Charles Kell, 12/26/2016

Current Occupation: PhD student and instructor at The University of Rhode Island. Adjunct instructor at Three Rivers Community College in Connecticut.
Former Occupations: telemarketer; farm-hand in rural Ohio; Rip saw and cross-cutter in a sawmill; steel mill; furniture deliveryman; furniture upholstery; warehouse at DHL and W.W. Grainger; janitor / maintenance in a nursing home; janitor in a catholic primary school; landscaping, porter, laundry, janitor at a hotel; laborer; private tutor.
Contact Information: Charles Kell is a PhD student at The University of Rhode Island and editor of The Ocean State Review. His poetry and fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in The New Orleans Review, The Saint Ann’s Review, floor_plan_journal, The Manhattanville Review, and elsewhere. He teaches in Rhode Island and Connecticut.

 

#

Janitor Hiding in a Locked Closet

This switch pulls the strips tight.
Carved Li Po on the back of my left
      wrist.
Could teach you these anatomies in the dark.
Could tell you about certain Eastern
poets who’ve died surrounded by millions
of tiny worms spinning silk.

Read these things: how to paint the sky
after a hurricane; how to untie four
hundred different knots; the perfect fold.
Rustling out away from here, adjacent
      corridor.
Wet wax basketball glides by my door.

I’ve worked for this family made of thick
skin & rock. In this building met Tim
who has an owl’s head. I was a painter once,
cupped a candle in cobalt blue, spread its X
across the lunch-room’s wall for you.  

 

 

#

Carpenter Jack

Place the nail overhead.
Fire in a circle requiem
      red.
Placeholder holds her old picture.
Leonine body with hair twisted
      grey.

I’m paid to do it this way.
4 x 4 firecracker held straight for seven days.
Burning the edges until
     they are round.

Nails overhead upside down.
From a basement the sky looks
      grey.
You’re paid to do it this way.
Picture frames her body with my arm
around her waist.

Metal square there to hold the wall in place.
My arm wrapped tight twisted
      grey.
I never meant. Didn’t mean to say.
I’m paid to do it this way

Posted in

Charles Rammelkamp, 12/19/2016

Current Occupation: Retired
Former Occupation: Technical Writer and Teacher
Contact Information: I am the Prose Editor for  BrickHouse Books, in Baltimore.  Also I edit an online literary journal called the Potomac – not that I make a dime from either of these activities, so they fall into that limbo of hobby/work.  Not sure where writing falls in that limbo since I do sell the occasional copy of published books.  Speaking of which, my latest, MATA HARI: EYE OF THE DAY, was published in 2015 by Apprentice House (Loyola University), and another, AMERICAN ZEITGEIST, is forthcoming from Apprentice House as well.

 

#

Hell Is Other People

 

“If they like you, this gig could last indefinitely,” Marge told me when I got my new Kelly Girl assignment at the Business School.  I’d called in to headquarters to check if there was a job; I hadn’t worked in about a week. If they like you.  If you’re lucky.

“Thanks, Marge,” I mumbled, and the next day I went to the B School.

The job? Filling orders for case study booklets at the university.  Various business schools around the country requested copies of relevant case studies for their classes.  Titles like Mobilizing Capital for Development or Reshaping the Financial Services Landscape or Modern Recruiting: Igniting Organizational Transformation.  IPOs, Paypal, tech-savvy millennials, hedge funds, personnel management. The whole thing made me want to puke, it sounded so deadeningly boring.

“Do you want to be a hired hand all your life?” my mother asked me when I called Sunday. I called her weekly at her home across the country in Potawatomi Rapids, Michigan.

“I don’t want to be part of some organization and have bosses and be a boss.”

“What’s so bad about that?”

“Hell is other people, Mom.”

“You can philosophy this all you want, Monsieur Sartre, but facts are facts, situations are situations.”

“Exactly.”

**********

It was Friday and Sid, a regular employee but something of an outsider, was all got up in his partying outfit.  He was a guy about my age, I judged, mid-thirties.  He had his hair all slicked up and silver crosses dangling from his ears, otherwise all in black.  Sid had a disgusting habit of picking his nose and eating it, not particularly hiding it.

Babs, the supervisor, a Southern Baptist with a twang, rolled her eyes at him, went outside with Conrad for a smoke. Conrad was another temp, like me, though he worked for a different agency.

“You think they’re having an affair? Sid asked.

“Are you kidding?” I was going through the stacks gathering copies of a case study called Leadership in Crisis. Some school in Arizona needed copies for a class in Entrepreneurship. But then I thought. “They are kind of thick, aren’t they?”

