Gene Twaronite, 3/19/2018

Current Occupation: Writer, Poet, 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 book of poetry "Trash Picker on Mars" was published in 2016 by Kelsay Books. His second collection of poetry "The Museum of Unwearable Shoes" is scheduled for publication in September of 2018. Follow more of his writing at:



Lot O. Jobs

Even when you’re writing about something you think is completely different, in the end you’re always writing about yourself. Each of us has a unique take on life, and elements of this will invariably creep into your work, no matter how rigorously objective you try to be. In my middle grade fantasy novel "The Family That Wasn’t," for instance, I created a character with the pen name Lot O. Jobs. He was the author of an autobiography Travels of a Mixed-Up Man, in which he described the hundreds of different jobs he had held, each with its own special flavor. The character didn’t just pop out of my head. He’s me, of course.

Not that I’ve had hundreds of jobs. Let’s just say I’ve had my share. And yes, I’m still mixed-up.

I remember my first job as paperboy for the Hartford Courant, in Connecticut, supposedly the oldest continually published newspaper in the U.S. I should explain here, particularly for younger readers, that a newspaper is a multi-paged object composed of wood pulp, filled with news of local and world events, that is published daily or weekly and requires you to hold it up at arm’s length to read while you flip through the pages and grimace before using them to line your parakeet’s cage.

Since it is a morning paper, I was required to rise at 5 am, which for a school kid is inhuman. Fortunately, my dad, being a mailman, was used to getting up early. He would wake me, then put on some strong coffee. I forced myself to drink it because it was the only way to stay awake and get moving.

Then I had to walk two blocks to where half a dozen bundles of newspapers awaited me. In those days, if you took on a newspaper route you didn’t get to cancel delivery on account of weather. Just like my dad’s mail, newspapers were to be delivered through rain, snow, sleet, flood, hurricane, earthquake, volcano, or nuclear war, the latter being very much a possibility in my early youth. So if we had a big snowstorm, and all the schools had snow days, you were still expected to trudge through two feet of snow and deliver your damn papers. Often it would take me hours to finish delivering my route, while my buddies were out sledding.

Delivery was bad enough, but then came the hard part—collecting each week from my cruel, miserly customers. This was before the days of credit card subscriptions. Each Friday evening—and the following Saturday morning if that didn’t work—I was expected to ring doorbells and politely ask people to pay up. You wouldn’t believe the lengths some people will go to to avoid paying what they owe. They would simply hide and not answer the doorbell. In some cases, I could plainly see them scurrying around inside like trapped roaches. Other times, they would let out their big ugly dogs in the yard, timed just before I showed up. Or they would purposely avoid being home, for weeks on end, then when I did finally catch them home would question my accounting and try to convince me that they couldn’t possibly owe for two months. I did have my little pay stubs to prove otherwise, but they would then accuse me of forgetting to hand them out when they had obviously already paid. And forget getting any tips. How dare I accuse them of not paying? I suspect many of them secretly enjoyed this game of screwing the paperboy. I think this is when I first became deeply cynical about human nature.

During high school, I was a page at our local library, which for a bookworm like me was a dream come true, though the wages sucked. The job involved mostly re-shelving returned books. I simply wheeled my cart of books through the aisles where, for a brief time, I diligently placed the books in their proper locations. After a short time, however, I learned how to find a quiet, secluded section of the stacks, preferably upstairs and out of sight of the main desk. This was where the benefits came in. As long as I stood in front of my still full cart, I could make it look as if I were working while reading to my heart’s content. That is, until the hatchet lady head librarian invariably found me, chewing me out so badly I didn’t dare do it again until next day.
I think back on her fondly and can still see the poor woman chasing us pages through the stacks, shaking her long, bony finger in stern chastisement.

There was one other aspect of the job I should mention. It involved taking reference room calls to retrieve past issues of magazines and newspapers from the basement, where such materials were stored. I would be issued slips of paper, with names of the items and dates published. In those ancient days, you couldn’t simply Google something on your smartphone or computer and find a hundred online articles on the subject. There were no personal computers and no digital information. Repeat, no digital information. Let that sink in for a moment. Any information you needed could be found only on the printed page. So there I was, lifting up piles of musty magazines, searching for some obscure issue, only to discover that it had been lost or misplaced. It was sort of like the great lost Library of Alexandria, where all the world’s knowledge at the time was stored on scrolls. Being a page back then was probably a lot harder.

In my senior year of college, I briefly had the best job a lonely, testosterone-fueled young male could ask for. It was only part-time, in the evening, but the benefits were priceless. I was the designated male host—sort of a bodyguard—in a women’s residence hall. All I had to do was sit behind a front desk and check male visitors in and then escort each of them off the premises at a set time, defined by each dorm. A word of explanation here. I went to college during the late 1960s when many colleges and universities had what were referred to as parietal hours, limited times when men were allowed to visit and mingle with women in the female dormitories. Dorms would often insist that doors be kept open and couples instructed to keep "three feet on the floor.” Talk about thwarting your sex life.

Of course, creative women would always find ways around restrictions to get their men inside. Meanwhile, as I sat at the desk—studying, of course—young ladies wearing slinky nightgowns or pajamas would come downstairs and greet me, offering cookies and snacks. I was treated like a god. Even the kindly old dorm matron liked me. I admit, it was quite possible that some diversionary tactic was in play here, with dozens of guys sneaking past me as the women plied me with cookies. But what did I care? Life was good.

My other part-time job in college was as freshman counselor during my senior year. In exchange for a free room in my dormitory, I was expected to offer information and advice to incoming freshman. You can imagine what a perfect fit this was, wise old senior that I was, enjoying my own first year on campus after commuting three years. In the midst of cramming as much drinking and carousing with women as humanly possible into just two semesters, I did manage to fit in some actual counseling. Not that I had much advice to offer. Mostly I just listened. And sometimes I would break up unruly dorm parties at 2 am, for which at the end of the year I was ceremoniously awarded a carved wooden wand in the shape of a penis with the words “King Prick,” signed by my grateful freshmen.

Fresh out of college, and not finding any suitable positions based on my considerable experience drinking and guarding co-eds, I took a job as science teacher at a small residential private school for emotionally disturbed kids. As part of my forestry major, I had taken some basic science courses, and that was good enough. The fact that I had no educational certification or training, and even more important, no psychological or counselor training, did not matter in the least. I was a warm body who knew how to dress for an interview and to give the right answers. And they were desperate for someone who knew at least a little about science and would be willing to work for slave wages.

My first experience with one of my new charges gave me a clue of the challenges ahead. As part of my duties, I sat behind a desk after class in the administration building, as a faculty member on call to assist students with their homework. One of my female students—an attractive, shapely, and much too mature looking sixteen-year-old—approached my desk. Then, looking over her shoulder at her friends in the corner, who seemed to be daring her to do it, promptly sat upon my lap.

Dazed at first, it took me a couple of seconds to figure out what was happening and what to do. (There was no mention of such things in the employee handbook.) Normally I am not at all averse to attractive young women suddenly deciding to sit in my lap. But this was way different. I could hear a little voice in my head ask, What’s wrong with this picture? Then, seconds later, the voice started screaming, “Stand up, stand up, you fool! I jumped from my chair, nearly dumping the girl on the floor as I mouthed some indignant protest. She just smiled and walked away.

