Sept. 2 0 1 4
I s s u e N o. 5
Max Vande Vaarst
Copyright ÂŠ 2014 Buffalo Almanack. All writing and photography property of their respective authors. Cover art by Ana Prundaru. Buffalo Almanack is a non-profit publishing outfit founded in 2013. New issues are released quarterly, on the 15th of March, June, September and December. Inquire online for submission guidelines. www.buffaloalmanack.com Follow us @buffaloalmanack Like us at facebook.com/buffaloalmanack Tumbl with us at buffaloalmanack.tumblr.com
For Rex Ryan, our glorious leader and immortal superbeast. Hereâ€™s to a great sixth season together. Please donâ€™t get fired.
“True to Horace’s quote ‘A picture is a poem without words,’ the most captivating part of taking photographs for me is turning a fleeting moment into a compelling story. I have been taking photographs since I was a preschooler and became quickly drawn to street photography. I was intrigued by the fact that the people you shoot will likely never come together again in that same composition.
Nowadays my photography is about making people mindful of little everyday special moments that many of us tend to overlook due to our busy lifestyle; a glance that puts a smile to someone’s face, a cool breeze on a hot summer day, or a ray of light piercing through the clouds.
This photograph of a Japanese couple holding hands in the Shibuya district of Tokyo was taken after I attended a summit and became lost amid the street frenzy. The beauty of this shot lies in the fact that it portrays one of the most complex human emotions - love and affection - through the simplicity of interlaced fingers and the composed, yet powerful facial expressions.”
– Ana Prundaru Inkslinger Award Winner
Panasonic Lumix LZ30
Photography Ana Prundaru
Editors’ Note Max Vande Vaarst Katie Morrison
What the Sea Brings Katherine Forbes Riley
Featured Photographer Juliane Eirich
Violator Nicholas Lepre
Photography Benjamin DeVos
Three Stories Héctor Ramírez
Featured Photographer Ben Marcin
EBT Grant Jerkins
THE TAIL END Dispatches from the artistic frontier
Interview Joan Wickersham
Issue No. 5 - Sept. 2014
Interview Sean M. Schmidt
Exhibition Review: Ansel Adams at the Eiteljorg Katie Morrison
Review: Does Not Love Heather Scott Partington
Review: How to Catch a Coyote Justin Brouckaert
One of the most challenging balances an editor must strike comes in
divvying up space between emerging artistic voices and those who find themselves already established among online, regional, national or even global audiences. For one full year now (!!) we have dedicated Buffalo Almanack to the purpose of shining a light on previously unheard voices: those too raw, too weird, or too unlucky to have found exposure or financial compensation elsewhere. Yet we also owe it to our own audience to provide them with the strongest art and artists we can find. Sometimes there’s a nifty overlap between those two classifications. Sometimes the last big thing, or the next big thing, or the current big thing comes to us. And sometimes we have to cheat.
Our new “Featured Photographer” series is our attempt to cheat, in the
name of publishing truly unbeatable, unparalleled vision in the field of the visual arts. We asked this issue’s Featured Photographers, Juliane Eirich and Ben Marcin, to re-print their best gallery work with us, and in turn to share their unique purviews with all of Buffalo Nation. This does not elevate them above our unsolicited photographers, Ms. Prundaru and Mr. DeVos. If anything, it speaks to the diversity of talent in the photographic world, and the number of fresh personalities who enter this field every day. In splitting our publication between solicited and unsolicited artists, we work to ensure that future issues of Buffalo Almanack may stand as truly representative of the contemporary face of the photographic arts, and give a little spotlight to everyone who has earned it. All the best, Max and Katie Editors
Issue No. 5 - Sept. 2014
Katherine Forbes Riley
What the Sea Brings
Anna’s beach chair is buried in seashells. They make a sound like the
tinkle of tiny bells as the waves slowly grind them to dust. Anna’s daughter sucks in her sleep, a reflex as rhythmic as the waves. Anna stamps her feet in a rhythm of her own, but softly, so as not to wake her. She can’t see them, but she knows that they are there, sting rays the size of dinner plates and the color of sand. The whiteboard on the pavilion keeps track of the stings. Last week the number remained as stable as the water temperature, but this morning the faded 3 had been imperfectly rubbed out, a bold 5 impressed upon it. The young man who set up their umbrellas says it hurts far worse than a bee sting. “Even the men cried,” he said gravely.
“Shuffle, shuffle, stomp,” says Anna’s mother, Celia, as she and her two
sisters slosh through the water. Past the breaking crests they relax on their noodles and talk. This is their first time together in almost a year and their flotilla realigns in accordance with their conversation. Anna’s aunts drift together while Celia tells of her bathroom remodel. “I said black slate and she puts in this faux white tile rug thing! Now does that sound anything like me?”
Aunt Elizabeth asks after Celia’s husband, wondering if he’ll retire soon
because of his heart attack. Celia shrugs, and floats deeper into the sea. Aunt Lynn mentions her youngest daughter and they all draw close again to review the facts of her broken engagement. They call her a runaway bride. They say he must be heartbroken. They say it is better she did this now instead of two kids later.
When they come out of the water, a man hails them. He is handsome in
an old man way. A week ago, when Anna and her husband Fer first arrived, everyone looked the same, men and women alike, all sun-glazed and sun-
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glassed and sun-hatted with sagging breasts and voluminous folds at the elbows and knees. But over seven days Anna and Fer have been cataloguing differences. Some wear long sleeves and pants even in the heat of August, while others parade around in bathing suits, their cleavage a long flat expanse of sun-brown. Some glow as if there’s life yet to be lived, others glower as if it has been one long disappointment, and a few seem intent on wringing out every last drop, chatting up Anna and Fer about their baby and the weather and the wildlife, not just the sting rays but the turtle hatchlings and dolphins and manatees and baby alligators and innumerable species of birds. They range in age from nimble sixties to cautious eighties. Rarely, a child surfaces on the sand, looking like someone’s ancient memory.
This man appears to be in his mid-seventies, medium-tan and still
reasonably athletic. He is wearing cargo shorts and a tangerine polo shirt. “I have taken a wonderful picture of you,” he tells Elizabeth, and then moves so he can show it to her. Lynn moves beneath the shade of the umbrellas, but Celia peers over their shoulders.
“It’s a nice picture,” the man says.
“I suppose it is.” Elizabeth’s cheeks take on a faint blush.
“You can have it, if you want. I’ll give you my email address.”
Confusion ensues. No one has a pen. No one’s memory is what it once was.
“Never mind,” says Elizabeth, finally. “It’s just a picture.”
“But you might want it,” he insists. “For your high school reunion maybe?”
“Ugh,” says Celia, turning away. “It’ll be my fiftieth soon. Give him your
email, Lizzie,” she commands, and Anna hands over the pen she’s dug from her bag.
“She’s the boss,” says Elizabeth.
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“Ah. She who must be obeyed,” jokes the man, smiling at Elizabeth.
Anna can almost hear the buzzing, scuffling sounds of a cell being carved
out for him in the beehive of her family. Elizabeth has longed for a spouse ever since hers left her for another woman three decades earlier. Lynn and Celia consider every eligible man potential husband material, but Elizabeth always finds them lacking. These days she says she won’t settle for anything less than holy, handsome and rich, says the Lord will provide if He sees fit. Celia says she needs to start thinking about assisted living.
As Elizabeth writes down her email address, the man asks where she hails
from. “L’Enchanté,” she says, and he nods knowingly, says they live just a mile down the road from her, in Sea Crest. Sea Crest is one of the richest gated communities in Naples.
When the man leaves, Celia follows. She returns with a cup of coffee just
as Elizabeth is telling Anna and Fer about her miraculous recovery from lower back pain. “I kept praying on it, and the Lord kept saying, ‘Elizabeth, you have to see a doctor!’ The Lord and I talk a lot,” she interrupts herself, a girlish blush rising — the same one she wore around the man. “But I kept saying, ‘No, Lord, not that, anything but that!”
She’s making fun of herself. She doesn’t trust doctors, although she was a
dentist herself before retiring a year ago. She says she resisted Him for months but the only result was a burgeoning addiction to pain pills. The doctor, she says, immediately discovered a hernia. “It was a ten minute laparoscopic surgery,” she says ruefully, “and my back was cured. The Lord and I had a big laugh over that one.”
Celia snorts as she lowers herself gingerly into her lounger. She is still
suffering from a hernia she had surgery to repair six months ago. The doctor
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can’t find anything wrong but she still has attacks and must lie flat with an ice pack on the scar. She thinks it was improperly mended. Elizabeth thinks she needs to talk to the Lord.
“Does anyone think that man was hitting on Elizabeth?” Lynn asks quickly.
She is trying to avoid an argument. Elizabeth and Celia have very different views on religion and even a snort can set one off.
“I thought he might be,” says Elizabeth, and her eyes circle, laying her hope
“That’s because you’re so out of the loop,” Celia says, clinging to the
embryo of dispute. “He was only showing off his photograph. It wasn’t a bad composition, but you couldn’t see you. Only your hat, and the top of your suit.” Being an amateur artist, she speaks with some authority.
“Well, it is a beautiful suit,” Lynn says finally.
“It is,” Celia acknowledges, and they both gaze at Elizabeth’s one-piece. It is
fifties-style, with ruching down the center, a straight bodice, and wide straps.
“Anyway,” Celia continues, looking around for her Kindle, “he’s sitting with
a group. Men and women. Couples,” she says meaningfully.
“He wasn’t wearing a ring,” Lynn says.
“He said we. Didn’t you hear him? He said, ‘We live in Sea Crest.’”
Most everyone in this part of Florida lives in a gated community. Celia and
Elizabeth both live in L’Enchanté, and Lynn lives in L’Étouffée, a mile down the road. They bought their condos together a decade ago with the idea of reuniting in their golden years, but Lynn rarely comes when Celia is here and every time Celia and Elizabeth come they get into an argument. The last one occurred over Christmas, when Celia helped Elizabeth pick out a new décor and then
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Elizabeth refused to turn off Fox News. They didn’t speak again until Celia’s husband had his heart attack this past February.
Elizabeth told Anna she thinks Celia is still mad at her. Lynn told Elizabeth
it’s better to be safe than sorry. “Now don’t incite Celia!” she said yesterday, “You know she’s coming loaded for bear.”
Lynn and Celia both arrived yesterday, but Elizabeth has been here since
May. Anna and Fer have come for three weeks, a decadent vacation but a necessary one after her difficult pregnancy and his tenure review this past spring. Celia said they could use her condo, and then said she was coming for the second week and invited all her siblings as well, so this second week of their vacation has turned into a family reunion.
Last week, when Anna and Fer arrived, they took the baby over to
Elizabeth’s to say hello. They felt it necessary but kept it unannounced – Anna was half-hoping Elizabeth wouldn’t answer the door. When she did, Anna thought she’d been drinking. Her eyes were bright, her voice overloud, and her words tripped over each other. She wore a thin loose tank top that barely covered her underwear, and kept tugging at it with a giggle and saying how embarrassed she was, yet stood talking to them for at least ten minutes before going to change.
As they waited, Anna heard voices and wondered if she was alone. When
Elizabeth returned she took them on a tour of the new furnishings. The TV was left on, accounting for the voices. The camera panned across the ecstatic faces of a stadium full of people murmuring prayers. Elizabeth led the way from room to room, jumping from subject to subject, exclaiming how sweet the baby was, how pleased she was that they’d come, how she used to have the orange pillows in the living room but since yellow is a neutral color she’d moved the orange to
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the back and now had yellow in both rooms and had accented the living room with the pale teal. Three separate times she pointed out her new yellow lamp and how like a sculpture it was. Her lips were wet, her cheeks flushed. Later Fer would say she just wasn’t used to visitors.
Anna had worried a lot about maintaining their privacy that first week
with Elizabeth there, but a cycle was soon established, a repetition of hours that pleased them all. Each morning they went to the beach in the cool of the dawn, and Anna would sit on her chair in the surf, bouncing the baby in her lap. Her baby’s laughter erupted each time the waves broke over her feet. Anna didn’t fear the stingrays. The whiteboard changed so rarely that it had lost its power to frighten her.
Each morning found Anna and the baby at the edge of the sea chatting
with Elizabeth as she floated on her noodle beyond the surf. Elizabeth gave Anna a novel to read, The Sea, The Sea. They discussed its plot and language along with Anna and Fer’s academic life, which Elizabeth professed to admire despite its relative poverty. Fer sat under an umbrella a few yards away making ink drawings of the scenery on rice paper. To Anna the view always looked the same and oddly two dimensional, as if sand, sea and sky formed a single unwavering plane. Yet each morning Fer made a hundred different drawings of it, each one spare with brushes and blots that slowly resolved to a new configuration of identical elements: a horizon line, a blur of cloud, a curl of wave, a diving bird, blocky stacks of condos at the edge of the page.
That first week they would stay at the beach until the baby began to fuss
and then return to their respective condos. A precious hour followed during which the baby napped and Anna worked, incorporating into a series of half-
What the Sea Brings
finished poems all the scattered bits of consciousness she’d jotted down since the day before. As the days passed and the baby got used to the smell of her sheets and the sounds outside the window and the different quality of darkness in her bedroom, one hour stretched to two. When she woke, Anna would take her into the living room. Fer would show her his drawings while they waited out the afternoon thunderstorms, page by page, and she would read him her poems, bit by bit, and it would feel like they had suspended time, or reinvented it anew. After the storms they’d walk through the drenched Escherian landscape, empty but for themselves and thousands of tiny lizards. Alone, Anna would have gotten lost in all the reiteration. Fer, whose sense of direction was unerring, thought it helped ease the passage towards death, every street lined with condos landscaped with cypress and palms and spurting fountains whose white noise blocked all sounds of life and instantly put the baby to sleep. They’d wind their way home and stay up late getting to know each other again. They drank prosecco and ate cheese popcorn and watched On Demand movies as eagerly as children. They made love and it felt new but the same.
The whiteboard says 8 stings today. Anna keeps her feet tucked beneath
her as she sits in the seashells with her sleeping baby and listens to Lynn go on about her rice pudding. It comes in a jar, she just scoops it out and sprays on light whipped cream. In Anna’s memory, Lynn’s farmhouse is full of kids and dogs and her husband is fifty pounds overweight. But in fact the kids are grown and the dogs are dead and they’ve moved to an apartment in town, and last week Elizabeth told Anna their youngest daughter — the runaway bride — has been helping her father lose weight. “I don’t know why Lynn never helped him,” Elizabeth said, rather querulously.
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The three sisters all fight their weight. Their mother was a night eater and
her children became night eaters too. But the past two mornings Celia has eaten breakfast with Anna and Fer. She has coffee and an egg. She is a grandmother now, but Anna can feel her mother-hum as she merges with their morning routine. It is a feeling half-forgotten and half-unfamiliar, normal in a way Anna can’t remember it ever actually being when she was a child. Celia holds the baby while Anna empties the dishwasher. She balances the baby on one hip and flips her egg with her free hand. She forks up bites one-handed while the baby explores her lips, her nose, her hair. “You two work so hard at this,” she says, laughing. “I never worked that hard with you.”
