December 1997 – January 1998
Volume 3 Number 10
Table of Contents
I think I'm in a stage in my life where things are just now starting to get complicated. Now I feel like everything I do (or don't do) has consequences.
I'm sorry, sir, but we don't deliver to the EAST SIDE.
-- Mr. Pizza PieMan
It's a blessing to be the underdog rag because we do our thing and sincerely hope it acts as subliminal glue within a divided community.
Scientifically speaking, blood isn't any thicker than water. They're about the same. But you try telling that to my grandmother, who once had four generations of us living under her tiny roof -- and loved it.
My brother James was the first one I remember who tried to break away -- and the first to come home with his tail between his legs. Granny just smiled and put his bed back in my room -- carried it all by herself, too. The fact that he'd come back with a wife in tow didn't phase her one bit, but it sure got to me on the cold winter nights when I had to listen to James and Carrie "keep each other warm," as he put it. Having spent the past twelve years in a house where there were always a half-dozen stray dogs underfoot, I knew there was a bit more to it than that.
Granny didn't care too much for Carrie, but then she didn't have much use for women at all. Flighty, she called them, and shallow. And most of 'em wouldn't know a good day's work if it came up and bit them on the backside, she'd add with a half-laugh, half-frown that made it impossible to tell which emotion was real.
She was a good woman, though, and she gave Carrie plenty to do -- shell the peas, watch the baby, do the laundry. There was a laundromat just up the street, and a store where we could and occasionally did buy peas for less than the plants actually cost, but I suspect that Granny was trying to make Carrie into a "real woman," the kind who took care of men rather than needed one to take care of her. My mama, Granny's only daughter, lived with us too, but they'd long ago given up on trying to change each other. I guess Granny was looking to start over with Carrie.
Or maybe she was just mean. Maybe she liked watching Carrie's blue-white hands -- hands that have probably never lifted anything heavier than a hairbrush, Granny grumbled when she first met her -- turn red and crack when it was cold outside. Sometimes, if there was enough laundry to do, tiny hair-like rivers of blood would flow from Carrie's knuckles and palms.
But Carrie was a pretty good woman herself. She was a much more agreeable woman than my mama, may God forgive me for saying that, and she worked harder than anyone in the house except Granny. She certainly worked harder than James, who thought -- probably because Granny did -- that putting in three shifts a week at the plant meant he could spend the rest of his time sitting around playing blackjack and poker with our uncle. Sometimes Carrie would even bring their meals out to the porch if they didn't want to stop a game. I cried the first time I saw her do that, not because of what she did, but because James didn't bother to say "Thank you," or even to look up; he just grunted and glared at his cards. I never did understand what she saw in him, although they certainly did keep each other warm.
Carrie made me ashamed of what I was, and I started getting up hours before I had to be at school and trying to find some household chore to be doing when she woke up. I never did manage to get up before Granny, though, and she was always shooing me out of her way.
"That's what we're here for," she'd say. "You should be doing your lessons. I don't want anyone saying I didn't raise my boys right."
About the only thing she would let me do was watch the baby -- my neice, the child of a sister who'd not only disgraced the family by having the kid but had then gotten herself killed in a car wreck last Thanksgiving. Granny wasn't very attached to the baby; she said she could already tell it was going to turn out to be just like its mother. Carrie fiercely loved it, though, and she spent the few breaks she got from her chores cuddling it and singing to it. The proudest moment of my whole year was the morning I finished dressing the baby and looked up to see Carrie watching me, a sweet smile glowing on her face.
I spent a lot of time trying to make her smile that way again. I helped her shell the peas, but she just looked sad when we got finished so quickly. I brought her flowers -- weeds, really -- that I plucked from the gravel on the roadside as I walked home from school, but she always had tears in her eyes the next day when they were brown and crumpled and she had to toss them out. Once I even tried to bring her a little baby bird that had fallen out of its nest, but I didn't know much about fragile animals then and I tucked it into my pocket to carry it home. After that I stopped trying to bring her things that were alive -- I never want to see someone's face turn that pale again.
Our next door neighbor, a woman of about my grandmother's age who had no kids, no dogs, and no pea plants, would often ask me to run down to the store for things like milk and bread. Granny grumbled, but I was always happy to do it. She would tap on our back door -- she was the only one who ever went around back -- and I would quit whatever I was doing, stand regally, and announce "Miss Jenkins needs me for an errand." Then I would dash out with all the grace of my twelve years, find my shoes, run to the store as if God himself was timing me, and run back in the same way. You see, Miss Jenkins let me keep the change if I got back quickly enough. (Or so she said. She never actually took it back.)
That fall I scrimped and saved all the change from those trips, even occasionally knocking on Miss Jenkins' door to see if I could convince her that she needed something, anything, that would require a trip down the road. She must've remembered what it was like to be young, because she could usually remember something she'd forgotten to add to her list.
I figured my problem was that I was always bringing Carrie things I found, which anyone could do. So on the twenty-second of December, I slunk away from my buddies as we shot out of the school. It was pretty easy to do; no one notices the absence of one body when they're full of the knowledge that they don't have to see a chalk board, a teacher, or a text book for two weeks -- an eternity to a twelve-year-old boy with the world at his feet. They ran off to play ball and I slunk into the local drugstore.