As someone with no teaching experience, suddenly thrown into a classroom filled with unruly teenagers, I fared no worse than most first year teachers, many of whom leave after only one year, vowing never to return to that infernal snake pit. Fortunately for me, the class sizes were small, and the kids were too emotionally messed up to notice what I was trying to teach anyway. I’m talking real heavy emotional issues. Kids hooked on drugs or suffering from various traumas. Kids who had been verbally and physically abused, often by their parents or other relatives. Many had even been sexually abused. They were shunted off to this school because their parents and their former schools could no longer deal with their problems. If this didn’t work, the next stop was military school or an institution.

So there I was, a 22-year-old guy, still screwed up in far too many ways, surrounded daily by a bunch of emotionally bleeding kids. Forget about the lesson plan. All they wanted was for me to listen. So I did.

In the process, I quickly realized that I was in no way equipped to handle this. I became too emotionally involved with these kids, talking with them frankly while trying to teach them a little science, but not having a clue how to help them.

I made it through the academic year and decided to leave, when the school offered me a limited, temporary contract due to financial uncertainties. Shortly thereafter, the school closed, though my decision probably had nothing to do with it.

After my ill-fated experience with teaching, I decided to try something else. A local pet shop was looking for a full-time sales associate (Don’t you love the way stores add that little word at the end to make the job sound more important?). This wasn’t your run-of-the-mill pet shop, but an exotic pet shop. In addition to the usual puppies, birds, and tropical fish, they also sold critters like lizards, tarantulas, and snakes—my kind of animals. They liked the fact that I was a college boy and promised me that, if I worked really hard for two years and brownnosed the boss and didn’t mind taking orders from his wife, who arrived each morning wearing more makeup than Alice Cooper, I would be promoted to assistant manager.

What I really wanted, however, was my first python, at full employee discount. He arrived at the shop one cold winter evening. A beautiful baby African rock python, he was only 18 inches long and perfectly gentle. I put him under my coat and brought him home to my parents’ house and placed him in his cage, where he thrived and grew … and grew.

The problem with pythons as pets is that, with proper care, they can quickly begin to approach adult size, which in the case of a full grown African rock python can be over 20 feet long, with a thick, muscular body used to constrict its prey.

Not only did my darling little pet quickly outgrow his cage, but he was now six feet long and quite a handful. Though still gentle as ever, there was always the danger in handling such a powerfully muscular snake that he might suddenly grow frightened of falling and wrap his coils around your neck for support, which is not conducive to breathing. In fact, that is exactly how they constrict and kill their prey. So sadly, I found him a new home and bid both him and the pet shop goodbye.

After that came a stint as a computer operator for an insurance company in Hartford. At the time, I knew nothing about computers—and still don’t—but the job’s hours seemed ideal. All I had to do was work three consecutive 12-hour shifts from 7pm to 7am, and I had the rest of the week off. And for full-time pay and benefits. How tough could it be?

Basically, the job involved running large, room-sized computers called mainframes, which were series of various processing and communication units all hitched together and operated in batch mode. I was expected to keep them going, feeding them punch cards and magnetic tapes to run them at near full capacity while they spat out tests, insurance policies, statements, and payroll. I would then collect the continuous printed copy that came out. Scattered throughout the room were interactive terminals where you could push a button and make the computers pause in their operation.

One night, I was told by my shift supervisor to go hit a certain button. Now I knew perfectly well which button to push, having been instructed numerous times in proper button pushing. Turns out there was another button, way on the other side of the terminal console, which I think read “System Stop” and which was never, never to be pushed unless absolutely necessary. This button, you see, didn’t just pause whatever operation was being run but shut down the whole system. Meaning that whatever programs had been running at the time had to be completely restarted, at considerable cost.

To this day, I still can’t figure out why I pushed the wrong button. As soon as I hit it, I knew it was wrong. Perhaps the subversion of my circadian rhythm and the cumulative lack of sleep had something to do with it. I remember a lot of yelling throughout the department, with people running around, looking for someone to blame, followed by the sound of laughter from my colleagues.

I was due for my annual performance review, the very next week. My boss, a kindly man whom I really liked, told me that I was doing great, overall, with top marks in all categories. Then he looked me straight in the face and shook his head. All he said was, “Why?”

Shortly after, I decided to pursue more normal work as a public-school teacher, normal only in the sense that I was able to work during daylight hours. Despite the fact that my private school teaching had pretty much left me as much of an emotional wreck as the students I tried to teach, maybe I wasn’t as bad a teacher as I thought. I took a few more college courses to get certified and to show I was serious. I was ready, or so I thought.

As it happened, there was an opening for a science teacher at the very same junior high school I had attended. I desperately needed a job and didn’t give a second thought to any potential weirdness of going to work with my former teachers, including my much-feared, former Phys. Ed instructor, who had treated us worse than Marine recruits in boot camp.

The interview was a snap. The vice-principal and science department chairman briefly glanced at my Forestry degree transcript, with a minor in philosophy. It was not especially heavy in hard science courses. However, they remembered that I had been an A-student and science nerd and hired me on the spot.

I was to teach Earth Science, which included geology, meteorology, and astronomy, to ninth grade students. As a kid, I had loved to collect rocks and gaze at the stars with my small telescope, so I was sure I could transmit that enthusiasm to my grateful, attentive students. Trouble was, I didn’t know the first thing about either ninth-grade students or class control, which as I learned the hard way is just as important as knowledge of subject matter.

I shall not dwell here on the ugly details that still haunt my dreams. The kids were rude, disruptive, sneaky, and downright mean, constantly inventing new ways to torment and subvert me. In other words, they were perfectly normal, ninth-grade students. They ate me alive. A couple of times, the department chair who had hired me, upon hearing all the yelling and commotion coming from my classroom across the hall, came running into my room, as if someone were being murdered. As soon as he entered, of course, the kids would all be sitting at attention, perfectly quiet. He would give me a disdainful look, then shake his head as he walked away muttering.

Bad as things were, at least I didn’t have to worry about mass shooters. The worst event to happen was when one of my troubled students pulled a knife on a jock, right outside my classroom. We all ran out, and I momentarily froze. Then I herded my students to slowly back away. The issue was quickly resolved, as the jock yelled and threatened the student enough for him to drop his knife and run out the door. Show’s over. No heroes, no deaths, that day.

I was a terrible teacher, but I made it through my first year. That was the main thing, the principal told me upon renewing my contract. “You survived.” I had passed the test, and he expected me to carry on.

I worked there five more years, becoming a reasonably competent teacher, able to control the classroom while providing my students with a creative learning environment. I was now teaching seventh-grade life science and was given an expanded new science lab, which I lined with tropical plants and cages filled with snakes (including two boa constrictors), tarantulas, hissing roaches, and other exotic creatures. On Parents’ Night, the principal would always show off my lab as a model classroom.

I did not delude myself into thinking I was a great teacher, however. During that time, I came to know some truly extraordinary teachers, fully attuned to their students and learning outcomes. But that would never be me. I had fallen into teaching because it offered a regular paycheck while aligning with my social and intellectual ideals, but my mind was elsewhere. And that’s always a dangerous thing.

One day, one of the boys in my class called me out, openly challenging my authority. Something inside me snapped, and I suddenly shoved him up against the wall and shouted in his face. I watched myself, as if in slow motion, acting out this scene, and knew right then and there that I had to get out. (Can you imagine a teacher doing that in a public-school classroom today?)