They go to the beach later now that Celia is here, and stay longer. Anna and
Fer tell each other privately that it’s just for one week, that it’s Celia’s due. Fer, at least, can work at the beach, but Anna must give up her precious hour because the baby takes her nap in the sea. This makes the beach around her throb with poetry: clouds creeping, minnows streaming, pipers pecking, old men puffing, three sisters floating in the sea.
As they leave the beach that second afternoon Lynn invites everyone to
her condo for dinner. When they arrive she holds out her hands and the baby immediately starts to cry. She knows what’s going to happen. It happens every time Lynn sees her.
“My friend’s daughter just had a baby,” Lynn says, talking over the baby’s
escalating wails as she jounces her on one knee. “They came over once and let me tell you, that baby was having fits! So I said, ‘give him to me —’”
“And he stopped?” Elizabeth yells.
“Right away!” Lynn shouts back.
With three children in their thirties and none married yet, there is
What the Sea Brings
desperation in the way Lynn holds a baby. It’s something the baby can probably sense, but Lynn never mentions it. She’s the youngest. Behind her back her sisters call her uptight. Tonight she is wearing lipstick and mascara and chunks of gold like armor. Her hair is freshly blow-dried in a feather pattern around her head.
“Your hair looks nice,” Celia says. She’s looking a little bedraggled herself,
her linen shirt wrinkled, wisps of hair sticking out from the stubby nub of her grey-gold ponytail.
“It looks great,” Elizabeth says admiringly. Elizabeth just got her hair
cut. It’s as short as Lynn’s now. The women in this family get haircuts at age milestones. In their thirties, they get the bob, which gets shorter until their sixties, when they get the helmet. So far Celia has refused the helmet, but then she didn’t get the bob either until she was forty and their mother told her she looked like a harlot. Their mother’s dead now.
The rice pudding is actually pretty good. Everyone says so except Elizabeth,
who can’t eat it because she’s doing The Virgin Mary Fast. She watches everyone else eat it. She can’t tear her eyes from it. She says, “A jar of that pudding and a pint of ice cream and I’d be all set.”
When they return home they see a car parked outside Elizabeth’s condo.
Uncle John and his wife have arrived. They all walk over to say hello but Anna and Fer don’t stay. No one smokes while they’re there but it drifts, high and wavery, above the lamps. It’s very strong-smelling, medical grade — John gets it from a colleague out in California — and Anna is worried about its effect on the baby.
In the morning there’s an empty ice cream container in the trash and all their
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cheese popcorn is gone. Celia doesn’t stay for breakfast. She slips out the door without meeting Anna’s eyes, calling, “We’ll meet you at the beach! Get enough chairs for everyone!” But it’s eleven before they show up.
They go in the water right away and form a spiral with Uncle John at the
center. He laughs a lot, rolling it out like the waves. His wife’s face is hidden behind huge round sunglasses, and she keeps swiveling like a periscope. Elizabeth’s murmur rises and falls, constant as a talk-show. Even Celia seems affected and she smokes weed every day. But her stuff isn’t as strong as this. Lynn and her husband form the spiral’s reluctant tail. They dislike all drugs except alcohol.
Once they come out of the water everyone troops up to the pavilion for
lunch. The sisters get salads and beers. They pick at their salads and order more beers. Suddenly the sky is full of dark clouds. Anna and Fer wrap their sandwiches in napkins and hustle over to the tram station. The tram through the mangroves shuts down when there’s lightning and sometimes it’s shut down for hours. No one else comes with them. They order more beers instead. A woman gets stung while they’re waiting for the tram. They hear her scream all the way down at the beach.
Back at the condo, Anna and Fer feel at loose ends. For the first time, they
wish they were home. The baby is fussy and bored with her toys, so they sit on the floor trying to interest her in a pile of pink plastic measuring cups. They watch the storm through the lanai. Rain sweeps past in loud torrents. Lightning splits the sky all the way to the ground. Thunder cracks and rolls itself up into great booms. But after a while the sky repairs its perfect blue, and the only evidence of the storm is the dripping sound, which soon evaporates too. Then Anna and Fer hear voices on the stairs and Celia marches in. “It’s party time,”
What the Sea Brings
she announces. A half-empty bottle of prosecco swings from her fist. Elizabeth and John sidle in behind her. Their eyes are as red as a demon’s. Elizabeth’s gaze alights on Anna and then skitters away. Anna and Fer feel like prey. They watch silently as Celia shows Uncle John’s wife her paintings, but when the baby begin to babble in response to the sudden influx of people and noise, Celia’s attention abruptly shifts.
“Can I hold her?” she says.
She wants to show off her granddaughter. But the previous summer she fell
down her porch stairs after smoking and then drinking half a bottle of wine. She was holding Anna’s eighteen month old niece at the time.
Fer stiffens. Anna swallows. She opens her mouth, but Fer saves her. “I was
just about to change her,” he says.
Celia leads the way out, says they’re going for sushi and saké, while he and
Anna are locating diapers and washcloths.
Celia’s husband has arrived. He’s arranged a charter fishing trip for the
men. He is paying for Fer. Celia makes breakfast before they leave. She’s in the kitchen banging around before anyone else is even out of bed. She makes scrambled eggs and bacon and English muffins but her husband only eats a muffin. He doesn’t want to get sick on the boat. Fer eats a muffin and a small scoop of eggs and one slice of bacon to be polite.
It’s still very early and the condo is dark and ominous in a way Anna can’t
register, although it permeates her thoughts. Anna is thinking of the next six hours and angling for a way to get back, just for one day, her hour of writing time. “I’d like to get to the beach early,” she says, “and only spend an hour or two.”
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“You can go by yourself then,” Celia replies with some venom.
Anna looks at Fer and Fer looks back at her.
“Look outside!” says Celia.
Anna does, and now it registers: the clouds are heavy and low with no hint
of pink at all.
Celia turns to her husband. “You can’t go out on a boat. Not in this weather.”
Abruptly he rises. “They know what they’re doing,” he says. “They’re
“You’ll drive all the way there and they’ll cancel on you.” Celia follows him
but further discussion is forestalled in his search for a parka and a hat and a bag of nuts, and then the door is closing behind him.
“He barely spoke to me,” she muses, circling the kitchen as if sensing
something amiss there too. She throws away the great cold pile of bacon and eggs and muffins and then pours herself more coffee and sits flipping through a home decorating magazine.
Anna finishes her breakfast. She nurses the baby. In the silence, Celia’s
sacrifice looms. Her sisters are going into old Naples today, where they will watch Uncle John’s wife spend great sums and justify their own purchases by spending less. Only Celia isn’t going. She’s staying home with Anna. Except Anna doesn’t want her to, and she doesn’t think her mother wants to either. “You can go shopping,” Anna says. “Really. I’ll be fine.”
Celia flips a page before replying.
“No,” she says slowly, “I don’t even want to go. Unless you really don’t care.
Then I’ll go.”
“I just —”Anna stumbles now over implications and accusations, “I just
thought — it’d be great if you stayed.” After a moment, she adds, “How about
What the Sea Brings
we go the pool?”
Usually a group of senior ladies does water aerobics in the pool in the
mornings, but with the sky so threatening Anna and the baby are the only ones there when Celia arrives. Anna looks up and smiles so her mother won’t think she’s angry at her for spending the last hour smoking at Aunt Elizabeth’s. She isn’t angry. In fact, she’s dreaming — with mounting anticipation — of actually being able to write today. It’s only fair. “This is the way the ladies ride,” she sings as Celia slips into the water. But it’s going to be tricky: the baby requires her full attention because if she cries she’ll need to nurse and then she’ll fall asleep and be up again in half an hour. “This is the way the gentlemen ride,” Anna sings, bouncing her, making her laugh.
Celia does one slow lap and then climbs out of the water. “I’m going home,”
she announces, “since you obviously don’t need me.”
“— early in the morning. Ooo-kaay!” So focused is Anna on her singing that
her response comes out in song. Taken by surprise, she says, “We’re coming too. Just as soon as we shower off this chlorine.”
Anna walks back to the condo on little puffs of air. It feels like an epiphany,
as if maybe that’s the trick of it, to sing like the seashells and keep singing, no matter what’s happening to you. When she opens the door Celia is freshly showered and talking on the phone. “I’m not going,” Anna hears her say. “I’m helping Anna with the baby.”
“Oh, that’s too bad!” This is Lynn’s voice. Celia has her on speakerphone.
To Anna’s ear she is feigning dismay, and she must not know Anna is listening because she adds, “Anna doesn’t like to be alone with her baby, does she?”
It’s like she’s been struck by a stone. All of Anna’s buoyancy leaves her. “I
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can’t believe she said that,” she murmurs, sinking into a chair as her mother hangs up the phone. The words just fall out. She doesn’t mean to say them aloud.
Celia takes in her daughter’s expression, her own countenance rapidly
darkening. “Who cares what she said?” she cries. “I’m the one who’s hurt! You completely ignored me at the pool!”
A great weight presses Anna into her chair as Celia rises and walks to the
door. “I’m going shopping,” she calls just before it slams.
It is the past unrolling the future. It has happened so many times before that
it feels like it’s happened already, but it hasn’t, not yet. Abruptly free, Anna runs for the door.
“I’m sorry!” she calls down the stairs.
“No you’re not!” Celia calls back, turning the corner one flight down.
It’s true. Anna’s heart beats like bird wings.
Behind her, the baby begins to cry in great choking gasps.
“Please come back,” Anna says, already turning away, “for the baby. What’s
between us doesn’t matter.”
“Fuck you,” says Celia.
But she comes back.
Later, after the men return and everyone else goes out for Italian food, Anna
tries to explain to Fer what happened. As a teenager she once had a plantar wart and tried to dig it out, all those slippery skin-colored threads that had no feeling until they merged without warning into painful flesh. The fight is like that. She can’t tell where it started and doesn’t know how it grew.
“So basically it’s the same fight you two always have,” Fer says.
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He too has a story to tell. Celia’s husband confessed to the men while fishing
that he’s going to retire soon, and that Celia doesn’t want him to. She doesn’t want him in the house all day. “Right now,” he told them, “I’m an important man. I’ve got so much responsibility crossing my desk. After I retire, I’ll be nobody.”
The sky is full of dragonflies, buzzing, diving singles and silent pairs joined
at the abdomen. The beach looks like a war zone. Dead dragonflies blacken the tideline. Broken shells litter the higher ground. Some have holes bored by patient invaders who then devoured the flesh alive. Even the sand is the dust of billions.
Anna and Fer have returned to the pattern of their first week, but it’s
twisted, spoiled. They’re being avoided. Every morning Celia and her husband go straight to Elizabeth’s. They don’t come to the beach until Anna and Fer and the baby are ready to leave, and only return to shower and change before heading out again. Celia and Anna can’t look at each other, and Anna has caught her stepfather staring at her with small eyes. She tells Fer, “I think he hates me now,” but Fer says he’s just doesn’t want to set Celia off. Everyone else acts as if they’re afraid Celia will think they’ve taken against her if they even talk to Anna and Fer.
“Something happened in that family,” Fer says with disgust, but Anna
thinks it’s better this way. The second week is nearly over and Celia is so quiet Anna can almost forget her. She doesn’t want to think about her lest the thought arc between them and ignite. Each time she does it morphs and spreads until Celia becomes a non-mother and Anna becomes her father, until she can feel Celia’s longing for a different daughter even as she longs for a different mother.
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When Anna was little she longed for Lynn but now she knows they’re all tainted. It terrifies her to think she and her daughter are tainted too.
Elizabeth hosts a family dinner the final night of the second week. Lynn
brings guacamole. Uncle John’s wife makes her shrimp and Gouda soup. Celia brings gelato. Fer gives everyone an ink drawing. Photographs are taken, of Anna and the baby, Celia and the baby, and Lynn and the baby too. Wine glasses are refilled, at which point Lynn admits with an aborted glance at Anna that she’s been suffering from a hangover all week. “I only drink like this when I’m with my sisters,” she sighs, which prompts Celia to tell a story about a dinner party she and Elizabeth gave where they passed out before serving the meal.
“You left your guests alone downstairs?” Lynn is horrified.
“I always love being with you, John,” Celia says.
“Now look at the mess I’ve made,” he replies, smiling down at the crumbs
on his pants. The two of them disappear into the back bedroom. While they’re gone, Lynn and Uncle John’s wife set the table with items purchased on their shopping trip. Elizabeth takes the baby and carries her around with pride because she doesn’t cry. Lynn’s husband leans over and whispers, “You’re a good mother.” Later, while hugging her goodbye, Uncle John’s wife says the same thing.
Celia has a hernia attack just as Anna and Fer are leaving and goes into
Elizabeth’s room to lie down. When Anna goes in after her the sun is streaming through the blinds at an angle, bathing one side of her mother’s face in a light that smoothes all the years away. Anna sets the baby down beside her and for a
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moment imagines them as mother and child.
“I hope you feel better,” she says.
Celia musters a smile, but it looks like a grimace on her shadowed side.
“Thank you,” she replies.
It is dawn at the beach, and the start of the third week.
Fer broaches the subject as soon as they settle in.
“Oh, yeah, she’s pissed,” says Elizabeth.
“So what did she say?
Fer’s voice is calm, but a frown carves deep lines around his mouth, and he
is laying out his brushes more exactly than usual.
“Oh, you know,” Elizabeth says, sounding like she’s trying to make light of
it. “Anna doesn’t appreciate her enough. Every time she came over she told me something else. She must’ve smoked ten times a day! She said you were making her so anxious.”
“What did she say?” Fer repeats.
“Well, let’s see, she said Anna didn’t thank her for only smoking at my
house because of the baby —”
“I did thank her!”
“We both did.”
“Mm, and apparently, Anna, you ignored her at the pool the other day—”
“She left!” Anna cries.
“— and when you send her a Mother’s Day card, you never sign your name.
You write, ‘The Devaux Family.’”
“She’s crazy,” mutters Fer.
Elizabeth sighs. “She can be a baby, can’t she?”
Katherine Forbes Riley
Anna keeps quiet. She hears some legitimacy in her mother’s complaints.
“She reminds me so much of my mother,” Elizabeth continues. “My mother
used to get mad at people all the time too.”
“It’s because she has so much money,” Fer says, “she thinks she can do no
It’s not enough just to sing, thinks Anna, it’s the song you choose.
“I know what I really think,” Elizabeth says later. She lowers her voice
conspiratorially, glances around. “But I don’t say it out loud. People think I’m crazy enough already.”
Anna glances around too, sees Fer trailing behind. “What do you think?”
“I think she’s possessed. Demons aren’t what people think,” Elizabeth
hurries to add, “It doesn’t have to mean you’re spitting pea soup. There are little demons. Sometimes your mother gets this look in her eye. It’s just...evil.”
A group of people is already waiting for the tram. When it comes they all
rush on. An old lady is left behind, first in line but last to rise.
“That wasn’t fair,” Elizabeth says to her as the tram departs.