Old Mr. Johnson glared at any kid who came into "his" drugstore, especially if he stayed for longer than it took to buy a pack of gum, or if he strayed from the area that held the gum, comic books, and baseball cards. So I spent what felt like hours, but was probably about fifteen minutes, trying to avoid his eyes and peering over the top of a comic into the aisle marked "Hair and Nails."
When I saw the glistening pink ribbons, I knew they were more beautiful than any flower I could pluck from the dirt. I had trouble breathing when I pictured them holding Carrie's golden hair out of her shining face, and I had to hold my breath as I pulled them anxiously from the rack and took them to the counter. Mr. Johnson grumbled and huffed, but he didn't refuse to sell me the ribbons. I must've checked my pocket twenty times on the way home.
I wrapped the ribbons in a tiny piece of tissue I'd slipped out of Granny's sewing basket and hid the package under my mattress, where I kept the collar of the dog that had died when I was six, the only picture I had of my father, who'd left when I was seven, and the first pea-pod I had ever seen Carrie remove the peas from. I don't think I slept a wink for two nights. I just laid awake picturing how Carrie's face would glow when she sat beside the Christmas tree and opened her present. How her eyes would change as looked from James to me and realized what she had -- and what she didn't. How her lips would twitch as she turned toward James, trying to figure out what to say.
On Christmas Eve, after we returned from church and everyone said goodnight, I crept into the barn to wait out the darkness. I knew I couldn't spend one more night in the same room with Carrie and those ribbons and not wake her up.
I waited until the sun had cleared the horizon -- which was the earliest Granny would let us get up on Christmas, even though she was up earlier than that every other day of the year -- and tripped over the barn ladder, over a pile of old rusting farm equipment, and even over my own feet as I dashed into the house. Ordinarily I would run in screaming, but this year I decided it would be more gentlemanly to stroll in and wake each family member individually. So I gasped to a halt at my door, took a deep breath to steady myself, walked in -- and stopped short. James was fast asleep, and his bed was ice cold.
The Death of All Men by Caroline Hicok
Even before Karen went to brew a pot of Colombian rebirth, she flipped on the TV news. Only once before had watching the news been the nucleus of her life, with all the other pieces orbiting around it. That was when her son Adam had gone to fight in the Gulf War. She said goodbye for what she was able to resolve might be the last time when he shipped out. She watched round-the-clock reports of the bombings, sitting close enough to put her hands up to the screen where the bloodied Iraqis or Israelis appeared -- running, crying, or most horribly, looking at the camera with an accusing but humbled speechlessness. Every memory of that winter was inextricably linked to those faces. The day Adam returned from the war was one of quiet celebration. Her pleasure in his return lacked the relief that made the welcome of a mother who had held on to her son's memory so overwhelming. Still, she was pleased at his resurrection.
Now he was dead. Her son lived to be the last man on the planet by three days. Two months ago, a virus that begins its degenerative assault on the body through the Y-chromosome had touched down like no natural disaster since the plagues of Egypt. Hundreds of thousands of men died every day as Karen watched with her hands up to the TV. The structure and organization of the news reports became more and more unfamiliar until finally most stations had adopted 24-hour broadcasts of female reporters running through the streets, jostling their cameras in every direction to record what havoc the death of all men had wreaked. The banks, congressional buildings, military bases, and prisons lay crumbled like the molted skin of a snake. Fortunately, the schools and hospitals were able to remain open. The special focus of the latter had become safeguarding pregnant women and the new-found immunization that meant hope for the race would be revived with the birth of the first male.
In the meantime, the social structure of the human race had to be rebuilt. As the last living male, Karen's son Adam had been the provisional leader of the world for three days. The cameras were there recording his death as they had been when he had caused the deaths of others. When his last breath left his mouth without speaking the unknown words that would somehow make it all better, the cameras turned their lenses on Karen. The eyes of the world had focused on her ever since as if being the mother of the last man alive somehow gave her authority. Karen didn't think they really believed that. They just hadn't known where else to look. Either way, Karen had hastily been nominated as one of the two US delegates to the assembly gathering in Den Hague, and in the panic that dictated a frantic passing of the buck, Karen found herself chairman of the delegation.
Karen switched off the TV and dumped out the cup still full of coffee. She got in the car and pointed it in the direction of the grocery store to get something to eat for the flight. She carefully dug through the apples and oranges. The apples were rotten, so she discarded them and selected the best of the oranges. She meant to pick out some sandwich meat, but before she could, she lost her desire to shop. Instead she waved at the young girl approaching her with a helpful look on her face and left the store with the oranges in her hand, dropping off an old sweater in the donation box on her way out. Two months before Karen had made a doctor's appointment for that day to renew her hormone prescription, but her doctor was dead, so she headed for her husband's church. There was no pastor minister anymore, but there were always a handful of women meeting there to comfort each other. Karen had been there several times since the men had died. The women just sat there weeping, hugging, and praying. The Spirit must have possessed Ms. Goodman that day because she went to the podium and began reading the Book of Judges. She stopped after Chapter 13, and interpreted for the others. "If we obey God in all things as we have before, He will send a leader to guide us through this confusion." When Ms. Goodman finished, Karen left as she had left the grocery store before.