There were many other jobs on the journey. None lasted more than five or six years. Yet, much like my character Lot O. Jobs, I saw each job as having its own flavor, providing new insights on life. I never wanted a big house or family, and fortunately neither did my wife, who found her niche early, pursuing a long career in education. So that left me free to follow my dreams, whatever the hell they happened to be at the time.

Some of the jobs, like groundskeeper and landscaper, involved down-and-dirty grunt work, even menial tasks, such as picking up trash. Others, like teaching and bookselling, required me to use my brain more than my back. Most of the jobs paid so little that, had it not been for my wife’s job, I would have qualified for food stamps. What they lacked in remuneration, however, they repaid in new experiences and discoveries. It may sound corny, but through them, I found dignity in a day’s labor and the simple joy of performing a job well. Mostly I was flying by the seat of my pants, learning as I went, though the last job I filled—Instructional Specialist at the University of Arizona—made it sound as if I knew something. And when I left there, after working the usual five years, I actually did.

Through it all, writing remained the one constant thread. It was the one thing I really cared about.  Since my twenties, I had dreamed of making a living from my creative writing, something that very few writers achieve. I did manage to find jobs as columnist, feature writer and editor at small local newspapers, and scored occasional sales of my stories, essays, and poems to magazines and newspapers—always the sweetest dollars earned—as I continued to feed the writing madness.

Maybe someday, I kept telling myself, if I do this long enough, I will make some real money from my writing. Yeah, right.

Meanwhile, I think back to all the jobs along the way, a rich tapestry which has given me enough raw material to last a lifetime—or at least to fill these pages—and to make a life from my writing.

Parnavi, 3/12/2018

Current Occupation: Student
Former Occupation: N/A
Contact Information: Parnavi is a student of class 9th, St Mary’s Academy, Meerut. She aspires to become a doctor and make her parents proud of herself. Her hobbies include dancing and writing and she maintains a diary of her own to recall the exciting moments of her life. She states that reading this diary in her leisure time provides her immense happiness.



* Poem by a woman tired of this world *

To me I am a prisoner who is living in horror of being a girl
But I am more precious than a pearl
For me my feets are locked
I am not allowed to leave this world
As I am a toy for anyone’s joy
They can use me or throw me but will never let me free
My hands on the other side are tied up by a thick chain of marriage
Where my husband doesn’t give me respect
To him I am not worth than his shoes
But I have decided to tape my mouth
For the sake of my kids
As they will loose hope from this world
And a dad as well
Let no other pearl be disappearing from this world
Let them free
Make their feets walk
And give them a voice to talk.

Jonathan Ferrini, 3/5/2018

Current Occupation: Commercial real estate and insurance broker salesman.
Previous Occupation: Commercial real estate broker salesman.
Contact Information: Jonathan Ferrini is a published author who resides in San Diego. He received his MFA in Motion Picture and Television Production from UCLA. Jonathan has been a self employed commercial real estate investor and consultant his entire career.. He is also a US Patent holder.


Garlic Boy


The screams and cries are loudest at night and aggravate the inmates who encourage the predators and fantasize about the fate of the prey. It isn’t long before “Om Mani Padme Hum” resonates throughout the cell block and peace replaces terror.  It’s my final night after being incarcerated at Corcoran State prison for five years.  

The tiny plastic mirror above my combination metal sink and toilet reflects the transformation of a slightly built eighteen year old into a formidable man with prison tattoos. The tattoo on my forearm reads, “El Chico de Ajo” which translates into “Garlic Boy”.

Soon after my incarceration, I visited the prison library and randomly selected “The Teachings of Buddha”. Reading it removed the hatred and vengeance consuming me.  I wrote to the Buddhist publisher and thanked them for transforming my life and was forwarded additional Buddhist publications. The transformation I found in Buddhism spread throughout the cell block and I became a revered Buddhism counselor to the hardest of criminals and their jailers.

Its daybreak and the Warden escorts me to the bus which will take me home. The only possession I took is my copy of “The Teachings of Buddha.”  He hands me a pencil drawing of a family of spiders nestled in their web. The drawing is titled “Peace and Gratitude” and the Warden tells me “Charlie” meditated and gave it to me as a gift.  I tell him to sell it and buy Buddhist publications for the library.

Gilroy California is a farming community known for growing garlic. Our family lived in a trailer home located downwind from a garlic processing plant and gave my family the permanent stench of garlic. There are two social classes of Latino’s who live and work in Gilroy:  wealthy landowners tracing their lineage to Spanish land grants and migrant farm workers harvesting their crops.   My parents are migrants paying the wealthy land owner rent and a percentage of their crop sales. I’m an only child, and was a lonely, quiet, studious kid with dreams of attending college to study agricultural science and one day owning our own farm. My garlic stench made me an outcast teased and bullied with the exception of Andalina, a quiet, studious girl, exchanging loving glances with me in school.  Andalina’s parents own a beautiful ranch home on hundreds of acres. A relationship was never possible given our economic differences. I received a postcard from Andalina in prison telling me she graduated from college and was attending graduate school. I was proud of her but too embarrassed to write back and tell her I earned my GED in prison.

My parents often sent me to the only minimarket/gas station in our neighborhood to buy groceries and I welcomed the errand because they included money for a “Slurpee”. The owner of the minimarket is Ernesto. He was once a struggling immigrant but saved to open the new minimarket/gas station.  He’s considered a “Coconut” by Latino’s and prefers to go by “Ernie”. Ernesto was politically ambitious and a “law and order” businessman with aspirations of running for mayor.  His minimarket/gas station has no competition for miles and he charges monopoly prices.

I entered the minimarket and dashed for the Slurpee machine. I poured a tall Slurpee and grabbed the groceries. As I approached Ernesto to pay, a Latino gang entered the store which was empty except for me and Ernesto. One gang member stood guard at the entrance.  Sensing trouble, I hurried to complete the transaction and get out of the store.  The leader of the gang passed me and smelled my garlic stench placing his arm around me saying, “You’re my garlic boy”.  His grip was firm and he approached the counter with me in tow. He held a gun to Ernesto’s head demanding money. Ernesto opened the register and handed over the money begging, “Please don’t kill me!” The gunman turned to me and said, “You stink man!” He hit me on the back of the head with the butt of the gun. I fell unconscious.   

I regained consciousness to find Ernesto standing over me. My arms and feet were bound and I was being photographed by the local newspaper. Ernesto assumed I was a gang member and used the robbery as a photo opportunity for his mayoral run. Ernesto planted the pistol dropped by the thief in my pants.  I was arrested and charged with armed robbery. The Public Defender ignored my plea of “wrong place, wrong time”, and pressured me to accept a plea deal. I was sentenced to prison and Ernesto was elected mayor.

The bus ride home feels like a prison cell as it crawls up Interstate 5 surrounded by Central Valley farms.  I’m anxious and clutch the “Teachings of Buddha”. We pass a billboard reading:  

Next Services 8 miles.

Ernie’s Minimarket and Gas Station


The billboard reignites hatred and vengeance towards Ernesto but I hold the book close to my heart and chant, “Om Mani Padme Hum” which calms me.  I’ll get off the bus at Ernesto’s minimarket and buy a bottle of champagne to celebrate our family reunion and treat myself to a Slurpee which I dreamed about in prison.