At first it seems the women didn’t hear, for she doesn’t reply until she has
slowly and carefully reseated herself. Only then does she turn her head.
“It happens,” she says.
This is all she says, but there is something about the way she says it that
seems to encompass not just this temporary inconvenience but also other, far more significant phenomena, like her age and the sea. It’s a powerful effect, and they all stare, taking her in. She looks ninety, at least. She looks ancient, but at the same time she’s quite tall and sturdy, and while fragile, there’s an elegance
What the Sea Brings
“Is that your lunch?” Elizabeth asks. She’s looking at the woman’s hands,
which are long and bony and seem almost alive, like spiders, or orchid roots, as they clutch a white takeout container.
The woman gazes at Elizabeth. Her expression is tranquil and absorbed. She
gives no sign she’s heard the question. They’ve given up on her answering when she finally says, “I had lunch here. This is my dinner.”
“Oh!” Now Elizabeth looks concerned. Her eyes go soft. Anna can tell her
heart is breaking at the idea of a lonely old lady getting all her meals from a beach restaurant. Anna herself is disconcerted by the woman’s protracted silences. She wonders if this is illness — and yet she seems so unaffected, by illness or anything at all. Her poise is like distant water, her silences like measurements of the great reaches through which her mind is traveling.
“You must live alone then.” Elizabeth is smiling now. “So do I. But I so love
to cook. I take great pleasure in it.”
Anna winces — Elizabeth tends to adopt a sanctimonious air with strangers
— but the woman simply nods. The bones of her face are magnificent. Anna imagines them covered in young flesh. She must have been very beautiful once.
“I live in L’ Enchanté,” Elizabeth is saying.
“I live in L’ Enchanté too.”
“Oh! Isn’t that amazing! I’m in 815.”
“I’m in 815 too.”
Perhaps it’s the pauses, but for a moment Anna suspects the old woman of
lying for the connection it brings. Elizabeth has no doubt at all, she is smiling her girlish smile, she thinks the Lord has put this woman in her path as someone to cook for, care for, minister. She sees this woman as an older version of herself,
Katherine Forbes Riley
and in truth this woman makes this easy to do. Her serenity is a welcome mirror, something one can look forward to. Now Anna feels a rush of hope. Maybe she and her daughter aren’t doomed after all. Maybe time is a song that can be sung.
Maybe time is like the sea. It connects us with its poetry. It brings sting rays
and a red tide that kills all the fish in the shallows and leaves them dead and stinking on the shore. In fifteen days Anna and Fer have seen ambulances twice taking out the dead. How fragile can anyone allow themselves to be? Some days she thinks she’ll never go in the water again, and some days she thinks it’s better to be stung than never feel the sea.
What the Sea Brings
Juliane Eirich knew Japan already from previous visits, when she returned in the summer of 2011 in order to work there. But this time things were much different. A few months earlier the earthquake had destroyed the Fukushima nuclear power plant. The enthusiasm and curiosity for the foreign country mingled with a subliminal feeling of fear and threat.
With mixed emotions the photographer took residence in a beautiful old country house in the subtropical south of Japan. By bike she explored the Itoshima region and collected new impressions, by day and by night, in the countryside and in the cities, in sultry heat, pouring rain and storm.
With Deserted landscapes and cityscapes, houses, trees, cars, interiors and everyday objects Juliane Eirich forms a kaleidoscope of barely interpretable impressions. Itâ€™s all about the question, how environment and nature shape the way of life and culture and how people in return shape and cultivate nature and arrange themselves.
The great care and precision Juliane Eirich invests choosing and photographing her motives give proof of the unconditional interest in the things and the urge to sharpen her senses in dialogue with them and learn more. It pays to follow her on this journey.
Chuck drags a short knife back and forth across the whetstone in his left
hand, the cadence faster and faster, as he thrashes up and down the hallway, front door to back porch, promising over and over that there will be hell to pay when he finds the motherfucker who is after Danielle. He says it fast and slow and under his breath as he hands Lenny an aluminum baseball bat. They will protect her. They will save themselves.
This morning, Danielle’s name was scratched off the mailbox in the foyer of
the building. Three angry black lines. A violation.
They’re not getting in here, Chuck says. Lenny nods, because he can’t think
of anything else to do. He didn’t know Chuck as a Marine, has only known him for six weeks, but knows enough not to stop him. Earlier in the week, Danielle thought that someone followed her home. Chuck didn’t sleep for two days. He drank milk gallons of water and sat beside the front door in the hallway. “We’ll wait for him,” Chuck says, “and when we catch him…” “Why don’t we maybe call the cops?” “We will,” Chuck says, “after.” Danielle is waiting tables at The Mountain. She makes hundreds of dollars on Fridays and Saturdays. The cooks give her whatever she wants from the kitchen, so she brings home burgers and sandwiches and leftover steak fries. The refrigerator is full of carry out items in styrofoam boxes. Lenny wishes he were at work too, counting plastic vials in the genetics lab, listening to the lab manager speak Haitian Creole over the phone to his wife and baby daughter. Instead, he sits beside Chuck on the steel-framed futon in the living room, running two fingers across the hard lump in his thigh until he
has every millimeter memorized. It is smooth on the sides, but the top feels as though it has a hundred tiny pinpricks. He imagines a microscopic tree with its branches growing skyward while its roots search for something to grab. He found it in the shower as he lathered his thighs the morning after he and Danielle had sex in the hallway. It is jagged and dime sized and feels like a pimple. Upon finding the lump, he squeezed it as hard as he could, but it would not pop and seemed to grow larger in anger. His thigh was throbbing and he had to stop.
They never spoke about what happened that night in hallway because
Danielle didn’t want to. It was not the way Lenny thought it would be when he daydreamed about it in college. She avoided him for four nights before they were alone again. Then she asked about his sister. How she was doing in Rochester, how the move went, if he cried when he helped her unpack. Danielle was staining a bedside table she found in front of an apartment on garbage day. She spent weeks sanding it and picking out the right color. Lenny tried to steer the conversation toward the two of them but she kept going back to things they used to talk about when they were just friends, when Chuck was a world away and there was nothing hanging over them. She asked him about the fruit flies, about his job in the Hermansen laboratory. She didn’t look up from the trapezoidal table leg she was staining. Her stroke was steady. But suddenly she was very interested in genetics, in whatever Lenny’s day-to-day responsibilities were. She asked about the ingredients in the fly food, the agar-agar, cornmeal and high fructose corn syrup, like she intended start her own Parkinson’s research facility.
“But I want to talk about us,” Lenny said at one point, after he had described
the wall of corrugated boxes containing disposable plastic vials.
“Let’s talk about other people.” “What about the other night?” Lenny asked. “Let’s not,” she said. “Let’s talk about other people. Something else. Tell me
something new. Tell me about who you work with.”
So he told her about German and Holly in the laboratory. They are in their
late twenties or early thirties and are a couple, he said. German is from El Salvador and he fought in the Salvadoran Civil War when he was thirteen. He was shot in the chest, arm and leg. He will take off his shirt if he drinks enough and feels like showing you. German’s job is injecting the fruit fly embryos. It is something no one in the lab wants to do, but German seems to have made a life of undesirable jobs. He has a generous smile. But he seems like he’s missed some great chance. Holly is fine, she is blonde and neither fat nor thin and wears t-shirts of her favorite metal bands and is generally nice to speak to, but German is a handsome Latin American war hero, and their relationship seems uneven. Couldn’t he do better than Holly? Or is she just someone he stays with out of comfort and repetition? Is there that much darkness in him? Is he so lost that he would be a mess without her? Maybe they are both broken, or maybe they are fools who have mistaken routine for love.
Danielle told Lenny to cut the shit. She said she knew what he was doing.
She threw her paintbrush to the floor and splattered deep ebony on the linoleum tile. Lenny trailed her to the front door and tried to apologize but she called him an asshole.
Lenny thinks about this conversation as he sits next to Chuck on the futon.
They turn off the lights and peer out the windows at the empty street, searching
for anything. There is someone out there, someone who intends to cause irreparable harm. The shadows look frightening at first, but once Lenny stares at them for five or ten minutes, they are texture, like everything else.
At two in the morning, Lenny goes to the kitchen and eats a box of leftovers from the refrigerator. He is not hungry, but he feels the need to do something. He takes off all of his clothes except for his plaid boxers and eats a half reuben and steak fries cold, out of the styrofoam box. Lenny never made a move before they lived together. Danielle’s devotion to Chuck seemed impenetrable and pointless to challenge. Now that Chuck is back, Lenny should have been cast aside. Redundant. Unnecessary. But when Lenny moved in, it was obvious that there were cracks everywhere, and Danielle was the one who reached out in the hall that night as Chuck snored in the bedroom. He thought about it before that night, sure, but she reached for him.
Chuck sits down in the wooden chair next to Lenny.
“Why don’t you microwave that?”
They have spent hours watching basic cable action movies and staring at
the street through the daisy curtains. At first, it seemed a fine way to spend a Tuesday night; Lenny had nothing better to do, and it was exciting to be on the precipice of danger. But the enemy is nowhere and though Chuck is content to keep waiting, Lenny is tired and regrets his decision as the night ticks away.
Lenny tells Chuck about the lump.
“It sounds like a spider bite.”
Chuck tells a story about a private one of his buddies supposedly knew,
whose unit set up camp outside of Kirkuk. Three camel spiders ate through the tent and attacked him in his sleep. Chuck keeps saying they are as big as dogs to
punctuate his sentences. “They have this venom that numbs you so you don’t even feel it while they’re biting you. If you don’t get treated right away, you get gangrene and infected and shit.” Lenny starts laughing. “I’m serious, man.” Chuck says, “you don’t want to come home without a leg because of a fucking spider, you know?” He takes a cold fry from Lenny’s container and eats it. They stare at each other’s faces for longer than they ever have before. Chuck looks tired, not just from one anxious night, but frayed.
“I don’t think anyone’s coming.” “Someone is out there,” Chuck yells, “don’t be a fucking pussy.”
They hear the front door open and Chuck grabs the knife from the table and
yells hello like it’s the last word.
Danielle tells Chuck to keep it down. She sounds buzzed and dreamy and
has deflated the enormity of the situation.
“Why didn’t you call? I would have walked you home.”
She tells him not to be stupid and he goes on and on about the mailbox,
about the lines through her name in black pen. “It’s probably nothing. You’re acting like a psychopath.” Danielle’s hair is greasy. Her mouth is small and elf-like. If he didn’t know her and she walked by him on the street, Lenny believes he might mistake her for a high school junior. There is an immaturity in her features, like she still has to grow into the rest of her face. She doesn’t say anything to Lenny, they just watch one another and he tries to gather what she’s thinking, tries to tell her with a cocked eyebrow and a slanted smirk what Chuck has been up to. For
days he feared that a mark on her neck would betray them. He has imagined Chuck standing over him with a knife to his throat. But there is nothing to be afraid of now, except for the violator, if such a person exists. Danielle says, “How do we know it wasn’t the mailman or some stupid college girl from the second floor?” This is where Lenny should agree with her. This is where he should stop eating his reuben and help her convince Chuck that he has nothing to be afraid of, that his fiancée is safe and his for the keeping. Instead, he says, “It had to be someone,” and Danielle tells him to stop and Chuck yells that he’s right, it had to be someone. Something has happened. It isn’t nothing. So she asks Chuck to come to bed. She asks him sweetly and he shoos her away. She sits on his lap and whispers something in his ear. “What about the mailbox, Dani? What about the fucking mailbox?”
Lenny finishes his sandwich. He gets up and throws the styrofoam take-out
box in the step-open trashcan that never opens when he steps on the pedal.
“You don’t just cross off someone’s name. No one goes around crossing
names off mailboxes at random.”
“Why are you being an asshole?” Danielle asks. And Chuck starts to defend
himself when she stops him by yelling, “Not you—him.”
“It has to mean something. That’s why,” Lenny says.
“You’re a fucking asshole. I can’t even believe you,” she says. In her nicest
voice, Danielle tries one last time to get Chuck in bed. “You don’t have to worry about the stupid mailbox, babe, just come to bed.”
“What the hell is going on with you two?” “Don’t listen to her, Chuck. We need to get to the bottom of this. It’s not
stupid. It’s never been stupid.”
“Fuck you,” she yells, looking Lenny straight in the eyes. “Chuck, come to bed. Just come to bed. Let’s forget about it. Forget it ever happened. It’s nothing.” Chuck waves a dismissive hand at her and says goodnight over and over until she leaves the kitchen and slams the bedroom door. She screams through the door. Chuck and Lenny sit at the kitchen table in silence for some time. There is a sour smell in the air that they can’t get rid of. Something has died in a wall, perhaps, or the garbage disposal needs to be taken apart and cleaned. Lenny stares at the spots of brown and black mold on the ceiling that Chuck promised Danielle he would bleach away as soon as he bought a ladder.
“About that lump,” Lenny asks, “Do you think it’s maybe just an ingrown
“I said spider bite.”
Lenny says it is like a plum pit in his thigh. If he squeezes it hard enough, it
will squirt a drop of black blood. “Can you take a look at it for me?” He pulls up the left leg of his boxers and says it doesn’t feel like an ingrown hair and he doesn’t think it is a pimple.
The lump is an angry full moon. It is a bruised yellow oval with a tiny spot
of dried blood in the center. Chuck gazes at it for a long time.
“Does it look bad?” Without a sound, Chuck goes into the bathroom and returns with a bottle of
rubbing alcohol. At the sink, he pours the alcohol over the knife and tells Lenny to splash his thigh. “Don’t worry, I’ve done this before.” There is no reason for Lenny to trust him. He considers this as he rubs the
alcohol on his leg. The knife glistening. Chuck grabs a roll of paper towels and some ice from the freezer. “It’s gonna hurt,” Chuck says as he crouches on one knee in front of Lenny. Lenny knows he can stop it now. He can call a doctor tomorrow. He can tell Chuck it probably isn’t the best idea, because who undergoes dermatologic surgery in their kitchen? But it’s something he has to do. It’s the least he can do, somehow. Chuck holds the ice against the lump with one hand and jabs the tip of the sharpened knife in with the other. Lenny watches the blood run down his leg and gasps. That night in the hallway, he kept whispering in Danielle’s ear about how long he wanted this, whatever it was. She never said it back; she leaned against the wall and told him to do it. He bit her neck and ran his hands up and down her back, under her cotton t-shirt. Nothing changed the way he imagined it would. “I know it was you,” Chuck says. There is searing pain and wetness. A sense of panic he’s never felt before. He can feel the sweat on his neck and lower back, his heart shaking in his chest. Was he asking for this all along? There is no future he can imagine where he is with Danielle and where Chuck is long forgotten. This is the truth he’s been avoiding. In the three years Lenny has known her, Chuck has been part of the package. She even asked Lenny to pray for him one night as Chuck began his first tour. And Lenny did pray for him even though he didn’t believe in praying. He asked something about keeping Chuck safe and Danielle happy in his head before he fell asleep that night. And he wonders now if his prayer was the only one that has ever been answered.
