i’ve always wanted to go there – katmandu! now i’ve been appointed maitre d’ at the new kaffe in katmandu. those who successfully submitted digital photos to the 1000 penguins project automatically get an invite but anybody on VOICES can submit content to this cool hangout high above the clouds. tumblr makes it really easy to post and repost material – photos, links, videos, etc. come and kaffe up! it’s all good because it’s for the wingless birds!
Penguins have a voice too – “like songbirds, the penguins’ vocalization sound unique and rich in tone, frequency and beat, but to human ears the penguin “voice” may sound thin.” (Read more) — But can you imagine one thousand of them stranded after the ship they’d boarded to get to a better, richer, fairer land, collided with a supertanker? The noise! The commotion! The need for entertainment!
This is where the One Thousand Shipwrecked Penguins project comes in that I founded selflessly at the end of 2010: produce one flash (at least) weekly thrown at the penguins like a half-digested hering, providing much-needed poetic protein. The catch? Each flash comes with a picture (for visuals, penguins are very receptive to visuals, much like people) and the picture shouldn’t come from me, it should come from you.
Check out the site where all this happens. Submit a photo, by all means. Be part of one of the most exciting projects on Earth. One of the longest, too: scheduled to run until 1000 flash pieces are complete. Spread the news: http://1000penguins.tk – and save a wingless angel-like bird from boredom!
Curator, 1000 penguins
[From a collection scheduled out Jan 2011]
In a Brooklyn bar, in late August of 1971, Sid had troubles. He was soaking up the suds with two friends. “Guys, I pulled 117 in the draft lottery, they’re gonna call me up in a few days, I’m dead.”
Fred, who always lucked out, had drawn 364, next to last, safe. “Man, too bad buddy.”
Mitch, exempt as a Conscientious Objector, commiserated. “Yeah, sucks.”
The three sat there, not knowing what else to say, Sid couldn’t do the Canada thing, too many reasons to stay.
“Effin system” Sid moaned.
“Yeh, effin’ system” from Fred.
Then the light bulb. “Work within the system – use bureaucracy!” from Mitch. “Move!” “Legit!” “To our bud Eddie out in California!”
They worked out that Sid flies out there immediately, walks into the draftboard and tells them that he has moved.
“Then, when Eddie gets your notice, you mosey into the draftboard here and tell them ‘No work in California, I moved back’.” Mitch always had ideas.
“Yeah, then each time they gotta ship your records back and forth. By the time they get back, Bingo, its ’72, they’re saying the cut will be around 80 next year, and you’re safe!”
Maybe the combined twelve years of college and student deferrments weren’t wasted, it sounded fool-proof on paper, but this was beer-soaked bar napkin paper, so things couldn’t be all that easy.
The ’69 Chevy Impala, grey-black smoke pouring out of its tailpipe, came to a crunching stop on the top of a hill fifty miles to go on the road to Portland, the smoke mixing with the fog and remnant’s of brush fires that, with the burnt rubber, gave the air the smell of Secaucus if it had farms. Sooz looked over her shoulder from the driver’s seat to the two shadows she passed about 200 feet back.
“What’cha think Gertie? Should we go back for them?”
“Ehh, Sooz, think they’re like freaks, wasn’t sure if they even were guys at first. Thought we were goin’ into the city for some big studs, not skinny freaky gawd knows what. ”
“Ever do one, Gertie?”
“Do one what?”
“A hippie. I did one once, everyday for a week.”
“No way – eccch, was he dirty and smelly, they don’t wear Brut, or any after-shave, or even deodorant, I heard. And where’dja meet him? Down by the roadhouse, you didn’t go down there, didja?”
“Naw, you know my brother knows a few, for the pot, I mean Richie’s not a freak, but he likes to get stoned. Anyway, this guy, he actually was good, I mean it wasn’t just slam, bam; he went down on me.”
“Sheesh! Sooz, that only happened once for me, ‘member Chuck? His first time, I tole him he hadda, he never did it again.”
“Well, this guy liked to do it, didn’t wanna stop. But he hadda go back to Arizona, or someplace. Never saw him again.”
Gertie stopped to think. “Alright, let’s take ‘em, as a backup. If we can’t find any real guys before we dump these off, I’ll give it a go, if they’re not too freaky.”
Sooz gunned the Impala into reverse and screeched back to Sid and Eddie, who had just about given up hope for a ride and were about to snooze down in the ditch at the side of the road.
“Hop in fellas”, Sooz and Gertie’s voices mixed with “you would cry too if this happened to you” coming out of the AM oldies station.
Sid and Eddie got in the back, Sooz popping into forward just as Sid got his foot in the door, shutting it as they tore off.
“Where ya goin’ guys?” Gertie asked as blasé as she could be while picturing swirling tongues.
“Uh, Sid here is headed back east, and I’m going back down south of San Fran, but thought we’d take in Vancouver and the Canadian Rockies on the out of the way.”
“We’re goin’ ta Portland for the night, lookin’ for some fellas to hook up with, so wese can take ya that far” Sooz took command, snapping her gum. “You guys ok with oldies, I could change it to FM if you want, look like you’re FM guys.”
“Anything is fine with us” Sid replied, trying to see Sooz over Gertie’s puffed up, teased hair.
Eddie and Sid looked at each other, saw the dice from the mirror, hula girl on the dash, capri pants and shiny dacron tops on the bodies, bee-hives, smelled the gum. Sid leaned over to Rich and whispered “What are we, in a 10 year time-warp?”
Sooz switched the channel anyway. After a commercial to the Pepsi Generation, “I remember holding you while you sleep . . . bring it home baby make it soon.” That was a little better, although it was pop-rock, not the blues or underground stuff Sid and Eddie were into. Harrison and Ham traded some good slide work though, and maybe it was telling them something.
Now, Sid and Eddie were not averse to doing some time-sex traveling, after all it was four years earlier that they popped their cherries in Chattanooga, along with Fred, on the same night, with the same woman. She had a bouffant and leopard-skin patterned bra and panties, but it wasn’t so far removed in time then, and she was older, from that time. She also charged, this could be a freebie. Had to be – Sid and Eddie were as poor as their torn jeans.
As the asphalt ribbon became the main strip leading into Portland, bars and clubs started to appear at the side of the road. At each one, Sooz would turn into the parking lot, drive around and she and Gertie would size up the guys hanging outside.
“Ehh. Bikers, they’re just hippies with only half their teeth and beer guts. Sheeeet, real hippies, we got two in the back.” Gertie wasn’t reticent to assess the attributes loud enough for Sid and Eddie to hear. “Look, some nervous kids, we could break ‘em in Gertie, but they might go cryin’ home to mama.”
After about a half-dozen of these, with no success, they reached downtown.
“Alright guys, we’re going to a club we know. Got any money?” Sooz kinda made it sound like the only way they were gonna hang was if the guys would pay the way, their last shot.
“Naw, that’s why we’re hitchin’. But, hey – there’s the City Forest we heard about. Allowed to sleep overnight, where we’re gonna stay.” Sid leaned over and put his hand on Sooz’s shoulder. “You gals wanna join us, why bother fishin’ all night when we got the goods right here ?” Sid couldn’t believe what he just said, it must’ve been the hairspray fumes.
“OUT!! GETTA OUTTA HERE RIGHT NOW YOU CHEAPASS FREAKIN’ HIPPIES, SCREW IN THE WOODS? WITH YOUSE? THINK WE EVEN WANNA TOUCH YOUSE?” Gertie was apoplectic at the thought of bugs nesting in her beehive, swirling tongues nothwithstanding.
Both Sooz and Gertie started pushing the guys out as best they could with one arm, whacking them with the other, giggling all the time. Sid and Eddie tumbled out of each door, but as Sooz burnt rubber, Sid’s leg got caught up in the door and he got pulled along the ground for about twenty feet, wrenching his knee socket in every direction.
Sid spent the night in the hospital, Eddie ordered take-out for them from a Sambo’s nearby then fell asleep in the chair next to the bed. The next day they had to drain the knee and pull out a few tiny cartilage fragments.
The bureaucratic ruse didn’t work. Sid had to report for his physical on December 20th, they missed by 12 days.
The induction letter arrived on Christmas Eve. It stated that due to the temporary injury to Sid’s knee, he was to wait two months for it to heal, and report his status to the draft board at that time.
