself, as the cacophony of the students of Valley Ridge High School filled the yard.

Fox Praiseworthy was the best teacher in the school and the numbers confirmed it. His closest competitor, Leonora Steadman, couldn’t even come close. A four point drop hurt: it meant that his investors would take notice and that a worrisome trend might unfold.

Todd Snodgrass saw the drop. He was working at the law firm as usual, his corner office reflecting the skyscrapers of Century City. Every morning, he had the same routine, coffee at The Bean, mocha latte with soy, before checking his TeacherTrade account, which included Praiseworthy and Steadman. He predicted Steadman would surpass Praiseworthy as soon as finals hit.

Praiseworthy had never gone through a major drop before and he was thinking about that when he mistakenly entered the wrong standard, one of the state lesson guidelines– 2.17 instead of 2.16–on the electronic board in his classroom then proceeded with his lesson.

The students entered and quickly copied down the standard and were thus programmed to proceed with the topic, aligned with the state guideline. Fox began his lesson, rolling up his sleeves and leaning over his podium. Each student had their pad computer and diligently called up the recorder app. They all knew Mr. Praiseworthy’s biggest pet peeve was spotting a student who had forgotten to call up his recorder app. He liked to be recorded. He liked the sound of his voice as he strolled the hallways, students playing back his lectures to get a jump on their homework between classes.

As he began, he noticed he didn’t feel the usual thrill as he spoke. The realization that Leonora Steadman was now even closer to reaching him was too much to bear. He began to slow down, forgetting to stop to enumerate key terms which were always a starting point for the brief digressions some of his colleagues labeled genius. Fox’s university teaching advisor had said he was one of the best teachers she’d ever had the pleasure of training. But that was back when he was starting out, before the entire world had changed, before teachers became publically traded entities.

Fox began to dither in his lecture. He knew he was cutting it close and so did his students. Some of them began fidgeting. They started to turn their heads. One of the students even dared to ask another a question.

“Why is he talking about this?” Tommy asked.

Cami turned but did not answer. No one ever stopped their recorder to ask a question like Tommy had. But Tommy didn’t care if he caused the Waver to pick up the change in the classroom and turn a murderous shade of red.

The Waver was a rectangular eye that was hung on the wall in the center of the classroom, where the old clocks used to go. It was as large as a wall clock but rectangular in shape and solid and the eye part was actually a slit that normally remained black. Only a tiny light at the bottom of the machine alerted school maintenance that it was operational.

The Waver’s eye was black. It remained black throughout the class, but one student swore he saw it blink red shortly after Tommy asked Cami the question.

That was all it took for the signal to be sent to the main office where Mrs. Tyler, the Principal, an African-American woman in her sixties with a limp that gave her slightly awkward in appearance, was alerted with a series of lights, much like a volume control– green wavering lights on the verge of turning red.

She leaned over her controls, swiped up the volume, and listened. Fox didn’t sound like his confident self, and she also immediately recognized that the standard, which was listed on her database, was not the one he was lecturing on. She pushed her office chair back in a hurry, sped through the door and down the hallway.

Fox was experiencing a kind of meltdown. But he had felt this before. He knew what it was, the feeling of slipping into a kind of trance that seemed to slow time down so that the class period would never come to an end. He had always soldiered through this though, but today was different. Suddenly, he realized that this was not the usual slipping away into unconscious teaching: he had listed the wrong standard.

“Mr. Praiseworthy,” the Principal said, edging into the room. This was an anomaly, given that teaching was never to be interrupted, just as a CEO would never be interrupted handling a conference call or a quarterback conferring with his team in a huddle.

“Yes, Mrs. Tyler.”

“May I speak to you for a moment?”

The students held their breath. This was unprecedented in Mr. Praiseworthy’s class. They might have accepted the situation somewhat if the teacher were just starting out, but Mr. Praiseworthy was the top grosser in the entire school. They knew how rich he’d grown from planning nearly perfect classes, following each and every standard, and most of all, they knew that they would all score very high in the weekly state exams.

