Francesca Tronetti, 11/12/2018

Current Occupation: Curator of Lake Shore Railway Historical Society Museum
Former Occupation: Adult Education, English as a Second Language
Contact Information: Educator and historian with a Ph.D. in Philosophy and Religion. Contributor to Return to Mago magazine and Erie Reader, local alternative paper. Hosts an organic gardening and green living show on a community radio station.

 

#

Gone Job Fishing

The job hunt
Such a weird concept
If it’s a hunt, then why am I unarmed
Why is success in the hands of my quarry
 
I find the listing
It looks like a good job
I send them my resume and references
And a write a new cover letter, selling myself
 
And then I wait
Rejection, looking for someone else
Rejection, decided to go in another direction
Rejection, I don’t even know why, they never called
 
I think it’s fishing
You put some bait on the hook
Cast it out into a lake, where you can’t see the fish
Hoping you’ll attract that one job that will be your prize
 
Yes, the job fish
That’s an accurate title
Bait your hook with buzzwords galore
To land yourself that prize-winning fish, I mean job
 
But, along the way
You may hook jobs you don’t want
Why did you even apply, you’ll never take it
It is that you want to be the one rejecting them
 
12 applications sent
One rejection right away
Checking my email every two hours
Reeling in the line to see if I’ve got a nibble
 
Love to stay and chat
But 20 more postings just went up
Looking through the listings for buzzwords to use
Checking all my references, which ones should I send?

John Grey, 11/5/2018

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 Front Range Review, Chiron Review and Columbia Review with work upcoming in Midwest Quarterly, Convergence and Pulsar.

 

#

DRIVING THE PILE

Pile driver at the building site,
noise upon noise upon noise
to the point where the brief silence
between poundings
is also a noise.
To some who work nearby,
it's an itch
that only five o'clock
and the commute home
can scratch.
To others, it's a nail
in their headache's coffin.
Kids watch through cracks
in the surrounding fence.
Someday, they'll be old enough
to work the machinery themselves,
hard-hatted, tattooed and sweaty,
battering the earth into submission,
making a din loud enough
to antagonize every adult
they've ever encountered
down through the years.
For now, they're awestruck
by the brutal pulverizing.
For now, the grimaces,
the pain of strangers
will have to do.

#

BILL'S BOILER

Up before dawn, walking the six dark blocks
to the mill, lunch-pail thumping against his thigh,
his wife dead.
And he was walking through her dying,
the cracked asphalt beneath,
the unlit houses on either side,
the brick monster emerging form the weeds
at the end of the lane.
He was breathing her last breath,
chilly and damp.
He was hearing her last heartbeats,
the clip of old shoes on sidewalk.
The wind was her groan.
The creak of her crippling arthritis
was the swing of the rusty mill gate.
Nothing could live until he opened up
the back door, stumbled down the cellar steps,
flicked on the light, started up that wretched boiler.
Until radiators kicked on, all through the upper floors,
the town was nothing but a corpse, awaiting burial,
and he, the very last undertaker,
the early morning crew straggled in,
there was movement, activity, somewhere above him.
He settled back in his chair,
selected a well-thumbed magazine from the stack,
read the same stories, looked at the same pictures,
he did every day.
His wife dead, this was how he remembered her.

in the same blue overalls he wore to every funeral.
But the room warmed up,

Ron Riekki, 10/29/2018

Current Occupation: freelance writer
Former Occupation: military
Contact Information: Ron Riekki's books include U.P.: a novel (Sewanee Writers Series and Great Michigan Read nominated), The Way North: Collected Upper Peninsula New Works (2014 Michigan Notable Book from the Library of Michigan and finalist for the Eric Hoffer Book Award/Grand Prize shortlist, Midwest Book Award, Foreword Book of the Year, and Next Generation Indie Book Award), Here: Women Writing on Michigan's Upper Peninsula (2016 IPPY/Independent Publisher Book Award Gold Medal Great Lakes—Best Regional Fiction and Next Generation Indie Book Award—Short Story finalist), and And Here: 100 Years of Upper Peninsula Writing, 1917-2017 (Michigan State University Press, 2017).

 

#

Ten Thousand Infants

   I went to teach at a CPR company to see if I’d be a good fit.  The owner of the company told me I did not need to do the infant portion of CPR.  I asked why and he said, “It just doesn’t happen that often.”  I knew that the success rates with infants in need of CPR is only 4%.  96% die.  I told him this.  He said to not tell the class that statistic, that it was too morbid.  I told him I wanted to motivate them to do CPR, to help save lives.  He said, “There’s only ten thousand infants who go into cardiac arrest per year.  That’s nothing.”  That averages out to one every hour, every day, all year, which is pretty much the opposite of nothing.  He said that babies stay at home, that parents should be trained, that the hospital trains them on CPR before they’re sent home with the baby, which isn’t always true.  And one-year-olds are everywhere, in restaurants, in parks, on planes, on buses, in schools, at amusement parks, but he said that the clients don’t want to learn infant CPR.  They want to save adults.  He didn’t even have any child mannequins at all, just adult mannequins and infant mannequins.  I told him that the problem with such terrible infant CPR success rates is that people don’t know what to do so they never start CPR.  The whole purpose of training people on CPR is so that they’ll know what to do.
   I started the class, saying I was going to include the infant portion of CPR.  At one point, I put an infant mannequin next to an adult mannequin with the intent of showing that the differences are not major, that people should not be intimidated to do CPR no matter the person’s age.  He came over and took the baby off the floor.  He put it sitting up, saying he doesn’t like the baby mannequins to be on the ground, even to demonstrate a point.  I had some of the infant mannequins nearby in a pile and he put them so they were all sitting up, one at a time, posing them so that they were looking at the class with their plastic eyes.  “I like for the baby mannequins to look cute at all times,” he said to me later, “For the class.  It’s important.”