Free and clear. Turned out Sid did score with Sooz afterall.
(Written a few days ago for 52|250′s Union of Opposites challenge, snatched up by SLEEP.SNORT.FUCK. Can’t help myself; this belongs here at VOICES, too. )
The date began badly. First, she turned up her nose at my suggestion of sushi: “Ew! I want real food!” So we found ourselves at a picnic table eating hamburgers and fries, hers dipped in a large pile of blubbery mayo.
Back in the car, she switched the radio from Waits to Madonna. I thought about kicking her out right then.
But I’m a gentleman, so I suggested wine at my place (she was French, after all), but she said, “No, that’s boring,” and next thing I know we’re down by the lake drinking Jaegermeister. Jaegermeister, for chrissakes! Haven’t drunk that stuff since college. I managed not to puke this time, even when she said, “I’m going to fuck you now, oui?” What could I say? I was powerless in her hands, her mouth, her cunt. She scared the hell out of me, from her rock-hard nipples to her abundant thighs to her curious tongue. I envisioned news flashes next day: Culture Clash: Carniverous Frenchie Fucks Shy Biology Teacher Dead. She was all energy, grinning and grinding, sound and sexual fury. I ached for days, especially where my knee wedged into the dashboard. How she fit all those ways I never did figure.
I kept her number for a long time. “Call me,” she said as she slipped the paper into my jeans pocket. Not a question, more a demand. I wanted to, I really did.
Hey! Where? Georgie Girl!
The Decade of Myth didn’t start
with the year six-oh
nor did it stop with the one
ending in six-nine
It started in sixty-three
with the death of Young John the Debaucher
and ended in seventy-four,
with Sir Dickie the Trickie’s departure
we all got that straight? – solid, man!
[In The Beginning And In The End]
I met the Fair Maiden Georgie Girl
on an Ivoryton Sixty-Nine summer night
my Boys of Summer campin’ cross the lake
as were your hippie-chicks
[Original Boys of Summer, Fantasy Hippie Chicks]
Welfare and rich, mixin’ & matchin’
in each other’s sleeping bags
thirteen year old Elke Sommer’s kid shackin’
up with the Gypsy Queen’s daughter
so we figured why not us too
[Elke Sommer, one of my kid's Mom, Gypsy Queen, one of yours]
While my tongue was in your nethers
on that misty-meadowed night
and yours on my fair lance
I felt another on my foot
thought “How can she do that?”
I had to give a glance
In the heat of a passion
I look back and see
that a goat of the pastures
decided to make the scene
[Three's a Crowd on My Cloud]
“Man, you know what yew got there, compadre?”
said old Ed the cook – “just one word, man
you’ll understand, she goes to the same
school as Jackie O’s kid!”
[Did Caroline Ever Eat Camp Slop?]
Your name was Georgette, your brother’s Carroll
I should’a got the clue
but we talked not of backgrounds
we just wanted to screw
That mescalined night in the pond
skinny-dippin with three others
in front of the Ivoryton post office
doin’ it in the road
an early train-spotting with cars
none came, we did
[Ivoryton Post Office, No Worry, it was after midnight]
Man – we got two days off – where we gonna’ go?
it’s the weekend of a gig on Yasgur’s Farm -
but we had not enough time for the show
Off instead to my poor man’s heaven
on the other side of the LI Sound
meeting those children of god
all going the other way
Starry, Starry Night
we slept, talked and did the nasty
where I, in innocence once
built a raft of driftwood
to take me twenty miles across
to the shore from which we ferried
escaping my Father’s demise
[Yasgur's Farm and Sound Beach
We were only two at the beach, wonder how many made it to the farm?]
“Wake up! Wake up!”
roust the commie, preppie, philosopher, hippie and jock
I had one of each sort in my troop
Neil the Man’s about to take his midnight walk!
we herded them into the mess tent to see
the moon violated by mankind’s knee
[It Takes All Kinds watching Armstrong]
Back in the City, you One East End Ave
me from across the Gowanus
riding the subway to the stars
wondering what I was doin’
your nanny plopped with a death thud
to the floor above us
in your private-elevator duplex
as we were loving in full window view
of the 59th Street Bridge – that wasn’t groovy
[The Gowanus - Bridge Over Dirty Waters, 59th St Bridge - Feelin' Groovy]
You off to bucolic Pine Manor in Brookline
with your mama’s Standard Oil money
me back to CCNY turmoil
in Harlem on my night cabbie’s pay
visits on weekends, further apart -
we did start to grow away
[Protected in Brookline, Protesting in Harlem]
One last stab – I your debutante escort
at your coming out debut
for the Grosvenor Ball in the Plaza
you were both loathe and loving to attend
four months after you first came with a man
or rather this boy from across the facts
Dine with a Kennedy here, a Lindsay there
under a blanket in a horse carraige ride
in Central Park, thereafter
you sneak into my room
for our last bedding
[The Poor Got Richer, if just for a day]
Remember back when we got kicked out
of that snooty Boston Common’s hotel
for me refusing to wear a tie?
you laughed all the way with me
to the cheap shack up the block
Time driftwooded on, we left each other
my only contact with your world
became the green of the bluebloods
as I ferried them around the town
We met again in seventy-four on Mass Ave
just up from the Coop
me with my Nancy girl, you with
a Japanese artist, your Yoko
spurning your parent’s wealth
he hair down to his calves
Maybe we had an effect on each other,
maybe the Sixties mattered
or maybe we were all just
Fools on the Hill
When we turned 50, my twin sister and I inherited money from an uncle. It was a modest amount, enough for me to enroll in a night course at the local college and to buy a new pair of glasses, not the $20 frames at JC Penney but an obscenely expensive designer pair which my made me feel sexy and smart, and which my boyfriend told me to keep on when we made wild rodeo love that night.
Some weeks later, my sister called. “You gotta come visit, see what I purchased with the help of Uncle Robbie’s money!” She sounded excited, so I drove across the state line the following weekend. I rang the bell and adjusted my new glasses, sure she’d notice them right away. She threw open the door with her characteristic enthusiasm and greeted me with a new set of D’s, maybe even Double-D’s. I hugged her, mindful not to squish her new acquisitions, and followed her in, my mind responding in overdrive: Good Lord, Patricia, what have you done? I am reading Foucault, have a copy of Discpline and Punish right here in my bag. Wanna read it? No, of course you don’t. I wonder if my $300 left over would get me a downpayment on a set of those. I couldn’t afford D’s of course (and they are ridiculous), but C’s might be quite sensible…
“You have new glasses!” Patricia interrupted.
“The better to see you with,” I replied.
Damn the T. Here I am, stuck in a stalled train teetering over the Charles, barely breathing. People pack the car, suits and students wedged in tight near doors, hanging from poles. Faces grim, no one talks; I bet they’re obsessing about the billions of gallons of cold, murky water below. I know I am.
A cross-wind rocks the train. Lights from the Boston side shimmy on the pitch water. Late again for my shrink session. What an ungodly waste of time. I slam the textbook, shove it into my backpack and grope for my MP3 player. Radiohead loaded, I riffle though the week’s mail: Poets and Writers, Neuroscience, phone bill, AmEx, and a green envelope from the Harvard University Office of the Bursar.
I yank out the earplugs, snatch my cell. A ring. Good, at least there’s a signal, but then the answering service beeps. I sigh into the phone.
“Moth-er. It’s me. Ben.” Pick up, pick up. She doesn’t. “Uh, I got another tuition bill. It’s the third notice. Did you guys pay it? It’s like, uh, three months late. They’re gonna kick me out if it isn’t paid in two weeks.” Another pause. “Call me. Tonight? Please?”
Knees jittering, my damp palms rub my jeans. It’s so hot, so humid, all this carbon dioxide exhaled by my fellow prisoners steams up the windows. I rub a circle on the glass. Distorted lights reflect on the pitch black river. The air bears down. My throat constricts. Jesus, let me out. Let me out. I shut my eyes and breathe.
The car lurches. Passengers grab rungs, smiling and chattering in relief. The train slides into Kendall Square. The door eases open, chilled air assails me. I bolt up the stairs into the murky evening.