Karen heard "...must rebuild our infrastructure" but it only roused her from her thoughts for a moment. She focused on the woman, but instead of hearing her words, she looked at her face and saw the fear. Karen imagined her hooked up to an IV of fear, the slow drip of it just enough to dull her senses. She turned her eyes to the next face, and saw most were even more distracted. They each looked at the others like a crazed person in a fun house: confused by all the disturbing, twisting images; turning from one to the other in search of one with that clear, serene surface. These women did not know how to see themselves without a mirror, and there were no true ones to be found. Sounds with tones of importance roused her again. She heard agreements of "Well, I remember how this was done," and "I still know how to do that."
An overweight woman in a shapeless department store suit stood up and said she had an undergraduate degree in finance and that she thought she remembered how currency is created and controlled. "Ve should be able to reconstruct a healthy monetary unit. Danks to ze abolition of social programs in Germany, ze economy has been booming, and I have learned much. So long as we remember to forget about velfare, vorker's compensation, free health care..." Karen tuned her out and focused only on the unnatural red of the woman's lipstick until she heard a new voice adopt that same assertive tone with a more booming volume.
"...four years of expertise as a battalion commander, Bachelor's Degree in History from the US Military Academy at West Point, Master's Degree from the Army War College. I am a trained strategist and remember..." It was then that the ripple of murmurs built to a giant Tower of Babel as each woman declared to and over her neighbors all the things she knew how to do the old way. Karen blocked her out as she had blocked out the rest of the convention. Each night she lay sleepless in the hotel rehearsing what she would stand up and say in the morning. Each morning the words climbed further down in her throat as she listened to the confident plans of the others.
After two months, all that was left was for the delegates to sign the Constitution they had made and to propose a memorial. A young woman with bleached blonde hair and two-inch heels stood up and argued for an obelisk. "I have always admired Washington's monument as the most outstanding erection in memory of greatness." No dissent was expressed against an obelisk, and the women agreed to begin construction of it the following day. In the morning, the second American delegate found Karen lifeless in the hotel room they shared. An empty bottle of estrogen pills lay at her feet. Upon some investigation, however, the women were able to discern that this was not the cause of death. Karen had strangled herself with her own hands. It was not difficult for the assembly to decide what should be done. The women were all needed to dig the foundation of the monument, and they didn't want to waste time with little things when there was so much work to do. So they buried Karen in its cavity, and she lies there to this day.
"Just a fuckin' minute!" he screamed breathlessly into the silence which, if asked, would deny its interference, even its very existence. The only answer returned was a pitiful enfeebled echo absorbed, along with various seeds and ashes, into the shag.
Soundlessly: "The problem as I see it is not the lack of substance, or the absence of some textually tangible material, but rather the abundance of space. There is simply too much emptiness. Too many unused characters. Even the largest and most awed chip-driven brains would be driven into the void to emerge smoking and coughing at the impossibility of the task assigned it were the command resounding within these walls punched up on its screen. "So the remedy, or at least the temporarily satisfying treatment of major symptoms, would be to eliminate the space -- "
'eliminate the space'
" -- or a large part of it, or at least enough of it to locate some sort of subliminal horizon. Simple as that."
'simple as that.'
It was here he paused, as he always did at about this point, and stared at the screen as if it were one of those sort of surreal advertisements in a glossy magazine filled with sort of surreal advertisements -- although he hadn't read the whole issue, just happened to flip it open to the page. Puzzled, amazed, disgusted and dismissive, but still the thought remains. Not even a thought, but a quick and repetitive flash of an image (here words) that ultimately means nothing but for that one moment...
"There are no people," was the next solid thing to enter his mind. Words and residual idea germs but no people. Why? Why indeed. What I need is people. People with discernible features that can be described and exaggerated upon, turned into something they are not to fit my specific purpose and" --
"Yes!! Specific purpose! There is one, dammit, and all this smoldering doubt and fucking interruption will not help me to bring this thing around to those purposes. How can there be any doubt? I mean, isn't the very existence of these words proof enough that there is a purpose? Even if that purpose is solely that -- existence? By creating them I give them purpose. They don't have to enlighten or enrage or provoke or anything. They can just be. You know, be-ers, like in Bellow. My words are not Becomers, entities non-existent until some sort of unity and meaning is attached them by me or you or anyone. They just are. And if, by chance, someone should arbitrarily assign some logical principal to them so be it. If not -- "
'so be it.'
"Exactly you fucking mechanized brain twisting piece of shit!"
Aloud: "I said hold on for chrissakes!"