“Smoking buddies.  Babs doesn’t like me, that’s for sure.”

“Babs.  Well.” I shrugged. No loss.

The door blew open then on a smell of cigarettes and in came Babs and Conrad. Conrad looked a little old to be a temp, to me, but what was too old, and was I just internalizing my mother’s opinions? A bent old guy in his fifties, I judged, with a grizzly goatee.  He was always sideling up to sexless Babs.

“Did you get those case studies?” Conrad barked at me, as if he were the boss.

“Don’t worry about it.”

“Did you?”

I looked at Babs, who looked away. Sid raised his eyebrows.  And I saw how it was.  Probably angling for a permanent job, Conrad had decided to assume the role of deputy sheriff to Babs’ Marshal Dillon.  Assistant to the trail boss.  And that’s how it was done, by taking smoke breaks together.  What was in it for Conrad? Did he really think they’d hire him full time? He smelled of desperation. Well, I’d be out of here in a week or two, a month tops.       

  

 

 

Posted in

Bradford Middleton, 12/12/2016

Current Occupation:  Low-grade sales assistant for big supermarket company.
Former Occupation: Student, Music PR, writer, admin serf.
Contact Information: Bradford Middleton lives in Brighton on England's south coast.  When he isn't writing stories and poems he can often be found on the check-out at a local supermarket.  For more from him follow @beatnikbraduk on Twitter.

Read his pieces from 2014 , 2015, and earlier this year.

 

#

WILL THE BAD DAYS AT WORK EVER END?

 

Today I turned up at the place that keeps me down

That place called work where it appears I will have to remain

Until the day when the words mean I can tell my boss where to stick his minimum, so-called living wage job

And as usual, these days, I was tired but not hung-over

For the night before had been a night of infrequent sleep

So I entered not in the best frame of mind

Until it emerged that all my bosses were on the verge of leaving

And it seemed none of them gave a shit anymore

 

I could, for once, empathise with their situation

But not when it stops me doing my job in a sleep-deprived state

As customers grew angry as I pleaded for help

I needed change; I needed to put out the cigarettes whilst serving our customers

But alas there was only one of me and I ain’t allowed near the safe

And my bosses were stood outside smoking their ready-mades

Or downstairs drinking coffee which I so desperately needed but due to health and safety is not allowed

 

I have never been so happy to see my racist colleague arrive on the check-out as at last I got some much needed help

But once I told her what I’d heard the smile on her face spread like wild fire at the thought we could now be rid of our Peruvian-Russian boss

‘Maybe we’ll get some kind of normality here now, An English boss who will solve all our problems’ she said

I cringed at the memories of our past bosses, both called Paul and both English, stupid, proud and Tory to boot

And suddenly I was stood on the tills not giving a toss, writing letters of resignation in my head

Roll on that day when I shall be free, how long now I really don’t know but if it’s another like the Pauls

I’ll just say fuck it, I’m off, good riddance to you all!

 

 

#

MONEY WORRIES

I got money worries again as the rent goes up again

And somehow from nowhere an extra £50 has to be found next month

Coupled in with a horrid and ridiculous telephone bill

It means my birthday month will be one of no celebration or fun of any kind

Instead it’ll mean beans on toast coming back to dominate my diet

And as for beer, well at home, alone will be the only place I can afford such things

When it ain’t that luxurious a life to begin with finding such cash is always a problem

Especially now when life offers so many things that leave me disturbed

In need of those things that will help me forget

 

If it ain’t random tourists asking me stupid questions

It’s our moronic locals who drive me to despair

Those who seem to have no problems supporting their lifestyles

Fucking crooks every single one of them

Whether it be an estate agent robbing the poor of all their money

Or the government telling me that I’ve got enough and should be happy

Well all I know is the situation is fucked

I read a report recently that suggested 77% of people in our town need benefits to pay their rent

I ask how can that be fair; how can it be that I get money off a government who don’t want to pay me

To pay a landlord for the honour of living in this shit-hole whilst they earn a fortune

 

The lives of those, here, in the last resort are grinding on relentless

My new neighbour upstairs loves nothing more than pissing out his window

Whilst downstairs our very own Peter Stringfellow has women visitors

And tries to romance them with the dulcet tones of Elton John

In between these two mad old dudes lies my space

But I’m not sure for how much longer

How long will I get to pollute the air with my noxious cigarettes and wild rock’n’roll

During those moments when I ain’t sitting here writing or worse yet out at work

Doing the hours that will keep me always worrying about money problems

 

#

BEGGING MONEY FROM THE WORKING POOR

 