Low lying clouds spit icy flakes. By the time I arrive at Bruce’s office, sweat streams in a rivulet down my back. My heart hammers in my ears. I burst into the room and blink in the fluorescent blaze.
“You’re late,” Bruce says, not looking up.
“The frigging T broke down.” I yank out my water bottle, then tug off my damp sweater. “Jesus, it’s a sauna in here.”
Bruce’s eyes follow me pacing the room like a caged rat. He closes the door, flicks off the overheads. I sling myself onto the oxblood couch, worn shiny from time and distress.
“So,” he says. Irritation lines his voice. “How’re classes?”
“Tough,” I say. “My schedule’s crazy.”
“What’s tough?” he says.
“Just new areas for me, I guess.”
“What areas?” He removes his glasses, rubs them with a small cloth.
“Mental health epidemiology and I know nothing about epidemiology, I can barely spell the word.” I gulp from my water bottle. “Let’s see, there’s a class on clinical trials, it’s excellent but I have to bone up on stats, too. Whew. And, uh, one last core biology class, no problem there, and an upper level neuro class, also no problem, but both have labs and small group assignments that eat up tons of time. And creative writing on Friday mornings, memoir this semester, but not for credit. And, of course, there’s that honors thesis.”
“You do sound busy.”
“Yeah, yeah,” I say.
“And your social life?” he asks.
I can’t corral my grin. “Well yeah, now that you ask, there’s this girl. Phoebe. Beautiful name, huh? Phee-bee. As in one of the original Titans, the one who consorted with her brother Coeus. Remember? Anyway, she’s a med student, in my neurobiology class – and we’re in the same study group! She’s gorgeous, simply gorgeous, with these amazing hazel-green eyes. And hair, you should see, like liquid gold, and–”
“You really like her,” He smiles.
“Ah, yes. Yes I do.” I bounce on the leather, instantly back in a good mood. “I can’t stop thinking about her. She’s an artist, works with clay. And quiet, kind of reserved. But a nice person. A good person.” At least I hope so. I chalk up her coolness to start-of-the-semester nerves – I get that way, too. “She’s different. Oh, and smart – did I tell you she’s in med school?”
“An older woman. And the verdict?”
“Too early to say, she’s pretty focused on school. Very serious,” I say.
“Well, good luck.” Bruce shuffles papers.
“Thanks.” I drain the bottle. “I’ll need it.”
“How are you otherwise?” he asks. “I was concerned about you after our last session.”
My legs stop jiggling. “Eh. I got over it. Took the train home to New York, found Pops alone in the study smashed on Scotch, snuck up behind and garroted him.”
His eyes grow wide. He jots in his notebook.
“Jesus. I’m joking.” My laugh sounds brittle. “I fantasize about him dying, though.”
“As in you murdering him?”
“More like he fries in a plane crash or croaks from some painful cancer,” I say. “I don’t think I have it in me to kill anyone, even him.”
“That’s reassuring.” The pencil scratches for what seems a long time. I pick at a cuticle. “Really, though, how did you process our last session?”
“Wrote some poems,” I say.
“May I see them?” He looks at me expectantly.
I close my eyes. “Poems take time.”
“There is nothing pretty or poetic about abuse.”
“Look,” I say. “The way I write is never direct. If you’re obvious, the poem isn’t interesting to read.”
Mama’s got a name made for trouble. That’s what the meat-man down at the store said. “Vyla,” he said, “now that’s a troublemaker’s name.” (He said troublemaker as if it was the same as a shoemaker). When he had finished up slicing mama’s ham he said, “How many hearts you done broke, Vyla?” Mama didn’t answer; she just said thank you for the ham, told me to come on, and walked off. I could have answered for her, though. Could have said “three” and named them, too— daddy, Jasper, and Clementine.
Now daddy had it coming. He let mama run all over him. When we had but one car in the garage, he always let mama have it to go wherever she needed to go. He’d take the bus or walk. “Vyla,” he’d say, “I got that car for you.” Knowing full well he bought the car for himself ’cause I was with him when he bought it. He had told the car-man to give him somethin’ in red. “I love red,” he told him and they went up and down the lot looking for the red that suited him— not wine-red, not blood-red, but cherry-red. He knew it when he saw it and that’s the car he bought. He drove that car but twice— once off the lot and once to take my mama to the hospital when she had this fever that wouldn’t go down. Fool, that’s what the people in the neighborhood called him— behind his back and to his face. Didn’t he know, they said, what all Vyla was doing around town in that car? Didn’t he know, they said, she had another fellow in the passenger seat most times? And sometimes they had even seen that fellow behind the wheel— driving daddy’s cherry-red car like it was his. But daddy would just say how town talk was just that— talk. But it wasn’t just talk. Once, when I was standing outside the candy store with a boyfriend of mine, I saw mama fly by in daddy’s car. Then a few minutes later, she flew by again with Jasper in the car. Jasper was the fellow the people in the neighborhood tried to tell daddy about. My boyfriend said, “Ain’t that your mama?” And all I did was nod. My boyfriend said, “But that ain’t your daddy in the car with her— that’s Jasper McGhee!” And he went on tellin’ me how Jasper was the football coach for the high school two towns over and how Jasper was gonna turn that team around. “So!” I said and something in my stomach made me spit out the gum I was chewing. “So,” my boyfriend said “if your mama’s messing around with Coach Jasper, your father don’t stand no kind of a chance!”
And he was right because when my daddy found out about Jasper, it was too late— mama was already round-&-radiant with Jasper’s child. Daddy had tried to put his foot down— had said, “Vyla, I’m sick of this foolishness.” And he buried the car keys in the backyard as if the car was the real problem. But mama just smiled and said, “You act like Jasper don’t own a car.” My father was through with her after that. He dug up the keys out the back yard and left. Before he left, he kissed me and told me to look after mama ’cause “she needs lookin’ after.” But I didn’t have to look after her on my own; Jasper moved in shortly after daddy left and he and mama were always off at the doctor’s office ’cause mama was always complainin’ about being so sick. “I can’t do nothing by lay up,” she’d say and point the finger at Jasper. She got sick of Jasper real quick, so he was with us but only for a little while. Mama got to the point where she couldn’t even stand the sight of his face. “Look at him,” she said to me once while Jasper was out in yard mowing the lawn, “don’t he gotta face like bruised fruit?” And she laughed. I wouldn’t have laughed like I did if it wasn’t the truth. She put Jasper out shortly after that and that boy who used to be my boyfriend said Coach Jasper wasn’t the same after my mama had got hold to him. No sooner had Jasper gone, mama’s roundness and radiance had gone too. “What I want with another you,” she told me while we ate breakfast and that was that. A few weeks later, I told mama how I missed her belly. Her eyes got real big and I almost thought she’d hit me, but she didn’t; she just hugged me and started crying— real tears, too! And mama hardly cried. She said that she had missed her belly, too. But that didn’t last long ’cause in no time, she was wiping her eyes and laughing, saying, “Supposin’ the baby had been a boy, huh?” And there were no more tears. She said, “And what I want with a boy taking after Jasper Mcgee with that bruised fruit skin of his!” I didn’t laugh this time; mama did and she kept on laughing, too, until her dinner got cold. But she was sad about the baby, I could tell— every day, she’d be on the phone with her friend Clementine talking low and gloomy-like. Once I overheard her on the kitchen phone talking to Clementine. She said, “Clem, you know, I have these dreams about what I done…” And in no time, Clementine would be sitting at our kitchen table rubbin’ mama’s back and listening. Sometimes, she’d come over to fix up mama’s hair.
“You can’t be sitting around the house like this, Vyla,” Clementine said to my mama one night.
“Why not,” mama said and Clementine would go on and on about how mama never used to let herself look like this— this unkempt, this slouched over.
“Ever since I’ve known you,” Clementine said, “you’d put on lipstick just to sit around the house— this ain’t you!” And she fixed mama up and dragged her out the house.
“You gon’ be alright here by yourself,” Clementine said to me and I nodded and said “Yes ma’am” like I was told to call her. Clementine didn’t look like a ma’am, though. She was a slim girl with slim fingers and slim, long, feet. She wasn’t bad looking, but she never had a man. Mama said it was because “Clem is real picky, you know?”