“You’re off the standard,” said Mrs. Tyler.

“Yes I know, I must’ve read the wrong directive for today’s classes. It will never happen again.”

Fox knew this was the equivalent to a businessman losing a big client on the phone by sheer incompetence. He knew this sole act would drop him another four or five points, which meant he had lost at least ten thousand dollars in revenue.

“Finish your class as best you can; this time on the right standard and please come see me as soon as the period is over.”

Praiseworthy finished class and put his head down on his desk. This loss coupled with the other four points he’d lost recently could signal the beginning of the end of his lucrative career at Valley Ridge High School.

Every classroom door Fox passed on his way to see Mrs. Tyler was like a year of his life at the school, worn yellow, each classroom sheltering a teacher like animals in a zoo.

Fox never made it to the Principal’s Office. On the other side of town, the Praiseworthy stock tumbled. Snodgrass took a sip of his coffee, clicked his tongue, and began scrolling down the list of other available names, up and comers who were innovators in their subjects and flawless performers.

 

Jim Breslin, 6/2/2014

Current Occupation: Writer, Editor, Event Producer
Former Occupation: For seventeen years, Jim worked to maintain peace and love between celebrities, hosts, viewers and the production crew at electronic retailer QVC. Through the years, he held various positions such as Director of Live Production, Managing Producer, and Line Producer.
Contact Information: Jim's short stories have been published in Molotov Cocktail, Turk's Head Review, Metazen, and Think Journal. His first collection, "Elephant: Short Stories and Flash Fiction" was published in 2011. He is also the founder of the West Chester Story Slam, a monthly and sometimes rowdy storytelling event held in downtown West Chester, PA. His newest collection, published May 2014, is Shoplandia. You will find this short within that collection.

 

#

What We Knew

 

We saw what happened when the camera was off air and we heard what people said when their microphones were brought down, and we had grown cynical. From the window of the United Shopping Network’s control room, we peered out over the studio, observing the scene like federal agents without a warrant.

 

Below we saw the rows of order entry operators on headsets sitting in their modular cubicles. When products were selling and America was buying, the operators sat forward and intently pecked at their keyboards. When business was slow, they leaned back and conversed with their neighbors, knitted sweaters and baby blankets, read through dog eared copies of People and Us magazines.

 

The view from our perch included a massive rotating stage, which each hour spun – from a living room set to a kitchen set, or maybe from the garage set to the patio – during our top of the hour break. At the foot of the stage sat command central, the line producer’s desk. When a host and producer believed they were in a private conversation, we would be listening in. The producers might leave their headset buttons on, or we’d put the host’s mic in cue and eavesdrop. There is no privacy in a broadcast studio.

 

We knew the personal habits of the show hosts. We knew the timing of Karen’s menstrual cycle and when Henry was hungover. Among the producers and backstage staff, we knew who were loyal friends and who talked behind their co-workers’ backs. We had opinions on who was competent, who was a team player, who was a slacker or couldn’t be trusted. We knew who received free product samples from vendors and who palmed items from the warehouse.

 

When one of the broadcast cameras was in our preview monitor, we watched Tanya wipe lipstick off her teeth with a paper towel. We watched as Frankie walked to the side of the set, threw up his hand in the scissor position to signify “cut my mic,” and then squatted and passed gas. When show host Calabrese groped the young model on the set, we were voyeurs through the lens.

 

We could have stepped in to save Curtis but we didn’t. Through the window and the preview monitors we had seen Calabrese’s bulbous fingers sliding over models, order entry operators, female producers and production assistants. On the day Curtis greased Item V4863 – Starling 18 X 21 Binoculars, and Calabrese lowered the product and revealed his raccoon eyes on live national television, the incident created a minor sensation. Several directors dubbed the video to their own personal reels, saving the moment for posterity. We watched it over and over and it was consistently entertaining.