He stares at Chuck’s forehead and says nothing, tries to hide his thoughts. It wasn’t him, not the mailbox anyway. It’s one of those things he’ll wonder about years later when he’s driving late at night or making a pot of coffee in a dark kitchen before the sun rises. Why the mailbox? He’ll settle on it being done by no one. It was no one who crossed out Danielle’s name. It was no one who caused this. No one who wanted to hurt her. These weren’t choices, they were just the things that happened. “It wasn’t me,” Lenny says as he yelps again. His leg shakes as Chuck twists the knife and pulls out a tiny orb. He holds it between his thumb and forefinger. For a moment, in the light, it appears to breathe.
â€œI was walking by the window of a vacant shop when I saw the head, waiting to be photographed among rubble. The vibe I get from manikins is always strange, but in this case the vibrant daytime colors and street reflection offset the creepiness a bit.â€?
Benjamin DeVos Olympus Digital
Yes, he agreed, it was about time he found out once and for all. And so, with the rest of them watching, he lay down on the kitchen table, opened the green and yellow plastic bag beside him, and dug into his stomach with the edge of a tortilla chip.
Yes, there was the pain of needles in his navel, and he felt it also in his throat
and in his feet and in the tip of his penis, but it was better than not knowing, he thought. And so, wincing, he dug the chip deeper and stirred it around in there, in the guacamole of his flesh, the salsa of his entrails, while the others watched and waited.
And once he scooped the ideal scoop, he brought it to his lips, for a taste of
the real thing.
Attention passengers, this is your captain speaking uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh I say unto you, he who has taken part in the miracle of flight shall have everlasting [unintelligible] amen, amen I say to you, in this aircraft, which is my body, I have uhhhhhhhh borne you safely across great distances [unintelligible] blessed are the uhhhhhhhh SkyPlus rewards members, for theirs is [unintelligible] take this, all of you and remain seated [unintelligible] uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh though you fly through skies of great turbulence, you shall uhhhhh fear no evil [unintelligible] a certain rich passenger was seated in first class, and was allowed to uhhhhhhh board first [unintelligible] thrice he denied his neighbor from coach class the loaves of bread, and thrice [unintelligible] amen I say to you, the rich man does sit in the uhhhhhh first class of my body, but he shall be the last to disembark the uhhhhhhhhhh aircraft [unintelligible] and he who becomes a frequent flier shall [unintelligible] my blood, which will be fuel for you and for all, so that the flight shall uhhhhhhhh [unintelligible] blessed are the business class, for [unintelligible] and as we begin our initial descent uhhhhhhhhhhhh surely goodness and love will follow you all the days of your life, and I thank you for flying [unintelligible] forever and ever [unintelligible].
When Jeffrey Chatterbones walks you can hear him coming because of the
chatterbones. He shakewalks like one of those wind-up-shake-denture-toys, the ones with the feet that let them shakewalk like Jeffrey Chatterbones. If you hear Jeffrey Chatterbones shakewalking toward you, turn and run away as quickly as you can. Because if Jeffrey Chatterbones sees you, he will shakerun at you and try to touch you with his chatterfingers. And if his chatterfingers touch you, you will begin to shake too. First you will feel it in your teeth, then in your face, then in your shoulders, andÂ soon your whole body will become a chatterbones body. And in your ears you will hear a sound like the sound a quarter makes when it falls to the floor and tinshivers quicker and quicker until it settles only the sound in your ears will never settle and it will keep tinshivering in your ears forever.
â€œOne of the architectural quirks of certain cities on the eastern seaboard of the U.S. is the solo row house. Standing alone, in some of the worst neighborhoods, these nineteenth century structures were once attached to similar row houses that made up entire city blocks. Time and major demographic changes have resulted in the decay and demolition of many such blocks of row houses. Occasionally, one house is spared - literally cut off from its neighbors and left to the elements with whatever time it has left.
My interest in these solitary buildings is not only in their ghostly beauty but in their odd, almost defiant, placement in the urban landscape. Often three stories high, they were clearly not designed to stand alone like this. Many details that might not be noticed in a homogenous row of twenty attached row houses become apparent when everything else has been torn down. And then thereâ€™s the lingering question of why a single row house was allowed to remain upright. Still retaining traces of its former glory, the last house standing is often still occupied.â€?
Silver Run, MD
â€œI have always had a strong interest in photographing the places where people live. I am especially interested in the older, solo houses in the eastern part of the United States where many of the homesteads and farms have been replaced by planned communities, megamalls, industrial parks and other forms of urban sprawl. I photograph houses that stand by themselves - not a neighbor in either direction.â€?
Sheridan County, NE
Kiowa County, CO
Howard County, MD
â€œWhile solitary houses are not an uncommon sight in the wide open spaces of the American West, here in the congested Northeast ones sees fewer and fewer of them as newer housing tracts advance across the landscape. There is a determination to endure that is apparent to me in a number of these lone structures. In others, time has run out.â€?
You had a hard time accepting the fact that you are on food stamps. The stigma of it. But Mike isn’t making enough to support you and three kids. Just the fact that food stamps are something you would be on is telling. Like being on drugs, or on welfare, or on chemotherapy. On vacation would be one non-negative example. There are no absolutes in this world. Everything is not black or white, white or black. Now that Jazmyn is in pre-K, your days belong to you. You could try to get a job, to help make ends meet, but, you know what? You deserve some time to yourself. You deserve that. You feel like Mike has pretty much kept you barefoot and pregnant for the last twelve years. The He Man. Well, if he wants to be the man, he can by-God man-up and support his family. If he wants to maintain these traditional roles, then he needs to keep up his end of the bargain. Your job is to raise the kids and cook the meals and clean the house. And let Mike use you for Cialis-induced sex every other Saturday. In many ways, that is degrading. But in other ways, it feels good. You know what to expect and what is expected from you. That’s comforting. You like it. You take pride in what you do for your family. And now, with Mike Jr., Ben, and Jazmyn all three in school, having your days to yourself is just a fringe benefit. In fact, it’s more than that. It’s not something extra, it’s something you earned. Something you deserve. The twinge of guilt you sometimes feel about it is just wrong. You deserve some me time. Mike applied for the food stamps. He did it on the computer. He said he fudged the numbers a little bit, but that everybody did that. He said that his family deserved some help. That he had been paying into the system his whole life and now it was time to get something out of it. If a jig could be president,
then a white man could be on government assistance. That’s what Mike said. You didn’t know he was a racist when you married him. That stuff just kind of bubbled to the surface over time. Those old fashioned He Man family values that you found comforting, and, if you’re being honest, kind of sexy sometimes, well, those values came with some other old fashioned ideas that weren’t sexy at all. Not at all. But he had you knocked up and shoeless before those darker elements came to light. He used to refer to black people as African Americans, but somewhere along the line you realized that he was using that term ironically. He might as well have been using the N-word. Then it was Afro Americans, emphasis on the afro. And it just went downhill. Turned to weird terms like Jellybeans. He would never say the N-word, though, like he was above that. You asked him why jellybeans, and he smiled and said ‘cause nobody likes the black ones. Timmies. That was another one. His favorite one. (It took you a long time to figure out why he called some black people Timmies. You finally realized it was African immigrants — very black people with high pitched accents. Timmies were people from Timbuktu. Or at least looked like they could be, anyway). Really, Mike made plenty of money. He flat out lied on the food stamps application. It’s time for us to get what we’re owed is what he said. Sometimes you check his internet history, to see if he has been looking at pornography or chatting with other women, but you’ve never found any evidence of that. One time, though, when he forgot to clear out the cache, you saw that he had been visiting a white supremacy website. The Aryan Zionist something or the other. And there was stuff about the coming race wars, disruption of food supplies, and the collapse of civilization. Stuff about building emergency shelters in your backyard. Stockpiling weapons. You could live with
his casual bigotry — most folks were prejudiced once you got them behind closed doors — but if he was moving beyond casual and into active hate mode, well, that was disturbing. You didn’t want to spend family vacations going to rifle ranges and survivalist camps and burning crosses and bombing abortion clinics. You just wanted to maybe go to Six Flags or Gatlinburg or Dollywood or something and just be normal. You order the DVD of that miniseries, Roots. The one about the slaves. Where they go to Africa and kidnap black people and bring them back to America to be slaves. Before the Civil War. You remember seeing it when you were little and how it just broke your heart. You figure that if Mike will watch it, it might humanize black people to him. Lessen some of the hate he is feeling. You try to get you and him and the kids to all sit down together to watch it as a family. But he always finds something else to do. Some reason to not be there. Some place he has to go. Some call he has to take. The DVD is still in the entertainment cabinet. Still sealed. Unopened. You dated a black guy in college, before you dropped out. His name was Andre, and he had taken your virginity. You had loved Andre and he had been so sweet and kind and it turned you on the way he was always licking his lips, like just being around you made his mouth water. You have never told — nor will you ever tell—Mike about Andre.
The card came in the mail about a week after the application was submitted. Food stamps weren’t actual stamps anymore. It was a card, like a credit card or a debit card with a magnetic strip down the back of it so you could swipe it at the grocery store and get your food for free. It was called an EBT card. Electronic Bank Transfer.
These were modern times you were living in. Mike presented the card to you, like he was giving you an anniversary gift. Like it was jewelry or split-crotch panties or something. Told you it was time to enjoy the benefits of living in America. Like the Timmies and border-hoppers do. You felt very self-conscious and embarrassed the first time you used it. You were afraid one of your neighbors or someone from the PTA would see you. Or that strangers would see and judge you. That first time you used it, you bought three food-service-size cans of generic pinto beans, a big-ass package of dried split peas, a ten pound bag of Kroger brand plain flour (not even self-rising), and a big industrial-size can of Value Coffee. It was like you were living back in the pioneer days. Like you lived in the little house on the fucking prairie. Like you were stocking up the covered wagon so you and your family could cross the Great Plains in search of manifest destiny. You just didn’t want to be seen using your food stamps on extravagant items. If you were seen using EBT, you wanted for people to at least think you were a responsible steward of public funds. The EBT card — as opposed to the old fashioned, brightly colored food stamps — was supposed to take away the embarrassment and shame of being on the government dole. (You are old enough to remember seeing a young black woman, one hand holding a diapered child straddled on her hip, counting out food stamps with the other hand, and how she was holding up the line and everybody was watching her, but that woman didn’t seem embarrassed or ashamed. She just didn’t care.) The way it worked was, you just swiped it at the register just like a regular check card. The thing about it, though, was that the EBT card didn’t look like a regular Visa or MasterCard. The EBT cards issued by the state of Georgia were predominately green, like a jungle print or something,
and in the middle of all that greenery were two hefty Georgia peaches, just hanging there like testicles. It was awful. Garish. Anybody that happened to glance at you while you were checking out would recognize it and know right away that you were just trash. Just poor trash. But you finally get used to using it. You stop buying flour and corn meal and dried beans and giant slabs of no-name bacon, and you start buying the things your family actually eats. After a while, you develop a little swipe method, so that you palm the card in this certain way and it just looks very casual. You keep the card in your pants pocket instead of the wallet in your purse, so when the total comes up, you just do a quick palm swipe and the card is back in your pocket before anybody can see it. You key in your PIN and you’re good to go. You just carry your bags of name brand groceries right out to your Escalade. Then Mike starts requesting things like Alaskan king crab legs and New York strip steak. And you don’t want to take a chance being seen buying stuff like that with food stamps. That is not being a good steward of public funds. But you do it, because Mike tells you to do it. Insists. Makes you feel the same way he makes you feel when you don’t want to give him a blow job. Like you are not doing your wifely duties. He can be a real motherfucker sometimes. He Man. If you stand your ground — that it’s just not right to use food stamps to support an extravagant lifestyle — Mike will launch into a tirade about how the Timmies are living large off public assistance, how they are not even real Americans and they are eating filet mignon and swordfish and truffles every night while regular people have to eat ramen noodles and American kids are getting rickets and dying of starvation. And that makes you feel bad. Then he starts in on how the Timmies sell their food stamps for sex and drugs. And they use their women to get more food stamps. He says that in the Timmie culture, women are defined
by their sexual organs. That they are actually that primitive. Animals without a moral base. You can go into one of those African restaurants that are popping up all over the Cobb County and just swipe your EBT card in there and you can get marijuana or crack cocaine and then once you are high, you can swipe your card again and you can have your pick of the women. Sex and drugs, and you charge it all to your EBT. And compared to that, you all having Alaskan king crab legs for dinner one night is not even close to abusing the system. And of course he is right. Usually, you go to Kroger and use the automated self-checkout registers. No matter how much stuff you have, you scan that shit yourself. That way you don’t have to take the chance of the checkout girl knowing you are on food stamps. (Before you discovered the wonderful anonymity of self-checkout, when the cashier rang up your food, you would make up little conversations in your mind. You would rehearse what you might say to her if she got uppity or gave you some kind of judgmental look, or made some little snide comment about you buying expensive Activia yogurt instead of the plain jane store brand. Like if you’re so poor, how come you’re getting the expensive premium brand of yogurt? Like you are not a good steward of public funds. Like you are living high on the hog eating free while everybody else has to work for what they have and they scrimp and save and all they can afford is the cheap Kroger brand yogurt. Well, if anything like that ever happened, you would just hold your head high and look the clerk in the eye and say, “Well, I guess poor people don’t deserve to shit good. Jamie Lee Curtis never said that in any of those commercials. She never said ‘Activia is not intended for the poor.’ But I reckon you know best. I reckon poor people are just gonna have to live with being constipated”).
But nothing like that has ever happened. You discovered the automated checkouts. You ring yourself up so you don’t have to brook the judgmental gaze of the cashier. But Mike wants the steak and crab legs from Publix. He says their quality is better. Mike is all about quality. You don’t usually go to Publix because they don’t have self checkouts. They are in the process of having them installed— they’ve even marked off floor space for them — but they don’t have them up and running yet. Also, when you pay with EBT at Publix, you have to tell the checkout clerk before she starts scanning your items. If you don’t tell them, then it doesn’t ring up right. There is some little button or screen or something that pops up on their side, and if you don’t tell them you’re using EBT, it will ring up wrong and they have to call the manager over for a tax exempt override or something. Sometimes the manager doesn’t know how to perform a tax exempt override and they end up voiding the entire transaction and the whole ordeal takes ten minutes and the cashier knows, the manager knows, and anybody who is in the general vicinity knows good and damn well that you are a piece of human trash on food stamps. They know that you are getting your groceries for free while they have to work hard and pay for theirs. They cannot afford Activia. They cannot afford to shit good. They know that tonight you are going to feast on exotic seafood and Grade A beef. You are going to have surf and turf, and they are going to have macaroni and cheese or Hamburger Helper because the government is not providing them with dinner. They work for a living and you are sponging off their hard labor. And the checkout girl probably makes six-fifty an hour and has never had steak and crab legs together in her whole life. Sometimes you use your EBT card at Whole Foods, too. They have freshly roasted coffee beans flown in from some country in Africa. Kenya, you think. Or
Ethiopia. Which is ironic. But anyway, they are more expensive than steak. But you do it. For Mike. Good ol’ Mike. You are starting to hate him. But you have built a life together, and divorce is hardest on the kids. It affects them.