Well, when they got back the next morning (goin’ on somethin’ like six in the morning), mama was all better. They came in the house loud as morning roosters— waking me up. So I joined them in the kitchen. You should have seen mama showing me the moves she and Clementine did on the dance floor— they were hand and hand and leaning all over each other.
“So y’all went dancing,” I said, having nothing else to say.
“Mmm hmm,” mama said, “and can’t nobody dance like Clem!” At first I thought she had said him and I was going to say, “him who?” But she said Clem. I made a face and said:
“Mama, what y’all doin’ dancin’ together? I bet y’all looked funny.”
“Naw,” Clementine said, “we didn’t look funny. We were the best dancers out there.”
“Mmm hmm,” mama said and she grabbed Clementine by the waist and started dancing to the tune Clementine was humming. They were drunk, too, so I left them in the kitchen dancing while I, up for good, went to bathe. All throughout the day, though, Clementine and mama couldn’t stay away from each other and Clementine would be all up under mama like she was her man— tucking mama’s hair behind her ear and whispering in it. She started staying over nights. Sometimes, they’d go out dancing. Sometimes, they’d stay in and watch a late night movie in the living room. Then it got so Clementine was never leaving. She’d be here for breakfast, go to work, and come back for dinner and stay. We ain’t have but two bedrooms and Clementine wasn’t sleeping on the sofa downstairs. I don’t know what mama thought I thought, but I know woman-woman love when I see it. I just kept my mouth shut the whole time Clementine was with us. I made like I was too young to know what was goin’ on. I thought, this one day, Mama might sit me down and tell me what-all was goin’ on between her and Clementine. This one day, we were on the front porch while Clementine was at work, and mama sang a little ditty about her Clem being as sweet as Clementines (the fruit).
“You made that up?” I said
“Mmm hmm,” mama said, smiling. “I didn’t even know I was singin’ out loud.”
“You must be happy, then,” I said.
“Sorta,” mama said and closed her eyes. I left her on the porch— that ditty stuck in my head. Something about that ditty got under my skin, made me miss daddy and even miss Jasper. My old boyfriend stopped by one day and said, “Your mama messin’ with Clementine?” And I told him no. I said, “I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about.” He didn’t believe me, though. He just laughed and said that folks were talking and that Jasper McGhee was going crazy over the idea of being replaced by Clementine. “He don’t feel too good about that,” my old boyfriend said, looking back at me, as he walked down the street. I knew folks were talking about mama and Clementine— the same way they talked about Jasper drivin’ daddy’s car. But this was different; they had laughed a little at Jasper behind the wheel of daddy’s cherry-red car. They weren’t laughing now. They talked about mama and Clementine in the grocery store with frowns on their faces. Even the meat-man joined in on the talk, saying to this one woman: “I hear Clem got Vyla wearing a ring.” And that was no lie. Mama was wearing a ring— nothing fancy, just this gold band on her ring finger. Clementine brought it home one day and mama just put it on. Just like that. But I knew that ring would be the end of things. Mama don’t like being owned and, to me, that ring was Clementine trying to own mama. She said that’s what Jasper was trying to do when he slipped that baby in her. “He was trying to own me,” she had said. And so I told the meat-man, when my number had been called and it was my time to place my order, I said, “Nothing’s goin’ on between mama and Clementine.” And he laughed this laugh that told me he thought I was just a young’un who didn’t know woman-woman love when I saw it. But I only said what I said because I knew soon what was goin’ on between mama and Clementine would be over. ‘Cause I knew mama would get sick of Clementine the way, say, plum-people, who, trying somethin’ new, get sick of peaches after a while. And mama is a plum-woman— that is to say, if plum were men. And I was right because no sooner had that ring gone on, it came off. She wore it for about a month and then one morning she told Clementine she had dropped the ring down the sink. Clementine got down on her hands and knees and unscrewed the pipe and searched for the ring. She hollered for me to “get in here and help me look for this ring!” I said “Yes ma’am” and helped her.
“Ain’t no ring here,” she said and I knew then mama had probably tossed that ring in the trash somewhere.
“You see a ring anywhere?”
“No ma’am,” I said with the biggest smile on my face. They fought long and hard the rest of the day— Clementine accusing mama of lying about the ring and mama hollering that she did drop the ring down the sink.
“How can a ring just up and disappear, huh?” Clementine said and when she left the house, she was shaking with anger; her face wet with tears.
Mama’s cousin Lew came to stay with us after that and he brought his gun. He didn’t like what mama had said about how angry Clementine was when she had left and he felt like Clementine might could do somethin’. He told me to stay away from Clementine if I saw her in the street. Clementine didn’t bother us, though, but cousin Lew stayed just the same. I don’t know if Lew was really mama’s cousin or just somebody she called cousin, but he stayed with us and kept his gun on one of the pantry shelves. He called that gun “Clem” ’cause he said it was only to be used on Clementine. Something in his eyes told me he’d use it on her even if Clementine had just come over to pick up something she had forgot— like that bra she left hanging on the door knob on mama’s closet. And it’s a good thing Clementine never did show up for that bra; I don’t think Lew cared too much for what went on between Clementine and mama. I think, maybe, someone sent him up here to watch mama ’cause I heard mama and Lew talking one morning in the kitchen. Mama had said, “You don’t have to worry about me, Lew, I like my lovers thick-necked and wide-backed.” Lew laughed at this and as soon as mama was gone out the kitchen, Lew got on the kitchen phone and told somebody on the other line about how he had knocked that nonsense right out of mama.
This time Gary the Beekeeper decided he was gonna listen to his customer. His last shipment of raw Eucalyptus honey from Santa Cruz to the Bronx didn’t work out so well, because he didn’t listen to his customer. It was packed shabbily because he didn’t listen to his customer, put in the big 5 gallon glass jar that said “fragile” right there etched into it. Wrapped in a shabby carboard box that had no corrugation, left devoid of packing peanuts because he didn’t listen to the customer, tied with no twine, because he didn’t listen to the customer. The 60 lb container rose to the top of the carousel in the baggage area at JFK last, alone, uncushioned by the underwear and inflatable party dolls packed in the suitcases that now circled below, waiting for the Sad Men on Vacation Society of Kamloops to retrieve. It took a plunge down the ramp, smashed rather unsweetly into the overpacked suitcase of Barry Breathholder, Grand HooHaa of the Society, burst open and spilled its gooey insides over all the bags. As they continued to go round, the honey acted like a paste, until they all came together in a pile that looked like a beehive, because Gary didn’t listen to his customer.
Gary the Beekeeper grew up in a home where he had to listen to and do whatever anyone else told him to do, and throughout his childhood and adolescence, he complied, not wanting to upset his one-armed Momsy, who threatened him by saying “If I only had two arms, I’d crush your head in them like a vise until your brains oozed out your ears”. As a result, as an adult he developed an averse reaction to doing whatever any one else told him to do. The shrinks never saw such an extreme case before, publishing their work in the psychiatry journals with the diagnosis of “bupkisitis”, so named because they could do nothing about it.
Gary the Beekeper learned to adapt. When he opened his one man beekeeping business he put up signs all over the place “Do not tell proprietor to wash hands after using” in the bathroom; “Do not tell proprietor what you want, point” over the counter; “Do not tell proprietor how you want your change” on the cash register. This worked out well for the most part, and since his was a local business, and people got to know him, he did pretty good.
But then this New York Man came in and bossed him around, pack it good, put it in a sturdy box with plenty of packing, tie it tight. Bupkisitis kicked in, and he didn’t do any of it. Now look at the mess he was in, probably have to pay to replace all the damaged suitcases, the New York Man might sue him, he would have to replace the lost honey, all because he didn’t listen to the customer.
Momsy was right, Gary the Beekeeper concluded. The sweet dreams at night of him crushing her head in his two arms until her brains came out her ears were inverted to the nightmare of her crushing his head in her legs, her one arm waving in the air like a bronco buster as she screamed “The customer is always right”.
So when the New Man came in, Gary the Beekeeper fought all his instincts to do the opposite. The New Man had with a him a hive of bees of his own, placed them on the counter and said “Two months”. “Pardon me, Mr. New Man, what do you mean?” “Two months. I want you to keep them for me for two months.” “I don’t do that, this is a shop where I sell honey.” “What do you mean? The sign out front says ‘Gary the Beekeeper’, so I fully expect you to keep my bees for me for two months. But whatever you do, don’t let them out to collect pollen and produce honey, it will be too heavy when I pick it up.”