I walk out at work and am immediately accosted by a man begging

Can you spare a pound he asks, just for a hot cup of tea

But I ain’t got any change as this life will always be tricky on minimum wage

And then after moving on I get to the bottom of my street

Again I’m accosted by a homeless beggar who after I apologise for not being able to spare any money

Screams you fucking bastard I can hear it in your pocket

But I just keep my head down and move on, ignoring his screams

And then finally home I check my electric meter and see I got only 24p which is more than I got in my pocket

Would you like to take that off me because right now that’s all I got

So can I suggest just one thing, don’t bother asking anyone wearing a supermarket uniform

Because we’re mostly the same, surviving on very little

And barely able to keep a roof over my head

I realise your situation is desperate but maybe try sitting outside the luxury flats

And begging from someone who can maybe spare that much needed change

 

 

Posted in

Krista Creel, 12/5/2016

Current Occupation: Raising kids, happily away from the corporate grind 
Former Occupation: Communications Manager
Contact Information: Krista Creel earned her graduate degree in journalism and undergraduate in creative writing from the University of Memphis. She has been published by the Universities of Pennsylvania, Chicago, Arkansas and Memphis, as well as other independent literary magazines. She moved her family into the wilds of rural Tennessee to pursue a more authentic way of living in the South – one comprised of back porch swings, hand-me-down chickens, plum trees and open pastures.

#

Office Politics

 

I’m not religious

But at the office I pray

Because I have a lot of time on my hands

And plenty to be guilty about

#

A Cramped Office

 

Seeping sentimental

On a lush rainy day

Watching

From this cramped office

The bugs crawl into crevices

To keep dry, unlike the daisy

That bends and loves it.

Until the rain stops

And the white wing sings

From the third story brick office

And the space is still.

 

For a few moments

We can breathe again

And tuck in our shirts.

#

Corporate Mentor

 

She exaggerates herself

since it is that she fears

she’ll be taken too lightly

or too unawares,

and the boys

all so sprightly

and dim

will not follow

or bow

to their knees

with their jeans

torn up from their bending

at her crown

and her gown,

that she glimpses in mirrors

as she checks her cheeks

(lined hard and precisely)

for rouge.

 

And her bust

(neither roundly

nor high)

is outlined

defined

so very poorly

with tight sweaters

that she wears

for attention

and denial

for she swears

she was once a size six.

 

Then she speaks like the thunder,

on the verge of a scream

on the verge of obscene

and she cackles at will

at nothing as funny as a light bulb gone bad

or a dream for that matter

since it is that, you know,

these dreams that we have

are so terribly sad

and dim.

 

And of course there’s no fault

in herself that she has

that’s so easy to tame as her hair,   

or forget with a beer

or two.

No fault at all.

(Can’t you tell by the way

that she holds her hips

and the way that she sips

her drink

and

her fingers how slim and together they are?)

There’s no fault, not at all

but for so much in others

not so polished

nor so privileged

nor as lovely as she.

 

Posted in

Greg Moglia, 11/28/2016

Current Occupation: Retired
Former Occupation: Teacher at Public Schools, Professor at NYU
Contact Information: Greg Moglia is a veteran of 27 years as Adjunct Professor of Philosophy of Education at N.Y.U and 37 years as a high school teacher of Physics and Psychology. His poems have been accepted in over 300 journals in the U.S., Canada, England, India, Australia,Sweden, Austria and Belgium as well as five anthologies. He lives in Huntington, N.Y.

 

#

THE GAME TELLS YOU

 

You’re a pro…you do your job…you give what’s needed

Then one day…you come up a bit short…you mess up

Another day you screw up what you have done well for years

 

Makes you think…what’s changed?

Then a kid comes along

Does what you did so well for so long

 

Tell yourself…he’s a kid…won’t keep it up

But he does and it’s quicker…stronger

An the old-timer says The game tells you

 

You think… so what, sure the kid wins out

Great, I say to him, so what’s left – death?

You die…your done

 

The old timer But death isn’t just death

What the hell does that mean?