Caroline Taylor, 10/22/2018

Current occupation: writer and editor
Former occupation: publications director, speechwriter, and magazine editor
Contact Information: Caroline Taylor's short stories have appeared in Work Literary Magazine and other online and print magazines. She is the author of two mystery novels and one nonfiction book. Visit her at www.carolinestories.com

 

#

THE THING ABOUT ENEMIES

Eddie tended to drift into whatever jobs were available that would pay the rent. They never lasted long, mostly because he would eventually lose interest in the work. 
Thing is, he didn’t want the kind of work his education had prepared him for—wearing a suit and tie, toeing the corporate line, working your ass off twenty-four/seven. What kind of life was that?
Eddie’s mother didn’t understand. “What did we pay all that tuition for at Duke?” she’d say. It drove her crazy, him sliding from one gig to the next, none of which offered what she referred to as “a future.”
Fine with him. He was over twenty-one. He wasn’t living at home like a lot of guys he knew. He just chose to drift. In fact, he liked drifting. Speaking of which, he was just about to float off from his present job digitizing old stock records at Andrews, Moskowitz, and James. It wasn’t that he was bored, although the job was so mindless he could barely stay awake, but his boss Althea had hinted there might be an opening for a junior trader. “You’d be just the candidate,” was how she’d put it.
The hospital was looking for orderlies. Only problem, when he’d worked there before he’d had found it impossible to get over the feeling he might be exposing himself to some killer drug-resistant microbe. Maybe he should try the nonprofit world where surely the bottom line was something other than maximizing profit.
Yeah. Something touchy-feely like the local food bank or artsy-fartsy like the historical society. Or would that be too close to home? His mother was a major donor for that outfit, and Eddie had no desire to have her thinking, “at last, he’s found something decent!” She’d be so happy, she’d probably even offer to pay his salary.
He was pondering his options one morning while walking down 38th Street when he ran into Janet Oldham—or Jo, as she preferred to be called. Despite the fierce scowl on her face, she was looking every bit the foxy babe she’d been back in high school. A long, tall drink of a woman with shiny brown hair and ice water blue eyes.
Eddie said hi.
She passed right by. Then she turned back. “Do I know you?”
“Eddie Guilford,” he replied with a mock half bow. “AP English. You were Fitchman’s pet.”
She smiled. “Oh, yeah. What a prick.”
“You got time for a coffee?” he asked.
“Don’t I wish.” She looked down at the phone in her hand. “I’m already late for the ten o’clock.”
“Then skip it,” he said with a smile. “Tell ’em you had a family emergency, something along those lines.”
“Wouldn’t work,” she said with a rueful smile. “They know my Mom passed away last year, and Dad hasn’t been around since the divorce.”
“Oh,” said Eddie. “I’m sorry about your mom. I liked her.” Actually, he couldn’t recall if he’d even met the woman. Not likely, considering Jo had been part of the goody-good A-list crowd, and he’d been a loser stoner.
“Hmmm,” said Jo, eyeing Eddie’s frayed jeans and scruffy leather jacket. “Why not play hooky?”
Jo, it turned out, was the membership director for ConserveIt!, a nonprofit that encouraged landowners to do environmentally correct things—“anywhere from recycling and composting for the small fry to organic farming and conservation easements for the biggies,” was how she put it.
To hide his yawn, Eddie sipped his coffee.
“It’s funny I don’t remember you,” said Jo, pleating her paper napkin.
Eddie shrugged. “I was totally forgettable.”
Her eyes narrowed. “And are you still?”
Oh boy. If he told the truth, Jo would finish her coffee and walk out of his life forever. “I work for Andrews, Moskowitz, and James,” he said.
“You’re a lawyer?” Her eyes lit up.
“Brokerage firm.”
“Oh.”
“Why?” he asked. “You need a lawyer?”
“I might,” she said. “I’m hoping not.”
It took two more coffees that cost money Eddie really didn’t have before he got the full story. Jo had discovered that her boss, the vice president for membership and development, had been inflating membership numbers to meet his annual targets.
“You mean you nonprofits also have a bottom line?” asked Eddie.
“Of course. Otherwise we’d just drift along, spending other people’s money like crazy, with nothing to show for it.”
The vice president’s name was Marty Rodgers. “Unfortunately, he’s our golden boy,” said Jo. “He can do no wrong. The CEO thinks he walks on water.”
“Ah. So you don’t feel you can—”
“If I rat him out, I’ll lose my job,” she jumped in. “And possibly also any prospects for another.”
Eddie sat there, drumming his fingers on the table. “You need a spy—somebody who can’t be fired.” Or who wouldn’t care if it happened anyway. He felt his pulse quicken.
“You mean like somebody on the cleaning crew?”
“Nah. I got a better idea.”