The bus stops in front of the minimarket. I enter and recognize Ernesto behind the counter. I pour a Slurpee and select a bottle of champagne. I approach the register and ask Ernesto, “Remember me?” to which he replies, “No. You all look alike!”  The doors to the minimarket swing open and in the store mirror behind Ernesto, I see the “shark like” stare of a “meth head” quickly approaching the register determined to rob and likely kill Ernesto. I alone will determine if Ernesto lives or dies. I turn to the meth head rolling up my shirt sleeves revealing prison “tats” criminals recognize while giving him my “prison eye stare down.” I hold the bottle of champagne like a baton. The meth head stops dead in his tracks saying, “It’s cool man. No hassle from me!”  He backs his way out of the store and runs to his car speeding away.  Ernesto knew he “dodged a bullet” and holds out his hand to shake saying, “Thank you.  How can I repay you?”  I hand him my copy of “The Teachings of Buddha”.  I walk out of the store to my family reunion sipping the Slurpee like expensive cognac.



William Metcalfe, 2/26/2018

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




    24 years ago, a small cut on my nose cost me over $400. I was workikng as a picture framer working for a customer on some large Salvador Dali prints. It was a set of 4 separate images. Each was Dali's idea of the most telling aspect of a great America city. Their owner had been screwed on them. In spite of serious visual damage, they had been falsely sold as investment art.
    I began by working on San Francisco. Dali had picked the Chinese New Year as their important event. The prints were black and white with splotches of a faded red. This is why the prints were crap. They were cheaply framed, which had caused some problems. The once white paper that the art was printed on was now more beige than white. A more serious fault was that the red ink had almost faded into oblivion.
    These prints were in my shop when I still had hair. I used to visit a barber every season, although I might skip winter. My hair was long and it hung in front of my eyes. Now, I tie back what is left. Eventually, I will be able to leave it behind in the house when I go to work. Back then, when working, I would just brush it aside with my hand. 
    Here I should admit that I let my fingernails grow longer than most people. I regard them as tools. I find it easier to handle pieces of delicate paper with my fingernails. When the nail of a thumb breaks off, I suffer as though I have a lost an irreplaceable tool.
    This disaster was caused when I leaned over to examine the print. To clear my vision, I brushed the hair from my face. When my fingernail cut the flesh of my nose, I didn't realize that I was bleeding. After I straightened up, I saw that these new reds in the Dali were vibrant and fully colored. When my heart began beating again, I dabbed at the spots of blood with a paper towel. 
    I carried insurance for damage to art entrusted to me. So, I put the Dali aside until the following day when I called a paper conservator that lived near me. I had called the customer earlier and gave her the choice of letting my person work on the print or of her finding another qualified person. Since there were three other prints, I hoped that a conservator could maintain their matching appearance. It would have been difficult to replace the print and judging from the condition of this one, another probably wouldn’t match either. 
    I carried the piece to the paper conservator and we talked about solutions for rectifying the damage. The print actually looked better with my blood, but that was not an option. The print included images of fireworks exploding in the sky. Then the conservator dropped a bombshell. She would remove my blood but then she would have to wash the entire print. When the blood was removed, the bright red spot would be replaced with a bright white one unless the print was totally washed. I saw immediately that I might have to have all 4 prints treated because washing would remove the discoloration from the paper and these prints should all match. With one washing, the customer would have 1 print on paper that looked fresh and new while the 3 others would look like badly handled antiques. Fortunately, the customer was satisfied with having the one print cleaned. I paid for the work rather than contacting the insurance company because I wanted to keep my rates low.
    When the cleaning was finished, I also learned, from the customer, that the value of her prints was quite low, much lower than she paid,  because of their poor condition. The customer just added my accident to the summation of her screwing.

Grace Dion, 2/19/2018

Current Occupation: I am retired.
Former Occupation: I've worked in a number of areas, but probably spent the most time as a probate paralegal. 
Your Short Biographical Statement: I'm delighted to now be job-free! 



A job is not a natural thing:
some diabolical creature proposed it
and its attendant woes:  repetition,
forced cohabitation with aliens
slithered from who knows what
crease or pock
in humankind’s wide corpus.

And the hours, the time-warped hours
sacrificed from your life — your life,
my friend, your soul’s very flesh —
Steadily all day your energy is sucked,
‘til at 5 o’clock the flattened sack
of your morning self blows out the door
like a dry leaf, home
to manufacture, with food and sleep,
energy for tomorrow and tomorrow.

We were designed to hunt and gather,
to move from place to place
with the seasons:  to move, 
not to sit like chainless prisoners
in holding pens, staring at screens,
waiting for the beep.

Don Cauble, 2/12/2018

Current Occupation: retired
Former Occupation: offset printer
Contact Information: About myself, poet Tom Kryss once wrote: "He was born on the Left Bank, under the sign of the bomb, with a cricket in his ear."  Dancing Moon Press recently published my latest book: On the backs of seahorses' eyes / Journey of a man through time: New and selected poems and other storybook tales 1962-2012.



A job?

A job, you say?  I should get a job!

For 30 years I worked in a print shop.
A decent job.  (As jobs go.)

Did this job alter my spiritual vision,
my destiny, my feelings on life?

Maybe.  Maybe not.

But now what?

I have yet to write all the poems
that I need to say, 
to express "being here."

A job?  No wonder so many poets 
and writers drink themselves to death.

Or jump off bridges.

Or shoot and kill themselves,
like d. a. levy: a Cleveland promise,
now destined to become a footnote
in the annals of poetry,
as the world lurches onward.

But each man's life, 
each woman's,
each child's dream, 
as a singular expression of life, 
individual, unique.

A job, you say?

As if crafting a book of poems
is not a night and day job!


William Metcalfe, 2/5/2018

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 following story is about an incident which happened on the rifle range when I was going through the US Army’s Basic Training in the early 60s. I trained at Fort Ord which was near Monterey, CA. The range was between us, raw recruits, and Monterey Bay. Whenever a boat, canoe or freighter, came into sight we were ordered to cease firing immediately. And we obeyed that order.

    One day, just after every recruit was ready to puncture his personal target, a rabbit appeared at one side of the range and began to chew at something wriggly and green. The rabbit could not have known that our leader had begun the countdown for that second when we were to begin shooting at the bullseyes. As soon as the Sergeant gave the order to fire, the rabbit began to lazily hop across the range. Very quickly, the poor creature was hidden in surrounding clouds of dust. You would think that it would now speed up and fly across the range with the dust clouds followed behind. No! Not this one. No army was going to interfere with its after dinner hop. So it continued and, as we could barely see the creature, we followed its clouds. Eventually, after the rabbit exited the range, we stopped shooting and the clouds dissipated forever.

    When our Sergeant turned to see how well we had done on our first trip to the firing range, he was obviously perplexed to see so many Maggies Drawers waving in front of the targets. These whirling pieces of cloth meant that not one bullet out of 30 plus rifles had hit a slowly moving target.


Charles Rammelkamp, 1/29/2018

Current Occupation: Retired
Former Occupation: Technical Writer and Teacher
Contact Information: I am the Prose Editor for  BrickHouse Books, in Baltimore and a compulsive writer, which falls more in the category of stuff-I-do than stuff-I-get-paid-for. Recent books include MATA HARI: EYE OF THE DAY, and AMERICAN ZEITGEIST, both as published by Apprentice House (Loyola University), and a chapbook, JACK TAR’S LADY PARTS published by Main Street Rag. Forthcoming from FutureCycle Press in 2018 is another chapbook, ME AND SAL PARADISE.