The other day a woman offers me

 

Her seat on the subway

I glance at my reflection in the window

I thank her and  smoothy…take the seat

 

No living death for me

 

Posted in

Brandon Getz, 11/21/2016

Current Occupation: Freelance Editor
Former Occupation: Barista
Contact Information: Brandon Getz has an MFA in fiction writing from the Inland Northwest Center for Writers in Spokane, WA. His work has appeared in Versal, Burrow Press Review, The Delmarva Review, and other journals. He lives, writes, and draws robot cartoons in Pittsburgh, PA. Read more at www.brandongetz.com

 

#

Memo to the X9 Sales Team

To: Safe-D-Tech LLC X9 Sales Division

From: Marcy Clooney, Vice Director of Sales and Solutions

Re: New X9 Features and Upgrades

 

Good morning, everybody! Happy Monday! I just want to address some of the questions and concerns that have been floating around our little office regarding the new X-series model, the best we’ve ever offered here at Safe-D-Tech LLC: the safe and indestructible X9! I want to assure you that the concussive disabling system, though it struggled a little in the beta phase, has been 100% redesigned and is functioning to its maximum potential. I know we’re all very sorry about what happened to Roger in the Testing Lab (I know I am!). There’s a card for his family at the security desk, and we encourage everyone to sign their name and a brief message to his wife and kids. We are very sorry for their loss.

    Regarding the infrared targeting feature now standard on the X9 models, yes, there are still some kinks to work out. As you know, the X9 is programmed with the individual heat signatures of each of its clients. The X9 remains vigilant night and day for heat signatures that do not match those on file in its client-exception database. What a great feature! Allison, don’t you agree that this feature is pretty amazing, that technology like this—right here at Safe-D-Tech LLC—exists? Well, of course you don’t, because you’ve been suggesting to families interested in the X9 to opt out of this amazing feature because you’re concerned that there will be another Cincinnati Incident. That was one bad apple, Allison. That was one bad infrared targeting system. Actually, it was a great infrared targeting system. It was the best. But how was it to know that the teenage son was a smoker? How could it know that the lighter flame wasn’t part of an Intruder-Terrorist heat signature bent on massacring the family it was built to protect? The X9 can’t know that (wouldn’t it be great if we had that technology!). Instead of telling prospective clients about the Cincinnati Incident (which, we’re pretty sure, you signed a legal document stating you’d never mention it?) and crying in front of frightened families in need of safe and reliable home security, Allison, we suggest that you strongly urge X9 buyers to quit smoking. For their own health and safety.

    There have also been some concerns about the fortification upgrades and self-implanting defensive protocols. What an improvement from the X8! These features are the hallmark of Safe-D-Tech LLC security and defense systems! What was the limitation of an X8 system? Answer: that it could only be in one place at any time. (If a client asks, however, there are no limitations to any X-series system—Sales Representatives commenting on the limitations of Safe-D-Tech LLC merchandise might find themselves with extra—read: infinite—vacation days! Ha-ha) With the updated fortification and defensive protocols, the X9 can secure an entire perimeter from potential burglars, Intruder-Terrorist elements, pest infestations—anything that doesn’t match the pre-encoded client-exception patterns in the X9’s database of Approved Persons. Andrew and Gretchen, we understand your concern for the well-being of family pets! Pets are amazing and can really make a house a home. I myself used to have a bulldog named Trevor, and I loved his fat little face! However, at this time, we recommend that all clients who are serious about the health and safety of their families remove pets from their homes prior to X9 installation.

    To Jennifer, who accused her hardworking colleagues on the Safe-D-Tech LLC Sales and Solutions team of “exploiting a culture of paranoia” to sell “deathbots”: Jennifer, I’m sorry you feel/felt that way! Safe-D-Tech LLC is 110% committed to the health and safety of our clients, providing peace of mind as well as thirty-seven lethal and nonlethal solutions of neutralizing Intruder-Terrorist elements, each of which can be personalized according to the unique Programmable Presets we offer in the Personalization Package! Jennifer, have you or your loved ones ever been harmed? Has your home ever been violated by a person or persons intent on perpetrating some terrible thing? Have you lain awake at night in the fear that they may strike at any moment, undermining the safety and happiness of your family, for which you have spent a significant (but competitive, based on our market analysis) amount of your hard-earned dollars? We at Safe-D-Tech LLC do not want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud. Unless, of course, the client has selected the nuclear upgrade for his or her brand new X9.

    Jennifer, however, isn’t reading this memo because she recently received a long-overdue transfer from Sales to the Testing Lab. There’s a card for her family at the security desk, and we encourage everyone to sign their name and a brief message to her parents and husband. We are very sorry for their loss.

    For those of you who’ve been asking about the X10, let me assure you: it’s going to be great! Even more standard features than the X9, including customizable armor painting to match any home interior. I’d tell you all more, but I wouldn’t want to ruin the surprise! Also, legally, I can’t. Suffice to say, vis-à-vis warehouse capacity and profit-margin paradigms and market share re: the market of automated home-security and defense systems, our team has to step it up! Get those X9s out there! Sell your hearts out! Don’t even worry about the X10. The X10 will sell itself.

