Gary Beck, 10/10/2016

Current Occupation: I am currently a writer
Former Occupation: I was formerly a director/playwrite.
Contact Information: Gary Beck has spent most of his adult life as a theater director, and as an art dealer when he couldn’t make a living in theater. He has 11 published chapbooks and 3 more are accepted for publication. His poetry collections include: Days of Destruction (Skive Press), Expectations (Rogue Scholars Press). Dawn in Cities, Assault on Nature, Songs of a Clerk, Civilized Ways, Displays, Perceptions (Winter Goose Publishing), Fault Lines, Perturbations, Rude Awakenings, The Remission of Order and Tremors will be published by Winter Goose Publishing. Conditioned Response (Nazar Look). Resonance (Dreaming Big Publications). His novels include: Extreme Change (Cogwheel Press), Call to Valor (Gnome on Pigs Productions), Acts of Defiance (Artema Press). Flawed Connections (Black Rose Writing), Sudden Conflicts by Lillicat Publishers and State of Rage by Rainy Day Reads Publishing. His short story collection, A Glimpse of Youth (Sweatshoppe Publications). Now I Accuse and other stories will be published by Winter Goose Publishing. His original plays and translations of Moliere, Aristophanes and Sophocles have been produced Off Broadway. His poetry, fiction and essays have appeared in hundreds of literary magazines. He currently lives in New York City.

#

The Builders are Departing

Citizens go about their business
trading stocks,
dealing drugs,
building weapons,
with little concern
for the future,
assuming others
will do the chores
to maintain the nation
preserve society
so another generation
might have opportunity,
rapidly diminishing
in a troubled land.

#
Labor Pool

People walk the streets
intent on destinations,
many hurry
afraid of being late
to tenuous job
in a time of insecurity,
bosses demanding efforts
with threats of outsourcing
where workers eagerly
toil for less money,
no benefits,
grateful for employment
their needs no different
than in other lands,
families must be provided for,
children must be fed,
educated
so their tomorrows
will be better than
struggling parents
striving to endure
natural disasters
arbitrary inflictions
of careless oligarchs.

#

All Shoppers Are Brothers

Degrees of difference
still exist
between holders of dollars
and holders of euros,
while the vast gap
separating nations
is being bridged
by the internet,
the variance in usage
determined by money,
soon to be erased 
by on-line shopping.

John Grey, 10/3/2016

Current Occupation: Retired
Previous Occupation:  Financial Systems Analyst
Contact Information: Australian born poet, US resident since late seventies. Worked as financial systems analyst. Recently published in Coe Review, Abbey and Cemetery Moon with work upcoming in South Carolina Review, Gargoyle and Harbinger Asylum.

 

#

THE DAY BEFORE THE NEWS BREAKS

On the factory floor,
complete ignorance continues
to churn out screws or are those circuit boards
or even television sets.

The company's been sold.
The new owners plan to move all operations south
where willing hands will do the same work
for half the price.

Down below,
there's a cross section of those
who have no clue what's going on –
the guy that just celebrated his 40th anniversary 
is welding frames;
the kid who only started this month
is running up metal stairs clutching a stack of mail;
the young woman in the dye shop
can't bear to think what the chemicals
are doing to her lungs.

But that's the unaware for you,
they do their job
as if it's as secure
as the nuts and bolts they make,
with as much of a future
as those snazzy smart phones.

Ina far corner,
a guy still wields
an acetylene torch,
blasts a hole in the surrounding shadows.
That flame's bright as the future
they all think they’ve got coming.
 

#

ON SECOND SHIFT

The parking lot is calm tonight.
Volkswagens sit comfortably with Mercedes.
The lights still fail to illuminate every corner
but the gates are secured
and the guards scrutinize
every movement
from their high tower.
The thugs will not get by on their watch.

Inside, the people sweat and swear
and whine about the little they make.
The managers sit behind closed office doors,
popping pills,
balancing their checkbooks.
Backstabbing, weariness,
wincing at loud machinery,
breathing heavy fumes,
it doesn't stop 'til midnight.
Sure, there's cameras in high corners
filming the whole process
but who watches.

The guards' charge is to make sure
the cars are safe.
For people can never be safe.
Yet still the company drives them.
 

Tom Cracovaner, 9/19/2016

Current Occupation: Real Estate Agent
Former Occupation: (inspiration for this story) Delivery Driver
Contact Information: Tom Cracovaner is a poet, fiction author and songwriter. He is an Honors College graduate from the University of Arizona and has been published in SandScript Literary Magazine, The Blue Guitar Magazine, Painted Cave and was named a finalist in the Tucson Festival of Books Literary Awards fiction competition.

 

#

SANDWICHES, SWEAT AND QUARTERS

I walked into the back of the sandwich shop.  “Ok Matt, you got one for the hospital, one on Farness Road, and one for Mr. Alexander,”  I heard my boss shout from the front. My left hand clasped by my empty bucket, and I used my right shoulder to wipe the sweat off my forehead where it had collected in between my eyebrows and my navy blue Wildcats hat.  I hoped to make as many deliveries as possible; rent was due this week and I didn’t have time to work the longer shift because I also needed to finish one of my ten page papers for college.

I stuffed my blue leather money pouch down into my right pocket so it wouldn’t fall out. That would be a bummer.  I adjusted my shorts so as not to sag and reveal my moist boxer shorts to my coworkers and boss. I felt the tinging of the coins and the abrasiveness of the zipper scrape against my leg through the thin worn pockets underneath my elastic shorts. I stepped further into the sanctum of the cavernous kitchen, and I felt the rubber on the bottom of my shoes stick and release with each step. The smell of grilling onions and peppers woke me up from the daze of heat and tiredness.

“Are there any fryers on this batch?” I asked my boss, the steady mastermind behind the operation. He pensively shuffled the order tickets in his palms and looked down at the brown paper bags of near ready orders awaiting delivery, ballpoint pens above his ears, a modern day sandwich Hermes, the god of sandwich delivery.

“No, but I need a Dr. Pepper, Sprite and a medium Diet Coke,” he said.  I sprang towards the soda dispenser, which neighbored the deep fryer and was nearby to the tiny Otis Spunkmeyer oven, empty since the morning’s sweet smelling batch.  I filled the waxy paper cups with the soft crushed ice and then the soda and capped them to show completion of the task and to gain approval from John, my burly boss.

“Thanks, “he said. “And make sure to take the one to Farness first, they have been waiting for over an hour.”

Fucking great, I thought. The doctor’s office at Farness was already one of the worst tippers we delivered to, and now the food was going to be over an hour late. I hoped for good tips today.

I slowly picked up the tickets, instantly made soggy by my hands, and glanced enough to see that the unit I would be delivering to at the hospital was unit 500. I breathed quicker than normal and wondered what I would say to her and I how I would say it.

“Hey there, pretty lady.”

“Hi.” I imagined her blushing and smiling at me coyly.

“What do you say you and I go out to dinner?” I would ask her with perfection.

“I would love to — ”

“Matt. Let’s get going.” My boss’ harsh command snapped me out of my daydream.

Well, however the conversation with the hottie in my daydreams would go and whether or not it would end up with her back at my place, she was about my age and the sweetest and most beautiful unit clerk in the entire hospital. I put my thoughts about her away for a moment and filled up my bucket and turned to my boss. “All right, John,” I said. “See you in a bit.”

“Say hi to Mr. Alexander for me!” John said. John had the kind of sarcasm that made me cringe, but was always funny. I smirked and rolled my eyes at John and I waddled out the back door with my bucket full of food.

Mr. Alexander was probably the worst tipper of all the customers we had, and everyone at the sandwich shop knew it. Although a very nice old guy, he missed out completely on the proper etiquette of tipping. Whenever he ordered his chicken sandwich without onions (or Chk O- as John would scribble on the ticket each time Mr. Alexander ordered), the total would come to $5.05 with tax. Without fail, this famed customer would write a check for the exact amount of $5.05, signed Mr. Alexander and proceed to hand one of us delivery drivers a shiny quarter for our troubles.

This man was kind, thankful and very sincere with his daily quarter, but to us, it was a slap in the face, because the gas, time and energy it took us to deliver to him was not worth the effort. He was on the very edge of our delivery zone, so the time elapsed to make one delivery to Mr. Alexander was equivalent to three deliveries made closer to the restaurant.  He was retired and he seemed pretty wealthy, but a quarter was always his tip. A delivery to Mr. Alexander was a death knell for the day’s tips.

Perhaps his most redeeming quality was that he was, in fact, at one point a doctor, but didn’t insist on being called doctor. He was simply Mr. Alexander. I despised his weak tips, but his humility was refreshing to me and he reminded me a little of my grandpa who had just passed away in the spring.

My grandpa was wealthy just like Mr. Alexander, and also just as humble. I grew up without a father, and it was my grandpa who helped my mother out financially during some rough spots. He guided me when I needed it. He even tutored me in math, which helped me earn a scholarship for college. My whole family was disappointed when my grandpa died, because they expected to cash in on a huge inheritance, but it turned out that he left it all for homeless shelters, soup kitchens and wildlife conservation funds. I just missed my grandpa.    