When you are not grocery shopping, you like to shop at thrift stores. You love thrift stores. It’s like a habit. An addiction almost. You just love it. And it saves money. It started because you thought that if you could save enough money, cutting corners, maybe Mike wouldn’t renew the EBT card. That was what you hoped would happen, but it has since become clear that no matter how much money he has, Mike has no intention of ever getting off food stamps. In fact, he is trying to get Medicaid coverage for the kids too. Mike doesn’t like you shopping in Goodwill or Salvation Army or any of those places. He doesn’t want anybody to think he’s poor. White trash that has to stoop that low to get by. To buy other people’s cast-offs. So he doesn’t want you to be seen shopping in thrift stores. But you do it anyway. ‘Cause he sure as shit doesn’t mind if his wife is seen using food stamps. Fuck him. So you hit the thrifts. Screw Mike. You find stuff that is like brand new and he can’t tell the difference. You shop the Goodwill, and Salvation Army, and Value Village, and Thrifters, and St. Vincent DePaul, and all those places. You rotate. You have your pin money and your EBT card and your thrift store route and that is your purpose in this life. You take pride in finding bargains. And the EBT card is becoming almost like a badge of honor to you. One day, you are looking through the women’s shirts in Goodwill. Clicking through the metal hangers on the chrome racks. Click click click. There are silk tops, exquisite hand-tailored blouses. Ann Taylor Loft, Anne Klein, Nine West, Louis Vuitton. Expensive designer stuff. People just don’t know what they’re
missing out on. A lot of it still has store tags on it. Never been worn. Shoes too. Purses. On this particular day you are clicking through the tops. You click to a bright red shirt. It’s a spaghetti strap tank top. It’s the bloodiest shade of red you’ve ever seen. Deep scooped so that it would show more of the tops of your boobs than you would normally reveal. Your smallish boobs are sort of ravaged after having three kids sucking and biting on them (Mike didn’t believe in bottles and powdered formula, and now your tits look like something out of National Geographic). Besides, the shirt is trashy. But, then again, you are trash, so why not? You pull it off the rack and hold it up to you. Right away you notice that printed on the front of the shirt, in stark big-ass black letters, is the word CUNT. You feel yourself flush and you whack the thing back onto the rack. You are surprised Goodwill would even sell something like that. You thought they were a Christian organization. Must have been one of the Timmies they hire (lots of African immigrants in this area) who didn’t know enough English to know that was a bad word. Or maybe they did know. You remember Mike said that Timmie women are defined by their sexual organs. Maybe in Timbuktu all the women went around labeled like that. Just to keep things clear. CUNT. That’s all it said. You couldn’t get any clearer than that. Just CUNT. Nothing else. Like a brand. You want to buy it. Because the flush you felt wasn’t just from embarrassment. It was sexual heat. Brought on by memory. Andre. The black guy from when you were in school and still your own person. When you are your own person, you get to decide for yourself if you want to bottle-feed your kids so that your tits don’t look like poorly filled water balloons when you are
just thirty two years old. When you are your own person, you can date outside your race if you want to. You can have sex with a black man if you want to. Back when you were sleeping with Andre, he would say dirty things to you sometimes. You remember one time he looked you in the eye and he said you have a tender little cunt. Just like that. A tender little cunt. Thatâ€™s what he said. And you just about came. And just now, seeing that shirt, that word. You just about came. You want to buy the shirt. You are ready for change. You are ready to be different. You are ready to be the same. You are ready to be your own person once again. But you are not ready to wear a bright red, deep scooped, spaghetti strap tank top with the word CUNT printed on it. You are not ready for that. Plus, you are self-conscious about your breasts. In addition to being well-used, theyâ€™re kind of small. A deep scooped tank top is not something you can pull off. Mike says your breasts are about the size of baseballs. Sometimes, he will say that anything more than a mouthful is a waste, and that makes you feel good. But other times he calls them boy breasts, and that really makes you feel bad about your body. You keep clicking through the clothes, click click click, foraging from rack to rack. Looking at blazers now. But you keep thinking about that tank top. You want it. Mike used to love your pussy. He would eat it for hours it seemed like. One time you two were having sex, and this was after he had two beers (one was his limit), he fell asleep with his tongue resting on your clit. Yes, he fell asleep like that. And he started snoring just a little bit and the vibrations rippled across you down there and you came like eight times. You came like you have never come before. Because when he was awake and working you over with that tongue, it felt like you were on the spot. Like you had to react in a certain
way to show him you enjoyed it. But that time he fell asleep, and those sound waves were rippling over that thing that defines you, just rolling across you like troubling thunder. You orgasmed bam-bam-bam-bam-bam-bam-bam-bam eight times. A string of Black Cat firecrackers going off. There was something about him being asleep and you were kind of using him without his permission and that turned you on so much and then you thought of Andre, the way his tongue slid over you, the way he relished your body and you have a tender little cunt and bam number nine.
You put the shirt out of your mind and keep clicking through the ladies jackets. Faster now. Clickclickclickclick. Many women would probably say you were lucky to have a man who would go down on you. A man who enjoyed it. But you know better than that. Clickity clickity clickclickclick. Clit. When Mike would eat you out (and he hasn’t in years), it really felt like he was eating you. Click. Consuming you. Clickclickclickclick. Devouring you like a cannibal or a zombie, or a witch doctor extracting your essence to sacrifice it to an angry god. Eat of me and live forever. Or however that went. You click your way to a really sweet, form fitting blazer. Hounds tooth. Classic. Classy. You pull it off the rack and try it on and look at yourself in the spotted mirror hanging on the wall. Looking at your reflection, you notice right away that your eyebrows need plucking. They were getting bushy. You are a firm believer that the way a woman grooms her eyebrows is reflective of how she grooms everything. You don’t want to send the wrong message, so you make a mental date with your tweezers tonight. But the blazer looks really good on you. Like it was hand tailored just for you. Makes your waist look thinner and your bust look fuller. Like you’ve got softballs instead of just baseballs. You
stick your hands in the pockets so you can see you how you will look in case you decide to strike a nonchalant, laid-back look. In case you are ever called upon to do a J.C. Penney cover shoot. There is something in the right hand pocket. A soft lump. It crinkles just a little bit when you squeeze it. A baggie. You are instantly sure of what it is. You lift the pocket flap and peer inside. Yep. It’s a bag of pot. Looks to be about a quarter ounce. You proceed immediately to the checkout to purchase the blazer. You do not pass Go. You do not collect two hundred dollars. Your goal is to somehow get out of the store with the blazer and the weed. Without thinking about it. Without giving conscious thought to what you are doing. At the counter, you are nervous and scared the same way you are sometimes nervous when you use the EBT card — only much worse. What you are doing isn’t exactly stealing, but it’s probably not Christian either. You are scared the checkout man will inspect the pockets and find your treasure. They are actually supposed to do this, to make sure people aren’t trying to conceal merchandise. But he doesn’t. He is a fat man with long greasy strands of brown hair scattered over his scalp. He has very bad skin and uses a wheelchair. Usually, you don’t go through his line, ‘cause you don’t like him touching your stuff, but his line was the shortest and you wanted to complete this transaction ASAP. Outside the store, you stop and take a deep breath and consider what you have just gotten away with. Conscious thought. You peer down the sidewalk. At the other end of the shopping center is a little African restaurant. There are tall, skinny, deeply black men congregated outside the establishment. Timmies. The place is called Okru or Okru’s Kitchen or something like that. You walked by
there once and looked at the menu posted on the door. You really couldn’t make much sense of it, but it had faded-out pictures of some of the dishes. There was one thing they had that looked like a bowl of red spaghetti sauce with a boiled egg floating in the middle of it. A whole boiled egg just floating in a lake of red. It looked awful. You get in your Escalade and head to a head shop (ha-ha). The name of the place is SMOKE. You’ve driven past it a million times, but you’ve never been inside. It’s right up the street from where you live in a little strip mall nestled between a tanning parlor (called TAN) and a nail salon (called NAIL). You park in front of the nail salon, because you don’t want anybody to see your vehicle parked outside a head shop. You sit there and think a minute. And what you think is: SMOKE. TAN. NAIL. CUNT. Then you think about what you are doing here. You used to smoke herb when you were in college, back when you were your own person. You smoked quite a bit of it, in fact. But that was a long time ago. You have not been your own person in a long long time. You dropped out of college after that first year. When Mike got you pregnant. Barefoot, pregnant, and uneducated. That’s how he liked his women. MIKE. Anyway, you didn’t want to smoke dope while you were pregnant. You aren’t trash. You weren’t then, anyway. And then it seemed like you stayed pregnant so much you just kind of forgot about smoking pot and getting high. Plus, Mike didn’t approve of it and why make waves? A marriage is a partnership. Give and take. That was your thought process back then. Today, your thought process is that you want to get high. Good-n-high. This pot you have found is like a gift from God. Like God is telling you He wants you to enjoy life and be your own self, even if it’s just for a little bit. Divine intervention is the only way you could get high these days, because you wouldn’t have any
idea where to buy some grass. Your friends had either gone straight like you did, or they never got married and had kids, but they weren’t your friends anymore, not even on Facebook. They were probably too busy getting high and having sex with Timmies and generally enjoying life by doing whatever the hell they wanted to do. SMOKE is quiet inside. It is not what you were expecting. You figured there would be incense burning and Led Zeppelin or maybe some Kanye playing. But inside it is quiet as a church or a library or something. No incense smoldering. It is sterile inside. In fact, it is like a scientist’s laboratory. Everything is glass. Pyrex. You take a look at the girl behind the counter. A glassy-eyed little thing. High. In fact, you understand why there is no music playing, this poor girl is so high that music would be too much sensation for her to process. So she just sits there, perched on her stool like a fragile little bird. The showcase is a smorgasbord of glass water pipes and hookahs and glass bowls in neon swirls. There is an atomizer or nebulizer or something that just kind of heats up the pot or transports it like that matter transportation device from The Fly. You’re not sure exactly how it works. You just came in here to get a pack of rolling papers. Job 1.5’s. You didn’t know pot smoking had been taken over by scientists. There is one little shelf that holds a few things that aren’t made out of glass. You see a metal chamber pipe — it has a little hollow place in the middle where you can store pot and get it resin-coated — and at least that looks familiar. Old fashioned. Then something else on the shelf catches your eye. It’s a small wooden container that comes with a hollowed-out ceramic cigarette. A little card next to it says “One Hitter $17.95.” You buy it. You get home just about thirty minutes before the first bus, Jazmyn’s, is
supposed to get there. So you park the Escalade in your driveway and you sit there and get high. The pot is in fat, sticky, dense buds. Purple and resinous. It smells like Christmas. Christmas on Funk Mountain. The odor is like a mixture of pine and something like sweaty feet. You tear one bud apart into tiny syrupy clumps. You come across only one seed and two small stems. You flick the seed and stems out the window. You take the little clumps of gummy pot and rub them between your thumb and forefinger and crumble it into the wooden dugout box. Once there is a decent amount inside, your fingers are stained and resinous like you got road tar on your hands. All you do then is dip the hollowed-out end of the ceramic cigarette into the dugout and twist it around in there until the little opening is packed with weed. This is exactly one hit of pot — hence the name. Now you just hold the other end of the cigarette to your lips, light the lighter, and suck. If anyone should happen to be looking, why it would just look like you were helping yourself to a cigarette. Perfect. The hit goes down pretty smooth. You cough, but just a little bit. You go ahead and smoke another hit, and then put everything away. Two hits is plenty. You don’t want to get too high. Not with the school bus due in twenty minutes now. The kids might smell it on you or ask why you’re acting so funny. Why are your eyes so red, Mommy? That would just break your heart. You wish you hadn’t smoked it now, but maybe it doesn’t matter, because you don’t really feel anything anyway. Probably the pot was old and had lost its potency. It was old and stale and that’s why it smelled so funky. Might have gone through the wash or something. Hopefully it hadn’t been contaminated with dry cleaning chemicals or anything like that. Maybe you would feel a little buzz and that
would be nice. That would be enough. You will have had your moment of rebellion. It did have a strong smell though, so you might need to get out of the car and walk around a little bit to air out your clothes. That’s what you are about to do, but you think again about Ben and Mike Jr., and sweet little Jazmyn seeing you high and that thought just breaks your heart all over again. What were you thinking? You are their mother. They are just innocent children. It makes you feel bad. What are you doing? You can’t act like this when you are somebody’s mother. When you are somebody’s mother, you have a duty to act right. For all you know, that pot could have been sprayed with DDT. The pesticide could be working its way through your system right now. Making you sick. That stuff is straight-up poison. It causes chromosomal damage. It triggers cancer cells and speeds up metastasis. It could be that later when you hugged your kids the DDT would be collected in the oil and sweat glands in your skin and it would be transferred to those children, poisoning them. Altering their DNA. Maybe just a little. Maybe just enough to cause autism or mental retardation. What have you done? You have put yourself and your children at risk. What were you thinking? My God, for all you know that pot was laced with PCP. You could lose your mind and just snap. Transform into a violent monster. Just snap and end up killing your own children and devouring them. Mike would straight up lose his shit. It would be on the news and the crime scene and the blood and the yellow police tape and the toxicology report would show that you had PCP in your system and folks would say she was just a suburban housewife and the news people would let slip that you were on food stamps and maybe this woman was more deeply troubled than anyone realized. That’s when you realize that you are indeed high. You are having a panic
attack and you are high. So very very high. You are higher than you have ever been in your life. You might be higher than any human being has ever been in the history of people getting high. You understand, deep within you, that God did not intend man to be this high. It’s not Christian. All you can do at this point is plead the blood of Jesus and pray. All you can do is say Jesus take the wheel, I’m too high to drive. And He will take it. Jesus will take the wheel and get you through this. It could be that pot was from some government program where they spent millions of taxpayer dollars to develop a special strain of the most potent marijuana they could ever grow. Made by deranged scientists and you do not want to be this high this high this high. And your thoughts are echoing in your brain and that scares the shit out of you. Echoing echoing echoing. And then you think CUNT CUNT CUNT. And no wonder that poor bird-girl in SMOKE wouldn’t listen to any music. If that girl was anywhere near — even one percent of one percent — as high as you are right now, then that poor child was skating on the outer edges of reality and any sensory input could have pushed her over the edge. And she would be lost forever. You hope none of the neighbors saw you. For all you know, they could have taken pictures of you and uploaded them onto the internet. This is my neighbor getting high in her car. She’s on food stamps. You shouldn’t do anything in this world unless you were prepared to have it photographed or videoed and put on YouTube. Or it could be that they saw you and have already called the police and the police could be on their way here right now and you could be arrested right as your kids were getting off the bus. That would be awful awful awful. Fucking echo. It doesn’t bother you so much now. The echo is actually kind of funny.
