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OPIUM MAGAZINE Drink Me Responsibly - No.209 Gin 46% alc./vol. Produced by Distillery No. 209 San Francisco, CA © 2007

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U.S. $10.00 Issue #5 ©2007 Opium Magazine



No. 209 Gin

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Opium Magazine.print5 Copyright 2007 Opium Magazine

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Opium Magazine is also an online magazine of fiction, poetry, reviews, interviews, art and miscellany. Visit Please direct all inquiries to Editor Todd Zuniga at

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Our original theme for Opium5 was Famous Dead Authors. We were aiming to pretend that our authors were dead, and that it was only post mortem in Opium that their work was being lionized. But the more we thought about it, the more the celebrated-in-death concept seemed antiquated. No one has to wait for celebrity anymore. These days, one need only streak the White House lawn, post the video on YouTube, and voila: famous. For this issue, we decided we didn’t want to contribute to the voyeuristic lift-’em-up, tear-’em-down compulsion that keeps our modern celebrities acting so badly. So we turned the cameras around. Instead of focusing on the masterminds behind the work, we zoomed in on the writing. Our new old concept: let the stories speak for themselves. We present Opium5 to you as an alternative to the seedy underbelly of the celebrity occult, high-brow and low-brow. So shut off the TV, turn off your computer, and relax with some good, old-fashioned, fictional companionship. We promise you’ll love it.

Elizabeth Koch & Todd Zuniga

contents thomas.COOPER | “The Old-Fashioned Way” | story | 7 shya.SCANLON | “Still Life with Stars” | poetry | 9 bob.POWERS | “Happy Cruelty Day!” | story | 11 cm.EVANS | “Precarious Neighbor” | cartoon | 23 richard.LANGE | “Dead Boys” | story | 25 nathan.LADD | “The Plan” | poetry | 39 terese.SVOBODA | “Rex Rhymes with It” | story | 43 cm.EVANS | “Our New Neighbor” | cartoon | 47

We are so taken with the idea of celebrity not because we get to see the world from the celebrity’s point of view but because we get to see ourselves from the world’s point of view.

jonathan.EVISON | “Big Bill Down Under” | story | 51 john.JODZIO | “The Future” | 500-word memoir | 61 damion.SEARLS | “This is Something that Happened to Me Before I Hit the Big Time” | 500-word memoir | 63 anna.VLASOVA | “Magnolias” | 500-word memoir | 65 aharon.LEVY | “Travelers” | 500-word memoir | 67 lisa k.BUCHANAN | “The Autobiography of My Celebrity Interview Subject” | 500-word memoir | 69 jay.WEXLER | “My First Boob” | 500-word memoir | 71 sandra.WORSHAM | “Medusa” | 500-word memoir | 73 giancarlo.DITRAPANO | “Benediction” | 500-word memoir | 75 sarah j.SLOAT | “On the Way to Meet My Daughter’s Teacher” | poetry | 77 holly.WILSON | “Whisker Get Your Gun” | story | 81 heather.SPARKS | “It Colors Your Life” | coloring book | 99 dave.MORRISON | “Award” | poetry | 105 jon paul.FIORENTINO | “Jonny’s Mid-Life Crisis Guide to St. Petersburg” | story | 107 james.HASS | “The Present is Far More Interesting than the Future: William Gibson” | interview | 109 stephen.ELLIOTT | “A Short Essay about Internet Dating” | story | 117 karen.HUGG | “The Vampire at the Bakery” | story | 121 cm.EVANS | “The Other 45 Ways” | cartoon | 123 julia.STORY | “Sad” | poetry | 125 rich.FERGUSON | “More Steve McQueen than Anything” | story | 129 jennifer.FAYLOR | “Cartography for Beginners” | poetry | 135 ryan.BARTELMAY| “Lemonhead” | story | 139

the old-fashioned way story by Thomas Cooper estimated reading time: 3:26


Here he is again, the old doddering bastard who for weeks has been mistakenly laying flowers on my poor wife Adelaide’s grave. Every Sunday afternoon I hobble the half-mile from the nursing home and sit in the hilly cemetery on the bench beneath the poplar, paying my respects. And again today the man in the brown suit squats reverently in her tombstone shadow, placing down a bouquet of drugstore lilies in the grass. He sprawls for a long time across her grave, weeping and moaning, carrying on hysterically, and today I’m having none of it. “Excuse me, fella,” I say, caning my way up to him, “I’m afraid you have the wrong goddamn grave.” Here we are, two feeble old men in bad brown suits, facing off on a May afternoon right over Adelaide’s plot. Gray-browed and cavern-chested, this man looks like time has done far more to him than I can. Still, I tell him if he knows what’s best for him, if he wants to avoid serious bodily injury, he’ll find his own dead woman to mourn. Then, the nerve of the guy, he introduces himself as Archie and says, “I’m afraid it is you, sir, who is mistaken.” We settle this in the old-fashioned way, like the old-fashioned gentlemen we are: Archie drives us in his Cutlass to a nearby pub. It’s late afternoon and the college boys are cozied up against the bar on their stools, staring