 

Posted in

Vincent Casaregola, 11/14/2016

Current Occupation: College Teacher
Former Occupation(s): Organizational and Technical Writer, High School Teacher, Government Worker, Sales Clerk, Factory Worker, Food Service Worker
Contact Information:  Vincent Casaregola teaches literature, film, and writing courses at Saint Louis University.  He has published poetry and nonfiction in a number of different journals, including The Examined Life, Natural Bridge, WLA, and 2River.  He also writes about film and cultural issues and is currently working on a book that examines how film has represented business and labor.

 

#

The Carbon Content

 

(For my father and his generation)

 

It was a steel town then–

steel, cars, and chemicals–

where men who'd survived

depression, then war,

forged pigs and ingots

and fashioned them into cars.

The morning air smelled

of sulphurous hell and prosperity.

Some ad-man had called it

"the best location in the nation,"

but the steel men paid him no mind.

They had work, neighborhoods,

children, wives, and

tools in the basement.

They drank Black Label at the VFW,

smoked and argued at the union halls,

and panelled a rathskeller as a hideaway.

 

On odd nights,

they might wake at 3:00 a.m.,

to the creak of the house settling,

to the groan of the furnace in winter.

Then sleep would not return,

and they'd recall the ones lost

across continents, across oceans–

names, faces fading from memory

as from old newspapers.

Even now, death was no stranger–

on the job a missed step, lost balance,

could send a man into the inferno.

They joked grimly of the carbon content

added to the molten mix–

the union paid for the funerals.

Afterwards, in private, each man

looked at his own hands,

the carbon under every finger nail,

knew himself to be chemicals, elemental.

 

#

How My Office Is Used

 

[In response to the Central Administration’s request for a usage analysis of all space on campus.]

 

My office contains approximately

1,440 cubic feet of air, of which

18 percent, or thereabouts,

is oxygen that, when I am in,

I breathe, leaving behind,

unfortunately for the global

temperature, some CO2.

 

Within that air I move,

sometimes by walking,

sometimes by rolling my chair,

sometimes by climbing, usually

climbing to seek a book

on a high shelf and at my height

most shelves are high.

 

I also stand still in the office

or sit still, except that

I am still moving in some

subtle way, like typing, or

writing, or reading and that

requiring at least that I move

my eyes back and forth,

and of course all these require

that I go on breathing.

 

I speak in the office, often

on the telephone and usually

that is my own cell phone,

and sometimes I speak with

people who visit–my students,

other people's students, my

colleagues, all of whom come in

from time to time to seek

something–perhaps they think

I am wise and they need wisdom,

or that I am knowing and they need

knowledge, or perhaps they may just

need to be talking so that they

equalize the pressure in their souls

that otherwise might expand

too rapidly and do some damage.

 

In the office I write, often

at my keyboard and sometimes

on office tablets and sometimes

on small index cards–the cards,

which I purchase myself, I carry

in my shirt pocket, and I never

wear a shirt without a pocket.

 

In my office I read books

and articles, and poems,

and letters, and emails, and

discourses strange and magical

that give me hope that winged

creatures like to view me

as I read, winged creatures

small and silent who hide on

the highest shelves that I

find so difficult to reach.

 

I sometimes eat in my office,

but my meals are simple,

sandwiches brought from home,

an apple or an orange, sometimes

a granola bar–I keep a box

for emergencies in one drawer–

sometimes, when my stomach cramps,

or when I feel the need to be

young again, sometimes even

a small bag of animal crackers,

known as an antidote for stomach ills,

as well as for the darkness of the soul.

 

Sometimes I just sit in my office,

and I try to be at peace with the space–

I listen for the stories that the space

has to tell me, listen for the minute

tragedies and triumphs it has witnessed,

for what even the hard-hearted concrete,

above and below me, was once moved

to hear, concrete now scarred

by sad stories, concrete with a memory

of loss and a wish to write elegies.

 

Sometimes, on Saturdays,

I bring my youngest daughter to the office,

and I must confess that she breathes

just as I do, but not quite as much,

being small–I must confess that

she probably giggles too much

as she hides beneath my desk

and speaks with several of her

most select and intimate plush toys,

especially a penguin and a pig,

both of whom are said to breathe

but use no oxygen in doing so.

 

This Saturday use is possibly

inefficient, perhaps beyond the standard

use analysis prescribed for such space,

but I am convinced that on a cost-benefit basis

it is worth the small expense of air,

since the laughter inspired

by innocence and imagination

can actually revitalize concrete,

so saddened with its years of daily use,

so convinced by Friday night

that it is not worth going on

supporting the multifaceted folly

that floor by floor increases the gravity,

increases the load that must be borne.