***

Working in the mail room at ConserveIt! was pretty much what Eddie had expected. The mail came in, you sorted it and delivered it, while picking up any outgoing. And then you weighed and metered the outgoing and delivered it to the post office. Boring.
Once he got the hang of the place and figured out how late the ass-kissers hung around, Eddie put his plan in place. It involved figuring out ol’ Marty’s computer password, which was—duh!—PASSWORD, and then searching for the right files. The room was lit only by the desktop monitor, but Eddie had closed the blinds anyway, just to be safe. 
The numbers of ghost members were never the same and never too large, but over the course of the current fiscal year, they would amount to a totally amazing membership increase of fifteen percent, when the actual numbers were—and had been for the past five years—fairly flat. No big losses, but no real gains either.
The tricky part would be matching the increased numbers to increased revenue. Eddie made a quick calculation. According to last year’s annual report, total membership revenue was $978,642. A fifteen percent increase should put it at somewhere north of a million. Marty’s spreadsheet said $1,125,438.
Either ol’ Marty was working miracles, or the revenue numbers were bogus. 
“I didn’t find anything suspicious,” he explained to Jo the next morning in the coffee room. The double espresso wasn’t doing a thing to calm nerves badly jangled when Eddie had nearly run into somebody on his way out of the building last night. He’d just left Rodgers’s office when a large man rounded the corner, making a beeline for Eddie. Luckily, the guy was too busy with his smartphone to notice Eddie. Luckily, the office next door wasn’t locked, and Eddie had ducked into it with only seconds to spare.
“How hard did you look?” said Jo. 
“Hard enough. There is a whopping fifteen percent increase in membership, but the revenue—”
“It would be easy enough to make the numbers match up,” she said, a frown forming above those mesmerizing eyes.
“I know, but what got you suspicious to begin with?”
She looked him like he needed a few more brain cells. “I told you. On good years, when the economy’s ticking along and people are feeling generous, we get maybe two or three percent increases in membership. Fifteen is totally off the charts!”
Lucinda in Accounting just kept shaking her head. “What, you think we’re morons? I see the checks. I record them. The membership revenue is exactly what Marty says it is.” Then she narrowed her eyes. “Anyway, what business is it of yours?”
Eddie leaned forward and lowered his voice. “I’m undercover with the FBI. Investigating alleged fraud.”
“Let me see some ID.” She held out a pudgy hand.
Eddie reached inside his one and only suit coat and then patted both of his trouser pockets. “Oh, boy,” he said. I must have left it at home.”
“Uh-huh.” Lucinda pushed the chair back from her desk. “What I told you is public information, so I won’t get in trouble for that; but unless you can show me some genuine ID, this conversation is over.”
Eddie held his hands up in surrender. “Okay, okay. But don’t blow my cover.”
Lucinda had the last word, though. “It might be hard for you to believe, Mr. so-called G-man, but Marty Rodgers is golden. He works harder than anybody else in this friggin’ place. Word has it, he’s even here after hours. That man could persuade people with acid reflux to eat orange habañeros.”