This time the knock echoed throughout the house. Making his way clumsily down the stairs, mumbling the grumble of one who is knowingly arguing a point made up of the most transparent of fallacies while searching for a way out, and almost falling ass-over-appetite on the rope of his dingy flannel robe, he cursed the intruder who dare disturb him at this time of night. It had to be past three. Who the hell could it be, unless -- of course. The late night coke run had ended and the felons were now seeking sanctuary and, because of the size of the purchase, a spare dollar to twist and shove.
However, the blinding daylight, until now sealed out by well placed blankets and posters, quickly informed him this was not the case. The smell of coffee and sweat and chemical fumes enveloped him as he opened the door on this squat and gnarled specimen and, when mixed with the heat and light of the afternoon sun, seemed to gel into an oily film that spread instantly throughout his entire enflamed nervous system.
"Yeah, yeah, I heard."
Slowly but surely catching the gist of what was happening here, he stammered "Uh, come in. Did I call you? I mean there are bugs. Many many bugs. But...I don't remember" --
"You afraid a dyin'?"
"What -- what did you say?"
"I said you Fred Ryan?"
"Oh, yeah...I mean no. He's my roommate, he's not here, I don't think. I don't know. Shit, man, what time is it?"
"'Bout twelve-thirty. Fred Ryan says you got'cha a pest problem. I'm here to get rid of 'em."
"Right, right. Okay, you have to come in, I guess."
"Not unless you bring 'em all out here."
He turned wordlessly and walked away from the open door to fix a huge glass of ice cold tap water. How nice, he comforted himself, that small bits of solace were as close and easy as the kitchen tap. There were few things that affected him so quickly and completely. A long loud gulp from a glass overflowing with clinking ice and water was one such thing. Refreshing didn't even come close. It was ecstasy. From the sound of the cubes creaking as they slowly returned to liquid form to the flavorless, brain-chilling euphoria it provided going down, cooling the pipes the entire way. It was an arctic swell of such proportion that it invariably took him by surprise and filled his head with that delicious ache you get when eating ice cream too fast. It provided a return to the tolerable physical world.
"I guess the kitchen would provide a logical beginning. I've seen the varmints run out from under the fridge and the stove and from inside the" --
Upon turning to where he thought the exterminator was standing, behind him listening attentively, possibly scratching or picking at something, he was surprised to find himself alone in the kitchen.
"Hello?" he called as he walked back out into the living room where, turning the corner, he discovered the little man hunched over the coffee table taking a great amount of interest in the remnants of Fred's late night debauchery. It seems they were doing it in style last night, the grandma's-antique gold-leaf bordered mirror from the main hall lying dismounted on the coffee table replete with dust white and otherwise, various small bills, and the standard flat two-sided razor blade. He wasn't quite sure what to say. 'I could easily incriminate myself here by acknowledging it,' he thought. 'And there was also the chance that he didn't know what the setup was all about and my saying anything at all would be a very bad thing.' Then thoughts turned to 'you know, this guy has the gall to barge in here and wake me up at the crack of noon and then go poking his bulbous little nose all over my apartment and then accuse me, ME of being some drug-addled recluse who lays in bed all day well fuck that!' "Hey!" he finally said aloud.
This must have shocked the little man because he started and looked up quickly as if he thought he was alone in the house. "Sorry," he chuckled mildly, half-pointing with a short sausage-finger at the mirror and its contents, "I didn't realize that people still did that stuff."
"Yeah? Well, I guess they do. I mean, they, not me. I don't know where that came from" --
"I know that, that's not what I mean -- look, check the kitchen, ok?"
'write a way.'
"Knock it off! Not you."
It was all a bit too much for his weakened constitution to handle, and he staggered exhaustedly to the couch, flopping into half-recline with a long painful sigh. And he could hear the low hum of the machine upstairs waiting for his return. That coupled with the perpetual buzz in his head forced him to cover his ears, rocking back and forth on his shoulder blades.
"Scum, go get dressed!"
He shot upright to face the exterminator who had left the kitchen and was headed for the door. "What did you just say?" he asked, not too quick to assume he'd heard right.
"I said 'Chum, you've got a nest.' Roaches, a big one under the stove and a smaller one under the fridge. I need to go out to the truck."
When the door closed he bolted up and locked it, again sealing out all light. He couldn't bear to think of all those roaches. He knew they had them, but liked to consider just the occasional nomadic insect wandering through the kitchen foraging for dinner for its starving little roach-family. To consider a family of millions residing in his own kitchen was unthinkable. And their extermination was worse, he couldn't be responsible for that.
'let him do it.'
"Shit," he said out loud, sensing that it was happening again. He ran back up the stairs and bounded into the seat in front of the illuminated monitor. He glanced from text to notes to keys and in a frenzy of third-hand inspiration, he started typing -- "...and when R.J. was confronted with the reality of the situation, he left, as simple as that. The characters in this story skirted the issue of the source of pain in their domestic lives for so long that when it surfaced and was vocalized it was not real to them. And reacting to an unreal situation is inherently less real, rendering the act utterly meaningless."
"HEY! That's enough! I need to finish what I'm working on and -- "
'that's not work. I am your work.'
"You are my destruction, my unraveling, and if you call that work you can have it!"
'you inspect the voice of others and in this act you lose your own.'