I hopped into my rusty Chevy Nova and then scooted the food bucket to the passenger’s side so I could ignite my car’s engine. The engine fired up, the radio shot back on and the bumper music to Jim Rome’s “The Jungle,” or more specifically Iggy pop’s anthem “Lust for Life,” pounded through the car and out the car’s open windows.  Everyone I knew thought I was crazy riding my car with the windows rolled down on a hundred and five day. It was standard operating procedure for me. I just had to remember in all my tiredness not to touch any skin to metal.

The Nova did have a working air conditioner, but because of the quickness of each delivery and the time it took to cool the boat-like automobile was longer than the time in between successive stops, it was without purpose to even attempt air conditioner use. In addition, the running air conditioner reduced the MPG from a sensible twelve to a feeble eight and a half. With the rent due at the end of the week, gas was unaffordable at those rates, so I used the second best option. Sweat on my arms, face, and neck were gradually cooled by the relaxing hundred plus degree air bursting through my four open windows.

I liked listening to sports talk on the radio during my delivery shift because of the humor that broke up the monotony of the consecutive alternation between stopping, going and the logarithmical navigation of the city’s crowded lunchtime streets. My grandpa had a great sense of humor and I often thought that it was his hilarity and wittiness that made him such a great businessman. My mom often drew comparisons between my grandpa and me, but I liked to think that I was different.

I pulled up to the fairly empty parking lot in the medical complex on Farness road. The trees swayed in the hot wind and an elderly woman walked with a shiny metal walker and the help of her middle aged daughter. I noticed how attractive the landscaping was; the row of Texas Rangers was nicely trimmed in a long rounded shape and the Mexican birds of paradise were in full bloom with their reds and oranges of glory. I entered through the ornate wooden door splashed to the right and left with doctors’ names and certifications in black bold letters on the adjacent clear glass.

“Hi, you must be here with the doctors’ sandwiches!” the receptionist said. She had a hairstyle in fashion with my seventy-nine model year car and the bright orange dye she used on it signaled she was holding fast to that year and to her fleeted youth.

“Yep. It will be $19.52. A cheesesteak, Albuquerque Turkey and a Cobb Salad. Also an order of fries and a medium Diet Coke,” I said.

“Ok. Here are your checks.” I glanced down to see three checks each from a person with MD following their last names. I used my rain man like mental math skills and quickly totaled the checks in my head. I arrived at $20.11. Well, the total bill had been covered. I feigned a smile and glanced back up at the receptionist. “Thanks, ma’am. It’s all here. Have a nice day,” I said.

“You too. See you later,” she said, unaware of the crime she just helped to commit against delivery drivers everywhere.

For whatever reason, doctors tipped horribly. All other professions, whether they were accountants, retail workers, lawyers, or printers, tipped in the range of two or three dollars for a regular delivery, and much more on orders in the twenty plus range, but doctors seemed to round up to the nearest dollar, meaning tips were often in the cents. My choice of major at college was still undeclared and I wondered if I should begin logging my tips in a spreadsheet.  I could calculate my average tips based on profession and include the results as a metric for my selection process.

This decision was hard for me. I needed any rational data I could get my hands on. I wasn’t sleeping well and I was so annoyed with the pros and cons of it all that I played video games for hours every evening. I knew I was gifted in math and in the sciences, and most other subjects, but I had no passion or desire for any of them.  My mom wanted me to study business and follow in the ways of my Grandpa, but I wasn’t sure what was right for me.  I wondered what my grandpa would want me to choose.

Sandwiched in between the “alleged” tip I just got from the office on Farness and the inevitable quarter dollar I would receive at the well kept property of the retired Mr. Alexander was the nurses’ station on unit 500 of the hospital. Nurses were by far the best tippers of any profession and this order was for $41.36. This middle order could save this otherwise pathetic delivery route.

I tried to perfect the exact words I would say to get the girl of my dreams. If only my physics class at the university could teach me how to be smooth with hot ladies.  

Jen had soft brown hair flowing to her shoulders, was petite but wiry strong and had an angelic face that helped me escape the hell hole of my automobile if only for a brief moment. In the Nova, the radio blared with Jim Rome’s interpretation of Mark Madsen’s championship dance. I was already with her, even though I still hadn’t even crossed Grant Road yet.

I looked forward to seeing her and to the tips I could receive at the nurses’ station. When I was almost there, a vagrant in a wheelchair jaywalked, which caused the driver in the van twenty five feet in front of me to slam on his breaks. I was lucky that I was immersed in fantasy and only traveling at nineteen miles per hour, because if I was driving the speed limit, my Nova would have made modern art in the medium of steel with the bumper on the van in front of me. I could not afford to have another car accident.

“Come on.” I slammed the brakes and skidded slightly and my balding tires sledded me to safety. I wasn’t mad that I almost had an accident, but I was upset that my daydream was interrupted once again. In a few minutes, I would really be gazing through the polycarbonate lenses of her thick framed glasses into the catchments of her eyes instead of pretending to, while actually peering through the cracking glass of my front windshield.

Emergency flashers are the delivery driver’s best friend. I pulled up to the hospital, I drove right up to the front of the building like I owned the place, in an area marked “No Parking,” and I flipped on my flashers. “Here it goes," I said out loud to pump myself up. It was time for the best tip of the route and time to ask out the pretty unit clerk. I straightened my hat in the off center rearview mirror, pulled my shirt up over my face and wiped the sweat off of it with the inside of my shirt.

I walked towards the grey desk in the central part of the hospital unit and took a deep breath, only to see that my crush was not sitting and smiling at me as I had imagined behind her cluttered desk. Instead, the other, elderly lesbian clerk sat there with intensity and a muted professional smile. She wore glasses as well, but they were thin and frail and lacked vitality. This clerk was also nice, but I was disappointed to see her. I was choked up, but I managed to shove out a half hearted greeting from somewhere in my sickening stomach. “How’s it going?  I have a delivery here for the nurses.”

“Great! I have the cash. Here you go.”  She handed me a stack of cash full of tens, fives and ones totaling sixty three dollars. They were all facing the same direction as she handed them to me and I gently slid them into my money pouch just in front of the measly checks scribbled with unreadable autographs from the thrifty doctors.  I instantly calculated my tip of $21.64.  

“Thanks,” I said. I was excited by the tip, but I took a slow deep breath and pressed my luck. “Where’s Jen?”

“Oh.” The clerk’s brow scrunched with surprise that her interaction with me was not transacted and over, especially considering the generous amount of money she had just forked over. “She’s on her lunch break.”

“Tell her I said hi.” I spoke with clarity and confidence to the somewhat bewildered clerk, so as to give the air of importance to my relationship with Jen; it was a foregone conclusion that she and I were already long time lovers, who just happened to temporarily misalign in respect to our schedules.

“Ok. I’ll let her know.” The elder clerk’s awkward smile left me unsure if my vital message would ever be received by its true recipient.

“Thanks. Have a good one.”

On the way to my final delivery at the humble doctor’s house, miles and miles away from where I was and miles from where I wanted to be, I thought about another missed opportunity to ask Jen out on a date. When would I get another chance?

I had seen her on campus once before, but I was on my way to class and I was fifteen minutes late. She was in a hurry too that day, so we only had time for an awkward hey how’s it goin’ and a wave as we sped in opposite directions.  Should I show up fifteen minutes late for class every time just to run in to her again? I wondered what major Jen had chosen. If I knew that, I could solve two problems at once and just sign up for the same major.

My best chance was to hope that the nurses on unit 500 would place an order again. And soon. The delivery wasn’t a total loss though. I was about twenty bucks closer to my rent check and in a few more miles I would be twenty five cents closer.

I pulled up on the side street off of Broadway where Mr. Alexander resided. His front yard looked impeccable. There wasn’t a single piece of gravel on the side walk and juxtaposed next to his neighbors’ weed filled yards, his space was weed free. The tall palms from the back of his property framed the street view and his well trimmed myrtles, oleanders and rose bushes in the front all flashed their flowers of summer. I thought back to my grandpa’s apple and peach trees and the way he kept his garden. I found peace in Mr. Alexander’s landscaping.

“The total for today’s sandwich is $5.05.”

“I have a check for that and here is something for you.”

“Thanks.  Have a good day.”  I accepted the inevitable quarter tip, but was frustrated with Mr. Alexander and with the harsh consistency of the tip. I wanted throw it into his face and tell him that he needed it more than I did, but I didn’t because for some reason I enjoyed the reward for the task completed. I remembered how my grandpa would give me bits of change for helping my mom with chores when I was a little kid. I smiled over my bitterness.

I walked back to my car down the concrete path in his front yard and tried not to step on any of the cracks, but I fumbled to put my pouch away, now a quarter heavier, and one of my shoes felt the edge of the poured concrete. It was time to hustle back to the restaurant to get more deliveries. I needed to get as many as I could get and as quickly as possible, and eventually finish my shift so I could go home and complete my ten page paper for my English class. I liked writing but was not in any mood for it. I probably shouldn’t have wasted all that time playing video games the past few nights.  I waved goodbye to Mr. Alexander and I opened the Nova’s heavy door. I looked up just in time to see a truck swerving down the side street right towards me.