***

“I gather ConserveIt! doesn’t discourage employee, uh, fraternization?” This was said as Eddie’s hand caressed the lovely Jo’s naked curves later that evening.
“We shouldn’t be doing this,” she replied as she ran her fingers through the hairs on his chest.
“Will I be fired?” he whispered, before sticking his tongue in her ear.
“Not by me,” she sighed. 
What did he care, anyway, since he tended to drift from one job to another? So far, this one had more enticing perks than he could ever have imagined, so why sweat it?
When the sweat had dried from their exertions, however, Eddie began to wonder. He didn’t want to mess things up at ConserveIt! Leaving jobs had always been his decision, not the other way around. He made a note to check the employee manual.
Two weeks later, Jo cornered Eddie in the mail room. “Haven’t you discovered anything yet?” she asked, arms crossed in front of her.
“No,” he said. “Apparently, your vice president for membership and development is so good he can sell orange habañeros to people with acid reflux.”
“What?” Jo looked puzzled, and then she crimped the corners of her mouth. “So no hanky-panky with the numbers?”
“None.”
“You can prove it?”
“Lucinda in Accounting.”
“Shit.” She started pacing up and down the aisle by the mail slots. “I want him out of here.”
“So I gather.” Eddie stepped in front of Jo and pulled her close for a kiss. “Later?” He whispered.
She jerked away. “Maybe. But you should be careful. Somebody might walk in.” Then she gave him that melting smile that turned his insides to putty. “You’re a smart guy, Eddie. I bet you could figure out a way to make it look like Marty’s up to no good.”
“Maybe,” he said. “But why? Why not just accept the fact that the guy’s damn good at recruiting new members? Isn’t that what you want? More money to do what you’re here for?”
Jo shook her head like he’d said something really dumb. “I want him gone, Eddie. What part of that don’t you understand?”
The why of it, perhaps? It took up a great deal of Eddie’s thinking as the day wore on, so much so that he put the wrong mail in the wrong slots for a lot of employees and got called on the carpet for it by his supervisor. 
Unfortunately, later—as in him asking for another romp in the sheets with Jo—did not pan out. She was, as she put it, “crashing on a rush project.” If she’d been his mother’s age, shampooing her hair would have been the excuse.
Time to move on, a little voice in his head kept saying. But Eddie wasn’t quite ready. Jo wouldn’t be “crashing on a rush project” tomorrow, after all. He’d already begun to suspect that their intimacy, while genuine on his part, might be just a tiny bit motivated by Jo’s idea of quid pro quo. Even so, he’d be a fool not to indulge while he had the chance, right? Except no way could he see himself crossing that moral line into territory that involved setting up a guy who had done nothing wrong.
In the morning, Eddie awoke with one thought running through his head: The enemy of my enemy is my friend. He went through the routine of sorting, delivering, and handling the mail and texted Jo to say he couldn’t see her after work because his mother was demanding his presence at home for supper. 
Instead, he let himself back into Marty Rodgers’s office. Closing the blinds, he sat down behind the desk and waited, even dozing off for a few minutes until he heard the elevator ping down the hall. This was followed by heavy footsteps heading his way. “Be Marty,” he whispered to the empty room, and was rewarded by the sound of the door opening, followed by the overhead lights coming on.
“Hey!” said a big football player-type guy with a bald head. “Who are you?”
“A friend,” said Eddie, leaning back in the chair.
“I don’t think so,” said Rodgers. “We don’t keep any money in here, so why don’t you take my computer and get the hell out? It’s Windows 7, by the way. You’d be doing me a big favor.”
“I’m not a thief,” said Eddie. “I just have a couple of questions.”
“Then send me a text.” The man reached inside his jeans pocket and pulled out a crumpled business card, tossing it across the desk.
Eddie sat there. “This won’t take long.”
“It’s already taken too long. Now get the hell out.” Rodgers pointed his beefy arm at the door. Then he turned back, squinting. “Hey. Aren’t you the mail room guy?”
“Yep,” said Eddie. “I’m curious about Jo Oldham. You know her?”
“Of course, I do. She works for me.”
“So she’s helping you boost the membership numbers?”
“Absolu—” he stopped. “What’re you getting at? And why would you care?”
“Fifteen percent seems like a huge increase.”
“It is. It’s amazing, in fact.”
“Is it real?”
Rodgers crossed the room, placing two huge hands on the desk in front of Eddie. He leaned into Eddie’s face. “Are you accusing me of something?” he whispered.
“Nope,” said Eddie. “Just curious. It seems so out of whack with what your numbers have been over the past few years.”
“And you think I’ve been cooking the books?” His face turned red and his voice rose as he said the last few words.
“Cool it,” said Eddie, scooting out of reach. “I’m not accusing you of anything. Just, like I said, curious.”
“What does this have to do with Jo Oldham?”
“I’ll get to that,” said Eddie. “But, first, I wonder if there’s more to the membership increase than your, uh, golden touch.”
Rodgers waved a dismissive hand. “Of course, there’s more. The competition’s about to go under, and the rats are leaving the sinking ship.”
“Competition?”
“You think it’s not dog-eat-dog in the conservation world? Hah! There are too many of us doing the same thing, going after money from the same people. This outfit, they’ve got some weak leadership right now and a board that’s got them doing all this touchy-feely sensitivity training, rather than executing their mission. It shows up in their numbers. The percentage they spend on non-program activities has grown to an alarming extent. And in this world, that’s a huge no-no.”
“So you’re sort of like a shark circling the waters?”
“You got it, kid. And it’s working, so don’t expect me to be apologetic.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it.”
Rodgers stepped back, plopping into a chair in front of the desk. “Now, what’s this about Jo Oldham?”
 “I’m telling tales out of school here,” said Eddie, “but I think you’re being played.” Just as he himself had been.
“By Jo? You’ve got to be kidding.”
“She wants you gone. She’s made that very clear to me. Even wants me to, uh, make it happen.” 
Rodgers sat there, drumming his fingers on the chair’s arm. Then he got to his feet, now moving slowly, like an old man. At a corner bookshelf, he thumbed through a number of booklets that were stacked there. He pulled one of them out and flipped through to the back.
The chair creaked as Eddie leaned back, steepling his fingers. “I thought she was being, like, a bit overly ambitious. But now . . .”
“Oh, she’s ambitious, all right.” Rodgers kept reading. “Shit.”
“She used to work for that outfit you’re raiding, right?”
“Nope. But her sister Rowena does.” Rodgers stood there, looking down at the booklet. “They’re not in a death spiral yet, but they’re so close it’s practically a no-brainer.”
“Death spiral?”
“You know. The point at which an organization just can’t survive. The income falls too far below the outflow, so far that even drastic budget cuts and layoffs ain’t gonna help. They’re doomed.”
“Oh, man.” Eddie got up and walked over to Rodgers, who showed him the list of staff at the back of the annual report. “You’re saying it’s too late?”
Rodgers nodded. “Jo shoulda tried this six—no, make that eight—months ago. Poor Rowena.”
“Seems kind of drastic, you ask me,” said Eddie. “Why not just help poor Rowena find another job?”
“Beats me,” said Rodgers. “We’d probably have a place for her here, except for the damn nepotism policy.”
“You going to fire Jo?” Eddie asked.
Rodgers grinned. “I suppose most people in my place would do just that, but there’s an old saying I think applies in this case: Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”