Gary the Beekeeper fought all his instincts, and in a return to the womb, complied. Besides, his old bees had been taken from him by the Sacramento Bee police as a result of the JFK incident, he was running out of honey to sell, and maybe Momsy was right, after all. Letting the bees produce honey sent him onto a huge guilt trip, but he had no choice if he were to eat, oh I am such a baddie afterall, he thought over and over.
Two months came and went, the New Man never returned. Officer Opium came by that day and told Gary the Beekeeper that the New Man crashed on the winding Santa Cruz Hills road on his way back, tumbling into the ocean. As they couldn’t find him, no way of identifying him, Gary the Beekeeper might as well keep the bees.
Then the letter, and the check, came in the mail. Pan Cram decided they were at fault for the JFK incident, settled with the Kamloops Sad Men on Vacation Society for the damages to their possesions, and are enclosing a check for $10,000 for Gary the Beekeeper’s pain and suffering. With this, Gary the Beekeeper expanded his enterprise, it took off from there, and today he is known as “The Bee King of the West”.
Momsy was wrong, Gary the Beekeeper was free at last.
Originally seen on metazen, October 29, 2009
Newsletter 15-June 2010 from the desk of the editors
Recent VOICES posts are a host from our newest members, plus some recurring characters. Stop by for your reading pleasures.
The Lodge – by Tara Larkin
“I could not see the big picture. I knew only that I wished I could spend the rest of my life here.”
The Hunter – by Beate Sigriddaughter
“Yes, women are weak. They ought to be lovely. Yet here’s this Q’An ordering me to kill a little girl for no good reason.”
I am the voice inside your head – by Ajay Nair
“I am the one who tells you that it is alright to laugh at that sad, pathetic little girl, eating lunch . . .”
hello grace – by Coleen Shin
“the purest white ever known, the sludge on a stiletto heel, a mystery
to be solved by curious test.”
Breaktime – by Linda Simoni-Wastila
“Damn. I didn’t think the crash would come so fast. I grip the sink, wait for the bathroom to clear but the door keeps opening.”
I don’t have a gun and I don’t have you – by Marcelle Heath
“At my last job, I was accused of intimidation, of provoking the elderly clients. All I wanted was their stories.”
The Wind Itself – by Darryl Price
“I want you to / know this place because / I think it / would like to know you.”
Introducing Mabel Honeycutt (V) – by Michelle McEwen
“Sadie stays up under Ike / like he’s gon’ up and disappear. / I wonder if she’s like that / with him when I’m not here.”
Lady of the Night (Redlight Series) – by Jodine Derena Butler
“Your wish is my command / ill push back and pull forward / fronting your senses while tearing apart my own”
Take No Prisoners – Chapter One – by Jodine Derena Butler
“Muzz wanted to avoid a beating if he could possibly help it, making every effort not to offend Charlie any more than he already had.”
I Remember (for my Grandparents) – by Jodine Derena Butler
“I remember the bright orange berries beside the house before the steps. I was always warned they were poisonous but I still used to pick them . . .”
Introducing Stella and Humphrey – by Carol Novack
“I recently read your article, “The Sex Lives of Starfish,” and viewed the accompanying video with your photograph on its cover. I found it all most elucidating.”
Hi. I am the voice inside your head. My name is Rogan.
I am the one who tells you that it is alright to laugh at that sad, pathetic little girl, eating lunch, unaware that there’s a piece of green vegetable stuck in her anyway ugly teeth. When your wife looks at you funny for laughing, I tell you that she has no clue that you once slept with that sad, pathetic little girl – she was not so little then, was she? I help you picture how your wife would look with a fork sticking out the side of her cheek, small droplets of blood dancing out, dark red and merry, happy to be liberated from the confines of her oily, white skin, that smells like buried disinfectants. I was the one who goaded you to bury the disinfectants when you were a child, with no reason other than the fact that it amused me to see you do something so futile, so pointless.
Like I said, I am the voice inside your head, and my name is Rogan. I am your boss-man and you belong to me, you whiny little piece-of-shit.
Sid & Eddie Reminsce at 46 of being 36 & Reminiscing of Being 26 & Reminiscing of Being 18 – by Walter Bjorkman
“Hey Eddie, tune into a replay of Nova in an hour, Gwendlyn Bacon is being featured, its on here right now, but you should see it from the start.” Sid was calling from deep in the bowels of the SuperCaliFragile Istic Expealidotious Laboratory in the mountains of western Pennsylvania.
“Yes! Get offa your ass, splash on the water and have a cuppa, then turn on PBS.”
“Oh, you mean Rock Lobster Gwendlyn Bacon.”
“Yes, you remember!”
“Sure, she was this semi-hot astronomy gal that was at a party for some distinguished retiring Astro-physicist great that you dragged me to and we hit it off so we start dancin’ an the kids of all these old profs are there and so they put on Rock Lobster an when they all went ‘down, down, down’ an fell to the floor I did too an Gwen is standin there lookin at me like I’m an Alien! Me E.T.! We kinda drifted apart the rest of the night.”
“YES! That Gwendlyn Bacon.”
“So what’s that got to do with NOVA?”
“Well, alright, you never could wait. She’s now the head of MI NASA SUI NASA’s Search for Alien Life Program, and she’s doing a special. Man, if you just kept your cool you could be living on easy street right now, she makes buko, and get me a job with her, instead of me hanging in these caves! And – get this, when showing an image of a lobster shaped galaxy, they played the song!”
“What can I say, guess I was an Alien Ahead of My Time.”
“Hey , Sid! That reminds me, remember the time I called you up way back when about doin’ the same with The Gong Show? Only you were at CalTech then, and I was in Brooklyn, so you just waited til when it came on there?”
“Gonnng Showww! Yeah! I remember. Rita.”
“Rita Brandyalexandria, you remember!”
“Yep, on our coming of age trip to n’orlans. bout 4 days after we chatanooga-ed our chew-chews for the first time with the hooker, Fred too and then we go to the Showoff-Boat strip club an out comes Rita Brandyalexandria with a filled champagne glass balanced on top of eacha her boobs stickin so straight out she could do it without leanin back, drinks them without using her hands and puts em back then puts one plastic one at the foota the bar which you swoop up cause it touched her nipples an then she went on and did a fantasy fuck with James Bond all alone up there makin all those sounds on a big round bed, gyratin’ stark nakkers.”
“Yeah, that Rita Brandyalexandria.”
“And so I says, what that’s got to do with the Gong Show, Eddie?, an you says shes on there now! doin’ her act! but not the fantasy fuck just the balancin an sippin’ and she got on a skimpy bra not nothin like back then, and that she says she’s from Stormsville, Maryland and she’s only 24 but this is eight years after an’ she was no way 16 back then, we woulda got arrested.”
“Yep, Sid you got it the way I remember. But I forgot what you said to that.”
“I said, ‘well if she really was just sixteen, she came ahead of her time, if you know what I mean, nudge nudge.’”
PS – Rita won The Gong Show that day – so far no alien life found . . .
When Ellie comes into Western Appliance, I’m behind the counter waiting for the owner, Chase, to arrive. I have the package that my Aunt Ginny gave to me in my pocket, and I’m supposed to drop it off across town at eleven. It feels like a key, with baffling grooves and a tinny vibe.
I imagine it’s a key to mailbox or lockbox or box of some sort. The box is candy-apple red. A fun, frolicking red that some women wear to make an impression. The kind of red that has unintended results. Maybe it’s not for a box at all but for a piece of expensive luggage sailing on a ship in the Baltic sea.
All the packages that Aunt Ginny has given to me are wrapped in thick brown paper I think French butchers must use to wrap fatty meats. The paper is always the same, but the contents vary greatly in size. I had to rent a moving truck for the last one, and spent the night driving it up the mountains in a blizzard. Aunt Ginny thinks it’s better if I don’t know what’s in them, just in case.
“How’s it?” Ellie asks. Ellie is tall and voluptuous, with doe eyes and severe mouth. Everything about her seems ready to battle. In other words, she looks like how I want to look.
“Who’s on the job?” she asks, unloading her keys, cell phone and spare change onto the counter.