The Same River Twice  


“…people as confident as Roxanne often seemed to get the better of me, even if it was only by not listening.” – “Some Women” by Alice Munro


I thought Jackie was dumb as rocks, if you want to know the truth, but the teachers all liked her because she volunteered to decorate the gym for high school dances, and they gave her B’s that probably should have been C’s or D’s, but that never stopped her from talking down to me, as if I didn’t understand. Mainly it was her looks that gave her the confidence, and being an extrovert on the cheerleading squad. She was a wiry little blond girl, not ugly but not a knock-out either, but she thought of herself as good-looking, a catch. Her long hair spread down to her shoulders like a cowl and was always neatly combed, if dry as the straw in an Easter egg basket.

So anyway, all these years later I ran into Jackie at my 50th high school reunion. Hadn’t really thought of her in years, though there was a brief time at the beginning of the century when e-mail groups flourished, and there was a Potawatomi Rapids Class of 1967 group that I joined from the same sense of curiosity everybody else did, only to realize there was a reason we hadn’t stayed in touch – just no chemistry. The email group petered out within a year.

Speaking of Chemistry, that’s what I do; it’s my field. I teach at Algonkian College in Virginia. In fact, I’ve met Eric Betzig as a colleague. He was at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Ashburn at the time, may still be. He won the 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, with two other scientists, for their work in single-molecule microscopy. I even attended a lecture by Bill Moerner, from Stanford, one of the other two co-winners.

I’m not a name-dropper, but I thought it was pretty cool and I mentioned it to Billy Shuster, another of my classmates, now a retired pharmacist. I saw Jackie out of the corner of my eye making sarcastic little baby movements with her mouth to Sherry Morris – nyaa-nyaa-nyaa – and rolling her eyes at me as if I were some sort of snob. What had I done to offend her? Did she think I was boasting? Or was it Billy Shuster she was mocking?

“Jackie!” I sang out. “Jackie McNulty!” I used her maiden name.

She turned to me then as if only noticing me for the first time, and she blushed at Sherry, and I knew it was me she’d been scorning. If she had a job, this was its description, “mean girl.”

“Justin! So good to see you back home!” Jackie hadn’t left Potawatomi Rapids. Her husband, Blake Rodgers, had died fifteen years before. Blake had taken over his father’s plumbing business and now their son Randy ran it.

“I’d ask you to dance,” Jackie smiled, “but I remember you never did go out on the floor with the rest of us.”

And just like that she put me in my place.


Tricia Knoll, 1/22/2018

Current occupation: Poet
Former occupation: Wanna-be Poet who made a living doing communications, public relations, and public information work for the City of Portland, Oregon 
Contact Information: Tricia Knoll is an Oregon poet who maintains gardens for native plants, butterflies, pollinators, and people who want to smell a nice rose. She has three collections of poetry in print with a fourth, How I Learned to Be White coming out from Antrim House later in 2018. Website: 



Punching the Garden Time Clock

He asked what I did.


Divide yellow and green saxifrage so summer catches more dapples under the Japanese maple, sweep scummy leaves from the birdbath with an alder branch, thrust rush and willow shoots into the scoured creek bank.

Squeeze out hairy bittercress threatening to splatter seeds, prune fig tree rambles, straighten mossy bricks of the salamander condo, and scrub algae off Buddha’s head. Poke in snap peas, stir worm squirms in the compost bin, and fertilize roses’ burning sprouts on last year’s green.


Waltz with intimacy of dirt
dip finger in rainwater in the blue birdbath basin
click heels to hummingbird in red currant
drum with flicker’s tum tum tum of nest hole in the cedar
slip white river rock on Buddha’s lap
        Nails crammed with soil
        no hurry to wash
         crescent moon


Bart Plantenga, 1/15/2018

Current Occupation: writer / proofer / translator / editor / volunteer refugee advocate / yodel expert / periodic journalist
Former Occupation: foot messenger / house painter / cab driver / factory worker / forestry – tree trimmer / mailman / house renovation 
Contact Information: web; radio; Youtubeb/art pretentious movies



The Kingdom Of Busby Berkley

I saw right away that I was the only “guy” in the Dorian Gray Bar, in The Riefenstahl, landmark-status-hotel-turned-condo. I was posed so that one and all knew I was not just some shiny bauble in a fop’s generic dream, nor some cut of chop sculpted by hankering eyes, but a man, a boy, an alien – more and less – inhabiting an uninhabitable land – and now this portion of bar. I was drinking a La Trappe Dubbel (6.5%), from Holland, reading the label as I peeled it off. OK, I’m nervous. I looked in the mirror behind the bar, perturbed that my haircut, asymmetrical [kindest description] or fucked-up [brutally honest], continues to mock me day and night.

As I wiped the brew’s glisten from my chin with my shirt sleeve, I reminded myself to add La Trappe to my list of favorite brews. I – as immigrant, uitlander, naive and knowing – had learned in the short while I had been in New York that everyone had lists of best bands, pizza, movies, desserts, Italian ice, knishes, sex positions, beers, and clubs. They were willing to defend them, even if it meant losing a friend in the argument. Especially clubs because I was going out so much that out actually became in and nowhere and everywhere were easily confused concepts of place: Top 7: Tertiary Synthetics, Big Rock Candy Mountain, Hobo King, the Boot Leg, Earwig, T-Birds, the Cocteau Club (where I kept a toothbrush in a glass behind the bar).

A beguiled or beguiling man of a prior splendor was drinking and staring into a dank concoction (a Cummerbund?), a gelatinous drink that looked like it had been siphoned from the Kill van Kull. Other cravated men gazed forlornly into the carpet, some managing sly deadpan smirks that somewhat managed to disguise their spiritual qualms.

Busby Berkley pushed through the heavy revolving door. There he stood in the lobby, rubbing his lapel with his thumb and forefinger, dapper as a skipper in search of his yacht. The wait staff scurried through the plush, post-Marienbad lobby, nodding their heads with an obeisance – or was it condescension? – in any case, I felt awkward, out of place.

“Re-ahh-lly hope you can forgive me,” Busby apologized profusely – something about a dear friend in dire need – which gave him leeway to place his chummy hand directly upon my thigh with the weight and feel of a spilled octopus salad.

Berkley’s mind was sharp like a branch snapped in two. Like the knife thrower’s knife. Every hair left on Berkley’s skull was individually trained to daily affect its delightful symmetry. I thought: James Mason’s shorter brother.

Berkley had suggested this rendezvous only three days earlier when he had befriended me at the corner of 8th Ave. and 46th St., turning to me to say: “I know you. You’re someone.” And that he couldn’t place me in his “memory Rolodex” irked his sense of – omniscience (is that the word I’m looking for)?

“No, I’m just a no one.” It’s true – despite a few “free” drinks at the Cocteau, some lines of coke, a few poems, and a casual errant swipe at my midsection, I was barely someone. I may have entertained the notion of being a catch, a young fling-thing, sultry and svelte youth to some art gallery dame or fop, but, really, I was a nobody. These kinds of daydream delusions sustain you when you’re running around Mid-Manhattan on your rounds as a foot messenger, sneakers sloshing with a day’s rain, earning minimum wage at a job even most homeless people turn down as too degrading. To earn extra pocket clink I’d run between pickups and deliveries – sometimes $15 a day – pocketing the subway fare that the Cosmo Geographical Messenger Service, would reimburse me for.