You see, the introduction into

enclosed space of a single

bouyant soul can actually increase

the life-span of the structure,

making the concrete

want to go on living.

 

#

A New York Minute

 

    As his foot descended from the curb to the asphalt, he sensed his mistake.  But momentum carried him forward, even as, glancing to his left, he saw the cab approaching. Involuntarily, his left hand, holding the cell, pushed toward the vehicle in a futile gesture of protection.  That is why the phone soon arced into the air, to land at a child’s feet, five yards distant.  By then, he had moved forward, and the cab had struck his left hip, whipping him across the hood, smashing his shoulder on the windshield that instantly became a webwork of tiny cracks. His feet twirled upward, the right shoe sailing into an even higher arc—its tassel would brush the cheek of a woman down the block. By then he had been turned round to land behind the cab, head first—suddenly dead and with only one shoe.

 

 

Posted in

Charles Rammelkamp, 11/7/2016

Current Occupation: Retired
Former Occupation: Technical Writer and Teacher
Contact Information: I am the Prose Editor for  BrickHouse Books, in Baltimore.  Also I edit an online literary journal called the Potomac – not that I make a dime from either of these activities, so they fall into that limbo of hobby/work.  Not sure where writing falls in that limbo since I do sell the occasional copy of published books.  Speaking of which, my latest, MATA HARI: EYE OF THE DAY, was published in 2015 by Apprentice House (Loyola University), and another, AMERICAN ZEITGEIST, is forthcoming from Apprentice House as well.

 

#

Bartender

 

“Hello, I’m from the Kelly Girl temp agency. They sent me here to bartend a party?” I never know how to introduce myself without sounding like a fraud, as if the job might just be a practical joke on me, as if Marge had sent me chasing after a wild goose. Bartending at a New Year’s Eve party at an Elks Club? Really?

“Come to the right place. Name’s Gray, Dale Gray. I’m the manager. Just call me Dale.”

I told him my name but he already had a nickname for me, Highpockets.  Wasn’t that some old-fashioned moniker for a tall person? I’m not even six feet. Maybe he just had a name he wanted to use. I’ve been called worse.

“Gene, Marilee, Jimbo, this is Highpockets. He’s filling in tonight for Bruce. Bruce is sick, dammit. Called in this morning.”

It was a busy night. I’d never actually bartended before, but I knew the basic recipes – highballs, Manhattans, Martinis, beer, shots – and what I didn’t know I asked Gene, who was helpful, seemed to get a charge out of showing me the ropes. He was a fast-moving little bald guy who seemed to always be catching up with himself. “Behind you with the glasses!” he’d call, in case somebody made a move and bumped into him, breaking the freshly washed glasses.

Toward midnight, Pinkie, a drunk little middle-aged woman who’d been sloshing Seven-and-Sevens all night long, started singing a song from her high school. “Shelbyville, Shelbyville, you are it! ‘S-h’ for ‘Shelbyville’ and ‘i-t’ for ‘it.’” Then she’d laugh and chug her drink and start all over.

“Don’t mind Pinkie,” Gene whispered to me. “She’s just feelin’ her oats.”

Pinkie’s husband Ted was the Grand Wazir or whatever they called him, the head guy who donned the helmet with the antlers (I figured him for a cuckold anyway) and led the solemn pledge during the Hour of the Elk, at eleven PM, before the party wound down. Members were generally pretty cocky, treating the waitresses and bartenders like servants – the privileges of membership – but Pinkie seemed especially self-confident, uninhibited, and she sidled up to Dale Gray as if she were the lady of the plantation flirting with the overseer, like some Gothic scene out of Faulkner, building him up while putting him in his place.

“Shelbyville, Shelbyville, you are it,” Pinkie began again, nuzzling into Gray’s chest, the aroma of perfume and alcohol poofing out at all of us behind the bar.

The dance band that evening was called Cliff Gee and the Outlaws. They were pretty pathetic, botching songs halfway through, out of tune, unrehearsed. Several of the Elks complained, many rolled their eyes.

After midnight, an hour after the sacred oath, the new year already getting older, the night coming to a close, Pinkie’s fragrance still in his nose, her touch still on his chest, Dale Gray swaggered over to the band and ordered, “You guys get lost, why don’t you? You’re embarrassing.”

Cliff, the shaggy mountain of a bandleader, insulted at being so summarily dismissed, humiliated in front of everybody, bellowed back, “I’m going to kick your ass way into February, Dale Gray, you little piece of shit.” But he and the others packed up their instruments and equipment and headed for the door.