 

When I woke up, I felt groggy and heard the hum of fluorescent lighting. Everything hurt. I had casts in multiple places and immediately I noticed an IV machine hooked up to my arm, pumping me back full of fluids and pain killing medicine. It was dark outside the window and reflections from the interior of the room bounced further inward; the whole room smelled of bleach.

“He’s awake!” I recognized that voice from somewhere. “Hey Matt, I got three more deliveries for you. Hahaha.” Oh yeah. That voice was my boss John. Despite his jokes, his presence comforted me.

“Hey John. Where am I?”

“The hospital. Room 524. And man are you lucky to be alive.”

“How bad is it?”

“Well, you broke some bones, nasty abrasions, bruised tissue and organs, nothing major.”

“Oh.”

“The doc said you’ll be fine.”

“Cool.”

“You sure are lucky Mr. Alexander was there to save your life.”

“Huh?”

“Mr Alexander…” John paused and instantly got serious. “The doctor said Mr. Alexander administered CPR, stopped bleeding from your wounds so you wouldn’t bleed out and even put one of your cracked bones back into place, all before the ambulance arrived. He saved your life.”

 

That evening, after hours of friendly visitors and conversations with family, friends and various medical staff, including a nice conversation with the attending doctor as well as with Mr. Alexander, I relaxed in bed and wondered if my teacher would grant me an extension on my paper or if my landlord would let me pay my rent late without me having to pay the extra late fee.  

I rubbed Mr. Alexander’s quarter between my fingers and thought about how I had offered twenty dollar tips from my blue leather money pouch sitting on my hospital bed nightstand to both my attending doctor and Mr. Alexander for their excellent service, and also how both of them had adamantly refused to accept my offers.

Even though delivery driving was not one of the majors offered at the university, it was definitely off of the list for future career choices.  Whatever my choice was, a mathematician, writer, scientist, businessman or whatever else, was unimportant. I would choose a life where I could help others and that was enough. I still missed talking with my grandpa, but knew that I didn’t need his advice for this decision. Or anyone else’s.  I thought about my chances with Jen and pictured her on the telephone at her desk smiling up at me and looking through her frames with desire.

After the other patient in room 524 at the hospital turned off his blaring TV and after the nurse helped me wash and get ready for sleep and after I finally started to settle in and get used to my surroundings and to the painful contraptions attached to me, I heard a familiar sweet voice, and this time it didn’t only exist in my head.

“Hi Matt. I say hi back.”

 

Joseph E. Fleckenstein, 9/12/2016

Current Occupation: Electrical Engineer
Former Occupation: Electrical Engineer
Contact Information: Joseph E. Fleckenstein has published over 30 items. The list includes articles in magazines, technical papers, online courses for professional engineers, a patent and, more recently, literary short stories in Prick of the Spindle, Story Shack, Out of the Gutter, Gravel and Down in the Dirt. In October, 2015 CRC Press published his 400 page, technical book Three Phase Electrical Power. Additional bio particulars may be viewed at his website www.WriterJEF.com.

 

#

A Subtle Play

Sitting in front of his computer, Eric Schuler started to nod. The afternoon was passing too slowly. He decided the situation warranted caffeine, perhaps much caffeine. In the lunch room he found the coffee pot that had been left empty by the last person to use it. He filled the coffee machine with water and, opening drawers, began searching for a fresh packet of coffee. Another development engineer, Mason Warner, who was also in need of coffee, came into the room. The two engineers had worked on several projects together and were well acquainted.

Eric was the younger of the two. He had graduated from engineering school five years ago. Eric was slender and of medium build. Although reserved in demeanor he was tough underneath. He kept in good physical condition by visiting a gym regularly and running several times a week. At Bricksen Hydraulics, Inc. he looked up to Mason much as he would to an older, wise brother.

Mason was older than Eric, a family man with a wife, a mortgage and grown children. He enjoyed beer as well as eating, and his profile showed it. Mason often took time to educate Eric on the Company’s product line. He pointed to the cabinets over the coffee machine.

“The coffee is up there. Pam moved it there the other day.”

Eric retrieved a packet and emptied it into the machine.

“It’ll be few minutes, but I’m waiting. I’m in need of a jolt. The stuff I’m doing is boring, although it does seem necessary. The late night party didn’t help matters. For sure I don’t want to be caught napping like Warren Beaton.”

“What do you mean? What happened to Warren? I noticed he hasn’t been at work for a day or two.”

“You didn’t know? Levan caught him sleeping in front of his computer. Shook him by the shoulder and gave him an ass-chewing. Told him to go home and do his sleeping there. He’s making him take a week off without pay.”

“No, I didn’t hear about that. As you might have noticed by now, people don’t talk to one another much around here. Nobody wants to be accused of gossiping on company time.”

Both watched the level slowly rise in the coffee pot. When the dripping stopped, each poured a cupful and sat at the nearest table. After taking a sip Mason looked at Eric.

“How long have you been with the Company?”

“A little more than two years. How about you?”

“Me? Eleven years – eleven long years. I would have liked to go elsewhere but I couldn’t. I had kids in school and now my wife has a good job in town. Moving would cause too much financial pain.”

Chuck Longenecker, one of the designers, entered the lunch room and went directly to the coffee pot.

Eric took a sip of the hot coffee.

“Ah, I needed that.”

Both sat in silence and watched Chuck look for a cup. Eric caught Mason’s eye.

“You’ve been here long enough to know Paul Levan. Does he ever say good morning?”  

Mason turned to see if Chuck was watching and then raised a finger to his lips. Eric had started to say more but stopped short. Chuck Longenecker poured his coffee and headed for the door, turning to see who had been speaking. Together, Eric and Mason rose and in silence walked to Eric’s cubicle. Mason finished his coffee and threw the empty Styrofoam cup in Eric’s wastebasket. He turned to Eric.

“Have you found a girlfriend since you’ve been in town?”

“Yes, Pam gave me a number of a niece and I called her. She’s a school teacher by the name of Gina. We’ve been on two dates. She’s a pleasant and interesting girl but nothing serious.”

“If you are not doing anything Saturday evening why don’t you and Gina come over to the house? I’ll throw something on the grill. You can meet my wife. She’s from Pittsburgh too. You two can talk about rusting steel mills. We’ll have a few beers and play some cards. I’ll assume you like bratwursts and baked potatoes.”

“Thank you. That would be great. What time?”

“Say around seven.”

***

Saturday evening Eric and Gina appeared at the front door of 3328 Cindy Drive. Eric knocked and shortly Mason appeared.

“Welcome. I suggest you walk around the house to the backyard. That way you won’t break any bones tripping on live animals.”

Behind the house Mason’s wife, Maxine, was in a lounge chair and reading a paperback. Introductions were made. Mason handed a bottle of Pinot Noir to Mason.

“Here’s something to go with the meal. I don’t know though. Does red wine go with bratwurst and potatoes?”

Mason shrugged.

“I wouldn’t know. I’m from Milwaukee. We don’t drink wine in Milwaukee. It could lead to mass unemployment. Just kidding. We’ll try the wine later and find out. Right now we have a case of Milwaukee Miller dark at the ready.”

Maxine approached Gina.

“Are you from Ft. Wayne, Gina?”

“Yes, I’m sorry to say. Are you?”

“No, I’m from Pittsburgh much like Eric.”

“Oh, Eric often talks about Pittsburgh. The hills and the rivers, but no I’ve never been there. I know nothing about Pittsburgh.”

“Some people say Pittsburgh is a good city to be from. Would you like a beer or perhaps a mixed drink.”

“No, thank you. Maybe later. By the way, I liked your beveled glass front door. Very different. You don’t see doors like that in the newer houses.”

“Thank you. I’m glad you liked it. We bought it at an antique dealer a few years ago. Mason installed it himself. Come on, I’ll show you the house while the guys are tending the grill.”

The two women walked toward the house, chatting. When they opened the rear door a cat streaked around their legs into the back yard. The men brought bratwurst and potatoes to the grill. Mason lit the grill and placed the food above a low flame.

“That’s going to take an hour or so. How about a beer in the meantime?”

“Sure.”

“Be right back.”

Mason returned with two bottle of Miller’s dark and handed one to Eric.

“There are more where these came from.”

“Dark. You like the dark?”

“It’s an old Milwaukee tradition this time of the year. It has something to do with the breweries cleaning the vats in the springtime. I like this one because it has a good punch to it and not because it’s dark.”

“I don’t remember drinking any dark beers before.”

“You would if you were from a beer town. Listen, Eric. I would like to tell you something. You’re a likeable guy. In a way you remind me of a younger me. Except that you are smarter. We both moved to this little town to take a job offered by Paul Levan.”

“Do I detect regrets?”