"No, this is real, this is tangible. You are a dream, an intrusion on meaning and I can't take it anymore. This has got to stop!"
'stifle your voice and you are undone. cease to create and you will cease to exist.'
Inactivity had left him weak, and from the excitement of the exchange he was panting. The knocks on the door grew louder. "Terminex! Hey open the door, man. You want the bugs dead or what?...Fuckin weirdo." A minute later a truck started and screeched away loudly. Fred wouldn't be happy, he realized, but so what. Let him witness his own executions, I want no part of it, he thought.
He had never really thought about the roaches before, except on the occasion he had to brush them from a bag of sandwich bread, but now that he knew they were there, that there was this entire developed community of living things making a home for themselves in the filth under his rented appliances, he wasn't so sure they should be killed. What were they doing that was so wrong? They weren't pretty, but according to the rumpled and bloodshot image he had encountered in the mirror this morning, or afternoon, he didn't have much room to judge that one. In fact, he thought, they justify my existence more than anything. 'They clean up after me, they breed and procreate where I do not, they've developed an intricate societal system in the same house I've used to cut myself off from one. I have the power to destroy them, but whether I did or not, they and their kind will be around long after me and mine are historical data. I and mine are nothing but consumption-driven wasters of life and land while they take what they need and leave only what they have to.'
He thought of the mirror splayed out downstairs, and briefly considered cleaning it and then dumping a healthy portion of pure Borax on it. The thought was fleeting and never a consideration, but it did occur. He and Fred didn't get along too well, he needing the silence and isolation and a comfortable haven for his work, Fred too worried about the frivolous social aspects of life -- friends, parties, pointless and fruitless human interaction that lasts no longer than the time it takes to clear a line. If he could create, if he could breathe life into characters without leaving the nauseating sanctity of his own squalor, what use were others to him? If billions of roaches could exist right under his nose for so long and, even having been exterminated, come back to full population while showing no signs of harm, why not humans? Exactly how resilient are we?
'how resilient are we?'
"We," he thought. We is me. Ultimately there is no we. It is I creating a we, creating a community from a point of isolation, as all people do. It's a sad and pathetic fate that I cling to for life. And this voice, that other voice, is what comes of it. That voice telling me the things I will not recognize on my own. This cathode ray tube reflecting all that is not.
The monitor did not register any of this, the usual rebuttal not forthcoming. He stared long in silence, suddenly wondering what it was he sat down here to do. A roach, a large one, scuttled across his feet, stopping at a ruined kernel of popcorn to examine it before moving along. He just watched it move, idly wondering at the crushing of yet another myth -- that roaches don't walk on carpet. If they do walk on carpet, he thought, what next? They can go anywhere.
He took another long swallow of his glass of water, the cubes melted into it by now. The ticking of the keys sounded hollow, like the sound was delivered into a large empty hole underneath his desk. It seemed a lot of space to fill, so much space.
Henry was a penniless soldier
with a strong backbone and a warm heart
he played with chariots and wandered
through the lives of many maidens
always wishing for more than he held for himself
he wished for guns and bruises
the creator of many illusions
he shattered minds and elevated dreams
he tore wages and died a thousand lives
he built a fairytale
and threw the bones to a beast
He knew the story of Bluebeard
but not from the inside out
he wasn't evil
he was highlighted by God, and his cult of tradition
and spent all his hunger
but the kitchen is closed.
A field I dream for Henry
a dead soul visited my dream
I hope to find Henry in heaven
where he can ride for destiny
I pick the pieces of my disaster
and hope for a better way, and
my dreams are coming along
like a rush of wind through twilight mist
and not fasting in shame
they are darker than "night vision"
soft as sacred clouds
the first meaning
and no one can take them away.
The kiss occurs under a street lamp
on a Friday night, in the dim light
contributed by the new moon
An arc in the autumn sky
He escorts her from the stage
out into this special glow
Her gown of starlit particles
Gracefully sweeps the floor
She is made of seething curves
and his hands want to creep over her
I watch quiet, from the doorway
Always a beggar silent, I linger
She withers under his caresses
and blows away in the night I want to
hold him close now
I could listen to his silence
The sky bleeds with loneliness
and drips out of his eyes
I wave hello, but he is gone
Lost in his own goodbye
love, the musical maestro
conducting affairs of the heart
since first Saturday night date
of the human race
stepping out of the cave
first neandrethal fred astaire
grabbed his ginger by the hair
his way of asking
may I have this dance?
dragged her out on
the dirtball dance floor
stomped and trompled her toes
doing the "hey, baby!
let's populate the planet tango"
love, a rhythm section percussionist
pounding blood in the veins
midnight cat prowlers
making the night scene
snapping their pool hall fingers
tapping their bar stool feet
grooving to timeless beat
wearing i'm ready dresses
drumming love me s.o.s.'es
men sporting leather jackets
stencilled on the back
i'm no good but I want you
tonight world tour
same old standard, new rendition
doing the "hey, baby!
let's populate the planet tango"
I think I'm in a stage in my life where things are just now starting to get complicated. Now I feel like everything I do (or don't do) has consequences. I think about the future and there is just this vast blank space, and I'm supposed to make something out of it...and that makes not knowing very scary.