Cliff whirled around and pointed again at Dale. “I’m going to beat the living shit out of you, Gray!” he threatened.

“‘S-h’ for ‘Shelbyville’ and ‘i-t’ for ‘it’!”

Gray came over to where the bartenders were breaking down the bar, capping bottles, washing the last glasses, wiping down the bar, putting away the condiments., sweeping the floor.

“You better be out there and ready to rumble if there’s any trouble,” Gray snarled. “That means you, too, Highpockets.”

Of course, the parking lot was empty when we all turned off the lights and left the club, half an hour later, but it left me wondering where my duties as a Kelly Girl ended and where my loyalties lay. I’m a separate-peace kind of guy, and Gray could have treated Cliff a lot more graciously, I’d thought.

 

Posted in

Cameron Gorman, 10/31/2016

Current Occupation: Student Reporter and Resume Reviser
Former Occupation: Department Store Salesperson, Coffee Maker
Contact Information: Cameron Gorman is a student at Kent State University in Ohio, majoring in Journalism. She spends nearly all of her free time writing poetry and prose- when she's not working.

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soft

 

At the office

I want to be respectable

 

So I wear flat shoes,

 

I feel like an orb

A soft mass in a fragile,

hard shell, a white and chalky oval.

 

One wrong thing I say-

Maybe if I don't say enough-

I will puncture and spill, come splitting out,

 

Vibrant and sickly,

gel and yolk of yellow anxiousness,

my facade crashing down,

leaving nothing but a memory of the unmarred ivory

that might have been

stone.

 

Posted in

West Gipson, 10/24/2016

Current Occupation: Student and Tutor
Former Occupation: Barista
Contact Information: West Gipson is a student, writer, and activist currently living in Towson, MD. West is the product of a scientist, a school counselor, and Washington, DC, where she was born, and where she plans on returning. Living in DC has heavily influenced West, who attended her first protest at five years old. West is a dedicated writer and passionate activist who is particularly interested in the intersection between fiction and politics. West has been previously published in Potluck Mag and Mobius Literary Journal.

 

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To Whom it May Concern

Amanda Little

1438 16th St NW

Washington, DC

 

January 13th, 2098

FDA Headquarters, White Oak, MD

Commissioner Nguyen

 

To Whom it May Concern:

 

    This letter will serve as my formal resignation from my post as senior research scientist on the Sexual Misconduct Chemical Solutions project, which I have been working on for thirty-one years. I am leaving the FDA for reasons I will explain later in this letter. I am not giving two weeks notice. I have packed my important possessions from my station and do not intend to ever return.

    I understand this may come as somewhat of a shock to the administration, especially Commissioner Nguyen, with whom I have worked closely for many years. Therefore I have decided to explain, as best I can, my reasons for leaving, in the hope that some of my truth may resonate with others and potentially lead to the disbandment of the project. I will admit I am pessimistic about this, but I know if I do not attempt to explain myself, I will regret it terribly in the future.

    When I was first appointed to the task force which would later create the SMCS project, I had high hopes for what I saw as a worthy cause. The shift, however brief it may have been, away from punishment for criminals and towards rehabilitation was a promising one. I had always been more inclined towards rehabilitation myself. After my internship at the FDA learning about drugs related to sexual intercourse, in accordance with my degrees in human sexuality and psychopharmacology, I was immediately recruited for a new project – the goal of which was to attempt to create a drug which would rehabilitate sexual offenders. Myself and my team then spent the next two years developing the drug now known as antico, taken from its nickname as the “Anti-Coitus Solution.” It did well in animal studies, and we followed to closely monitored human trials. The drug was a success and was soon being administered to sexual offenders as a way to prevent repeat offenses. Antico’s effect was simple: take away all sexual impulses.

    I was proud of my project, my team, and antico itself. We felt that we were contributing to a worthy cause. After the trials, it quickly became standard practice for prisons to administer antico to sexual offenders. The prevalence of sexual offenses decreased rapidly.

    I was the youngest person on my team, and, in fact, the youngest person to have been hired by the FDA as a full-time research scientist. I was very bright as a kid, skipping several grades at once and finishing college at eighteen. During my time as an intern, I became fascinated by the FDA’s goal, or at least as I saw it at the time. I believed that I could make a true difference there. I set my ambitions high, and was rewarded with this powerful position in the government headquarters.

    All was well for several years. Although I oversaw the team that created antico, and was the leader on the SMCS project, when another task force was created to deal with the intricacies of antico’s distribution, I was not invited to join this task force. Instead it was made up by people who had no experience with the SMCS project. I also learned quickly that their goals were very different from ours.