“Yes and no. The job puts food on the table. No complains there. As long as I do my work, keep my head low and my mouth shut I will probably be able to keep my job until retirement. But, if I were younger like you I would be gone in a flash. This Levan guy is hard to deal with. I’ve become good at biting my tongue.  In fact I’m expert at it.”

“Does that have anything to do with your raising a finger to your lips the other day in the lunch room? I was merely going to asking if Levan was in the practice of saying good morning or not saying good morning. I walked by him several times since I’ve been here and I always said ‘good morning’ but every time he simply ignored me. As far as I am concerned, it’s no big deal one way or the other. It’s merely that I thought it seemed strange. He was more than congenial when I came for the interview. In fact he invited me to his house for drinks that evening. I met his wife and we all talked for a while.”

“There are some things you need to understand. Paul Levan does not like anything other than praise and admiration. It’s part of his plan to remain as head of engineering department well into the foreseeable future. And, you need to know that he has a network of spies to help ensure he remains number one. The rumor is that he rewards his informers well. Some of them, incompetence aside, have kept their jobs because they are willing to rat on their unsuspecting coworkers. That designer, Longenecker, who came into the lunch room the other day when we were talking, is said to be one of the spies. From what I can tell that is most likely a true rumor. It’s hard to tell for sure who the others might be.”

“Strange.”

“Some of the stories are hard to believe. There was a designer a few years ago who went into Levan’s office to ask for a raise. He said he hadn’t had a raise in seven years. I knew the guy. He was a hard worker and good at what he did. Levan thought he, chief engineer, should be the one to not only decide who gets a raise but when and how much. He did not care to have underlings challenging his generosity. To make an example of the guy he had him transferred to quality control where his hourly rate was decreased by five dollars. The man did the job for a month and then quit the company.”

The brats started to drip fat onto the flames and smoke began to rise from the grill. Mason walked over to turn the brats and potatoes. Satisfied that all is well at the grill, he went inside the house and shortly returned with two more cold beers. He handed one to Eric.

“Drink up.”

“Thanks. These dark ones are filling.”

“Inside I have some ale. We’ll switch to those next. Before the sausages are ready and we go inside, there is something else I wanted to tell you. I saw your resume before you came with the company. Levan often sends resumes around before he hires someone. I don’t know why. Anyway, I could see you have a promising future. But, I must tell you, probably not at Bricksen Hydraulics. I’ll tell you why. Levan has been pressured to hire promising engineers, engineers like yourself. The sales department has been pressing hard for product improvements and new products. The salesmen keep saying our line of actuators is behind the times and in need of upgrades. Levan said he would look for new talent but it is all a show. He personally designed many of the company’s products in years gone by. Those products have Levan’s name associated with them. It appears he is encouraging progress and product improvements but in actuality he’s been a major impediment. After a new engineer acquires experience, Levan finds an excuse to get rid of him. I’ve seen it happen and you, personally, can expect no different treatment. He intends to keep Paul Levan’s light shining the brightest. Screw the company’s bottom line.”

“Interesting. I appreciate the insight.”

When the brats and potatoes were ready, Eric and Mason went inside where the women were waiting. Maxine had placed salads on the table. The Pinot Noir was opened and each had a glass with the meal. After desert Mason fetched two ales from the refrigerator and handed one to Eric.

“Oh, I don’t know about another beer.”

“Why not?”

“Don’t you know ‘Bier auf Wein das lass’ sein aber Wine auf Bier das rat’ ich dir?’ ”

“No. what’s that mean?”

“My grandfather told me that. It’s an old German saying that means one should not drink beer after wine but that drinking wine after beer is ok.”

“You would be at home in Milwaukee. You only had one glass of wine. You’ll be ok.”

“I’ll try it. At the worst I’ll only get sick.”

After supper they played Texas hold ‘em for pennies. The men continued with the ale while the women drank sodas. At 1:00 a.m. Eric declared it was time to go. Standing, he thanked Mason and Maxine for the evening. While driving Gina home Eric was quiet and pensive. He was trying to put Mason’s comments about Chief Engineer Levan into perspective. Maybe formulate a plan. He started feeling nauseous.

***

Monday morning Eric was early to the office. By 9:30 o’clock he figured he was eligible for a break and walked to Mason’s cubicle. He tapped on the frame of the entrance.

“Ready for a break?”

Mason placed his computer in sleep mode and rose.

“Good idea.”

The two walked to the lunch room. Eric filled two cups and passed one to Mason.

“This one’s on me.”

“You’re too generous.”

“We enjoyed ourselves the other night. Thanks again.”

“Don’t mention it. Maxine and I were glad to have you over. We’ll do it again sometime. That Gina’s a pretty girl and smart too. She took all my pennies.”

“I gave more thought to your comments about our chief engineer. Your observations explain a lot of situations. For example, several times I made a number of recommendations for product improvements. These were no brainers. It’s not as though I am a genius or anything like that. Anyone would have recognized the need. Yet, Paul always found a reason for turning them down. My career will be going nowhere if I cannot point to designs and contributions that I have made. It’s the business I’m in. It’s how I earn my living.”

“You’re starting to catch on. But, do me a favor. Please don’t tell anyone I coached you. For sure that would be my end here and it might happen at an inconvenient time.”

“You have my word. Of course. Listen, I‘ve been giving thought to sending my resume out again. Perhaps the time has arrived for me to make a career change.”

“Are you hoping to stay in Ft. Wayne or doesn’t that matter?”

“I have no connections here, so I can go anywhere there is a good opportunity.”

“You’ve been around the block a few times. Any suggestions as where might be a good place to start?”

“Well, I suggest you might consider our customers. Some of them might be in need of an engineer who knows hydraulics as you now do.”

***

Eric came to the conclusion that, all things considered, Mason seemed to be correct in his assessments. It might be time for a move. After sending resumes to several prospective employers he promptly received two interesting invitations for interviews. One firm, Dobson Equipment, seemed especially attractive. Dobson was a firm that had consistently placed large orders for hydraulic actuators and accessories with Bricksen Hydraulics. Gradually he began to wonder why he waited so long to consider leaving Bricksen and its corrupt engineering department.

Eric’s interview at Dobson went well. The chief engineer told Eric that Dobson was considering him for a role in the selection and application of hydraulic components. The following week Eric received an offer of employment that included what would be a sizable pay increase. The following week he called the chief engineer at Dobson and they agreed on a starting date three weeks in the future. Eric said he would like to take a vacation of two weeks and then another week to find an apartment and move. The chief engineer at Dobson said that would be fine and that he looked forward to having Eric on his team of engineers.

***

As often happened on Monday mornings, Eric and Mason met for a coffee break. They were sitting in the lunch room when Chuck Longenecker came in for his coffee. Actually, they were expecting Chuck. Eric was sitting with his back to Chuck and the coffee machine. As Chuck was pouring coffee into a cup, Eric starting talking to Mason.

“As I mentioned, I could not believe what happened. That son of a bitch Levan turned down my suggestion for changing the seals on the Model X600 actuators. Just because he selected the seals ten years ago does not make it the best today. Boy, he can be hard-headed.”

Mason was careful to avoid saying anything derogatory about Chief Engineer Levan. Yet, he felt obliged to respond one way or the comments by his friend.

“Are you sure that Paul designed that sealing configuration?”

“That’s what I was told by designers who were here ten years ago.”

Chuck took interest in the conversation that he was overhearing. In order to remain within earshot he pretended to look for something in the drawers near the coffee machine while shuffling objects back and forth. Eventually he felt obliged to exit the lunch room.

Mid-afternoon Paul Levan had his secretary tell Eric he was wanted in Levan’s office. When Eric approached the chief engineer’s office he found the door open. Nevertheless, he knocked on the open door. Levan answered immediately without looking up from the letter he was reading.

“Come in.”

Levan walked to a point in front of Levan’s large oak desk and stood, waiting. Paul continued reading a letter without looking at Eric. In time he spoke without looking up from the letter.

“Close the door.”

Eric walked over and closed the door. Neither man said a word for a time. Eventually Levan placed the letter on the corner of his desk. Without looking at Eric he told him to have a seat.

“Eric, how long have you been with us?”

“A little more than two years, sir.”

“I’ll be frank with you. We liked your resume when you applied for employment with us, and we thought at the time that you could bring fresh ideas to our Firm. We considered you an engineer with potential. As you might be aware by now the Company is very much in need of product updates and new ideas. However, you have not been of any worthwhile assistance to us to reach that end. I am obliged to bring your employment with the Firm to an end. Today will be your last day with us. You have two weeks’ vacation coming so we will officially consider your last day as two weeks from today. We will send you a check at the end of the month.”

Eric looked dejected.

“I’m sorry you look at it that way. I tried my best.”

“You can clean out your desk today and go home whenever you are ready. An hour should be adequate time.”

“Yes, sir.”

Eric had nothing worth taking in his desk so he put on his jacket and exited through the front door.

***

Two months after Paul Levan fired Eric, Bob Ransome, General Sales Manager, walked with heavy steps to Paul Levan’s office. Evelyn, Paul’s secretary, was doing her nails, but she put her tools away when Bob approached.

“Mr. Levan is talking with someone at the present.”