 

At the bar a few nights later, the binocular incident became a topic of conversation. Curtis had had a good run but he had been caught. We understood. Life is not fair. Some of us thought if we couldn’t save Curtis, maybe we should avenge Curtis. Others thought Karma would even the field eventually. The space between us swelled with an awareness that we could have done something, but we didn’t. We said amongst ourselves, “someone should do something about this,” and then we sipped our beers quietly as if in mourning.

 

After a few moments of silence, Clancy suddenly remembered a bit of news. “I heard a rumor we’re going to launch a whole new campaign next week. There’s going to be new promotional spots and a station I.D.”

 

Our ears perked up. This was exciting news.

 

“It’s supposedly an attempt to change our image,” Clancy explained.

 

Walter Beck, 5/26/2014

Current Occupation: Unemployed Writer
Previous Occupation: Warehouse Picker, Gas Station Clerk, Camp Counselor
Contact Information: Walter Beck is from Indiana, while working a various series of jobs he has managed to establish a growing cult following in the literary underground. A member of the Third Thursday Poetry Asylum and the New American Outlaw Poets, his work has published in numerous rags including Assaracus, Burner, Regardless of Authority, and Zygote in My Coffee, he has several chapbook available from Writing Knights Press.

 

#

Dissolving Ink

 

By signing, you hereby grant us permission to contact former employers, employees, law enforcement officials, banks, family members

 

And inquire about your reputation, credit history, criminal background, way of living, habits, hobbies, philosophy, sense of humor, cars you’ve bought, cigarette brands of choice, personal preference in alcoholic beverages, religion (if any), romantic life, political views, and any other information we feel is relevant to your employment with this company.

 

I no longer worry about the government spying on me,

Employers already do it.

#
 

What Normal People Buy (Consumer Picking Warehouse Blues)

 

They buy Eddie Bauer diaper bags for their babies

And porcelain pagoda water fountains for their dogs,

They get masks for their kids

Made out of 100% cardboard.

 

They exercise on Indian made yoga mats

And wrap themselves in 500 thread count Egyptian sheets.

 

They buy Paula Deen pots

And Rachel Ray skillets

Wrapped in black plastic,

Like they were dirty magazines

Instead of celebrity-endorsed cookware.

 

They defend themselves

While fighting breast cancer

With their pink painted pepper spray guns;

 

Nothing says find a cure

Like a face full of Oleoresin Capsicum.

 

They fall asleep on iPod pillows

Softly pumping out adult alternative,

They claim it keeps them young.

 

All of it picked and packed by people

They’d never give the time of day to.

#

Unplug

 

Slide your card and check in.

Check your assignment on the board.

Do your stretches,

Put on your gloves

And grab your scanner gun;

 

Get your order from the black rack,

Fill your cart,

Take it over to the shipping guys.

 

Unplug;

Listen only to the bleeps on the scanner gun

Telling you the next section, the next aisle, the next item.

Unplug;

Listen only to the occasional blips of music

Seeping in from the radios overhead.

Unplug;

Listen only to the constant beeping of the horns

From the PIT trucks moving in and out all night.

 

Get your order from the black rack,

Fill your cart,

Take it over to the shipping guys.

 

Unplug;

Only wave politely to the others you see

One joke could mean the end of this paradise,

The disconnected faces all look the same.

Unplug;

Call your boss “sir” and “Mr. ______”,

Ask about voluntary overtime

(Who would ever wanna leave?).

Unplug;

Focus on the thousands of items going out tonight,

With hopes that you’ll get ‘em all gone

(Like that black rack ever goes empty?).

 

Get your order from the black rack,

Fill your cart,

Take it over to the shipping guys.

 

Unplug;

Forget the fast and weird lane

Slipping away.

Unplug.

Unplug.

Unplug.

 

Unplug

From everything

And only listen to what the cold gray aisles tell you.