William Metcalfe, 10/15/2018

Current Occupation: Having retired from profitable work, I am playing about with either writing or photography.
Former Occupation: There were 40 years of picture framing. My company was one of the first in Washington, DC, to push for preservation as a very important aspect of a framing job. 
Contact Information: After 30 years of aimless travel, I settled down in Washington, DC. after I found I enjoyed working as a picture framer. In the years of travel and of working with customers, I have accumulated a large collection of stories, which exist as short notes. For a period, I was also, by acclamation, a interesting photographer, but a move to a near suburb, a wonderful wife and our 3 children took more and more time. I had to curtail my pursuits. Now that I am retired and my children are adults, I have returned to earlier interests. The iMac which sits on my desk offers itself as a means of rendering a legible copy of a story from the dusty corridors of my mind. It also offers itself as a instructor in converting digital snapshots into something much more meaningful, might I say art. One can only hope

 

#

THE HAUNTED POSTER

    Decades ago, one of our shop’s customers brought in a framed poster which, jokingly, she claimed was haunted. It had been framed at another frame shop closer to where she now lived. After she took it home and hung it, the poster would softly moan at intervals (This older lady was not the type to moan over). She found this disturbing. Yours truly solved her problem.
    The shop that did the work had scrimped on material. When I turned the frame around, I saw a box without a lid. The poster now became its back. There was about one and a half inches between the rear of the box and the back of the poster. The poster had been glued onto a thin plywood or a thick paper board and then glued onto the walls of the box. These walls were quarter of an inch plywood. At the very bottom of the frame there was nothing that would provide a bit of space between the frame and the wall. This prevents dust from piling up behind the frame. The shop had attached the wire so tightly that the back of the frame pressed firmly against the wall. The lady lived near a very busy, urban street in an apartment house. Her apartment was near the top of the building. The poster was hung on an interior wall. Whenever large trucks or buses traveled on this very busy street, their masses caused vibrations that were transferred to her apartment, where they were amplified by the boxed poster. To exorcise this ghostly, monotone emanation, I gave the wire some slack and added two small, plastic bumpers to the bottom corners. Instead of one hanger for the poster, I used two for stability. Problem solved, I thought.
    Unfortunately, I can’t brag that my work was a success for we never heard from the woman again.
 

Michael H. Brownstein, 10/8/2018

Current occupation: managing a number of buildings, construction work, writing, learning specialist for at risk students, retired public school teacher (inner city, Chicago) & head admin for Project Agent Orange
Former occupation: public school teacher (inner city, Chicago); taxi cab driver (Chicago); grocer, freelance writer 
Contact Information: Michael H. Brownstein’s has a few chapbooks including A Period of Trees (Snark Press, 2004) and The Possibility of Sky and Hell (White Knuckle Press, 2013). He presently resides in Jefferson City, Missouri where he lives with enough animals to open a shelter.

#

DOG WALKING

One of the dogs has cataracts,
a pressure from glaucoma,
and she is not sure of herself
though she wants to be alive
and with the others. So we walk,
just her and I, from the corner
to her home, and I pick her up,
and we go again, the corner
to her home. Three, four times
twice–sometimes three–a day.
Then I get other dogs and let
them play in my huge yard.
She is always invited. She plays
well, sniffs the ground, checks
her footing. When we go in,
they rush the door and I, well I
go out and find her, pick her up
and carry her in. The blind dog
so much loves to be carried;
the blind dog so much loves
to walk from the corner near home
to the home she knows by smell.
all of the way home

#

TEARING DOWN THE CANOPY OF PORCH

The skin of wood
And the surgical detail of the saw saw blade
Cutting through it
Bleeding the hard wood
And the plywood stitched in glue
And removing four layers of shingle
And one layer of rubberized roofing.

Oil blanches the blade
Slips it into putty
Bending it off jerk a millisecond
Then an inch at thirty degrees

Hard hat and protective gloves
Glasses and safety glasses
One by one the skin of the porch tears
Its bones loosening
A rush of cricket breath
A tear of grain
A falling of what was here. 

#

A CONVERSATION BETWEEN TEACHERS IN THE TEACHER’S LOUNGE

 
We wonder what is in the water. Sugar,
Cookies, ripe persimmons, cotton
Candy. We know it is not any of these.
Something’s are valued less.
Everything is always that simple.