And you laugh about that and laugh and laugh and laugh. Then you realize that if the police really are on their way, you need to get your shit together. So you take the one-hitter and the lighter and the bag of pot and put it under the floor mat. But that is too lumpy and obvious. So you pop the rear hatch and put everything in the little hidey hole back there where the jack is stored. You get back in the front seat, and you feel much better now. Safe. Let the cops come. You were just smoking a cigarette. But what if they have drug sniffing dogs? They still can’t get into your trunk without a search warrant. You’re safe. Cool on Christ. Then you remember the seed and two stems you tossed out the window. The dogs would smell that. But that was a long time ago and the wind probably blew it away. But what if the dogs found it? Right there on your driveway or blown into the lawn? Busted. That would be probable cause right there. Then you would have to allow the officers to search your vehicle and all would be lost. So you get out and get down on your hands and knees and it takes a long long long time but you by-God find that tiny seed and those two little stems. Inspiration strikes and you tuck it all into the exhaust pipe of the Caddie, but for all you know a dog could still smell it in there, so you dig it back out (your fingers get sooty) and you run to the backyard and up to the shrub fence and you throw it into the neighbor’s yard. Ha ha. You climb back into the Escalade and realize that you have been messing around with all of this for a very long time, and you must have been so high that the bus came and you missed it. They won’t let the little kids get off unless there is a parent there to receive them. The bus driver would have to take them back
to school. And since you weren’t inside to answer the phone (Mike didn’t want you to have a cell phone) they couldn’t reach you to see what’s wrong. It could be that by now they have called Social Services and DFACS because the kids have been abandoned. They would make that call right off the bat because when Mike signed you up for food stamps, he signed the kids up for free lunches at school so they would have already identified your children as coming from a troubled home. And God damn Mike anyway for causing this mess. If he’d just let you get a cell phone like a normal person. He said those things cause brain cancer. And how you hear about people getting blown up at filling stations, pumping gas and talking on their cell phones. They make tiny little electric sparks, he says. You key the ignition and get ready to drive up to the school to see just how bad this situation has gotten. But when you glance at the clock on the dash, you see that only seven minutes have passed since you got high. You still have thirteen minutes before the bus gets here. This is a huge relief. You decide to get the stuff back out and take one more hit off the one-hitter since you have time time time.
Pretty soon you were getting high every day. You would get high and then vacuum the carpet. You would get high and scrub the toilets. You would get high and watch The Price is Right at 11:30 in the morning. You would get high and eat a whole bag of Funyuns by yourself. When you were good-n-high, the Funyuns crunching in your jaws was like chewing on religious rocks. Like you were Fred Flintstone working at the quarry and reading Bible passages on your coffee break. You got used to it. It didn’t make you paranoid anymore like it did that first
time. Not as much, anyway. After a while, it just kind of mellowed you out. Not always, though. In fact, sometimes the high was so intense, you either had to hand it over to The Lord, or you just had to bear down and work your way through it. And it was like manual labor, getting that high. Sometimes after spending your morning working your way through another high, you had to lie down in the afternoon. To recuperate. Getting high was hard work. Even though it only takes only a very little bit of the pot to get you high, you have smoked so much that it is starting to run low. You went back to the head shop, SMOKE. You got to talking to that little birdy girl who works there and it turns out she really was dangerously high that day you came in. She let on that there was some crazy potent â€œMiley Cyrusâ€? weed going around and that must be what you got ahold of. A tiny pinch was all it took to put you out there on the cutting edge. She took you under her wing (ha ha) and explained a lot of the stuff they had for sale there. The vaporizer that kind of cooks the marijuana without burning it and cuts down on all the harmful toxins that get released when you smoke it the regular way. And she showed you all those beautiful clear laboratory glass bongs with heavy beaker bottoms and snaky glass tubing and bubbling liquids. It was all very scientific. You ended up buying a Pyrex bong with a glass ashcatcher add-on with a percolator downflow stem and a showerhead diffuser on the pre-filter. Again, it was all very scientific and looked like something out of Bride of Frankenstein, like a mad scientist designed it. You kept all your paraphernalia inside an empty Tide box hidden up in a cabinet over the washing machine in the basement. And every time you smoked some, you were aware of your supply getting lower and lower. When you were getting close to running out of Miley Cyrus, you went back
again to SMOKE. The sparrow girl was there and you talked to her about thisand-that. Just girl stuff. And you bought a pack of rolling papers and screens (neither of which you needed) and a new diffuser for your bong. You asked Birdy, real casual, girl-to-girl, if she could hook you up, but Jenny (that was her real name) got kind of stiff and made it perfectly clear that wasn’t going to happen. You looked like a middle class suburban housewife, and you guessed that was probably what an undercover cop would look like too.
Your most favorite thing to do while buzzed is shop Goodwill. You just groove on it. Click click click. You always go through the clothes racks real careful, checking the pockets, hoping you’ll get lucky again. So far you have found a still-sealed Trojan Magnum condom, a used tube of lipstick, and a five dollar bill. In housewares, you see the usual banged up pots and pans and chipped glassware and waffle irons with busted hinges. But today you also see the cutest lidded handbasket. Wicker. It could be Longaberger, you never can tell. You pick it up and are surprised by the weight. It’s fairly heavy, ten or fifteen pounds. You open the top and see that it’s a pre-stocked picnic basket. It’s stacked with plates and silverware and wineglasses and coffee cups and a stainless steel thermos — all nestled inside and tucked under the split lid. You have a brief fantasy of you and Mike lying on a grassy bank next to a peaceful stream, feeding each other grapes. Only it’s Andre and not Mike. You want to get the basket, for the future. As tangible proof of the life you could be living. Of what you could become. But not today. Today you are broke. Your stash is running out. Almost gone now. Just a couple pinches of resinous green crumbs for you to experiment with. And you have no way of
getting more. You’ll have to shut down your laboratory. It’s a shame, because you have really enjoyed getting high. It takes your mind off things. And now it’s going to end. But you can’t think about that right now. If you do, you’ll go crazy. You’ll think about that tomorrow. Because right now, right this minute, you are high. Good-n-high. Tomorrow will take care of itself. After all, tomorrow is another day. And so you head over to the clothes racks and click through the hangers and groove on your buzz, and you see that the shirt is still there. The blood-red one that says CUNT on it. It has a green price tag, and green tag items are half price today. You are surprised the shirt is still here. But then again, what kind of person would buy something like that anyway? You think about that and think some more about it, and finally you decide that you are the kind of person who would buy something like that. You are going to buy it. Except you can’t. Mike has cut you off of cash. The Pyrex bong and all the doodads to go with it were not cheap. You had to withdraw cash to get it. Mike was pissed. The shirt wouldn’t be much, but you are penniless. Like Scarlett O’Hara at the end of the Civil War. But you couldn’t run home and make a CUNT shirt out of the curtains in the living room. And you couldn’t use your bank card, because Mike would see you had been shopping at Goodwill. You take the shirt and hanger to the dressing cubicle. You put the CUNT shirt on, and put the blouse you had been wearing onto the hanger. Then you go back to the sales floor and put that hanger on the rack. Click. And there you are, walking through Goodwill in a shoplifted blood-red spaghetti strap tank top that says CUNT in big black letters. On your way out, you stop by housewares and grab that handbasket, too. You look like some kind
of porn film, prostitute version of Little Red Riding Hood as you stroll right out the front door with your stolen goods. Nobody stops you. Outside, the sun is too bright. It hurts your eyes. You squint down the sidewalk to your left, and you see that same group of black men standing outside Okruâ€™s Kitchen. Tall skinny black men. Maybe they are contemplating whether or not to get a bowl of whole egg in blood sauce. And you look at those men and you think about the two pinches of Miley Cyrus left at home. You bet one of those men would know where you could get a dime bag or something. Maybe a quarter. But of course you donâ€™t have any money, so why take the risk? You doubt they even sell dime bags anymore. A dime bag probably costs a hundred dollars or something. Then you remember how Mike said the Timmies use their food stamps to buy drugs and sex, and how the Timmie women were defined by their sexual organs. You touch your pants pocket and feel the EBT card snug in there. You have your CUNT shirt on and your handbasket dangling at your side. You imagine the dirty sidewalk is really a path in the dark woods. And you are just traipsing along it. Like Little Red Riding Hood off to match wits with the Big Bad Wolf. Your EBT has $526.00 on it. You start off down the sidewalk in your red tank top. Toward the Timmies.
Issue No. 5 - Sept. 2014
Joan Wickersham Author The News from Spain
Ansel Adams â€“ A Lifetime Portofolio Exhibit at the Eiteljorg Museum Review by Katie Morrison Does Not Love Novel by James Tadd Adcox Review by Heather Scott Partington
Sean M. Schmidt Visual Artist In Cambodia
How to Catch a Coyote Novel by Christy Crutchfield Review by Justin Brouckaert
Joan Wickersham was born in New York City and grew up there and in Connecticut. Her new book of fiction, The News from Spain: Seven Variations on a Love Story, was published by Knopf in October 2012. Her memoir The Suicide Index: Putting My Father’s Death in Order was a National Book Award Finalist. She is also the author of a novel, The Paper Anniversary.
Her fiction has appeared in magazines including Agni, Glimmer Train, The Hudson Review, New England Review, Ploughshares and Story, and has also been published in The Best American Short Stories, The Best American Nonrequired Reading, and other anthologies. She has published essays and reviews in Glamour, Yankee, The Los Angeles Times, and The International Herald Tribune; and her op-ed column appears regularly in The Boston Globe. She has read her work on National Public Radio’s “On Point” and “Morning Edition.” She also writes frequently about architecture, including “The Lurker,” a column she created for Architecture Boston magazine.
She has received the Ploughshares Cohen Award for Best Short Story and has been awarded grants by the National Endowment for the Arts, The Massachusetts Cultural Council, the MacDowell Colony, and Yaddo. She graduated from Yale with a degree in art history, and she lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts with her husband and two sons.
BUFFALO ALMANACK: You refer to the collected shorts of The News from Spain as “seven variations on a love story.” Of course, the story settings themselves crisscross a generous swath of literary and real-world history, with little formal overlap beyond the recurrence of the title motif. Was there a sense
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during your writing process that these pieces would emerge so thematically uniform – seven takes on the same central tale? How did that develop? JOAN WICKERSHAM: This book didn’t grow out of separate stories; it was conceived as a unified piece right from the beginning. I had the idea to try to write a book in which all the stories would have the same title, “The News from Spain,” but the phrase would mean something different in each story. It was a somewhat whimsical idea, and if it hadn’t worked I would have seen it as just an exercise to help generate some new pieces, and would have dropped the idea of a book. But I hoped the stories would start to talk to each other, like the movements of a piece of music; and hoped that the phrase would develop an accrued resonance, something deeply felt and elusive, as the book went along.
BA: That notion of the ‘universal story’ perhaps appears strongest in your closing piece, in which a married woman falls for another man. This man is only referred to as ‘A,’ so as to “shrink him a little,” to reduce him to a surrogate for all the ‘other men’ in the world. Their affair never takes off. The story comes to its natural close. And then you do something fantastic, and leave us with this:
You meet someone, you fall in love, you marry. You meet someone, you fall in love, it turns into a disaster. You meet someone, you fall in love, but one of you is married, or both are: you have or don’t have an affair. You meet someone, you fall in love... It’s a beautiful reminder that all lives, all stories are echoes of one another, with little flourishes thrown into the details. How, as a writer, do you sort that out? How do you make sense of both the infinite potential of storytelling and the concession that everything’s been done before? JW: Your last sentence is such a good way of expressing the central paradox of this book, and maybe of all writing, and of love for that matter. It’s always new and individual and specific, and it’s also always the same story over and over. But as a reader and as a writer, I fervently believe in the infinite possibilities of storytelling. And I reject, or try to ignore, the notion that everything’s been done before. It doesn’t matter what you’re writing about; what matters is how you write it. I think that if you go really deeply and honestly and patiently into what you’re working on, and let things sit for a while between drafts (I mean months, sometimes years), and keep your bullshit detector finely tuned to get rid of the places where you’re imitating someone else, or striving for effect, or censoring yourself because you’re worried about what someone else might think, you can eventually get to something that feels new and right. BA: Your writing is unusually adept at divorcing love from sex, or even romance. While your characters recognize adultery as physical betrayal, they also interpret the spark of longing itself as a kind of consummating act, even when unrequited, even when those same characters find themselves
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powerless against that desire. How do you read love as distinct from marriage, or sexuality, or monogamy? What to you, from a literary perspective, is love? We tend to equate love with action, maybe especially in fiction, movies, and TV where there’s an expectation that feelings will be dramatized. But I am more interested in the weird messy private stuff we feel but don’t act on – don’t even necessarily tell anyone else we’re feeling. There’s sex without love, sure, but there’s also love, or love and desire, without sex – between friends, between a woman and a gay man, between people happily married to other people. I never realize what I’m writing about until long after I’ve finished, but I think a lot of this book has to do with whether we feel shame about these unruly passionate longings, or simply accept them as human: the struggle between humiliation and dignity. BA: Several of the stories featured in The News from Spain center around pre-existing figures: Eleanor Roosevelt and George Balanchine make veiled appearances, and you weave Mozart, Da Ponte and their characters from The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni into a single complex narrative. What was it like drawing from outside sources like these? Did you feel at all restricted by the histories and expectations these characters bring with them? JW: I am so moved by those figures, but my interest in them was not biographical and I wasn’t trying to write historical fiction. I never name them, not out of coyness but more because I’m not writing about those real people – it doesn’t matter if you recognize them or not – but rather doing a fictional riff on the emotional contours of a situation. What would it feel like to be permanently in a wheelchair after having been your husband’s favorite dancer? Or to be an
eminent woman in your 60s and falling in love with a much younger man? We do this kind of questioning and imagining and projecting all the time, when we read about historical figures; and we do it with people we love. We think we know them, when all we really know is our imaginary version of them. The Mozart story came out of my admiration for his treatment, in the operas, of women who’ve been kicked around by love. Again, it’s that struggle between humiliation and dignity – with Rosina and Elvira, you feel that love tries to make fools of them but fails, because Mozart gives them such beautiful music. And then that led me to look at Mozart and Da Ponte, and the part that humiliation can play in artists’ lives and their work. The story sort of wrote itself, in that lovely way that sometimes happens. And it was especially fun when I realized, partway through, that the most famous line in the most famous aria in Don Giovanni, the catalogue aria, concerns a piece of news from Spain.
BA: Another one of your stories from The News from Spain was anthologized in the 2013 edition of The Best American Short Stories. This was your second inclusion, following the appearance of “Commuter Marriage” in the 1990 edition. How’s it feel to appear in such a well-regarded publication? Do you
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feel that this “variation” of The News from Spain stands as well on its own, or would you prefer readers encounter it as part of a greater whole? JW: Well, it’s terrific when you find out they’ve chosen your story – you might do a cartwheel, if you know how (I never could). And really good to be in company with the series and with the other writers in the book. The story [2013 guest editor] Elizabeth Strout chose is about a woman who has spent years trying to juggle her own life with the need to take care of her mother, who’s now in a nursing home. Both characters have love affairs going on, but the story’s real romance is between the two of them – this long, prickly, frank, deep and maddening love between a mother and a daughter. I think it works fine on its own – I wanted each of the “News from Spain” stories to feel complete, as packed and rich as a little novel – but of course I hope that a reader who finds it in The Best American Short Stories might be led to The News from Spain, to see how those seven pieces work in concert.