“Tim and Jay.” Ellie and I are the only women who work here. All the men have monosyllabic names, and sport mustaches that they caress at every opportunity.
I love this job because of Chase but my days here are numbered. For one, I page Ellie after hours when I know she’s with him. I also make sure to send her out with Jay, who gooses her when she’s underneath large objects. It was Sam who hired me but it will be Chase who will sack my sorry ass.
At my last job, I was accused of intimidation, of provoking the elderly clients. All I wanted was their stories. What they made of the world in which they lived. Perspective for the younger generation. A little inspiration! The place I worked at was called The Elderhaus. I took care of the independents. When I started I was given a list of activities that my clients might enjoy. Many horrified me. 4) Horseshoes. 9) Make tape recordings. 11) Visit Skyhawk casino. I had nightmares about sweet, arthritic Mr. Parker, breaking his wrist casually tossing a horseshoe, Mr. Allen confessing to his crimes, or Ms. Pendleton gambling her pension away in a single game of blackjack.
That’s where I met Chase Hughes. Chase owns Western Appliance and splits his time between Durango and Telluride. He has a wife from Morocco who lives in Seattle. They’ve lived apart for most of their twelve-year relationship and have a seven-year old daughter. I don’t know where Chase’s cash comes from but I know that he’s forty-six, plays the hurdy gurdy, and is allergic to peanuts. Other fun facts include his fear of dead ringers, the Ice Capades, and safes that might fall from the sky. It’s the sort of lunacy that I want to open up with this key in my pocket.
At the Elderhaus, Chase was a friend of Mr. Allen’s. I later learned that Chase had known Mr. Allen from the Illinois State Penitentiary. Chase was in for possession, Mr. Allen for sexual assault. Mr. Allen had no family, was pushing seventy, and had spent the last quarter century in and out of prison. Chase took care of him. After their release, Mr. Allen wanted to be close to the mountains, and so Chase had brought him here to Durango.
Mr. Allen was a dependent, and so he was not my client but I knew that he was on dialysis and was popular with the residents. Chase visited twice a week for months, and so I was bound to run into him now and then. He always came with gifts for Mr. Allen and the others; large print books, DVD’s, candy. I had no interest in him until I found out that he wasn’t a relative. Then I took notice. It was silly of me, to think that he came without obligation.
Speaking of which, Aunt Ginny will not be happy if I lose this job. I have to be her eyes and ears in town, as she rarely ventures from her fortress in the mountains. As her transporter, I have to be flexible. While there’s no racket like the tourist industry and therefore no shortage of jobs, the jobs themselves are shitty. Long hours, little pay, and most importantly, no loyalty. It takes a couple of months at the least to build some trust, convince the boss that you’re a hardworking, responsible employee before you can begin to break that trust and get away with it. It gets harder as I get older. I’m pushing forty and have nothing to show for it. I have Aunt Ginny, true, but I don’t have a career. Or a family. Or Chase.
Where is he? Sam said he was coming by sometime today. It’s 10:36. I have twenty-four minutes. I don’t want to leave and risk missing him. If I have to, I can be out the door by five to and back by 11:15. I should be thinking about the logistics of my drop off, which will require me to remember a password, engage in “non-threatening” small talk with the person receiving said package, and make sure that no one sees me.
Aunt Ginny worries that I’ll get my heart broken, and she should be because my heart’s a fault line waiting to crack wide open. What can I tell her about his habit of resting his head in his left hand and blowing his bangs from his eyes in one poof!? Or that first time that he came up to me in the lobby of the Elderhaus and flicked my nametag with his forefinger and thumb. The pin poked my chest. I looked down and readjusted the tag, which was peeling at the edges.
“Stella Gold.” He smiled at me. He said my name again as if it were a problem to be solved. He was careful with each syllable.
“Can I help you?” I said. I was holding my work schedule. I was angry because Ms. Moore had complained to my supervisor. The paper in my hand felt greasy and uncouth, as if by holding it I was revealing more than I wanted to. I flipped it over and pressed it against my leg.
“Perhaps. It’s about Mr. Allen.”
“In 2B? I don’t work with him.” We liked to put things in productive terms. We didn’t use words like “help” or “aid” or “nurse.” We used words like “work with ” and “facilitate” and “growth.”
“You might want to talk to Gladys.” I pointed down the hallway to the Activities Room.
“I might want to, but I don’t. I’d rather talk to you.” He smiled again, and I noticed that he had a lot of metal in his mouth. I saw a flash of gold from the upper left.
What did he want? I wonder now. Ah, it was the bedding. Mr. Allen’s bedding. It irritated his skin. I felt a surge of affection for this man’s concern over his friend’s skin. Chase asked about the detergent we used, and the thread count of our sheets. I told him that we used chemical-free detergent (a lie), and that the thread count exceeded 300 (another lie).
“Stella, you’re fucking with me,” he said. He put his hand on my shoulder, as if to say – what?
As if to say, Fuck with me. I won’t mind.
“I know what it’s like to love someone who doesn’t love you back,” Aunt Ginny said. We were drinking our morning tea at the kitchen table, watching the sunrise through the trees. It was going to be a busy day. A drop off in Farmington, a place Durangoans like to poach from for its cheap labor force and commercial goods, and which can only be described as apocalyptic.
Aunt Ginny, of course, was referring to my father, the one and only love of her life.
It’s 10:45. Tim and Jay stop in for parts while I handle a call about a leaky dishwasher. Sam is in the back doing inventory. I don’t know where Ellie is. I check the schedule, fax an order, and brush my unruly hair. This task is painful in its futility.
I do it anyway and press my hand against the package in my pocket. From a certain angle, it may look like I’m pressing my hand against myself, in the quick manner of an inexperienced masturbator.
I move my fingers over it. Now, the key feels like it has multiplied into a hundred sharp angles. Conflict diamonds, I think. A funny phrase, conflict diamonds. It’s supposed to elucidate but ends up lessening its meaning. Conflict, as if war were an argument started over a family dinner.
My family tree will tell that we are fluent in the language of war. But I should say branch, not tree, since both my parents were only children and are long dead. Aunt Ginny’s really my parents’ closest friend, Virginia Critchlow, daughter of Llewellyn Critchlow, who worked under Kenneth Bainbridge at Los Alamos. As legend would have it, it was Ellen, as Critchlow was known, who Bainbridge turned to at the Trinity Test site on July 16, 1945 when the mushroom cloud erupted over Jornada del Muerto and said, “Now we are all sons of bitches.” Critchlow hired my mother, Ingrid Kohler, a German-born physicist in 1963, just one month after President Kennedy proclaimed “Ich bin ein Berliner.”
The tide was changing, indeed. Ingrid, brilliant, imperious, met my father, Raymond Wade, at one of Ginny’s soirées in 1964. Ginny was a rebel even then; she abducted Raymond from her parents’ hacienda in Santa Fe where Ginny was contemplating her future life of crime after being suspended from Texas A&M and Raymond was working as a ranch hand. Ginny took one look at my father and saw her future as one big, bright explosion, and told him she needed him in Los Alamos. Raymond came reluctantly; he had seen pictures of Hiroshima in National Geographic, and he had read Howl and “the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness…weeping and undressing while the sirens of Los Alamos wailed them down.” And then there was Ms. Virginia Critchlow herself, and she scared him more than the H-bomb did. She was fast and smart and a looker, and though it wasn’t love for him, it was something like it. Rebellion. Freedom.
When I got the job at Western Appliance, I didn’t know Chase owned the place. It had been six months or more since I had last seen him. He came in the store one day. At first I thought he had come in to see me. Wow, I thought. He’s tracked me down. Foolish girl. As soon as we figured out what we were doing here – “Oh, you’re the new recruit!” and “Let me guess, you’re the tyrant I keep hearing about,” HaHaHa – tears welled up in his eyes.
“I’m so sorry,” I said.
Mr. Allen had been the only reason that he was staying in Durango full-time. He was building a house in Telluride and was set to move in August.