Bob continued on his path.

“I don’t care.”

He opened the door and walked into Paul’s office. Paul and Chuck Longenecker were talking. Paul was startled since few people would walk through his door without an appointment or without knocking first. Bob pointed a finger at Paul.

“Remember that engineer Eric Whitfield that you canned some time ago?”

“What about him?”

“He’s now selecting hydraulic components for Dobson Equipment, one of our biggest customers. Our salesman who calls on Dobson, Jim Gribbins, called me a few minutes ago to give me the good news.”

Paul Levan stood.

“Interesting! I hadn’t heard that. Why worry? I don’t see a problem.”

“Paul, tell me something. How in the hell are we supposed to sell our products to guys who are fired from here? In addition, I understand he didn’t like our line of hydraulics while he was here. He was continually suggesting improvements – I was told. Some, I also heard, were good ideas. I hope you had a reason for letting him go.”

“Bob, I’ll take care of what I am paid to do and I’m sure you will take care of selling what you are paid to sell. As far as Eric is concerned, well, he was not coming up with any good ideas while soaking up a good salary. I figured we had better ways to spend the Firm’s money. It’s not the big deal you seem to imagine it is.”

Bob Ransome pivoted on his left foot and briskly exited Paul’s office without another word. After returning to his office he called the president’s secretary and asked for an appointment. He added it concerned the Company’s chief engineer.  

***

All things considered, Eric was pleased he had pulled up stakes at Ft. Wayne and moved to a strange city. Packing and engaging a mover was a chore. He said good-by to his small circle of friends. They wished him well. He had one last date with Gina. They both agreed they enjoyed each other’s company. Long ago Eric decided having a good paycheck and interesting employment came first. The other amenities as friends will naturally follow.

Eric found the atmosphere at Dobson Equipment different from what he had experienced at Bricksen. New ideas were encouraged and there was a team spirit. The Firm’s continually increasing sales seemed to suggest a successful game plan. Five weeks after joining Dobson, Eric was at his desk reviewing the drawings of a prospective new hydraulic actuator configuration when the receptionist called.

“Eric, there is a salesman here by the name of Jim Gribbins. He says he is with Bricksen Hydraulics, and he said he would like meet with you if you are available.”

It was a visit Eric expected as he knew Dobson regularly bought hydraulic components from Bricksen.

“Tell Mr. Gribbins I will be out in a few minutes.”

When Eric entered the lobby, Jim Gribbins stood and extended his hand.

“Eric, I’m Jim Gribbins and I am with Bricksen. Our sales manager, Bob Ransome, called me to tell me you had joined Dobson Equipment. I just wanted to stop by and introduce myself.”

The two men shook hands. Eric invited Jim to his cubicle. After they were seated Jim was the first to speak.

“I’m sure you will like it here. This is a great outfit. I’ve been calling on Dobson for over ten years. Your predecessor, Bill Fegley, was a sharp engineer, and he bought tons of hydraulic equipment from us over the years. As you may know he retired a few months ago.”

“Yes, I was told Mr. Fegley retired. I saw a number of drawings with his name on them.”

“I called today merely to let you know that we at Bricksen had a good working relationship with Dobson over the years and we hope to keep it that way. We will always strive to meet your needs for hydraulic equipment.”

“Well, I am pleased to hear that. Of course I will try my best to give an honest evaluation to whatever you have.”

“That is all anybody would ask.”

Both the salesman and the engineer were silent for a spell. The salesman was first to speak again.

“Oh, I almost forgot. The sales manager at Bricksen asked me to tell you. You no doubt remember Paul Levan? He was the chief engineer at Bricksen.”

“You say ‘was chief engineer’?”

“Yes, he’s no longer chief engineer. The president fired him a few weeks ago. He’s been replaced by one of Bricksen’s engineers. You probably know him. A guy by the name of Mason Keller. I understand he has been at Bricksen for some time and knows the product line.”

Eric smiled.

“Yes, I remember Mason.”

Jim reached into his shirt pocket and retrieved a namecard.

“Here is my namecard. I usually stop by here at least once a month to meet with the purchasing people, but today I came in merely to make your acquaintance. If you need anything please give me a call. Maybe next time we can go to lunch?”

“Sure. I always welcome a chance to get out of the office.”

Eric walked Jim to the lobby where they shook hands before Jim exited through the front door. Smiling to himself, Eric returned to his cubicle.

Matthew Morello, 9/5/2016

Current Occupation: English Teacher
Former Occupation: Landscaper
Contact Information: Matt Morello grew up one block from NYC where he currently teaches English in Queens. He is writing about his first-year teaching experiences, or, what was really going on while everyone was busy worshipping Holden Caulfield. He has been published in Ozone Park Journal.

 

#

Who Killed Atticus Finch?

    They told me never accept candy from students. Vengeful little bastards were spiking soft chocolates with ecstasy before offering this sublime disguise to unsuspecting substitute teachers. Much of Monday morning was therefore spent scanning hallways for pierced, jaded teens that might offer such a sunny confection. I even left my coffee cup plainly visible in an empty teachers’ lounge with the door wide open. Nothing.

     Ironically, last month, two sophomores in New Jersey died from smoking rabbit weed, a green, spiked plant that grows wild in swampy areas. Jesus, in high school we used to mix rabbit weed with librium, smoke it until our throats bled, then chase the burn with Yago Sangria. Instead of daily S and M sessions with these smarmy videojunkies, a better occupation would be traveling through the tri-state area teaching teenagers proper drug usage, sort of a community outreach for addled ravers and post-modern pubescents.

    Period 3 English class would soon begin. English was my college major. People once asked, “What are you going to do with an English major?” My usual bit of bile was, “Become a shepherd.” Prancing through verdant pastures while sodomizing sheep would immensely trump substitute teaching. Certainly Miss Dickhead’s junior English class could hardly wait to scrawl profanities on some Ethan Frome ditto.

    “Wear a tie, kids will respect that.” You know what they respect? People with piles of money and lots of hot ass, not educators who give homework or tell them what to do, especially if that person looks like the bastard child of Frodo Baggins, assigns Act One of Macbeth, and wears a tie celebrating “The Menagerie” episode of Star Trek.

    During college, my less prurient fantasies involved enraptured students who passionately argued Fisher King symbolism in pre-Christian Eliot. My mythical classroom was a short jaunt from the manse grounds, which had been neatly converted into a one-bedroom mission style apartment. Evenings would include dinners with young female colleagues followed by brandy at the Old Boys’ Club.

    “Say, Morello- excellent questioning technique regarding Whitman’s Calamus poems.”

    “Thank you, Dr. Freep. I find that if you initially place students upon a proper pedagogical path, their cognitive leaps invariably lead down trails of discovery.”

    “Inspired, Morello! More Armagnac?”

Miss Dickhead’s classroom quietly sat across from Oceanside High School’s Language Arts Office, formerly called the English Department until one day in the 1980’s when some college professors decided to save Western Literature from Westerners. The heavily varnished door was slightly opened while morning sunlight shone upon rows of beige Formica desks neatly fixed into rows like infants in an abandoned nursery.

    Torn blue construction paper hung from chipped corkboards along with the usual icons- Shakespeare, Poe, and Twain- authors whose words could change lives, now lost among a stagnant fen of entitled brats and dying dreams. “English Sucks” was already emblazoned on the chalkboard, a rallying slogan of disenfranchised empowerment. As they skittered into class, jackets smelling of morning joints wildly mixed with strawberry body spray. Lupine howling at the moon amid cherry-red squeals of happiness shot through room 187. The bitch was absent.

    Sacred moments exist in teenagers’ lives when Dame Fortune, replete with teased hair and black pumps, smiles upon these Stygian suburbanality captives and grants unchained reprieves into pleasure’s kingdom. Such revelry occurs, for example, when mom and dad have reservations at the new downtown bistro, enabling Johnny to toke sensimilla upstairs while donning his sister’s underwear. This gleeful irreverence continues when spray painting “Principal Resnick Sucks Cock” on a brick wall outside of the boys’ gym. Today, Fortune’s grin gaped upon a particular English class when their real teacher slept late, leaving Mr. Fuckface as proxy.

    “Here’s the deal, kids, finish this ditto in forty minutes. Your teacher is going to grade it. Any questions?”

    “That’s shit. The bitch never grades a fuckin’ thing.”

    “Yea. Why do we have to do this shit?” Silver lips pouting beneath frosted hair stared through sullen eyes.

    “All right. You can work on something else, anything, just stay busy and keep it down.” This was the usual bargain that generally worked. Last week, however, it went horribly wrong. Some vicious little fucker stabbed his friend’s ear with a disposable Bic pen. Amidst a cascade of overturning desks, a silver-plated Zippo ignited Ramones-styled hair, adding auricle gouging and immolation to the list of “Shit They Didn’t Teach You In College.” Like Sir Gawain, a substitute teacher must always expect the unexpected.

    “Ew! You blew him?” I knew that it wouldn’t last. Subs develop an ability to size up a group of teenagers in less than ten seconds, and I had a feeling that the tart with machine-ripped jeans and dyed blue hair would eventually initiate testosterone time. Naturally, two girls discussing blowjobs sent the class into hormonal fury.