BA: In 2008 you published The Suicide Index, a form-busting memoir that attempts to work through the before, during and after of your father’s death as though it were a document pulled from the back of a cabinet (“Suicide:
finding some humor in: ashes, p.105”). It’s a brutally personal work, but also not unlike The News from Spain in its attempt to force structure onto the pain and chaos of human life. From an outsider perspective, this appears like something of a mission statement for your writing: “To make life less messy.” What do you make of that assessment? It feels like such an impossible goal. JW: I’d actually say, “To find ways of storytelling that let life be as messy as it really is.” With The Suicide Index, the mess came first: I worked on the book for ten years before that index structure emerged and pulled it together, which paradoxically allowed it to really bust loose. And as I said earlier, The News from Spain started with the structure and then turned out to be about all these messy feelings. Conventional linear narrative is often artificially clean. I’m interested in figuring out a new structure – the right structure for each particular story – that buckles the reader in safely so that the ride can be as wild as it really needs to be. BA: You’re a regular columnist for the Boston Globe, writing on subjects as varied as public affairs, marriage advice, the literary world and your own neighborhood in Cambridge. How’d you get into journalism? Do you feel it compliments your work in fiction? JW: In 2009 the Globe asked me to be a guest op-ed columnist for six weeks. I started with a piece about what Jane Austen might think if she looked herself up on Amazon. The editor asked if I’d like to stay on, and I’ve been writing the column ever since. I love the constraints – 700 words, with a deadline every other week – and also love experimenting with all the different forms an oped can take: a personal essay, a piece of literary criticism, a satire of online 99
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reader comments, a deadpan rendering of the rhetoric in gun magazines. Most of my columns are not tied to immediate news events so I have the luxury to put several days into each piece, more if research is involved. Recently, for instance, I hung around for a few days at the courthouse watching probation officers work, and went out with them at night on home visits to gang members on probation. You ask about how the column affects the fiction – I think that writing in any form makes you a better writer in all forms. Occasionally, though, I take a sabbatical from the column; I find I need some spans of time where I’m free to concentrate only on my own work. BA: We just discovered your Architecture Boston column “The Lurker” in the course of doing research for this interview and we love it! It’s another play on form, merging “live” blogging, snippets of overhead conversation and observational humor in short, lively posts that feel like the perfect way to talk about the value of design in the Twitter Age. How’d you come up with it? JW: Oh, I’m so glad you found those pieces – I loved writing them. Elizabeth Padjen, who was then the editor of Architecture Boston, asked me to write a regular column about hanging out with people whose work involved design in some way. I decided to structure each piece as a timeline, and to write in a terse no-comment sort of style – only of course you can slip in a lot of comment just by choosing what to write about and which details to include. Some of the pieces were directly related to architecture, but most were farther afield: sitting in on a marketing meeting at a cemetery; spending a day with a janitor cleaning apartment buildings; hanging out with the manager of Boston’s sewage treatment plant; a walk through New York’s Museum of Sex;
a minute-by-minute synopsis of the movie The Fountainhead (a movie I would strongly recommend, the next time you’re in the mood to watch something unintentionally funny). BA: We’ll be blunt: we don’t know anything about architecture. (Well, that’s not true – Katie has a pair of art history degrees, but Max is hopeless.) Where does your interest in the field come from? What more can you tell us about the art of contemporary architecture? JW: My husband, Jay, teaches courses in the history and ethics of the architectural profession. We’ve been together for a really long time – since college – and when we travel we always go to cities. We walk around and look at buildings and he tells me stories about who built them and why and how, and what happened when the money ran out or the client was poisoned or pushed out of power or the architect got into a rivalry with another architect. He’s a wonderful storyteller and teacher, and over the years I’ve caught a little bit of his knowledge and a lot of his enthusiasm. And there’s something else I’ve learned from him that has to do with architecture and writing – literally with structure. When, after ten years of working on the book about my father’s suicide, I came up with the idea of using an index structure, I had doubts about whether it would work. Jay told me that at the École des Beaux-Arts, architecture students were taught to design using a parti—an initial formal concept that guides the design process. It might or might not be visible in the finished building, but it would serve as a kind of organizing principle to help generate and clarify the design. This helps me a lot when I am working on an early draft and also later on in a project: to figure out and stick
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with a parti, which I can always discard later. BA: You’ve now completed the novel-memoir-short story collection trifecta and broke a number of structural rules along the way. What do you have planned for your next release? JW: I never know how to explain what I’m working on – it always sounds stupid, and then the other person gives me a look that says, “That sounds stupid,” and I get derailed. So. Now I just smile and say, “Um, well, I’m not sure.”
Sean M. Schmidt
Rock and Roll. Skaters turning tricks on curbs at dusk. Salt and sweat, water straight from the hose. Hot coffee on hot days. Jeans, no shirt, no where to go. Up late with the windows open, trees outside his window in the night. Planning life from Brooklyn. Friends in the mountains, Hawaii, mom in the Midwest. Road trips through Canada, propeller planes in Asia. The middle of nowhere. Sean M. Schmidt is a Brooklyn-based photographer whose portfolio can be found at www.seanmschmidt.com.
BUFFALO ALMANACK: Between photo series set in Italy, Cambodia, Hawaii and the Deep South, you’ve developed a reputation as something of a go-anywhere, shoot-anything sort of photographer. What are some of the differences between shooting in a paradisiacal rural setting and an urban space like New York City? What are some of the distinct challenges presented by the places you’ve traveled? SEAN M. SCHMIDT: Getting film through the security lines at the airport, asking for “hand checks” and generally not abandoning my girlfriend along whatever trip I am on, just to sneak off for a photo. I guess that is mainly what
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I am thinking while traveling. Getting time off work to travel isn’t easy, so when I do, I feel inspired to photograph, and don’t really stop to ask myself what is difficult about a place, even if things are difficult. Cities can be hard to photograph though because everyone is so paranoid these days. So it’s harder to do a certain kind of street photography. Rural scenes are hard because it becomes easier to take interesting landscape photographs instead of interesting people photographs.
BA: Do you find that making photography helps you become better acquainted with a place? In what way does the presence of a camera lens between yourself and your subjects transform the act of ‘seeing?’ SMS: I don’t think it does transform the act of seeing for me so much, but that’s because I am always seeing photographs when I don’t have a camera. “Wouldbe” photographs that I miss or don’t take. So the presence of a camera really doesn’t change what I am seeing, it just puts the pressure on and says, “OK, big boy, here’s your chance, are you gonna step up take this hard photograph or not?” BA: Can you speak about your Cambodia project? This particular set harbors a kind of unanchored, melancholy mood apart from the rest of your work, yet consistent with the heaviness of life in a post-genocidal state. In what ways did Cambodia surprise you? How did that experience differ from working in the U.S. or Western Europe? SMS: Cambodia surprised me in how much it felt like a culture that wants
Sean M. Schmidt
to modernize. The genocide isn’t discussed a lot in the US, but Cambodia is a young population, and there was glitzy TV programming even in the most rural places I visited. It felt like the culture wanted to move forward, even though I personally see a lot of value in their old way of life. On whole I thought photography was easier to do than other places I have lived in, because people just assume you’re another goofy tourist interested snapping cool shots of basic differences between the first and third worlds. Which, to some extent, is true of me too.
BA: Your portfolio shares a visual language with the American “snapshot aesthetic” —how informed is this comparison? SMS: I think that’s what I am going for. Try to make a hard photograph look like it was easy.
BA: How do you interact with your human subjects in your photographs? Some pieces appear constructed as posed portraits, but others seem to have been taken in passing, particularly in your New York City archive. Where do you draw the line between the documentary and showing the author’s hand? SMS: I try to stay out of it, but I definitely felt like I went through a Joel Sternfeld phase. I know how to make that posed street portrait possible through conversation, how to enter a person’s space and ask to photograph them. But generally I like this idea that I am hunting – trying to find and take photographs of interesting things without disrupting whatever they are.
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BA: As an artist living and working in Brooklyn, what is it about New York City that invites such photographic obsession? The city has been shot to death and back for a century – how do you keep it fresh and avoid clichés? SMS: Honestly, I try to limit my intake. But it seems like creative people think of things at the same time, which has a lot to do with why you see new aesthetic pop up instantly, trend all over Instagram and Tumblr, and then get adopted by brands for mass consumption soon after. Living in New York does feel like you are at the center of things- photography included. In New York you’re put in your place, because there is so much talent everywhere. A photographer gaining digital traction in Texas doesn’t feel the weight of all the talent people out in the world with the same magnitude of those working close to art and fashion communities in New York City. Their audience is still real, and jobs, and paychecks, but remote proximity to the powerhouse city can distort a photographer’s sense of importance. Talent is dense here, and the city doesn’t care about your come-up. BA: You largely use analog film and older, cheaper cameras. It seems that we’re several years past the digital tipping point. What advantages and disadvantages do you see in continued reliance on older technologies? What does your typical analog process look like? SMS: The advantage for me is that analog photography inspires me in a way digital doesn’t. The disadvantage is that you have to get good at asking for “hand checks.” My process also includes lunch hour walks to CRC Lab on 22nd to pick up film, and two to three hour scanning sessions where I play electronica music at inappropriate levels for a building with walls as thin as mine.
Sean M. Schmidt
BA: On your Facebook profile, you describe your work as “Grimy Grungy Funky Shit,” and you oftentimes capture images of youth in rebellious context. What sparked your interest in documenting youth culture? SMS: Hmm…It doesn’t feel like a conscious decision to document youth culture, though I suppose it is just what I relate to. Staying young, having fun, freewheeling around. There is some rebellion in what I am seeing as a photographer, I think there is also some alienation, some humor, and a silence about my photographs. Even in my really punchy, noisy looking shots, it stills seems like there is something quiet underneath them. BA: You have developed a following and a popular rapport through social sites such as Tumblr and Flickr. Can you speak to the usefulness of online networking in photography? SMS: I have a lot to learn. See above – living in New York and being surrounded by avenues and avenues of success people. My photographs have an acquired taste to them, but I like to think that ‘real recognize real,’ you know? Essentially I feel like the photographs that are really good, will get seen. Somehow, eventually, they find their way on their own. If you are counting on stardom or trying to make a reputation for paid work, then social sites can be very useful as a networking tool. The analytic reporting from some digital platforms can be very interesting. I’m amused that the photos get seen, and happy when people respond to them.
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BA: What advice do you have for young photographers who are trying to document their own neighborhoods and cities? SMS: I guess I would just say good job for being interested in something, and donâ€™t do hard drugs. Assume no one will ever care about your photography and ask yourself if you are still inspired? After you eliminate all the things you photograph because you think it will help you gain fans or followers or jobs or money, you are left with what you should be photographing all along. Donâ€™t deviate from that.
Sean M. Schmidt
Review – Ansel Adams at the Eiteljorg Museum
“Painting is dead” has become such an entrenched phrase in the art world that it now rings of the knowing chuckle of irony. We all know it isn’t true, but in the second half of the twentieth century the medium seemed to exhaust itself. Paintings served as commentaries on other paintings, critiques of the field’s own longstanding clichés. But at the dawn of the twenty-first century, this question seems to take precedence: is photography dead? At the Indianapolisbased Eiteljorg Museum’s recent Ansel Adams exhibition, even the most cynical viewer (i.e., yours truly) could at the very least stand in awe of the noble bones
of the medium.
In popular media, contemporary landscape photography has become the
hobbyist’s realm. We all recognize the familiar images: HDR shots of fastmoving streams, portraits of stern-looking deer, large-format landscapes of mountains at sunset. They adorn our doctors’ office walls and tourist gift shops. But as ubiquitous as this trope has become, one thought kept recurring to me as I walked through the Ansel Adams show: these photos could never be cliché. Although Adams was himself the pioneer of high definition, large-format photographic imaging, he doesn’t come off as a nature hobbyist, but as reverent monk . These aren’t snapshots, they’re paintings in light. They take time to make and develop. Individual, iconic pieces, such as Moonrise, Hernandez, MX (1941) absorb the attention of viewers with a tonal range of truly magnetic blacks, shimmering silvers, and an overwhelming sense of quiet. Looking at these images is like looking into a black hole.
The environment of the exhibition, however, deviated from the reverent
vacuum these images deserve. An old non-academic art classroom movie about Adams’s life blared in the entrance to the gallery space. Due to the half walls employed in the exhibition, the muffled narration and musical score bounced throughout the entire show—an unfortunate juxtaposition to the solidtude of
Review – Ansel Adams at the Eiteljorg Museum
the American wilderness. There was no observable order to the show or the photographs chosen for display, and for the most part the wall text only acted as personal biography.
There is value in a biographical show, however, and some of the surprising
curation choices gave—and I say this without sarcasm—a fresh look into the old master. In particular, his portraits of trailer camp children in the 1940s revealed the artist’s compassion. The luxurious textures and exposures do not mask the human details, such as a young girl reading a comic book in an image from 1944. The pose references earlier Farm Security Administration images by Gordon Parks or Dorothea Lange, and shows Adams’s ability to restore a sense of humanity to social documentary—much like how he endowed nature with a sense of dignity in his better-known work.
The most surprising part of the show also referenced the medium’s own
history. Soft focus gelatin silver prints of Yosemite National Park c. 1925 look like the final evolutionary form of nineteenth century landscape photography. The silvery, liquidious trees in Lodgepoll Pines hint at the creative chemist in Adams, a quality that photographers have championed since the time of William Henry Fox Talbot. On the other hand, the images’ soft dewiness forms a visual dialogue with Adams’s contemporaries such as Alfred Stieglitz and other Pictorialists.
The museum, at least, did emphasize the historical context of Adams’s
relationship with Edward Weston—a relationship that plays out visually in both men’s attention to the elegant details of flora and fauna. Although Adams is best known for his large-scale landscapes, a close up Surf Sequence, San Mateo County Coast, California showed the intimate, nearly tender details of waves bubbling on
the sand. Examples such as these show the importance of initiating dialogue— historical and contemporary—in any decent art exhibition. Although Adams’s photographs create serene, seemingly sealed universes, they are most exciting when placed in a context where the viewer can appreciate the artist’s social and historical relationships.
All of this goes to show that photography isn’t even close to “dead.” It is an
overwhelmingly expansive medium with a multifarious history and plenty of untold stories to tell. Adams, arguably the most canonical photographer of his age, still needs to be seen—a fact celebrated by the enormous popularity of the show. And if a young photographer can walk into the show and see the visual, historical links between Adams and Weston, Adams and Talbot, Adams and whomever—then we never have to worry about the medium’s mortality. Just as painting has developed a discussion with its own traditions, contemporary nature photographers should take Adams’s unwavering earnestness and look at our twenty-first century landscapes with new—and old—eyes. Ansel Adams – A Lifetime Portfolio Exhibit at the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art Indianapolis, Indiana March 1st-August 3rd, 2014
Review – Does Not Love
James Tadd Adcox’s Does Not Love details an alternate reality that’s not
too alternate. Viola and Robert live in a world where the FBI observes ordinary citizens and big pharma is taking over; a sub-culture of willing guinea-pigs tries to live off the money they can make from volunteering to test drugs for reactions. Viola and Robert appear to be a normal married couple, experiencing the lulls of any typical relationship. The novel opens with Viola miscarrying and the couple trying to decide how to proceed.