It was a glorious summer. We drank at the Strater and played pool at El Rancho and chased the wildfires that hopped from north to south and east to west like crickets in Apache Plume. The first question out of his mouth each day was “What are you doing later?” At El Rancho, he talked about Mr. Allen and prison, and I wanted to tell him that I understood what it’s like being an outcast and a criminal. Instead I told him about Aunt Ginny and how she raised me after my parents died in a plane crash outside of D.C. when I was three. My mother had been appointed to serve on the Atomic Energy Commission and was traveling to Washington once every couple of months. My father usually took care of me on these trips but Aunt Ginny offered to take me one weekend. Chase told me about his own daughter, Pauline, and how he hadn’t seen her in more than two years.
“That must be hard,” I said, silently cursing the wife. I sunk the eight ball in my anger, and Chase bought us another round.
One night we got into trouble. We were drinking by the river when a mother bear with her two cubs appeared on the bank. Chase pulled me down and held me, and we were still. The family moved on, and he looked at me and smiled. I saw no hope or promise in that smile but I kissed him anyway. I don’t want to go into what happened next so I won’t.
Ellie was hired in the fall. I took one look at her and saw my future blow-up in my face. I gave her bogus job orders, pinched tools from her truck, sent her out on wild goose hunts, but my attempts at sabotage were futile. People liked her. She was funny and smart and a good mechanic. What more can I say? She was on to me.
Chase didn’t go to Telluride. At the store they were discreet but Durango is a small town. I can’t turn a corner without seeing them together and each time the door opens, the first question out of his mouth is, “Where is she?”
I go to the back to let Sam know I have to go. Behind him, in the parking lot, is Ellie. She’s standing next to a light blue sedan, talking with a man in the passenger seat. Another car pulls up next to the sedan. The driver, a woman, walks over to it. I can see a gun holster beneath her jacket. The man gets out and introduces Ellie. The woman shows her something (a badge?) and shakes her hand.
While they were as different as two women could be, Ginny and Ingrid were best friends. As a “lady scientist” Ginny admired Ingrid and sought her advice on everything, despite the fact that Ingrid was woefully inept with matters of the heart. Ingrid was flattered and a little awed by Ginny, who exuded sophistication and worldliness. She also had no interest in the work done at the lab and when Ingrid would talk about her neutron-scattering experiments, Ginny would laugh and say, “Oh, Ingrid, I’m as scatterbrained as your neutrons or neurons or whatever. I’m a Capitalist, not a scientist.”
Like Ginny, Ingrid was also beautiful but men were more wary of her. She was too serious. And Ingrid had what was a deal-breaker for any would-be suitor at the time. Ambition. Unlike her good friend, Ingrid was a virgin. So when Ginny introduced Ingrid to the man who she was secretly seeing for months, Ingrid, guileless, shook Raymond’s hand warmly. Ginny, giddy at their meeting and at the success of her party, excused herself to greet her other guests.
The night I drove up the mountain in a blizzard, the snow came down in blue light. It was so lovely that I stopped caring about going over the edge. I almost wanted to, to see the light in the pine trees, gray green and blue.
As I drove, I was sure that I was carrying delicate Indonesian artifacts, glumly hued and stolen from Berlin. I imagined them falling all around me, ornate boxes and sculptures and utensils falling from the trees.
Sam is examining his clipboard. I tell him that I’m taking off and that I’ll be back in a half hour.
“Can you pick up a turkey sub for me?” he asks.
“Sure, you got any cash?” The man and woman look over at our window, but our window is tinted and they can’t see me. The woman is unfamiliar but I’ve seen the man before. He was in front of me at the grocery store two weeks ago. I remember him because he bought loads of gum and a teen magazine, which I thought an alarming combination for someone his age. I saw him later that day, behind me at a stoplight. I didn’t make him for a tail.
“Here’s a ten. No jalapeños, and a large Coke.”
“Got it.” Ellie is walking back toward the building with the man and woman trailing behind her. Ellie looks regal, like a woman accustomed to getting what she wants.
“Hey Sam, any chance you know who’s with Ellie?” Please, I think.
“No clue,” he answers as I make my exit. In the hallway, I hear Ellie, faint but still audible, saying Officer.
I pocket the ten. I have five hundred in my wallet, fifteen hundred sewn into the passenger seat, and a trailer in Abiquiu. What I don’t have is my gun. That’s in the drawer next to my bed. For a moment I’m far away. I’m over the mountain with my beautiful things.
“Ellie?” I turn around. In the doorway of Sam’s office is Chase. When he sees that I’m not Ellie, the lines in his bronze skin arc downward, and his hazel eyes glaze over in a far-off way. It’s a look that I’ll never get used to. A here-but-not-here look that I think prison guards give to ward off need. Which, if I don’t get out of here, I’ll be seeing a lot more of.
“Oh, I’m sorry Stella. I thought you were Ellie.”
“She’ll be here any minute.” Chase blinks and nods his head slowly, as if he understands the gravity of the situation. I put my hand in my pocket. The key, the diamonds, the lockbox, the sea. I’d give it all to him.
College roommates, Bill (later to be Strangefellow, Strange for short), Bill (later to be Arizona, Zona for short) & Eddie (later to be no nickname, Ed for short) – yes tripled up, about first month in, first doobie for Arizona & me, not Strange.
Bill (soon to be Arizona): What’s with the bracelet, Bill?
Bill (soon to be Strangefellow): This?
Eddie: Yeah that
Bill (soon to be Strangefellow): Oh I got it growing up in Nairobi.
Bill (soon to be Arizona): Nairobi? Kenya? Africa?
Bill (soon to be Strangefellow): yeah, my dad was over there working on research & treatments for cattle disease for the UN when I was 2 through10.
Bill (soon to be Arizona): Wow
Pause for run to lobby to get pizza delivered
Bill (soon to be Arizona): What’s it made of?
Bill (soon to be Strangefellow): You ordered it. peppers & mushroom.
Eddie: I think he means the bracelet, but that was cool the pizza guy messin’ up your last name Arabuena, yelling through the lobby, “Pizza for Arizona!! Pizza for Arizona!!” I don’t think its big enough for the whole state . .
All: giggle, giggle, guffaw, guffaw, cough, cough
Bill (soon to be Strangefellow): Its elephant hair
Arizona (now named officially, Bill no more, later Zona for brevity): The crust?
Bill (soon to be Strangefellow): Yeah the crust, tastes good (munching his) – the bracelet, Dumbo
Arizona: What bracelet?
Eddie: The one you asked him about before the pizza came, and just now
Arizona: Oh, that bracelet
All: giggle, giggle, guffaw, guffaw, cough, cough
Bill (soon to be Strangefellow): Yeah its one strand of elephant tail hair
Eddie: Yeah, right that coarse.
Bill (soon to be Strangefellow): True, elephants are big man
Eddie: hafta be to feed all of Arizona
Arizona: Where’d you get it?
Bill (soon to be Strangefellow): Outside Nairobi about 30 kilometers
Arizona: You were in Africa?
Eddie & Bill (soon to be Strangefellow): Seeeeesh!
Arizona: Oh, yeah – Nairobi, so how?
Bill (soon to be Strangefellow): when I was 8, they found me running in a herd of them, I pulled on a tail and it came off.
Arizona: Really? wow, the whole tail?
Bill (soon to be Strangefellow): Yeah, Zona, the whole tail (eyes rolling)
Eddie: Wow, didnt you get stomped on?
Bill (soon to be Strangefellow): Naw, the adults were dozing, the calfs curious, like you guys
Arizona: My calfs, curious?
All: Bwaaaaaa, curious calfs, indifferent insoles, answering armpits, etc etc etc for 10 minutes
Later, at the home of the doobie provider Stephan Potkin, later to be known as Son of Pot:
Potkin: Spider (dark, mysterious beauty), like you to meet William, he’s a strange fellow
Spider: Huh? What’s the name? William Strangefellow? What a cool name!!
All, except Spider: Bwaaaaaaaa!! giggle, giggle, cough, cough
Arizona: Yeah and he runs with elephants.
Strangefellow: My name isn’t really Strangefellow its . . . .
All, including Spider: Bwaaaaaaaa!! giggle, giggle, cough, cough
Sleeping Beauty was left sleeping on a plane
They tried to wake her but couldn’t
so they locked her in for the night
When she got up in the middle of the night
she was completely disoriented
and staggered up the aisle to the bathroom
to take a pee in a tiny little closet
“Where am I?” she kept whining “Where am I?”