I remember my dad telling me one day at dinner that he wouldn't choose to be my age again because in the next 10 years I'm going to have to make some of the toughest decisions of my life. I never thought about it that way; but it's true. I think not knowing can be worse than having something already decided for you. On second thought, I wouldn't give up this freedom I have for anything.
But I guess it's not unusual that I feel kind of empty, like something important is missing, when there is this gaping hole staring at me. Until I fill this void, the things I do are just distractions that keep me from thinking too much about it. When I do think about it, I end up trying to make sense of how I've grown and where I've come from.
It's funny now to think back to junior high school and high school. Needless to say, I'm glad to be out. That was definitely not the kind of environment I could have taken any longer. I think of my younger cousins and other kids I know that hate school, and it worries me that that's the experience they are getting before they have to figure out what they want to do with their lives. But I guess it never changes, and everyone has to go through it. I tell them, when they ask me, just to hang in there. It gets better.
I don't mean to give teenage kids a bad rap, though. I used to think of them all as punks, but a little incident that happened recently made me change my mind. Let me tell you about it. What happened was someone broke into my car the other night. My neighborhood is full of little vandals, so I knew it was one of them. Anyway, as I was picking up the contents of my car that had been thrown out in the yard, these two kids walked by. They looked a little shady so I immediately jumped on their case and asked them, "Did you little f*uckers break into my car?" They looked shocked and said, "What? No." Then I felt bad for automatically assuming it was them, so I apologized. I expected them to think I was a bitch for yelling at them. Instead, they were really cool about it and said, "That's alright, if I had a car and someone broke into it, I'd be pissed too." Then they helped me get all my stuff together. I thought that was cute of them. Anyway, the reason for that story is just to say that kids sometimes surprise me.
But to get back to the point, I've been in college for a while now, and I think I'm learning some important things about myself. I now I have some ambition. A lot of the friends I had in high school never went to college and are just working at dead-end jobs. I've lost touch with most of them. The friends I have in college are all pretty much clueless about the future, like me. We all just want to be happy, but who knows if we are going to make any money. I've been in Austin too long now (almost all my life) to really want to stay here. I know I'm ready to leave and do something, but I've never taken that big step before and it's taking me some time to get ready. I have been living a pretty comfortable and selfish life so far. By that I mean my parents have given me an easy life. I know I'm still innocent to a lot of new experiences, and I've avoided some opportunities out of fear. But this emptiness inside me is telling me that I am ready to make a move. I've been thinking of studying in Taiwan when this school year id over. I think it will be the kind of change I need. Writing this down is kind of like finalizing the decision.
I'm the youngest in my family, so I've watched my brother and sister go off to pursue their own lives and it motivates me to get out of here. It's not that I'm unhappy with my life as if is, but I definitely need to explore some other possibilities. My friends and I have commented on how fast these two-and-a-half years of college have blown by, and we joke about how we're getting old. Maybe it's time I think about growing up and moving on.
An expression of mine, I wear it sometimes
Tight-lipped, I'm always trying to cry
Nothing really ever happens that way
Mine become empty never-mind eyes
I'm illuminated in some shining denial
I'm caught in this, a lonely crime
He's stolen my comfort in echoing darkness
Filched my pleasure from the lonesome night
Of course, I want him, my desire claims
I want to meet that clever thief
The one who treasures my shining shame
The prowler in my kingdom of grief
But I think he's only in my imagination
An actor in my waking dream
An elusive illusion from daydream delusion
A shadow that can never escape me
I can only see him in a clear blue pool
One made by taking rain from the sky
And pouring it gently into my soul
Soothing mine, these never-mind eyes
these never-mind eyes
They always seem to find one.3
Some super happy hypocritical Negro
showing every tooth and gap
unconked hair but not a nap.
He's all Johnny Appleseed and Uncle Sam
did I forget to mention Tom
quick to do us wrong
with his prestigious degree
(pure bred pedigree).
He's the Republican right wing white thing
can't tell me why the caged bird sings
though perhaps his cousins could.
He lives at 90210 Hollywood, dream land
I can't stand
this pseudo African
Where the hell
is the post-modern male?
He always seems to contradict the masses' dreams.
We say one thing
he retaliates and gleams...
And they always seem to find one.
The end sizzles
Frenzied as it burns
The flame licks
And the thread curls
The dust drifts
On the breeze
One of those days. A mix of real-life stuff, mostly normal Friday - maybe - I -can -slow - down - now triviality. My computer crashed, but I got the data copied to another machine. I got more bills in the mail, but I got a really nice thank-you card from someone I don't know. I had one of those heavy - on - my - mind emotional conversations, but I got to play bass with Margaret Wright and put that energy into some soul-deep music. It was 100 degrees and funky-all-day hot, but I got to go home to some polar air conditioning and comfortably ponder what to do about my raging hunger. It was one of those Fridays when I needed food to make everything better.