“A lifestyle overhaul is called for here.”

Berkley ordered two kirs with a hint of a nod and flutter of a forefinger – William Powell I thought.

“A kir is a Mediterranean sunset, as sweet and glorious as a teen’s aspirations … But what’s that smell – like a sour Insure.”


“Adult Pampers. But for you Furman, incontinence is still just a distant, ill-defined piece of flotsam.”

“Uh, OK.” And then I realized it was probably my sopping, sour socks.

“Your writing, your poetry, your DElusions – or do I mean ALlusions? – took my precious breath away. The way only great cognac – and writing – can. Mmm … It was nice of you to send them to me so … promptly … What a set of lovely limbs you are attached to by the way.”

I am standing there dazed by his clever, quicksilver repertoire.

“Am I giving you a headache? I know I’m giving myself one. Come on back to my place. 27F.”

He paid for the drinks with a big bill withdrawn from his portefeuille with the hand that still held the kir glass and, like in movies, not a drop was spilled. A quick backhanded “shoo” indicated no change would be necessary, ensuring that his generosity (and his latest catch?) would be duly noted.

In “his” elevator of chrome and mirror (to daily taunt one’s reflection) I saw my head from an angle I’d never seen it from before. I felt like a stranger inside myself.

“And companionship.”


“Lucrative … People are lonely. The ones who have everything have nothing.”

27F was actually 27A through 27F – spacious like a department store floor.

“Et voila! I’m a Gemini, so beware! As you will soon note – Baroque and modern, Deco and Gothic, Danish and Florentine, 50s and 20s, Shaker and African, erotic and sacred. It’s all me.” He knew just what to do with a vase of calla lilies (or, perhaps, he knew exactly who of his minions would.)

“A maladroitly placed vase makes me nauseous … Perhaps, being a writer, you could write about my … little shoebox chateau for Home & Garden. I know the editor.” (As a function of the verifiable phenomenon known as Creative and Impressionable Hearing Loss, CIHL – I thought I heard “Homo Garden.”)

If I lived Berkley’s life, I thought, I’d also concern myself with aesthetic assaults on good taste. Isn’t that what sophistication is all about?

“‘Sensitive as a barometer,’ my mother, may she rest in Hell, er, I mean peace, used to say. I make things happen,” he continued. “This is where the real business of theatre happens. Anyway, it’s all about denying realities – theatre is just a vestigial organ of the soul.” The more he elaborated on what he could do for me, the more it seemed my glass just wouldn’t get empty.

“Look out here; it’s not a pretty view. But a not-pretty-view is an interesting view. My past. Ye olde silk mills of Paterson. And so here I sit, past, present, future all in full view.” His arm swept vaguely across the west, toward New Jersey or Ohio.

This gesture led to more opportune movements: his hand strumming my collarbone, then my neck, while the other ever-so-lightly (in my mind?) brushed my emergent nipple. His arm heavy like the arm of an uncomfortable chair. I would later write: The dead weight of an injured officer dragged across a minefield.

He smelled like a barber shop on Saturday at noon – a crisp cleave of the air.

“Paterson is where I discovered I was not like other boys … You are standing on real estate that goes for $1200 per square foot. To know I bought it when it was $78. You can buy a thousand acres of prairie in Montana for that. We’re talking the compression of desire here, the telescoping of human endeavor. And I own this – all 3275 square feet of it – and possession, as you will someday learn, is 99% of happiness.”

The tour continued room by room, heirloom by heirloom, with him issuing his grand, sweeping gestures as if his early theatrical influence was Moses or Monty Hall.

“The work I will offer you will get you off the street. Messengering is an occupation of necessary humiliation for all to experience. My dear friend, William Saroyan and his son did it. Henry Miller, Mercury, there are others. From the stone of humility do we chisel the sculpture of pride, self-esteem, character. To wander is to dream. But you mustn’t wander too long. Especially someone like you, a writer, a poet, a sensitive soul. You need to be reeled in periodically.”

Anything of value, lacquered end table, gilt frame – everything, actually – he felt compelled to describe, place in its proper milieu, appraise it to within a few pennies (how would I know) of its current Christie’s value.

“Everything here is real – marble, teakwood – I insist because the real grounds us, Furman. Christie’s and Sotheby’s both have fat dossier’s full of photos of every detail of this place. They’re just waiting for me to croak.” His voice tapered off into a haze of reverie. “I learned this in Sub-Saharan Africa – not Palm Springs. Keeps one in touch with the elemental, because tromp l’oeil soon leads to tromp de coeur, and how easily the eye then tricks the heart.”

Then suddenly, as if out of nowhere, a wall was really a sliding Japanese screen, which opened upon an office filled with muted bustle, everything chic and simple, grey and rosé, matching and soft, artificial and ergonomic.

Five groomed, gloomy lads, trim as letter openers, puttered away, hunched over obese files and computer terminals in an air of maybe forced and numbed détente. Like one had to pinch gratitude from its fruit.

He swept me (hand on small of back) into his brood, “John Dean, Wilbur Mills, Julio Iglesias, Horst Wessl and Rudolf Hesse – Furman Pivo, my new houseboy.” His pronunciation of “boy” made me feel he truly did mean possession was 99% of happiness. They glared at me the way slaves might who were suddenly faced with the prospect of having to share their already meager rations with another. Oh, how they coveted my gold handcuffs.

As he poured his 4th White Horse Scotch straight up, Busby,with a certain circumscribed glee, spilled that his 5 boys – “really can be coerced into a jolly time.”

“In honor of my 61st birthday, the boys stuck candles up their flosculi – that’s Latin for ‘little flower’ derived from the Greek for anus, the culus being a rosebud. Now that’s poetry – hehe.” A small nudge of elbow to the giddy part of my ribcage. He was very self-amused by his own bawdy imagination and proud: “Punch me in the gut,” he showed me how by punching himself, “solid, no flab – a sharp knife is a good knife …”

My job: tidy up, dusting, cleaning, and more. Twenty hours a week and he expected punctuality and said so. Eye for detail; no fingerprints on the crystal, no watermarks on the silverware. His lads (the human candelabra?) never so much as uttered a word, unless all those sighs and clucks of tongue were truncated niceties. And, as is the wont of a self-styled benevolent monarch, he rather enjoyed the notion of rivalry (a secret of power) among his glum brood.

He inspected for dust and prints and made me wear pink rubber gloves. He checked the dishwater – “Prevention is protection” – with a forefinger to be sure it was scalding. Sterilization was his philosophy, his insurance policy, in an age of mysterious diseases.

When I dusted he watched. Or rather, he admired the way his smart choice of uniform (ballet tights and a sleeveless, ribbed tee shirt) highlighted the special features of my physique. He held his breath when I handled the Louis Quatorze (“pronounced cat oars”) porcelain bookends. He could not prevent himself from saying, “Careful! Those are worth a montaigne de centimes in sentimental value alone, not to mention current market value, more than your worth with all your exquisite limbs …”

Berkley knew very well that flattery (no matter how hackneyed) and benevolence (no matter how petty) were the keys to the jailhouse gate. A staff kept perpetually hungry for approval and remuneration was a staff kept bitter, obedient, anxious, and eager to please. Gratitude and servitude were strange bedfellows.