Tricia Knoll, 10/1/2018

Current Occupation: Poet
Former Occupation:  Public Information Officer, Portland Water Bureau, Portland, Oregon
Contact Information: Tricia Knoll now lives in Vermont after many years working for the City of Portland first at its Children's Museum and then at the Water Bureau. As she did her work of writing press releases, ad copy, reports and web-based information, she was waiting to write poetry. Now she lives in a five-acre woods in Vermont where wild turkeys roost in the trees some nights. Since retiring, four of her collections of poetry have found homes in print: Urban Wild (Finishing Line Press), Ocean's Laughter (Kelsay Books), Broadfork Farm (The Poetry Box) and How I Learned To Be White (Antrim House, 2018). Website: triciaknoll.com

#

A Dream from the Children’s Museum

Yes, our mantra was child’s play
is child’s work, and we sat knees up,
three mothers around a tiny red table
with red wood chairs that scraped
green linoleum as our weight shifted.

We were planning exhibits,
shuffling paper on the table
to plan how to entice
more children to play.
How serious we were

when a two-year-old had already
shown me what he loved at noon,
sorting rocks in my river rock pile
one by one, handing them with great
care to his father who put them back.

I was the chatty one, this is how
my daughter became a geologist,
picking up penny rocks. When I asked
the little boy in his blue cotton hat
with gold afro-curls erupting out

to come back to my yard to play
some day, he had no word for yes,
he kept on sifting stones. Among
them he found his first worm.

Sugar Tobey, 9/24/2018

Previous employment: Art handler
Current employment: Art conservator
Contact Information: Born in Coney Island Brooklyn. Received a degree from the School of Visual Art in Manhattan. Now lives in NYC above a pizza parlor.

#

Right Livelyhood
 
I joined the assembly line
day one was deadening
I learned all about
my predecessor Jimmy
from those who believed
they were his friends
where he parked his car
what he ate for lunch
how he liked to hang
his coat on the hook
in just the right way
Jimmy worked that line
for thirty years
I'm sure he too found
day one deadening

Neesie Steinke, 9/17/2018

Current Occupation: Licensed Massage Therapist
Former Occupation: Corporate Lackey
Contact Information: Neesie is a licensed massage therapist, business owner and college instructor. In her spare time she enjoys writing comedy and embroidering profanity on antique hankerchiefs. Her animated short “The Shite House” was featured in the 2018 Portland Underground Film Festival. 

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It Began with Bunions

From an early age, my career prospects were severely limited by poverty and alienation. My childhood was like a Dickens novel, only with more dicks in it. To entertain ourselves, my little brother and I played a game called Kick the Can Then Take It In for a Nickel. 

My first paying job entailed rubbing the rich neighbor lady's feet with lotion for a quarter. This is true and verifiable. My brother and I each took a foot. She had long, old toenails and plenty of bunions. I'd save up my 25 cents a day earnings and buy candy in bulk once a week, then eat it all in one sitting. This is where I first learned the art of self-medicating.

The utter humiliation continued as I worked as a carhop at our local A&W restaurant making $1.85 an hour. It was legal to pay students under the age of 16 about half of minimum wage at the time. For $1.85 an hour, I was required to wear an ill-fitting uniform of orange and brown polyester with a matching hat that looked like a bunched up pincushion. I quickly acclimated to ignoring sexual harassment by an unlimited stream of Fast Times at Ridgemont High lookalikes attempting to lure me into their vans. 

My job duties included picking up cigarette butts from the parking lot while my peers observed on their way to the mall. And removing old gum from the bottom of dining tables, plus cleaning the orange vinyl booths with searing hot bleach water. The owner was too cheap to provide gloves, but had plenty of buckets and rags. I regularly fantasized about fitting perfectly into a pair of glass slippers, escaping A&W forever and going to the ball.

The worst part by far was cleaning the bathrooms. I don't know if it was the bathrooms' remote location: customers had to go outside and walk around the back of the building while carrying a key chained to a large A&W mug. Perhaps it was the steady stream of patrons ingesting double chili dogs. The bathroom floor and toilet often appeared to be visited by an explosive diarrhea convention. Today, nearly 3 decades later, I cannot see or smell a root beer float without becoming nauseated. I think I have Post Traumatic Floater Syndrome, or "PTFS."

Fortunately my luck turned with time, patience and experience. I now have a job that I love, as a licensed massage therapist. Ironically, I end as I began, rubbing feet with lotion, spending my money to binge on candy. But now I also binge on alcohol and drugs. Cheers to self-medicating!

Greg Bigoni, 9/10/2018

Current Occupation: Looking high and low for work
Former Occupation: Administrative Assistant and Media Production Professional
Contact Information: Greg is an artist for hire and performer in Portland, OR. A sample of his art can be found at gregbigoni.tumblr.com.

 

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HOW I CAN AFFORD TO LIVE: DOG DAYS EDITION

 

It's been almost a year since I lost my job at a law firm, and scraping by has often been discouraging. But I'm not turning down any cash, whether I get it by pursuing actual creative interests, or single handedly seeking out and destroying a friend's infestation of pantry moths. In the past week I've completed two pretty detailed art commissions: the first was for one of my best friends from 7th grade who I hadn't seen in a quarter-century until I ran into him at a July 4th barbecue (where he was tickled to see I'm STILL drawing cartoons instead of paying attention in class)– he works for Nike now and wanted me to draw a swoosh-festooned Giannis Antetokounmpo. The second was for a stranger who received a Christmas card I drew for mutual friends last year, and liked it enough to keep me in mind months later, which is incredibly flattering. I've also drawn a top-secret album cover that I'm pretty excited to unveil when the time comes.