    “Did you swallow, or spit?” shouted a sweaty simian kid donning a Pantera T- shirt. This wildfire would soon spread if left unchallenged.

    “Back to work! Let’s go! Your teacher is grading this!”

    “We told you, she doesn’t grade anything! The old bitch is half-dead! She doesn’t even know our fuckin’ names yet and it’s April!” Nightclub audience laughter filled the room. Half an hour left with this fueled bunch of assholes. Doctoral study was a logical escape route from this Inferno. Getting a PhD is the academic equivalent of running away to the circus. If you write a best seller, you’re a Barnum star like Johnny Eck, or maybe even Colonel Tom Thumb; if you don’t, you’re a shit-sweeper or the geek, but you’ll always have a home as you traverse obscure little colleges throughout the Midwest.

    This whole gig is clearly karmic justice for my lurid behavior as a teenager. One particularly cloudless Friday, a group of us left school and ran to Vinny’s house where we ransacked his parents’ porno collection. The back of their walk-in closet housed a 16mm reel of brown-robed monks plowing a nun, some hardcore Swedish mags, and two Seka films. Although Vinny wasn’t exactly valedictorian material, he soon reached the application stage of Bloom’s Taxonomy as he stealthily approached Miss Steiner’s bile-yellow Dodge Dart upon our return through the teachers’ parking lot. Steiner taught algebra repeater math, technically known as Algebra Two, affectionately known as Frankensteiner’s Fuck-ups.

    “Jesus Christ! Vinny! What the hell are you doing?”

    “Suck… it…bitch!” With a cascading Parthian volley on Steiner’s driver side door handle, Vinny Prestianni, thereafter known as “One Shot,” yanked his way into Valley Stream Central High School folklore.

    During a lull in the classroom storm, a curious hand arose near cream-colored signs explaining common writing errors. A look of sincere puzzlement behind greasy bangs beckoned my burgeoning inner Dewey, patron saint of American educators. Here was a chance to bring forth new life in this beautiful baby with a poet’s soul. I leaned in closely, showing my desire to affect a Socratic connection.

    “Mr. Morello, do you get stoned?”

    Amidst insidious cackling, visions of a thesis deconstructing moustaches in Dickens’ novels floated through my throbbing brain.

    “No comment.”

    The dismissal bell clanged throughout silent hallways creating a fling concerto of tattered books into knapsacks. Voices chattered about a new kid from Wyoming (I heard his great-uncle’s brother was Billy the Kid), Amanda’s hideous gingham skirt (Did her mom wear it to Marsha Brady’s last party?) and dozens of other crucially important topics, which, after all, is why students attend school in the first place.

    Overhead, florescent tubes coolly hummed laughter at my vain efforts toward even the most basic store-minding. A nagging need to take back the classroom had recently been forming; an arena where I won every fight. In college, feminists who bandied terms like “phallagocentric hegemony” were reduced to scullery wenches. Politically correct comparative literature majors who dared argue the literary importance of Medieval Latino Poets were soon reading Iceberg Slim while drinking Thunderbird. I could stalk any English classroom with the prowess of Grendel, yet today, a band of Ritalin-popping monsters tore off my arm and nailed it above the door of room 187.

    But this wasn’t my home. I was merely Teacher X’s Friday afternoon stuntman, ready to blow his sixty dollars pay on chicken chow fun, Jack Daniel’s, and some besotted skank at The Back Door, a local dive that made Mos Eisley look like the Algonquin Round Table. In the relative safety of my’82 Mustang, a crippled nag living off the name of its gallant predecessors, I lit a meager but welcome bowl, and considered an English teaching job in September. A nearby high school offered me a position for the upcoming school year, which was my only prospect for real employment.

    En route to my cruddy little cave, I decided to call Martin Van Buren High School and accept their offer before some freshly scrubbed, theory-spouting tart snatched it, leaving me with a clamdigger or barback gig for the fall. It was nearly 3:00pm, so two hours remained for marinating in an existential stew before gaining enlightenment at happy hour.

    Stately Morello Manor still remained a disaster after Wednesday night’s soiree with remnants and dregs lying about my sordid apartment. Cases of Coors empties, Gino’s pizza boxes, and about two dozen slick plastic cups filled with varying levels of rotgut remained standing like a hive outbreak on that unreachable part of your back. Stepping over cracked jewel cases and sauce-stained paper plates, I placed all of the red cups in a line for determining their musical scale positions like those talented guys perform on holiday commercials. No matter how these were arranged, each vessel only thumped like a final heartbeat. The whole mess looked like a Soho gallery installation piece entitled “Vaseline Cathedral.” Missing were an 80lb. NYU philosophy major, originally from Sandusky, putting my creation into a socio-political context, accompanied by a Cold Spring Harbor chick with a tribal tattoo who recently christened herself, “Sequoia.”

    Resolving to absolutely clean later, I called about the job.

    “Peter Goldfien, English Department.” His voice was as sharp as a number two pencil.

    “Mr. Goldfien, this is Matt Morello.” My steady professional inflections wavered like those of a kid explaining why a spicy-smelling purple wizard statue was found in the back of his closet.

    “Matt, I’m glad that you called.” He didn’t exactly sound glad, but it sounded better than, “Matt, if you’re holding out for more money, go jump off a fucking bridge.”

    Goldfien continued, “You have to make a decision regarding the upcoming school year. Several excellent candidates are willing to commit, so I need an answer.”

    “Mr. Goldfien, I’d definitely like to teach at Van Buren in the fall.” Who the fuck was I kidding? The only definite reality was my need for marijuana and rent money, but sounding reasonably intelligent and self-assured did get me this far.

    “I had a feeling that you’d accept the offer. Great! Stop by my office on Monday at 9:30 to finish some paperwork. You can also choose books for your sophomore and senior classes.” Jesus, slow down, man. Boo Radley and Holden Caulfield aren’t going anywhere.

    “Sounds good. See you then. Thanks again, Mr. Goldfien.”

    “You got it. See you Monday.”

    This moment happened a bit sooner than anticipated, so a cold McSorley’s helped clarify next September. I knew the literature; I was an asshole teenager six years ago; there was an old briefcase somewhere in my father’s basement. Not bad. No teacher clothes hung in my closet, therefore a drive to the Gap was in order for purchasing whatever headless mannequins wore.

    Records were getting scarce. Everybody owned CD players, and most recording companies stopped vinyl production altogether. Warm sounds from records always upstaged the cold sterility of compact discs, an innovation which, like its users, lacked any transcendent highs or suicidal lows. Rubber Soul on the Capitol rainbow label was more relaxing than Klonopin, and when the needle was cautiously placed upon side one, an instant cascade of tangible memory calmed my splintered nerves. Whiskey and Beatles washed away thoughts of teaching, and shunted me back a few years when my biggest problem was which snack cake I would procure at 7-11 after an evening of Thai stick.

    Actually, until about five minutes ago, that was still my biggest problem.

     

 

Carl Wade Thompson, 8/28/2016

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.

#

Invisible

 

Cleaning’s never easy,

especially kids’ stuff.

Working for the school

some thirty years,

I walk the halls hourly,

the invisible man.

I vacuum, I sweep,

dust off those damned desks.

The children don’t see me

though I watch over them.

Fist fights, bullies, graffiti,

I see them at their worst.

Honestly, I can say

I notice when they’re good.

Carefree, happy, playing’

they seem at their best.

Why don’t they see me,

the ghost in the hall?

Now day’s end,

I empty trash cans,

a teacher—notices,

“Make sure to dust.”

I nod, shuffle on.

Am I more than pushed broom?

Some days I’m not so sure.  

#

False Dreams    

 

A child—taught, drilled,

the Dream inherent

in every free breath.

Dog loyal to a fault,

I fetch for teachers,

in books, school, and TV tubes.

Never a chance for disbelief,

the carrot, always ahead,

I carried on, eyes shut to truth.

Classes and degrees,

the Dream, that American promise,

like Lot’s wife a pillar of salt

packed into a deep wound.

Mama, tell me why you lied?

Part-time work, never enough,

Teach eight classes at four colleges,

learn to talk, to schmooze,

try to get in with whoever I can.

Each day consume and be consumed;

Time, never enough, always behind,

Work harder, smarter, in the dark,

mine shaft going down.

If God loves America,

I don’t know what God is.

#

Butcher

 

The quarters of beef came on a rail,

hoisted in rows of frigid flesh,

needing that touch,

that skilled hand;

his hand.

Been boning meat for a lifetime,

for eight and a quarter an hour.

He knew his knives as well as he knew himself.

There wasn’t an animal he couldn’t bone

done a deer once,

cut it in ten,

and they’re boney too.

When it came to meat he never knew his match,

but few care for such skill,

trade passed on, no glory to come.

For forty years he worked his craft,

all he had was arthritis to show for it.