I also did some filing, hand laundering, vacuuming, made his bed. He always seemed to be there, like a shiny beetle in the corner of your eye, offering advice or autobiographical tidbits.

“This – have a look – I purchased on holiday in Firenze. A steal in ’73. ‘The Holy Family,’ circa 1525. Sodoma. Well, perhaps it is a copy, but, notice – the Christ child touching his own penis.”


“INteresting?! More than that, Furman. It’s the very cross-pollination of onanism and faith, prurience and purity.”

Saturday I again arrived promptly at 9. He was still lolling around in bed after 11. Rifled through the Times, his mail, fidgeted with gadgets. Ate half a grapefruit, topped with a maraschino cherry (which he tried and failed to pop into my mouth from the pinch of his meticulous fingers), a toasted dry English muffin and a bedside vintage Bakelite pot of chamomile tea.

“Delicate plumbing.”

While dusting under his bed I discovered a glossy autographed photo.

“Oh, I should frame that. I know just the darling frame for it. It’s from my dear friend, Nureyev. Rudolf Nureyev.” He held the photo, stared at it. “Ah, Rudolf, a coil of tensed surreptitiousness crammed into a shiny tinkered codpiece. His sex is so … Jack-in-the-box.” He flung it onto the bed and impatiently plowed through a blur of television channels with the remote.

“‘The male and female culus surely do not differ in their capacities to stimulate a penis to orgasm’ – or so it says here, I’m merely quoting, Furman, just quoting.” Everything that emerged from his maw of pearl and gold seemed wedged between quotation marks, ensconced in 3rd-person sarcasm, quote-inside-quote. This alleviated him of any responsibility for the increasingly emboldened nature of his utterances.

He often wore nothing in bed and alluded to this state, even affording me a casual flap-of-the-sheets.

“You looked, you rascal.”

He liked his home warm, hot even, and I worked up a sweat and he saw me sweat. “Feel at home. Don’t be shy. Work in your skivvies because, you know, it’s just us boys. And boys needn’t be shy amongst boys.”

He had purchased some pantoufles, darling French slippers, for me. Upon which he heaped endless praise; the way my “exquisite ankles” arose out of them, how my feet completed their exquisite design.

“I do not relish your tennies  …”

“They’re Converse hi-tops.”

“Whatever … with their treads tromping dog doodoo around my lamb’s wool rugs and … you understand. Let me see you.”

I stood before him, still, very still, stiff as a riding crop, heart beating inside my thoughts. “‘How strange he stands there. So big! And so … cocksure.’”

He tied a French maid’s apron around my waist. And when I polished his Victorian porcelain figurines he could not suppress an ill-defined smirk. I made lunch and we ate together. He liked a glass of Bordeaux or two, with his bacon, lettuce and tomato on toasted cracked wheat.

“Bacon’s just one of very few little vices. Man is interesting only in the depth of how he incorporates his vices. I’m being honest. And in this jungle it’s so rare that honesty too, has become a sort of vice.”

He idly (or perhaps strategically) leafed through an art book he had splayed open between our respective lunch plates.

“Here ‘Saint Anne, Joseph, Mary & Child’, 1511, Hans Baldung Grien. It reveals by far the most blatant example of a foreign hand – in this case Anne’s – touching the Lord’s glorious dick.”

And from the back of the art book slipped a glossy magazine, Sport Naturisme. He leafed through the spreads of young boys naked in nature.

“Sometimes I see them as nude and other times as naked.”

Features: “Jeunes Gens Nus Dans L’Intimité De Leur Chambres” and “On The Banks Of The Ganges – Young Boys Bathing.”

“Is it art?”

“I wouldn’t know.” I did, actually.

“Or just stroke material?” He took another bite of his sandwich. “I love meat.”

“I’m vegetarian.”

“That’s a shame, but I guess it’s ‘healthy’. And isn’t it a marvel how vegetables are converted into flesh and how lovely the way your flesh fits about your frame. You rival Donatello’s ‘Dying Slave.’” He flipped to a page so that I could see what he meant; that it was a compliment.

“See, maybe you’re an athlete of a sort. Do you do sports?”

“Not as much as I used to.”

“What do you like?”

“Well, I ran track and cross-country in high school.”

“You must’ve been a natural. And now you’re a messenger. Perhaps it’s predestination. Genetic.”

“I dunno. I was pretty good …”

“Did you have satin running shorts?”

“Yea …?”

“Wore a … JOCKstrap?”

“I did.”

“Was it a COMfortable feeling?”

“I guess.”

“Any other sports … ‘WATER’ sports perhaps?”

“I did Tai Kwan Do.”

“Oh, how utterly thrilling – and so marvelous for ‘discipline’ … Care to show me some of your kicks?” Mind you, I was wearing only an apron and my bikini undies – no shirt, nothing else. right here is the human dilemma: how does one accommodate the predilections of a boss and still maintain one’s dignity? The equation is the more unequal the social status between partners, the less attention will be paid to the pleasure of the lower status partner.

I performed some vestiges of various kicks. And I don’t remember whether he was sighing and marveling at my technique or whether he was just afraid for his fragile baubles.

“Marvelous. Bravo! Priceless! That’s why you’re so marvelously … lean.” He clapped and offered a certain leer that could only have otherwise come from behind Joseph von Sternberg’s monocle in a 20s Berlin cabaret. “Now, does the jockstrap ever … lose its FUNCtionality, how do I … and release your …”

“Uh, I’m not …” But I was; his ellipses (another tactic in his destabilization repertoire) became easier and easier to fill in.

“Of course, of course.” With the completion of his 4th, my 2nd, glass of Bordeaux he’d become distinctly more “honest.” Effusively so.

“I’m looking right now to … replace my French boy – half Algerian – from Marseilles. Lovely lad. He’s not really legal, which is somewhat thrilling. You must understand that a man such as me, still ‘needs’ things, things money can’t always ‘buy’ outright. But it’s worth a foray … You have such an underdeveloped sense of … you’re naive, charming, exquisitely put together.” Held breath. Wink wink. “Glory in your fleeting charms, Furman. While you can.”

“We’ll go shopping. I expect BIG things from you. And I’m going to make those BIG things happen. Take a cab to Barney’s. Purchase you some nice things … Versace, Armani … So I can take you places to meet people, be seen. Circulate you. I know editors, critics, I know everyone who’s anyone. People who trust my … impulses … and so must you.” The more he seemed to offer ME the more he seemed to expect I was going to offer HIM.

I dusted a frame, straightened another; one held a print: “The Penis From Sir Charles Bell, Letters Concerning The Diseases Of The Urethra.”

He opened another bottle. It was assumed I would match him glass for glass. “And you must know that drinking, with me, well, it’s part of your ‘johhhb description.’”

At one point, while cleaning the window of his antique bookcase, he poked his wormy forefinger in through a hole in my underwear. “You’ve got quite a…‘hole’ there.” Framing the “hole” with a set of 2 fingers curved around each side of his head to emphasize that the allusion to hole was not meant to be attributed to him. Irony, you know.

By 7 p.m. that Saturday, we were having yet one more “last drink.” But when I asked him about a paycheck for the past two weeks and said my rent couldn’t wait, he glared at me squalid-eyed, as if I’d just betrayed him. Pissed on his Persian camel-hair rug.

“Fetch my slacks.” I grabbed them from the back of a chair. From his portefeuille he counted out $400 in $5 and $10 bills.