I work front desk for a local casting agency when they need me, every couple weeks or so, and by now I've figured out how to soothe the nerves of visibly jittery auditioners AND where all the Google Drive folders are. I know enough actors in town that every third person through the door wants to climb over the desk and hug me. And the other day I was on duty during the auditions for “fat bikini babes” for a pool scene in Lindy West and Aidy Bryant's upcoming Hulu series– the waiting area was a sight to behold that day.

Even better was a couple weeks earlier, when they were casting a commercial starring pet owners. That morning alone, I met two Russian tortoises, a Great Dane, a guinea pig, two chinchillas, a Weimaraner/chihuahua, a ferret, a hermit crab, a tubby Labrador, a hedgehog, a talking parrot, a family of sugar gliders, and a pot-bellied pig. It sounds like it would make for a shrieking zoo, but it was much cuter– all the animals were very sweet-mannered and curious to meet each other. The TV series was also being cast that day, so the petting zoo was competing with young actresses walking in and wondering what the hell they'd gotten themselves into. Some eventually overcame their caution, handed me their phones, and had me take pictures of them draped in someone's pet snakes.

It was almost good enough for my soul to make me forget that when I was there the week before, I dropped the goddamn coffee pot on the floor and it exploded and broken glass went flying everywhere.

I also take buses out to Milwaukie to help my friend Rob with his T-shirt printing business– inventorying, folding, and tallying shirts with a plentitude of Milwaukie, OR inside jokes on them. One of his top sellers is the “modern Oregon Trail” T-shirt– the sickly green graphic from the original video game, but with a Subaru instead of a covered wagon, and gags like “Food: mostly organic,” “Job prospects: 0,” “Next vegan strip club: 1.7 miles,” and “Privilege: unchecked.” That last joke was mine. If I have nothing else to be proud of in life, I have that.

The neighborhood 8-year-olds hang out in the same house for their summer, running around (sometimes naked) and swimming in the backyard pool, and Rob generously prepares the same lunches for all of us– corn dogs, mango LaCroix, and Go-Gurt, last time. It was my first ever Go-Gurt and I made a goddamn mess. The kids thunder around upstairs, reacting to every moment in life with heartened cries of “WHOAAAAA!” They also begged Rob to let them eat frozen burritos straight outta the freezer, film it, and put it on YouTube. “Dad, can we do a challenge?” is how his son Max phrased it. I continued folding T-shirts while their cries of “AAAAAAUGH!! GROSSSSS!” rang down the stairwell.

I arrived home from my first day in the T-shirt biz with a freshly replenished PayPal, and wasn't even in my apartment long enough to swig a benignly flavored bubble water from my fridge when I got a call from my friend Jason. He was supposed to be the screening rep at a Tualatin movie theater but was filming on set and he wasn't gonna make it in time– could I rush out there and cover for him? It would mean skipping dinner, but I needed the money…

Rush hour slowed everything to a dead standstill, plus there was an accident on I-5, but I arrived at the sprawling big-box metropolis in Tualatin and ran several blocks in the record-breaking heat to the theater, where I got a very professional-looking clipboard and stood by the theater entrance sweating my ass off while people loaded down my arms with pre-printed preview passes and asked a lot of nonsensical questions. All these regulars who you can tell attend every free movie preview they can. “Preview rats,” they are sometimes called.

This movie was “Dog Days,” which should have been fun because Ken Marino made it. But it was a crumby putrid picture made by goddamn phonies for Chrissake and all I can say is, don't see it if you don't want to puke all over yourself.                        

It really amped up the misanthropy of watching a shitty, aggressively cornball movie when you have to take notes on things the audience reacts to, which was part of my duties as a stand-in screening rep. “BIG LAUGH when unruly dog tries to eat the poopy diaper,” a purported grown man such as myself actually wrote down with a pen on a piece of paper. It was one of those pretzelled romcoms like Garry Marshall was spattering into bedpans the last few years of his life, half a dozen intertwined stories that are all sappy as hell and everything is harshly lit, sanitized, robotic and insipid. Even the character who's supposed to be an irresponsible, denim-jacketed dirtbag (as portrayed by Adam Pally) lives in a cavernous $15k/month condo. 

Jason showed up halfway through and joined me. Ten seconds into it, he leaned over and profusely apologized to me. I said “This makes Garry Marshall look like Peckinpah.” It helped to have him sitting next to me to sigh and shift in our seats and hate everybody. When the “nerd” character fumbled psuedo-adorably in the presence of Vanessa Hudgens, Jason said directly into my ear “Fuck that ugly asshole” and I laughed much harder than I did at anything in the actual movie.

 
It also included a “sexy” cover of “Who Let the Dogs Out.”

As soon as the credits began, I said to Jason “I hate you.” 

Then Jason took me to Taco Bell, which made me hate him less.

FIFTY MORE BUCKS IN THE PAYPAL BUCKET.