Ordinarily Sleeping Beauty did not whine
so you can understand how extraordinary
After finding herself locked in the plane
she sat down in the pilot’s seat
and began pushing buttons and fondling
Suddenly the engines fired up
She taxied that puppy out onto the runway
and radioed the control tower
“Control Tower? This is Sleeping Beauty.
Permission to take off?”
“Yeah, right,” was all they said from the tower
They were smoking a giant doobie
because it was the middle of the night
and it seemed like the planet had stopped spinning
Also they thought someone was joking
until Sleeping Beauty powered up and took off
“Okay, May Day, May Day, we got Sleeping Beauty
circling over Manhattan and don’t know
how to get her down! May Day! May Day!”
“Tell her to splash down in the Hudson River,”
said an unknown voice over the intercom
probably her handsome prince in a rowboat below
“It’s been done before. Don’t worry. Piece of cake.
But next time watch out for the Magic Geese.”
copyright © 2010 by Jerry Ratch
They say we can’t jump, and they’re probably right, but I’ve never tried truth be told.
They say they’re in charge. They say.
They say they believe in conservation, in protection; they want to save the environment. They say.
They make Animal fucking Planet but I never watch it. I’m busy here with too much sun and sky and not enough water for my baby.
They say they love animals, and they got details to prove it. They collect lists. Bulls are colorblind. Butterflies were flutterbies. Polar bears are lefties, snails like to sleep.
Do the details matter? Do the details make them feel better, feel more? Do they recall the massacres, the bodies, the wretched reek of death? Do they know my grief? It’s not in their fact list, but it is real. I am a whale of a being, and I barely exist.
Here’s what matters. I have been here for millennia, my mind stretches across space and time and knows the softest part of skin, the smell of life, the touch of memory, the taste of my mother, the sound of my brother.
Urine is essence. I piss gallons on what they say.
And I never forget.
The Invite & Reply
To: Miss Nettie as she told me later.
“Dear Miss or Mrs or Ms Nettie and kin I never know what to be called these days,
Eddie says he talked to some friend of yours why I don’t know and she said you got stories about ya an that ya should come over to Granma’s and with friends and something about a table.
The address is Brooklyn we are up the street from where I work 236 31st Street Qwik-Bake not that its at that address its where I live not work.
Sunday is good for us there might be some saturday pie left over if Eddie and his friend Sid dont get to it first but they wont because they are not comin over unless they do.
Marzy, Eddie’s Gal
Dear Marzy, Eddie’s gal (you should git that tattooed on your hipbone or back if you haven’t already):
I would loooove to come over and tell stories as long as y’all got stories to tell, too — like a swap meet. Stories and Saturday pie on Sunday — yum.
Miss Nettie (Miss is fine because it’s too late for me now to become a Mrs.)
Nettie Leaves for New York
South of Somewhere, Alabama
Nettie and her purse and her drunk friend Snow and Snow’s work buddy Zee (short for Zed which is short for Zeddy which is short for Zedadiah) are in Snow’s long mustard colored car for the long drive to New York.
The only reason Nettie asked Snow to come is because she needed his car. She can’t drive, never learned to drive. And Snow only drives his car when he’s going somewhere far and New York is far-far. Snow invited Zee to come along to help drive. Nettie hopes Ed and his gal don’t mind the extra company.
Nettie and her purse take up most of the back seat. All she is bringing with her is stuffed in that big brown suitcase of a purse of hers. And Zee tried to squeeze back there with her because he’s sweet on her even though he’s married. Nettie made like there was not enough room. Zee made like he wasn’t going to go to New York but Snow tells him, “There are mo’ finer gals than Nettie in new york city,” and Zee hopped in the front seat so fast he almost slammed his leg in the door.
“They may be prettier, but they ain’t gonna want y’all,” Nettie says from the back seat.
“You will always be the prettiest to me,” Zee says, turning around to face Nettie who was sitting behind the driver’s side.
“Humph,” Nettie says, moving to sit behind the Passenger’s seat.
“Once you see them gals in New York, you will forget about Nettie, Zee,” Snow, starting up the engine, says. “Her purse gets more attention than her.”
Zee laughs at that and then they are off. Before the car can even turn onto the main street, Nettie is out cold in the backseat. Her head on the seat, her purse as her pillow.
Meanwhile, back in Brooklyn . . .
“Eddie, roll over, hon, your bony knee is right in my gut an ya know I’m trying to watch my waist, my tight pants are getting tight an tell me howd’ya come to get Nettie and friend to come here? An how didya meet? I gotta worry ’bout her an you?”
“Marzy, sweets, oof – now your knee is in my never-no-mind, ouch! tell me why we can’t get more than a twin in here.”
” Cause if crazy lanlady Baumgartner sees me movin in a big bed she’ll know you been stayin’ here most nights an’ have to pay more rent an I tole ya that already moron and why did ya ask them you dont know them and how did ya come to? She planted that palm tree out front an when it started to die in the winner she brought out heating pads an when that dinnit work she just said she spent the summer in Miami Beach and you didn’t know they are in Ala BAMA comin’ all they way up here for just Sunday dinner and what’s this about Saturday pie? you know Granma bakes on Sundays I meant Baumgartner not Nettie who could grow one in Alabama.”
“I read one of Nettie’s stories and it was so funny I just said it would be cool for her to come to Granma’s and she jumped on it, I didn’t know she was way down south and not here in Brooklyn. And Nettie’s gotta be closer to 50, 55 than your 39 and my 24″
“A-hole, you know I’m not a day over 36 and you’re 26 an why do ya always bring that up do we need booze?”
“Marz its 6 am on Saturday, I don’t want a drink, let’s go back to sleep, or some . . .you know, slide the firepole?’”
“OOOOFFFF – that knee was no accident”
“I gotta bake some Saturday pie is why.”
Mabel Honeycutt is a character who has yet to find a home in a story. So far, her story is told in snippets: some sound like poems, some sound like songs, some like diary entries. The story will come.
Mabel Honeycutt pt. 2 (Mabel’s Uncle Zeb tells her about Daddy & Baby)
There was no love like the love between
Thaddeus “Daddy” Wells & Barbra “Baby” Simms.
They went by Daddy & Baby.
Baby came home one day.
Found Daddy on the flo’. Thought he was sleep,
but he was worse than sleep. Dead.
& what did Baby go do?
She ran down to the river
and jumped in.
That’s love, boy, I tell ya.
Marzy Bakes, Nettie Awakes
Marzy Bakes a Saturday Pie
“Yep, Saturday.” Granny had also.
Nettie Awakes in the Back Seat
When Nettie wakes up it is dark out and Zee is behind the wheel. Snow is in the passenger seat knocked out. Zee hears Nettie stirring in the backseat and says, “Good you woke; now I got somebody to talk to.”
Nettie thinks about pretending to be still asleep, but she is wide awake. “Turn on the radio.”
She forgot that Snow’s radio doesn’t work and Zee tells her so.
Nettie yawns on purpose just to make a sound.
“We in Virginia somewhere,” Zee says as if Nettie asked a question.
“Virginia,” Nettie says to herself and puts her purse on her lap for warmth. Even though it is almost June, Virginia air is nippy to Nettie. She is used to Alabama heat. “I always said if I had a daughter, I’d name her Virginia. Either that or Andalusia.” Nettie seems to be talking to herself and not to Zee.
Still Zee says, “Virginia’s all right, but I don’t know about Andalusia.”
“Andalusia’s my birth place,” Nettie says as if to herself and she digs in her purse. She pulls out a map and a flashlight. “Up north there ain’t no towns or cities with names you could give a baby. In the south you got, uh, Tallahassee, you got Memphis, you got Florida, you got Alabama, even, you got Georgia, and Pensacola, can call him ‘Cola. But up north, there ain’t nothing but,” she turns on the flashlight, points the light on the map toward the northeast. “You can’t name a child Connecticut or Simsbury or Poughkeepsie. Maybe Brooklyn, that’s where we headed, but not Manhattan, especially not Springfield or Boston.”
Then there is silence again and Nettie rummages through her purse and pulls out a radio and batteries. “I forgot I had this radio in here.” She puts in the batteries, fusses with the antenna and switches the dial until she finds a station with a song that sounds good. Then she turns to look out the window.