at sorority-girl butt. None of them, I’m sure, knows what it’s like to have their histories questioned by a foolish stranger about to learn a lesson. “What can I say about Adelaide that you don’t already know?” this Archie says from across our back corner booth. He stares poetically at the smoky ceiling as my hands shake around my beer bottle. “Looked like the Clabber corn-starch girl. Used to have the worst headaches, but she kept her spirits up. Loved to dance, the Lindy Hop. And plus, the thing that always broke my heart, she saw Spanish galleons in the clouds. They threw away the mold when they made that woman. So, you knew her, too?” I hate to laugh in a situation as serious as this, but I do, right in his senile face. This man is clearly in a late stage of dementia and never knew my poor darling wife at all. I have half a mind to strike him over the head with my cane and set the record straight, when I remember one of the things Adelaide used to say about me: that I had a mean streak as wild and wide as the Colorado River. How she put up with me all of those years is still beyond me, but she was capable of seeing the best in a person, and she stood by my side the old-fashioned way, like all the good women of her generation. If abiding this charlatan means honoring her memory even just a little bit, then so be it. “Sure, corn starch and clouds,” I say. “I hear you. Go ahead, let it all out.” “Ach, it almost hurts too much to continue,” Archie says. Sunk in some kind of reverie, he rests his glazed eyes on the table. When he mentions Adelaide’s sad life, her loneliness, her childlessness, I think that these are things that could be true of anyone. But then when he mentions that time she broke her arm at the skating rink and was too embarrassed to go to the doctor’s, I get up, something in my chest flaring like flint against steel. I settle this the old-fashioned way, shooting out a big calloused fist that hits him square in the face, because when you get to be my age, history is the only thing you have left, and I’ll be goddamned if anybody’s going to take that away from me.

Thomas Cooper lives in Florida and has work currently appearing or forthcoming in Lake Effect, Bayou, Pikeville Review, and Storyglossa, among other places. He’s at work on a collection of stories and a very bad rock album.

still life with stars poetry by Shya Scanlon estimated reading time: 0:44


It was the year Drew Barrymore said Screw Hollywood, I’m going to be a travel writer. Her co-stars started falling prey to the spectacle, and shooting down her plans for the future but who can blame her? When the show’s over, it does no good to keep your seat. Sometimes when I’m wishing time would go by faster, I feel guilty:




most people want to slow it down. Shouldn’t I count myself lucky for minutes that feel like hours? Barrymore had been around since ET returned to space and besides, not even winter would go quietly that year: returning a video one night I saw a young man hosing snow off his driveway the wet stripe poking black holes in the white ice and there was such sadness in this inverse constellation I could not move, could not look away.

Shya Scanlon is an MFA candidate at Brown University, where he is writing a novel about abortion, unions, the state lottery, and loss, set in Indiana.

happy cruelty day! story by Bob Powers estimated reading time: 23:56


January 9th Your Parents Are An Interracial Couple Day! It’s been a long while since you congratulated your parents for their bravery. Tonight, when the three of you have finished dinner, and your dad says to your mom, “Black lady, nice food.” And your mom says, “Only the best, white motherfucker.” Say to the both of them, “I hope you’ve saved some room for dessert.” Then give them the cake you spent all day cooking from scratch. They’ll read the writing on the cake in unison. “Courage?” Say, “I made it in honor of you guys not being the same race but falling in love anyway. It’s a strawberry shortcake.” Your mom will burst into tears. “I didn’t think you’d noticed.” “That you guys aren’t the same race? Sure I did. That’s why everyone’s always spray-painting our house, right?” Now you’ll see that your dad is crying. “We thought you didn’t care. I mean it was really, really hard.” “I know,” you’ll say. “That’s why I made you the cake? Hello?” Your mom will get a hold of herself. “It’s just kind of like that movie about that guy. The one who struggled.”