Heather Scott Partington
At first this appears to be a novel about marriage; specifically, a story about
what happens when you get used to the one you’re with. As Viola says:
The laws of physics work equally well in both directions; what we interpret as entropy is, perhaps, only our preference for one state of matter over another. When you and I were first married, there was a great sense of possibility in the world. We were in love with this possibility.
This sense of possibility is especially present at the beginning of the book.
When the world of the novel has yet to be revealed entirely to the reader — a world of deep conspiracies and intrusive spying — it is easy for us to make the assumption that Roger and Viola’s existence is typical. Their relationship suffers from a pattern of over-familiarity, and the conflict of the novel would appear to have roots in their boredom. But as Does Not Love gains momentum, the couple’s marriage — and the nature of this alternate world — begin to snowball into something entirely different. Adcox is commenting on the nature of privacy itself.
Initially, Viola’s obsession with rough sex seems to be a detail of personality,
merely a preference. But as Does Not Love investigates the couple’s frustrated interactions, it becomes apparent that the line between affection and pain holds greater significance for the work:
‘There’s a difference between hurt and harm,’ Viola says. ‘Okay,’ Robert says, ‘Which do you want?’
Review – Does Not Love
Pain becomes a way for Viola to take herself out of the doldrums of
existence. Her husband’s inability to understand this drives a wedge between them:
You get so used to the idea of a narrative arc to things of life as a sort of meaningful
unit, of being able to switch from one life to another and from one head to another. And on some level that’s how you think things actually are, that you can try something out, and if you don’t like it, you can just switch. That at some point you get to be everything. Then suddenly, you’re twenty five years old, thirty, and you realize that you only actually get one life and one head to be inside of.
This obsession with the need for things to feel ordered is particular to Viola,
a librarian. But Adcox also uses Viola’s thoughts as a way to emphasize the novel’s larger ideas about the rights of others to observe and judge our lives.
Viola’s work at the library leads to interaction with an FBI agent who
carefully catalogs information on her and others. This feels like a post-9/11 novel in that the right of intelligence agencies to spy into the lives of private citizens, even in “matters of the heart,” is accepted and worked around, no matter how extreme. When Viola begins an affair with the FBI agent, the connection between intrusion and emotion becomes even more obtuse. The FBI agent obsessively records his sex with Viola, who begins to associate the camera with his face. Since the FBI agent is never named, he becomes a stand-in for the larger intelligence complex, a window for the secret powers-that-be into Viola and Roger’s most personal life.
Heather Scott Partington
One of the novel’s most pervasive ideas is that of nothingness: a private,
overpowering space that can engulf one’s thoughts. When the world of private thoughts is accessible to the government, nothingness provides respite and privacy. Robert finds it first as a literal place in one scene when he tries to fix a hole in the wall and ends up climbing into infinite space. The nothingness of Does Not Love is tangible, and he is so affected by it that he returns to it at night:
When Robert closes his eyes to sleep that night, the darkness that he sees is no longer darkness, it is expanding emptiness. He tries to find the end of it, with no success. The further you go, he thinks, the more emptiness there is.
In a world where emotion, sex, and love can be accessed by others, it’s
important that there is a place (literal or imagined) for Robert to be entirely alone. Adcox uses this darkness as a contrast to the bright lights of intrusion.
In Does Not Love, the characters are looking for points of connection, but it becomes apparent that in order to truly feel anything real for others, one needs privacy of thought. As this tale of secret projects and secret laws unfolds, we come to see that for the characters, “[l]ove, too” is “a kind of violence, drawing everything into the emptiness at its center.” Does Not Love James Tadd Adcox Curbside Splendor 200 pages, $12.00
Review – How to Catch a Coyote
To summarize Christie Cruthfield’s How To Catch A Coyote as a novel that tells a family history is, while technically accurate, also incredibly misleading. “Family history” or “family secret” or “a family torn apart” – to me, these phrases trigger visions of long, plodding novels that span multiple generations, digging deep into dusty old books and scrolls to hone the fine points of a family tree. Fortunately, Crutchfield blows right past these old tropes, into something altogether unique.
How to Catch a Coyote is about a North Carolina family of four torn apart
by a traumatic incident between Hill, the father, and Dakota, his daughter — a teenager at the time of the incident. Crutchfield leaves the nature of the conflict mostly to implication, but the consequences are clear: Hill and his wife Maryanne separate, Hill moves out, Dakota moves out, and a young Daniel, Dakota’s brother, is left alone with his mother, the happy family life that had defined his childhood suddenly torn away.
This sounds simple enough, but the narrative in How To Catch A Coyote is not
a linear one. It’s told not only from shuffling points of view, but also through a fragmented chronology, jumping forward and backward in a thirty-year span from 1978 to 2008. To further complicate the book, many of the chapters are told in vastly different styles. Some resemble traditional narratives, with voice and style expertly dictated by different characters, while others present a story through forms like lists and instruction sets. This difficult structure is navigated well by Crutchfield. Readers see this family and the incident that drove them apart from many different angles, measuring effects and consequences. Characters construct a family history they revisit continuously as it unfolds for readers, always altered slightly, always with some new detail imposing myriad consequences of its presence.
Despite the many different voices, it seems clear that How To Catch A Coyote
is Daniel’s story. As the youngest member of the family, he is largely left alone to deal with his father and sister’s departures, his relationship with his mother deteriorating quietly as he progresses through high school and college. The first section of the book is titled “How To Write A Family History,” the framework
Review – How to Catch a Coyote
of the novel starting with Daniel tackling his first college writing assignment. He decides to write his family history as an encyclopedic entry on coyotes, and the sections are threaded with these small passages. Daniel decides, “It’s still a history. He’s not doomed to repeat anything,” and the implicit fear in this statement lays the groundwork for one of the main tensions in the novel: Daniel is constantly grappling with the ways his family’s history has irreparably altered his past, lamenting his inability to go back to his childhood and solve it, to change things, make them right, the way they were.
In the hands of a lesser writer, the conceit of How To Catch A Coyote might
have been doomed to fail, but I never stopped being impressed by the vibrancy of the voices in these narratives, how the book shifts tones not only from character to character but from the different chronological points in characters’ lives. Though the themes and characters are drastically different, the style reminds me of Jennifer Egan’s masterful A Visit From A Goon Squad. These characters never stop being interesting, never stop revealing things about each other, and they are efficiently and interestingly rendered by both voice and circumstance.
Daniel’s struggles through this book are, for the most part, quiet ones.
His sister and father both leave shadows for him to navigate as he grows. His mother refers to him as her “Little Gentleman,” a stark contrast to Dakota, whose penchant for trouble starts long before the incident, long before she moves away from home:
His sister didn’t have to answer to their mother after eighteen, even before that.
Daniel’s starting to think that this is his problem altogether: going through life asking for permission. Little Gentleman is just a nice way to say Little Baby, after all.
Both Hill and Maryanne prove to be more complex characters than their
children paint them. Their lives, separated, are heartbreaking. Hill lives alone, drinking and trying to trap coyotes while raising a coydog that eventually turns against him. Daniel’s mother is working hard to put Daniel on a different track than his sister, to get him to college, but she is ultimately met with resistance from Daniel in one of the novel’s most powerful scenes, when her Little Gentleman violently asserts himself. Hill and Maryanne’s sections are rife with memory and forget, a desire to go back and do things differently, replaying everything that went wrong and the small hopes they have to salvage the good parts of their lives.
In “Short Story: A Process of Revision,” Antonya Nelson talks about
placing characters in what she calls transitional moments, using approximate psychological, physical, biological or intellectual markers to craft characters on the brink of great change. Part of what makes Crutchfield’s characters so compelling, I think, is that they are all, in each entry, positioned in transitional moments, circumstances that create great tension, each section flirting with a breaking point.
There is simply too much going on in this book to contain in a single review,
but I would be remiss if I didn’t talk briefly about coyotes, which Crutchfield incorporates smoothly and masterfully into the narrative. They begin in the distance, mostly heard and not seen. They are almost metaphorical this way,
Review – How to Catch a Coyote
representing Daniel’s fear and the separation between him and his estranged father. But they become more tangible as the novel progresses, growing in complexity as a collective character on the margins, making brief but important appearances. The coyotes are not just symbols or vague threats—they are a real part of the story and the landscape, which makes them all the more powerful for the ways they reinforce themes of predation, trapping, trust and escape.
In the end, How To Catch A Coyote is not so much a family history as it is
a novel about a family’s future, how characters repair or regress, constantly grappling with and revising their paths in different ways. It’s a vibrant book with an innovative form that feels essential for telling its story. It’s an honest book, nothing cheap or unearned within it, and especially given the difficulty of a such a complex narrative, I consider it a tremendous success. How to Catch a Coyote Christy Crutchfield Publishing Genius 208 pages, $10.00
ustin Brouckaert’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Rumpus, Passages North, Hobart and Amazon’s Day One, among other publications. He is a James Dickey Fellow at the University of South Carolina, where he serves as fiction editor of Yemassee.
enjamin DeVos is an interdisciplinary artist living in Philadelphia. He is a creative writing student at Temple University and self-taught music producer under the name Ulalume. His work is forthcoming in Bop Dead City, theNewerYork, Apocrypha and Abstractions, and more.
uliane Eirich’s photographs have been exhibited in many countries and featured in publications including The New York Times Magazine, ZEIT Magazine and European Photography. She has worked for clients such as PRADA, Adidas, Daimler and BMW. She is represented by Gallery f5,6 in Munich. Selected works are available at Bruce Silverstein in New York, 20×200 and Gallery Stock. Her first book was just published with Peperoni Books, Berlin.
atherine Forbes Riley is a computational linguist, a writer, a wife and a mother of two. She lives in northern New England. As a linguist, she has published over 40 scholarly articles in peer-reviewed journals and conference proceedings. Her creative writing has been published by Akashic Books and The McNeese Review. She has also recently completed a novel entitled Private Language.
Issue No. 5 - September 2014
rant Jerkins is the author of the novels A Very Simple Crime, At the End of the Road and The Ninth Step. His newest novel, Done in One (with Jan Thomas), will be published by St. Martin’s Press/Thomas Dunne Books in January 2015.
icholas Lepre’s stories have appeared in The Threepenny Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Knee-Jerk Magazine and elsewhere. He is currently working on a collection of linked stories set in the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. You can follow him on Twitter @NicholasLepre.
en Marcin was born in Augsburg, Germany to a German mother and Polish father. His photo series have received wide press both nationally and abroad (The Paris Review, iGnant, La Repubblica, Slate and Wired) and have been shown at a number of national galleries. “Last House Standing” was featured this year in a large solo exhibit at the C. Grimaldis Gallery in Baltimore and can be viewed online at www.cgrimaldisgallery.com.
eather Scott Partington is a contributor for The Los Angeles Review of Books, Electric Literature, The Rumpus, and Bookslut. She is also the book reviews editor at The Coachella Review.
na Prundaru was born in Romania and has lived all over Europe and Japan. A translator and legal advisor by profession, she splits her time between creative endeavors, volunteering and working. Her newest project is a children’s book, Roar to Friendships, that aims to raise awareness about endangered animals. Ana’s work appeared in Fjords Review, Haiku Journal, Toad, Feminist Wire and elsewhere.
éctor Ramírez is a writer and teacher living in Boulder, CO. He received a B.A. in Literary Arts from Brown University and is currently an MFA candidate at the University of Colorado, where he received the 2013 Jovanovich Imaginative Writing Award. He reads fiction submissions for Timber and is lead staff writer at Vannevar (www.vannevar.net). More of his flash fictions can be found at The Café Irreal.
Issue No. 5 - September 2014
M ax Vande Vaarst is the founder of Buffalo Almanack and serves as its Fiction
Editor. Maxâ€™s work has been featured in such publications as A cappella Zoo, JMWW and Jersey Devil Press. He received his B.A. in English and History from Purdue University. He is currently living in Laramie, Wyoming and is pursuing an M.A. in American Studies from the University of Wyoming.
Katie Morrison serves as Photography Editor for Buffalo Almanack. She
received her M.A. in Art History from the University of Colorado and is presently trying to make a stable living with said degree. Her research tracks issues of race, violence, and urban identity in American photography. She is an avid cat enthusiast and possesses a deep passion for iced coffee.
Your lovely editors, Rocky Mountain High at the base of the Sawatch Range.
Issue No. 5 - September 2014
J ohn Gummere operates Studio 264, a graphic design studio serving
businesses, institutions and non-profits coast-to-coast. Illustration has long been his specialty, and he works in a variety of media and styles depending on what is most suitable for his clientâ€™s needs. He received his B.A. in architecture from Columbia University in 1977 and lives in Philadelphia.
lesser-known element of the famed Paul Bunyan legend, Johnny Inkslinger served as Bunyanâ€™s office clerk and bookkeeper. To keep up with the demands of his bossâ€™s outsized work, Inkslinger invented a heavy-duty fountain pen, which drew its ink from a barrel-tap and hose. Buffalo Almanack is pleased to have established the Inkslinger Award for Creative Excellence in his honor. This award is issued to the best short story and individual photograph of each issue, as selected by our editors. The cash prize as of September 2014 is $50 per winner, though this amount may be raised in the future as more funds becomes available. There are no fees required for entry into the Inkslinger sweepstakes and all submissions to Buffalo Almanack are automatically in the running. Winners are notified shortly before the release of their respective issue and are recognized on the Buffalo Almanack website, as well as in the pages of our digital journal. A pair of personal checks will be delivered to the winners via the U.S.P.S. sometime during that same month.
Issue No. 5 - September 2014
Buffalo Almanack considers fiction of all styles and genres. We neither
discriminate against the traditional nor the experimental, neither the “literary” nor the fantastic. Our interest in domestic micro-fiction is as great as our interest in space-travel novellas and we’ll always save a seat for the remarkable and unexpected. What then are we looking for? Well, we’re looking for greatness. We’re looking for rich and muscular prose, for stories that make us believe we’ll never read better. We’re looking for plot, for character, for setting, for diction. We’re looking for a writer’s best because the world deserves their best and we know they’ve got what it takes to deliver. Concerning the visual arts, we invest in a diverse range of subjects and styles (with an emphasis on photography). We are attracted foremost to strong composition, skilled technical craft and assertive authorial presence. We want art that tells stories, whether through a single frame or a broader narrative series. We want art that makes us ask questions, that leads us to wish we had been there behind the brush, pencil or camera ourselves.
Published on Sep 15, 2014
Short fiction from Katherine Forbes Riley, Nicholas Lepre, Héctor Ramírez and Grant Jerkins. Photography by Ana Prundaru, Benjamin DeVos, Ju...