 

Melissa Gish, 8/22/2016

Current Occupation: Associate Professor of English, Glenville State College, Glenville, West Virginia
Former Occupation: English professor in Minnesota and New Mexico
Contact Information: Born and raised in Minnesota, I developed the Midwestern work ethic at an early age and am therefore often disheartened by its absence in many other parts of the country. Or maybe I'm just a Yankee snob. Depends whom you ask, I guess. I have been teaching college English for many years and writing for many more. I am the author of more than 70 juvenile nonfiction books. My students can read most of them.

 

#

Song of My Students

 

Show me where it says

I have to like you

to teach you well.

 

Point to a rule that expects me

to show you respect when I

ask you for the third time

not to text

under the desk

and you ignore me like I’m

interrupting your ever so

important thumb conversation

with that guy you met at the mall

last night.

 

You pay tuition like you pay

for blue jeans or coffee. This

education had better fit,

and it better go down smooth

or you’ll complain to the manager,

get your money’s worth dammit

get someone fired.

It’s your right.

 

Right?

 

Show me where it says

I have to like you

to share the world with you.

 

What do I owe you

when you say that teachers

make up shit on the fly and no

one should buy half of what

a prof says in class?

You read that on the Internet,

so it must be true.

 

You swallow the golden grains

served on platforms and blogs

with a hunger reserved for dogs

on the streets of Oaxaca   

but turn up your nose at

allusion and meter

at fractions and axes

at acids and bases

at Whitman and Locke.

 

Like rank ramen in your

dorm fridge left for a long

weekend, this stinks, you say.

Show me, you say,

where I’ll use this in life.

 

You think you bought a book

and a test and a grade

and a job and a future. You

think you bought time

’til real life starts

and all this art and music

and poetry and math

just fills the empty spaces

in your days away

from mom and dad.

 

You think this is enough.

 

Show me where it says

I have to like you

to drive down this one-way street

of communication, shouting in the

wind the means and methods to

analyze

investigate

collaborate

evaluate

and innovate,

hoping that you’ll

study and dissect,

and probe and explore,

and question and consider,

and . . .

at the very least . . .

just read the fucking book.

 

Show me where it says

you have to like me to learn.

 

If you treated my eval like that psych quiz

last week—Christmas treed

those blue bubbles

with your number two

pencil—I’d be no less entertained

by the comments on the back:

 

Speaking of my strengths,

you say

“She gave us candy” and

“I have wrote better papers in this class since high school.”

 

As for my weaknesses,

you perceive the best of them:

“She dresses weird.”

“She has an odd accent.”

“Sometimes I feel like I'm learning other things besides English.”

 

I guess you think I should apologize for this.

Gene Twaronite, 8/15/2016

Current Occupation: Writer and Author
Former Occupation: University of Arizona Instructional Specialist
Contact Information: Gene Twaronite is a Tucson author, writer and poet. He is also the author of two juvenile fantasy novels and three collections of short stories and humorous essays. His first collection of poetry Trash Picker on Mars will be published later this year by Aldrich Press. Follow more of his writing at:  http://www.thetwaronitezone.com.

 

#



WORKING MAN

 

It was ‘89, when striking Eastern Airlines

machinists stranded me in Orlando.

He worked a poolside restaurant  

called the Marmalade Café.

 

A middle-aged waiter with thinning hair

and upturned mustache, his big eyes twinkled

with mischievous light.

 

By noon, he sweated profusely as he served

the lunch-hour traffic, a touch of vexation

on his face, concealed behind his smile.

 

Could you run this burger through the grill again?

I ordered it well done.

Certainly, sir, he replied with smooth grace

as another customer grimly pointed to her plate.

Can I order anything that doesn’t have lettuce?

Ma’am, everything we serve here has a bed of lettuce,

he said, in a tone of desperate humor.

 

Next morning, I asked him how he managed to cope.

He grinned. Oh, we have our moments, sir.

Shaking hands, I wished him well.

 

It’s been twenty-six years since that day.

I doubt my server had a union to fight for him,

or whether he would have joined one.

His fight was a quiet one waged behind the counter,

a daily struggle for dignity and an honest dollar.

 

And what of the machinists and their moment in the sun?

Their visceral target was Lorenzo—a noted union buster.

After a long bitter struggle, the strikers triumphed

and brought down a corporate goliath,

while most lost the jobs they had fought over—

a Pyrrhic victory that further fueled the raging beast

at the heart of our labor divide.

 

You don’t start out on one side or the other.

As you earn your daily bread—

by wages, investments, or profit—

a feeling grows and stirs like a fetus within,

until a conviction is born.

It feeds upon what you tell it about labor:

a human activity providing goods and services,

or a social class of persons paid by the hour.

 

Like any organism, your conviction

reacts to the stimuli of self-interests:

Who will bring you the most benefits,

or who will keep them from you.

You know where your money comes from

and who your people are.

You know who to vote for

and who to trust.

 

Even now, I see my server

working the lunch crowd with cheerful banter.

And I know full well who butters my bread

and whose side I’m on.

 

Bradford Middleton, 8/8/2016

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 and 2015.

 

#

WORK (GROUNDHOG DAY FOREVER)

 

I’m just grinding out the hours

The hours until it is all over

But right now it feels like it will last forever

Work

 

George, from behind his podium

Keeps raising the age and now there is talk

That maybe I’ll have to work to seventy

Work

 

Every day is like Groundhog Day

As I say, every single bloody day,

To the same colleague at the same time as I arrive at

Work

 

A 3 hour shift is the normal for me

This means I must go in five days a week

Five days of the same old issues

Work

 

I’ve got to move on but where can I go?

What if the next place is worse than this one?

It ain’t beyond the realms of possibility

Work

 

I could get a job sweeping the streets

Getting cold, wet and permanently sick

And tired from a relentless schedule

Work

 

I did 3 years at journalism school

But the Argus will not employ me

When all I want to do is write

Work

 

#

TRAPPED AT WORK

 

It’s been the longest seven years of my life working down the same shop

I’ve experienced working for two different companies and with hundreds of different colleagues all in this space to which I always seem to return

But yet here I remain unable to change, trapped in this bastion of the under-achiever

With some who will inevitably get out leaving me I wonder where?

Still here, along with all the other lifers, realising slowly the inevitable conclusion

Or on the outside, not knowing, but maybe finally living!

 

I got trapped where Mick Jones got lost seeking a guaranteed personality and all I wanted was some kind of existence

But I got confused about how I’d landed here down this supermarket aisle and now I’m unsure of if there’s any way out

And with the eternal thought in the back of my mind that somehow it will be even worse than this

Worried about how this will affect my already fragile grip on what is real

As my concept of reality shifts everyday and always further away

Taking me with it to be lost in this existence in a supermarket

 

#

ANOTHER JOB SEARCH BEGINS

 

I can’t find a job to pay my way and i can’t stand living skint all the damn time

Got to get something better but what if it ain’t in this town?  There ain’t many round these ways

Unless of course you fancy shop or bar work as, alas for me, the real money in this town

Lies in the simple bricks and mortar, whether owning, building or refurbishing

And the life of a part-time sales clerk and struggling writer isn’t replete with wealth

So I can’t afford any of that business, so…

Could i go back to a simple office job after so many years away or would that be a fate worse than death

Awash in a sea of new technologies and procedures that will doubtless boggle my poor mind

But can a full-time job in a shop actually mean it could be better

A nicer flat in a building that ain’t on the verge of collapse, a sense of space and a place where I can feel at home

 

How about i get a job in something i trained in, journalist, that’d be just fine

But in this town all the local rags are freebies and no one gets paid and the one who really should

Are now charging students to write stories for them

Well how about something in music; that would have been fine 20 years ago

When music meant something beyond selling gig tickets and hits on you-tube

All in a bid to just show how street and cool you wish you were

How about i teach, i’m not qualified but i do have a masters

American literature graduate, 2006 my CV reads, invariably terrifying possible employers

Into thinking i’d be wanting to run the place inside a year

But i just want a job that means I can earn enough to live a bit better

 

Jessica Lindsley, 8/1/2016

Current Occupation: Composite Non-Destructive Testing Inspector
Former Occupation: Windmill Blade Manufacturing Technician
Contact Information: Jessica Lindsley grew up in North Dakota before the oil boom. Her written work has recently appeared in journals including Thirteen Myna Birds, Literary Orphans, and Menacing Hedge.