Now let me tell you, I love me some good food. I love to eat my friend's home cooking and find out how they made it taste that way. I love to go to the market, buy stuff like I could actually afford the prices, and hang out in the kitchen until I figure out how to marry in the ingredients into an exciting delicious relationship.
Cooking and eating is a way to truly commune with your inner self You don't wanna get all upset and nervous about the act of eating. Eating a good meal is supposed to be a good experience. Take my mother's peach cobbler -- you taste love and caring in each bite. You taste some butter, too. Eating should be enjoyed and be good to you and for you.
However, there are times when I have one of those mostly normal maybe - I - can - slow - down - now Fridays, one of those long, funky-all-day, too - tired - to - cook, I'm - calling - out - for - pizza - days. July 22 was one of those days. I wanted to relax in my favorite chair, listen to some tunes in the cool, and have somebody bring me some food. I deserved the decadence of hot pizza pie -- not by any means the prince of foods -- cooked by somebody else and brought directly to my house. Ain't that American! Even here, deep in the Heart of Texas, capital of the land of cowboys, longhorns, and Tex-Mex, you can get hot Italianish food delivered to your door.
Back to my story... On the Friday night in question, I happened to be at a dear friend's house, house-sitting for them (sorta) while they're traveling. I left my gig, performed my settling-in ritual, and decided on the pie of my choice. With Miles Davis' "Freddie Freeloader" on the box and a cold beer in hand, I called Mr. Domino Pieman. "Please Mr. Pieman, deliver to me one pipin' hot extrawhatever pizza pie and a Diet Coke, yes please," I said.
Pieman responded, "Your total will be $$. I'll be there in less than 45 minutes. Your address and phone number please." So I told him the address and phone number. I chill with "So What" and my cold brew. The phone rings, which I hate. But I answer it after I remember that the only folks with whom I'd want to speak know I'm here.
"Did you just order a medium extrawhatever and Diet Coke?" It's Mr. Pieman. "Yeah, I sure did. Did I forget something?" I respond.
"No sir, we just need to make sure we have the right address... Let's see, that's the house at XXX East 15th Street, is that right?"
"Yep, that's me. Just look for the Volvo; the porch light is on."
"Now, is that on the East Side? I mean, are you EAST OF THE INTERSTATE?" The embarassed-sounding voice came back.
I'm hit with a memory from years ago when Mr. Gatti's on MLK refused to deliver to the offices of Nokoa -- also on MLK, but EAST OF THE INTERSTATE about ten blocks...
"Yes, indeed, Mr. Pieman, we are EAST OF THE INTERSTATE. Exactly 60 feet east of the service road. Across the street from the Erwin Center and Brackenridge Hospital. Sitting on the front porch I can read to you the upcoming shows at the Drum off the marquee. So you shouldn't have any trouble finding it, right?"
"I'm sorry, sir, but we don't deliver to the EAST SIDE." I realize how silly this conversation is.
These guys deliver to my office downtown, even late at night. My office is further away from their store than is this house, so it's not distance that makes this a pizza-free zone. As for crime, downtown is certainly more ridden with urban crime than is this quiet residential neighborhood. And Mr. Domino Pieman is in the heart of West Campus. It strikes me as odd that Mr. Pieman will take his chances with prank-playing party animals and booze weasels, but won't venture into a quiet neighborhood full of families, young professionals, artists, homeowners. What's wrong here?
Could it be that Mr. Pieman doesn't know how close I am to his store? Could it be that Mr.' Pieman does not know who lives in this neighborhood? Could it be that Mr. Pieman has no idea of the relative crime rates of Austin Neighborhoods? Could it be that he does not know that my black hand contains green money? Or does he just know that I am exactly 60 feet EAST OF THE INTERSTATE?
As trivial as it may seem, it's very difficult for a hungry man with money to get a pizza pie delivered to an East Austin address. I t seems to matter little if you are next door to a police sub-station, at your lawyer's office, or in a neighborhood full of old folks and kids. Pieman ain't going to bring you pizza. Mr. Domino Pieman is not alone in this silly policy.
But at the time, I thought that perhaps this was just more of the same from this big multinational corporation based in another state, with a reputation for not being terribly PC anyway. So I tried to redeem this situation by calling on some smaller, local pie joints. After all, these hip and cool Austin-based hippie-owned pizza companies would have more sense than to write off an entire service area. Local folks would know that EAST OF THE INTERSTATE you will find owner-occupied neighborhoods, hippie/artist/student rentals, ghetto crack houses, gentrified yuppie settlements. In other words, just like the rest of town.
The sad news is that all of our calls -- yes, even to out local hip and cool pizza purveyors -- netted the same result: "Is that EAST OF THE INTERSTATE? Well, I'm sorry we don't deliver there." All of East Austin, even this quiet little tree-lined street, is No-Man's_Land, a vile and dangerous urban ghetto. If these guys just educated themselves a little bit, they's know that ain't so.
Austin moves into the 21st Century, seething with attitude -- the Live Music Capital of the World and the Cultural Center of the Southwest, home of THE University and the New Silicon Valley, the CD-ROM Development Mecca for the Nation, a hot-bed of progressive artistic and cultural activity, the home of the state's most educated and sophisticated citizenry, and a bastion of free thought and idea exchange. But you can't get a pizza on the EAST SIDE. It's sleepy time down South.