    I watched as antico became not only a rehabilitory drug, but a preventative one as well, something which it was not developed for. The progress made in genetic testing in the late 70’s also came with a belief that it was possible to find the gene for any trait at all. I was never entirely convinced of this. Supposedly the gene for sexual misconduct was found. I was horrified to discover that during routine genetic testing on fetuses, if the “sexual misconduct” gene was found, then once the fetus was born they would begin administering antico on the children. Antico was not developed for children, and the side effects, which ranged from genital mutilation to chronic mental illness, were doubly negative.

    I optimistically and naively assumed this was only a momentary blip, and that once the side effects were understood as unacceptable, the practice of administering antico on young children would be wholly abandoned. However, this did not occur, and, in fact, the administration of the drug found new patients.

    When the AIDs scare of the 80’s came about, I watched in horror as the whole thing was, wrongly, blamed on homosexuality. This was a snap judgment which many people, such as myself, were skeptical of. What followed, as you know, was a mass administration of the drug to all people suspected of being homosexual. I voiced my concerns to many coworkers, including you, Commissioner Nguyen, but they were not heeded. The culture of fear enveloped our country so entirely that sympathy with homosexuals was equated with not caring about the health of our country. At this point I attempted to distance myself from antico, while my coworkers enjoyed the publicity. Ad campaigns convinced the public that antico was a necessary addition to our lives. It was presented as as integral to human survival as Vitamin C.

    And then as quickly as the press came it left. The ads stopped because they were no longer needed. Antico use spread to all persons as it was decided that human sexuality itself – even in its most basic form as procreation – was the enemy. Americans, shockingly, did not seem to care enough to question the drug at all. To this day I remain confused and scared by this reaction. Uncomfortable though I remained, I watched the world drug itself into asexuality from the comfort of my office as one of the highest-paid employees at the FDA.

    It was at this point that the guilt set in. It set in and did not leave. I sought comfort from coworkers but was disappointed every time. They believed that our mission had not changed and that antico remained a good thing, despite the changes in its administration. Why my coworkers, who I have always regarded as intelligent, creative, and sensible, were so passive in these changes continues to escape me. It was at this point that I realized things had changed for the worse and I could no longer with good conscious participate in the SMCS project.

    My personal life, which I was generally able to separate clearly from work, has become increasingly endangered in recent years. I can no longer assume that it is safe. For these reasons I am forced to resign.

    I’m not foolish. I know what happens to those who leave and to those who critique the state. I have taken my spouse and we are fleeing. You will not be able to find us and you will never hear from me again.

May you wake up before it’s too late.

 

Amanda Little

Lead Researcher SMCS Project

Federal Drug Administration

 

 

Posted in

Carl Wade Thompson, 10/17/2016

Current Occupation: Graduate Programs Writing Tutor
Former Occupation: Janitor/Meat Packer/Waste Disposal/Fork Life Operator
Contact Information: Carl Wade Thompson is a poet and graduate programs writing tutor at Texas Wesleyan University. His work often focuses on his manual labor experiences.

 

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The Appearance of Work

 

A janitor, I’m busy,

always busy—appear busy,

outside looking in.

Vacuuming halls, cleaning desks,

doing something to myself.

Best lesson learned,

being busy, they leave me alone;

teachers, principals, students.

No one wants to interrupt,

‘cept for emergencies,

flooded toilets, coffee spills,

the usual school day shit.

Left alone, I’m in control,

my own damn boss.

I do my thing, get to work.

Sometimes, I feel free,

Not always—its fleeting,

a dream let loose,

like grasping ether;

smoke strands string along.

I follow the whispy trail,

dust mop in hand.

Sweep up the pieces,

the bell rings—

I’m back.

That’s work,

dreams often break.

 

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Repetition

 

Repetitive—word of the day,

week, month, year,

learn it, live it, through and through,

especially in a meat packing plant.

I trimmed and cut beef,

12 hours a day,

six days of week.

Cold, freezing cold, work,

takes my breath away.

I’ll admit, I’m good at it,

never been good at nothing,

but cutting meat, I’m good.

Thirty years gave me that skill,

that and arthritis,

carpal tunnel syndrome,

ears ringing all day, all night,

no relief.

Every day is the same,

the only difference,

when will my mind break?

Please not now, eight hours in.

Wait until the final horn,

when the last person leaves.

Wait, please wait for the parking lot,

‘till I see late night stars.

Then, and only then,

can you hear my screams.
 

 

 

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