And then last Saturday, I hosted the “Great Outdoors” themed party bus, which mostly meant the bus was going to 6 or 7 bars with big spacious outdoor porches. My job, as always, is to give funny speeches into the PA, blast music, and wrangle the drunks. I usually do this with an accomplice, but everyone was outta town or camping or generally uninterested, so it would just be me this time. What I didn't realize until I arrived was that this particular bus would be hosting a bachelorette party, taking millions of photos of themselves poised with tequila shots.

All the groups meshed together well, splitting off into teams to play beanbag toss on Landmark's patio, the bachelorettes and their stupid sashes teaming up against the excitable but harmless bro-types and the birthday partiers.

Chameleon was a beautiful space but inexplicably pretty to be invaded by a party bus, I instantly felt like the Blues Brothers in that fancy restaurant. They'd provided a spread for us with juicy shrimp kabobs and Caesar salad, a far cry from that platter of Gummi Worms that our pickup bar had allocated. The most breathlessly excitable of the young dudes drunkenly ran fistfuls of shrimp kabobs over to the bachelorettes standing in the sprawling bathroom line– part of his nonstop campaign to make out with one of them, any of them– and somehow managed not to topple forward and stab both of his eyeballs out.

 
Anyway, that place was too fancy for a lot of people on the bus, so they instead went across the street to hang out at McDonald's for a while. Special bonus: there was a late-nite dispensary next door supplying edibles. That was almost as popular with our passengers as Ronald's fries. 

The city just started supplying those little e-scooters for people to zip around on, and everywhere we stop, someone goes flying past on one. Sometimes in the street, sometimes on the sidewalk, sometimes with another person piggybacking on them. It's like a running gag in a Wes Anderson movie.

 
Everyone got TRASHED at our penultimate stop, to the dismay of the elderly regulars, and after staying pretty dry for the past four hours, I began drinking whiskey. The bus driver joined us, not drinking but playing foosball with the passengers in his reflective safety jacket while the bachelorettes pumped thousands of quarters into the jukebox, mostly playing crap like Journey, “WOOOO”-ing and toasting shot glasses and getting their sashes snagged on bar furniture.

 
The bachelorettes were not nearly as annoying as I feared. The bigger issue was the dudes trying to impress them in idiotic ways, like hanging the upper half of their body out the bus window while it was blazing down the street, leaving me to be the scoldy disciplinarian.

Now we're on our way to the final stop, back where we started: I have “Immigrant Song” blasting full-force over the bus speakers while bridesmaids are letting the wind rush in their faces sticking out the windows, others are climbing over seats. The bride is super tanked and splayed out in her friends' laps and one of them jostles to the front of the bumpy bus and asks if we have anything the bride can puke into. All the while, Robert Plant is shrieking.

I'm back in time to grab a Lyft and show up for the last 45 minutes of my friend Amelia's 40th b-day party at yet another bar, where I am very shell-shocked and woozy. But 40th birthdays are important.

I'm having trouble finding full-time work, but nobody gets to call me lazy.

 

Vincent Bell, 9/3/2018

Current Occupation: Poet
Former Occupation: Financial Manager // Management Consultant
Your Short Biographical Statement: I have degrees from NYU and Fordham and have been studying at the Hudson Valley Writers’ Center with Jennifer Franklin and taken courses with Michael Patrick Collins and Chris Campanioni. Recent publications include poems in an anthology “Live At The Freight House” and the June 2018 issue of Offcourse, an online journal. I live in Ardsley with my wife and I have two grown children.

 

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VIEW FROM A GREEN BOX

During the last century, 
I worked in a newsstand 
against the library by the Flushing line 
for my blind uncle.
It was park green and cramped, 
too cold then too hot.
Mornings all the parts were inside,
at night they were back inside again.
We sold papers and magazines.
The papers were on a shelf in the front, 
then magazines on a counter, and finally
a wooden change tray that held
nickels, dimes and quarters 
and occasional pennies.
It was shiny smooth sanded
 by decades of fingers.
Folding money went in my apron pocket.
It was a simple operation 
open only to sell 3 evening papers
all telling the same stories differently.
I worked alone except for help at 4,
when I had a break, peed and ate.
From 4:30 to 6 it was frantic, 
making change on the fly,
scooping coins into wooden bowls, 
banding bills and rolling change.
I wore dark sun glasses. 
People thought I was blind too.
The world passed in front 
day after week after year.
It was like a game at a fair – 
a sidewalk, a big street, 
another sidewalk and then buildings.
Buses came from the left and went to the right 
on the other side right to left.
The Times Square tourists came back and forth 
always asking for the same directions.
The world went by whether I was looking or not.
Like on and off a carousel. 
Every human walked by in a day
never  repeating
After time we saw patterns. 
I was amazed how much 
my uncle saw with no eyes.

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DOORMAN

175 West 12th Street’s
lobby always smelled 
as if it had just been mopped.
The fabric of his uniform 
was coarse grey wool 
with faded ornamental 
white piping on the collar 
and near his wrists.
The gloves slid nicely under his cuffs 
when he pushed the door open
as they came and went;
some of them 
huddled under the canopy
until he corralled their cab.
People generally thanked 
you with a dollar,
without seeing your face.