“I hope you don’t spend it all on something stupid – like women or drugs.” He pronounced “women” like others might “mercenary” or “scorpion.”

“Or, even stupider – like rent,” I added as I stood up to introduce the idea of departure. Had he hidden my clothes, the ‘rags’ he’d come to despise? No, they’d been rolled up and stuffed into a plastic bag, shoved into a utility cabinet. But I found them because in desperation one finds secret determination.

“You’ll be back Tuesday?”

“I’m not …”

“Excuse me …?

“9:30, Tuesday.” I lied. But I never returned. Even avoided the corner we’d met on, the block he lived on, the kingdom he ruled. For years, up to this very day, actually.

“Maybe avoiding temptation, the sight of a repressed version of yourself,” as Bernice was to suggest, referring to some article she’d read.

When I stepped outside on that Saturday evening, the rain echoed – tiKtiK – on the hollow sidewalks. The earth was paved over. The sky leeched of glory. A gloomy cocktail in a bleary aquarium. I looked up; there’s Busby, pressing his face, pouting against the slimy glass. Kidding! But maybe in the movie version.

I ducked out of the rain inside a parking garage along 10th Avenue. Despite the fact that these concrete miasmas are described as makeshift hunting grounds; despite warnings that once in, you lose your way. It’s not paranoia; it’s been on the news. Who is it that said: “paranoia is spirituality inside-out, awareness with a broken compass”?

The girl standing out of the rain next to me smiled and then stared straight back out into the rain. Her wet tee shirt said: STUPID NASTY MYTH ☹ WORK AS SELF-ESTEEM. I smiled at her, but stopped short of asking: “Is synchronicity meaningful coincidence that leads to magical communication? Like what they used to call destiny?” Maybe my smile said: “loneliness sucks” but I did not mean anything else with it. She smiled back and stopped short too.

Gangs of swirling, dreamless youths in like-colored shirts and hats roamed up the Ave. They’ve been rooting for losing football teams forever. They were looking for purgation. I stepped out into the rain to follow their migrations. They may have been onto something. Or the something of nothing. I am 24 and heading in a direction that I hope will tell me where I am going.

Jonathan Ferrini, 1/8/2018

Current Occupation: Commercial real estate and insurance broker salesman.
Previous Occupation: Commercial real estate broker salesman.
Contact Information: Jonathan Ferrini is a published author who resides in San Diego. He received his MFA in Motion Picture and Television Production from UCLA. Jonathan has been a self employed commercial real estate investor and consultant his entire career.. He is also a US Patent holder.


The Final Watch

   Interstate 8 climbs west out of the Imperial Valley and twists through the rugged mountains upward into East San Diego County. My name is Tommy and I recently graduated from the Border Patrol Academy. I’m assigned to work the graveyard shift at the Campo checkpoint along Interstate 8 which is 65 miles west from the Mexican border crossing and fifty miles east from San Diego. The checkpoint is surrounded by rugged, isolated terrain accessible solely by four-wheel drive vehicles. Thousands of vehicles pass through our checkpoint daily but you wouldn’t realize it working the graveyard shift as wild animals outnumber the vehicles.

   My Senior Agent and mentor is Ben who reached mandatory retirement age. He loves his job and is a widower without children. He is kind, fatherly, and enjoys telling tales of his storied career more than mentoring me. His rotund body is showing wear and tear. He has a limp and bouts of memory loss. Ben’s faithful partner is a drug sniffing German shepherd named “Ruger” who can hold his own in a brawl. We spend most of our shift relaxing in recliner chairs and keep a cooler filled with soft drinks and water. Ben and Ruger nod off from time to time which I don’t mind. Our office is a small trailer. It’s a full moon tonight and the sky is full of stars. A breeze is kicking up the fragrance of the chaparral.

   It’s 0230 and Ruger barks. Ben wakes and grabs the binoculars looking east down the freeway which is dark. “It looks like CHP Officer Wally is on the beat”, Ben remarks.  Although I see nothing, I won’t question a Senior Agent. Ruger is barking relentlessly and dragging Ben to the checkpoint. Ben says, “Hand me a Coke for Wally, Tommy.” I comply but remain dumbfounded. The checkpoint is lit with floodlights but I see nothing. Ben and Ruger cross the two lane freeway to the checkpoint.

   Ben crouches down and leans as if peering into a vehicle to speak to a driver. Ruger stands on both legs and Ben holds him close. I watch in disbelief as Ben holds a conversation with an apparition.  Ruger barks and pulls Ben towards our chase car. Ben yells, “Wally just received a radio call to respond to an overturned tanker truck at mile marker 4.  I’m going to assist. Man the fort!” Wally and Ruger race down Interstate 8 with lights and siren. I’m tense and confused. I radio Ben who doesn’t answer. To my relief, I hear Ben request radio assistance from CAL FIRE Station 44, “Overturned fuel truck on fire. Driver trapped. Assisting CHP Officer Wally. Send fire engine and ambulance.” Within minutes, CAL FIRE Engine 44 and an ambulance race by the checkpoint. I run to our four wheel drive truck and speed towards mile marker 4 to assist.

   Mile marker 4 is several miles west from the checkpoint. I see Ben’s chase car emergency lights flashing ahead and his chase car is positioned across the two lane freeway as a safety measure to prevent vehicles from approaching. A coyote darts from the brush, crosses my lane, and disappears into the wilderness. I swerve and narrowly miss the animal but at ninety miles per hour, I struggle to gain control and keep from flipping. I maintain control of the truck and park but don’t see Ben or Ruger. There is no overturned tanker truck. Engine 44 is parked alongside the freeway with its emergency lights off. The ambulance is leaving empty. A masculine, calming voice calls to me, “Up here on the bluff, kid.” I climb up on to the bluff and meet Chief Johnny of Engine Company 44. He is tall, thin, and has a thick mane of silver hair and handlebar moustache. He is handsome and I suspect many are happy to be rescued by Johnnie. “Call it a night fellas”, Johnnie commands his men who conclude their search for Ben and Ruger.  

   Johnnie asks, “What’s your name Agent?” I reply, “Tommy, Captain.”  Johnnie places his arm around my shoulder and raises his head towards the sky remarking, “You can practically count every star”. I’m flustered and quivering.  Johnnie holds me tight and looks me in the eye. In a hushed voice he says, “About thirty years ago, I responded to a tanker truck fire at this very place. Ben and CHP Officer Wally were attempting to extricate the driver. Just as we began spraying the tanker with foam retardant, it blew into flames. The driver was pulled to safety, Ben suffered singed eyebrows but CHP Officer Wally burned to death. There’s no earthly explanation for what happened here tonight but I’ve seen it before. Agents like Ben never forget losing a fellow officer. When their time to die comes, they prefer it occurs doing the job they love and choose to vanish forever into the wilderness. The San Diego Commander of the Border Patrol and I go way back. I’ll call him tonight and explain everything. He’ll understand”. Captain Johnnie and I walk down the bluff to our vehicles. Captain Johnnie waves as Engine 44 returns to the firehouse. I park Ben’s chase car alongside the meridian and will retrieve it later.

   I return to the checkpoint confused. I stare at the star filled sky and learned tonight life holds many secrets. I miss Ben and Ruger and will never forget them. I hope they are together in a better place. Across the freeway, a lone coyote exits the brush, sits and stares directly at me. Our eyes meet for a moment and the coyote belts out a howl before returning to the wilderness.