 

#

the whistleblower

 

sitting. listening to classic rock. radio loud to drown the voices of the men in the canteen rolling with laughter and shouting about the ugly drunken things they did on their too, too short weekend. tv plays headline news and variations on same tired insurance and sports drink commercials. that song ends, another song comes on, a louder and older one and my fingers on the keyboard keeps in cadence with “killing in the name of.” i am light-blue collar, i have a desk where i file reports and eat my sad vegetables and salads. the chair legs squeal over the concrete, thump, the moving around of too many bodies in confined spaces, similar to confined spaces they just emerged from but brightly light. “now you do what they told you” and we do, because they pay us, not well, exactly but the best here in this state without being on a rig. the coffee is pre-sealed in filters and it is free and acrid like burnt grounds, scrapped off the bottom of the barrels and floors of the coffee roasters, the tp is single ply and like sandpaper and off white and smells like unnamable chemicals, bleach bleach and sandpaper, the tools of this trade recycled. i say too much sometimes, the one of two women in the company of wolves, and now they all talk around me in hushed tones, whispers across the divider, bowed heads and raised hands like pantomiming preschool gossiping, breaking out in laughter when I leave the room and even my longest time and best friends don’t talk to me the same now. this is the other side of harassment, this is the other side of being tired of the rape jokes, this is the other side of the fist, this is the other side of the hr desk and when someone comes in and starts talking, then peeks around the corner and the laughter dies…     it’s a lonely life: speak up, open up. don’t be a doormat. did you think you had a problem? you have twice the problem now. you said the rape joke wasn’t funny. this woman, the other female employee, and i bonded with working long late days in the sun five, six years ago, this woman would drink until she passed out at the bar and i made sure she got home, because that’s what friends do and I made sure she was safety in her trailer, not being carried home by a lewd coworker or ex or random man, and i spoke out that she wasn’t a slut and the things that had happened were not her choice, but no one listened to me and now, she posts memes about me tagging the man full of rape jokes and now, she averts her eyes in the stairwell and whispers fat ass, changes the story to say i was the one sobbing and passing out over tequila shots those years ago because i need a man, tells everyone i’m a dumb bitch, a stupid bitch because, you know, deciding to blow the whistle

 

Robinne Weiss, 7/25/2016

Current Occupation: self-employed Writer / Heritage Interpreter
Former Occupation: Owner/operator of The Bugmobile science outreach
Contact Information: The natural world is my first love. I have degrees in resource management and entomology, and have spent most of my career as a heritage interpreter—telling real-life stories of people, places, and the natural world in the eastern U.S., Panama, and New Zealand. But I’ve always had an interest in fiction. Eighteen months ago, the time was right, and I closed my science outreach business to write full time. Four novels and a whole lot of short stories later, I’m having a great time, and the story ideas keep piling up, waiting to be written. I currently live in New Zealand with my husband, two kids, four goats, five chickens, and one evil cat.

 

#

Mannequin

 

Kirsty stood immobile, hands on cocked hips, her face a blank mask. She was dressed in a low-cut, body skimming purple gown and treacherously tall purple stiletto heels. She suppressed a sigh as she watched the first pedestrians pass by, gazing at her.

How had she ended up in this job? Paid to stand motionless in the window display of a high-end department store wasn’t exactly the career she imagined when she started her degree in graphic design. Newly graduated, she found that entry level positions in her field were more scarce than booze at an AA meeting.

Here it came. She could tell by the way he sauntered into her field of view. The first taunt of the day. Almost always men of a certain age. They wanted to get her to move—smile, scowl, flip them the bird, whatever. They wanted to break her image as a statue.

Her boss had given her pointers. Don’t look at anyone. Stare at the building across the street. Recite poetry. Do math problems in your head. Ignore them.

It was easier said than done. Bored shitless, Kirsty couldn’t help but pay attention to the people on the street. This guy, who had now stopped in front of her, was one of the least bothersome sort of heckler. He stood in front of her, making faces to try and get her to laugh. Maybe if he’d been good looking, she would have watched, but he wasn’t worth it. She counted bricks on the building opposite her window until he went away.

To Kirsty’s irritation, her own brother was her next heckler. He waved and smiled as he went by, rapping the glass with his knuckles. Jim was out of work—fired for mouthing off to his boss. Though he was older than Kirsty and had a degree in engineering, he constantly mooched off her.

He was currently sleeping on the couch at her apartment. Not paying any rent, either, she thought bitterly. Here she was going crazy at this shitty job in order to pay her bills, and he was doing nothing. Not even trying to find a job, and loafing around eating all of Kirsty’s food. She’d have to swing by the grocery store on the way home—Jim had finished off the milk late last night. Kirsty had found the empty carton in the fridge when she went to put some on her breakfast cereal. She wondered where he was headed now.

The street was momentarily empty, and Kirsty sighed, quickly scratching an itch on her shoulder and shifting her weight slightly. The shoes were the worst part. Standing still, her feet slid slowly downward, crushing her toes into the viciously pointy tips. In real life, she’d never be caught dead wearing these shoes. Or this dress, for that matter. She was a sensible-shoes sort of girl. Jeans and t-shirts, not clingy silk, and certainly not purple.

Her boyfriend, Blake, would not approve. She made certain not to tell him what she did at work. They had been together since high school, and she’d known him for years before that. Their parents were friends—their dads old drinking buddies who now attended AA together. Blake was fun loving in high school, but when he went off to college, he changed. He fell in with a group of students Kirsty secretly dubbed the God Squad, and when he came back, he had gone over all religious. No more groping in the backseat of her dad’s car. No more sneaking out after midnight to secret trysts. Now it was “pray to God and he will forgive your sins,” and “sex is a sin unless it’s between husband and wife for the purposes of procreation.” Kirsty’s only prayer was that Blake would snap out of it soon. She missed the intimacy, missed the sex. She wanted the old Blake back, though she’d given up trying to seduce him after he’d gone so far as to shove her to the floor in anger last time she tried.

It’s not that she liked crude men. The one in front of her window now was, in fact, revolting. He’d slouched up to the window, taken a quick look around to make sure the street was empty, then whipped out his dick and started masturbating. She could hardly believe it, and wanted to run screaming from the window. But she’d complained more than once about the harassment, and her boss had warned her that if she stepped out of the window, she could just keep walking, because she’d be fired. “I’m paying you to do nothing. If you can’t manage that, I’ll hire some other lackey.” She needed this job to pay the rent. She had to stay here. But she didn’t’ have to watch. She shut her eyes and waited for the man to go away.

Next past her window was a young mother with two preschoolers in tow. The mother pointed to Kirsty, explaining in a voice made tinny through the glass that she was real. The children laughed and exclaimed that she couldn’t be real because she didn’t move. Kirsty smiled and winked at them, making them squeal with delight and clap their hands.

Kirsty was good with kids. Her little sister had been twelve years younger than her—a “whoops” baby. Her mom didn’t cope well with the unexpected baby. She sort of checked out, reading romance novels in her pajamas all day and leaving the kids to fend for themselves. Kirsty would come home from school to find her sister crying in her crib, hungry and with a wet, soiled diaper. Her mother, oblivious to the child’s cries, would be asleep on the couch. Kirsty changed diapers, cooked meals, and played with the baby, but couldn’t protect her from her mother’s neglect. One afternoon, Kirsty came home to find the baby floating face down in the bathtub.

That’s when the social workers got involved. Kirsty and Jim were placed in foster care until Mom was happily medicated for depression, and Dad stopped drinking. Eventually, they were sent home. No one ever mentioned the baby, but Kirsty couldn’t forget, and blamed herself for her death.

Kirsty wondered if her parents might have ended up like the homeless woman now sitting on the pavement outside her window. She took no notice of Kirsty, but pulled a grimy knit cap out of her pocket and set it on the ground in front of her, begging for change from passersby. Kirsty shuddered. Yes, she could see her mother this way. She could also imagine herself homeless, too, if she didn’t manage to get a real job soon.

The homeless woman didn’t stay long. The store manager, Kirsty’s boss, soon drove her away with shouts and insults. What an unpleasant man he was! He treated his employees with contempt, acting as though he was doing them all a great favor by not firing their sorry asses. He ignored breaks and kept them late every day without paying for the extra hours. And the pay sucked.

But Kirsty was stuck. This was the only job she could find. She couldn’t do anything about it, just like she couldn’t change her parents or her brother or her boyfriend, or the man currently making lewd gestures at her on the sidewalk. She’d just have to put up with it as best she could.

But why should she?

She was a grown woman. Why should she have to put up with this shit?

She could kick her brother out of her apartment, or at least make him pay rent. He was an adult, too, and it was time he acted like one.

She could ditch Blake. She had never even dated anyone else—it would be good to find out what she was missing. Maybe she would go clubbing. Test drive a few guys. Once Jim was out of her apartment, that is.

Her parents? Well, she couldn’t change them, and she couldn’t bring her sister back to life, but maybe she could stop blaming herself for their problems. Maybe she could move away from her hometown, and leave behind the image of her little sister floating in the bathtub.

And this job?

Kirsty watched as half a dozen teenage boys strutted towards her window. They were laughing and grinning wickedly. They approached the window, calling “Hey babe! Lookin’ hot!” and grabbing their crotches.

She waited until they were gathered around, egging each other on to more and more disgusting behavior. One unzipped his fly. Another licked the window.

Kirsty smiled, calmly picked up the hideous designer lamp that served as part of her staging, and with a mighty swing, shattered the plate glass window.

“What the fuck!” The boys’ eyes were wide with surprise as they staggered backwards. Kirsty stepped calmly out of the broken window, crunching through the shards of glass on the sidewalk. She removed her appalling purple shoes and hurled them at the boys, who flinched, but continued to stare, mouths agape.

"And your fly is open, douche bag," she said dismissively.

Then she turned and strode away.