Somebody needs to realize that the compact city of our dreams includes East Austin. The progressive cultural community needs to pass the word along... It's time to wake up.
Maybe it was just the porch light and wind chimes, or Harold's Chaplin-esque cigarette snooping (always an underdog in search of his brand). It could have been Chris's deadline emancipation notice, or Marlo's slide scanner conquest in the pursuit of a bagel photograph, or my non-stop rings of cigarette smoke. But while planning our fourth anniversary issue, I drifted.
I've been on a Stevie Wonder obsession, and as he hails, "superstition ain't the way," but you know, it never fails, sometimes the falsetto clause is a necessity, especially in business. Looking back to all of the storms we've weathered through our four-year exploration of arts and culture as a grass-roots publication in Austin, I'm glad we've been cautious when making decisions about the future. For instance, we danced around the idea of supplementing the magazine through a grant. We voted it down, and rightly so, because public funding cycles bring red flags of censorship along with them. Instead we chose to suffer through, keeping our right to curse and be the dream, making a hurl of it riding the traditional route. Low and behold, here we are, still struggling, but at least we can curse without worrying that some pissed-off bureaucrat will pick up a copy and complain to one of the commissions.
Each of us are wacky-writerly-types (some fit the stereotype more than others) holding up the rubic's cube while juggling other jobs, searching for our voices as we strive to understand and dissect the cold shots at multiculturalism and glare at the declarations (hype) stirred up by local politicians. Time rolls by and at least there is communication on the issue, there is progress, but it's so subtle because it's gradually changing. We still have folks like Mr. Wyatt charging accusations over the air waves, and we scratch our heads when we scoop the Chronicle, wondering why ADA isn't acknowledged by Lee Nichols. He's loyal. It's a blessing to be the underdog rag because we do our thing and sincerely hope it acts as subliminal glue within a divided community.
Hindsight is 20/20, and maybe if we got into the superficial dialogue which is the press and grant-lying (just kidding), we might be at 25,000 issues and could really talk about growth. We've maintained our integrity, and we know how to spell. Speaking from an editorial position, I'm very proud, because the magazine has grown in content, because of our new writers and the gifts they produce. In return, we provide a platform and an outlet for opinions.
Each year the arts community takes a back seat as we allow ourselves some freedom through fiction. We consider it a well-earned break, surviving another year and pitfalls of independent publishing, always highlighted by the subterranean question: "I'm glad this is getting published but can we afford to pay the printer?" The answer is "leave it to faith." But we stroll-on, tackling word count and teasing each other with the familiar question we pose to ourselves during post-production: "Were we too self-indulgent?"
Somehow I doubt it, and after ten months of indigestion over budgets, staff size, recruitment, circulation, and the constant advertising ratios -- vital organs when questioning the life span of a publication -- it's nice to know we have this brief mental escape, That's the best thing about this issue. It's offered during this special time of the year, and we hope you enjoy the flow. Peace, health and happiness.
This is how Wednesday should feel!
Balcony stereo speakers
blaring Puccini's passion;
La Boheme echoes over
foggy autumn lake,
or irritating them.
I wander around the bedroom
swathed in jungle orchid dressing gown
unbelted -- gliding like intimate fingers.
Digging in cherrywood drawers
for notepad to jot a metaphor
plucked from aria crescendo,
otherwise it might evaporate like haze.
Wednesday I flaunt my privilege
shamelessly late in the afternoon.
Your bookkeeper's wife
calls to ask for volunteers;
I will be available for her tomorrow.
Curse you affectionately,
you silly man, reorganized the photographs
and papers I had stashed away.
And what is this envelope?
Your love letters, 1975 --
you open with someone else's love poem:
"and nothing tastes so beautiful as her lips but her lips."
Words of your own scribbled in a hand
it would take a Chinaman to decipher:
"yes, I lie in bed and live my future,
well to do and you are by my side,"
you wrote so many years ago,
and now I live your dream,
knowing you never wrote poems
for your other wives.
My eyes and lips smile
reading the scrawl
about the velvet robe
rich with wear.
I was impoverished --
did not know that at the time --
purchasing someone else's
elegant dressing gown for pennies
at a Hollywood thrift store,
forgetting to pack it
when I returned from
our February weekend --
you wrote you threw it away
you said I should wear a sheer one
or none at all -- your taste.
I read the letter twice
before returning to Wednesday luxury,
that whimsical metaphor forgotten;
ah, but the love poem found!
An accident happened
It crashed my monitor
And I collapsed
I became a scene
From the movie
A version of the truth
Based on a story
I wrote for you
I wanted to record it
But I wasn't fast enough
I couldn't follow the directions
And the equipment broke
Blasted by my synapses
I'm sorry you missed it
It was quite a trip
If you'd seen it
You might believe me
I'm an animated actor
An exquisite dreamer
and I was trying to create
some focused hocus-pocus
To be experienced