dead boys story by Richard Lange estimated reading time: 29:06


He needs me to say yes. It’s an oldie but a goodie: Keep the affirmatives coming. I read an article, an undercover, “Secrets of a Car Salesman” thing, that had a list of ten tricks to watch out for, and that was one of them. I held onto the magazine the article was in, putting it with a bunch of other magazines containing information that would someday be of use, but when the pile got to be about four feet high, Louise said, “This is ridiculous,” and threw them all out. So now I’m at this guy’s, this Rodrigo’s, mercy. “Do you like the color?” he asks. “Yes,” I reply. “Red, right?” “Red.” Rodrigo’s hair is slicked straight back, and he has a goatee. There’s a pack of Marlboros in the pocket of his shirt. He should stash them somewhere else, that’s my advice. If he wants to look professional. A van from a Mexican radio station is parked on the lot. They’re blasting music and handing out bumper stickers and T-shirts. I’m not sure about that either. It might scare away the white folks. Rodrigo urges me aboard the SUV. The seat wraps itself around my body. “Special motors; they remember you,” Rodrigo says. This model has enough chrome for three regular cars. Fog lights, leather interior, six-

People are bad company when they are doing what they enjoy. They lose all pretense of caring anything about you. For an individual to pursue a passion is a social indecency, a kind of rudeness—unless they get rich or famous by it, and then we love them for their charm.

rex rhymes with it story by Terese Svoboda estimated reading time: 6:22


I have flown home to harass my mother into living longer as a courtesy to Dad, who has been dead for some time now. She greets me with her whocares look through her glass bottom tilted at me and my sister suggests I drive off to find mixer. To calm me. Two corners away from parking, the old Cad goes down for the count.

The Triple A superhero takes his own sweet time arriving, then another long interregnum on diagnosis and yet even longer on repair. However, he does mention Rex, how all six-foot-five of him cruised town in white leather on a Harley until just recently. Rex lifted the first barbells I ever saw which makes him over eighty at least, a good three months after his last birthday spent bed-bound after Tboning on an unfortunate semi outside the Tumbleweed Bar on said bike, according to Triple A. The Tumbleweed Bar—was it sold? I ask to keep him talking. He hasn’t heard about the bar, and the four-dollar gas I tell him I pumped last week in faraway Jersey he takes to be just a way to show I must make more than he does.



But I drive off grateful. Hearing about Rex is a real kind of welcome home. He used to count horses for the state from a plane and land that plane in our backyard to scare the stupid duck that hung around the birdbath. My mother drank with Rex at parties after everyone else had found their coats and she never minded the duck. The ruts his plane left on our half acre—his signature hello—still mar the yard. I park the car right up beside the fence to that yard where my mother has left the door to bang, and peek in the back picture window. There my mother sits, smiling into those ruts, her gash of teeth as she lifts her glass the only bright spot.

I decide to steal the silver. My sister is getting it. She spent all p.m. yesterday polishing every piece as shiny as a gun. It isn’t that I really want it. It’s the making of trouble, an instinct in the time of travail. Rex was the one who taught me that trouble should be loud and bold if it is to be at all, so I drop the car keys to the floor a foot off the table, and take off my clothes. My mother can’t see very well. She glances at me twice while I’m stuffing the silver into a green plastic garbage bag before she says, Rex? I am all white leather, at least from her direction, though I am only half again as tall as he is even in recent memory, and of course female. No wonder he lifted those barbells. Mother cries out, Oh, Rex, and she uses a tone nobody denies, least of all me. I let her pat me on the shoulder. I just locked my clothes in the car, I say. She starts and then nods as if this is just a simple mistaken identity, as if my nudity made the same sense as hers and his so many years ago at the end of a foyer, with me in twisted Dr. Denton’s about to ask for water. What was all that noise? she says, turning to her back window. Burglars? The fish forks, I tell her, shivering. I hate fish, she says. For once I agree with her.

Rex jumped into our swimming pool completely dressed, holding an armful of lilacs. Dad laughed about it the next morning, cleaning the pool, making long sweeps with a machine that moved like a reptile.



• My sister hasn’t missed the silver yet. We eat with flatware like most homeowners, all her good work replaced by a nice row of sticks inside the dun cloths. She gestures with her flatware fork, talking about how Dad always meant to barbecue Spotty, how he ran around the pit with those skewers, and how Spotty barked and barked and finally bit him when he poked him. I think it was another dog, I say. We turn to Mom who is pouring herself silly, who is pretending that the clear liquid in the glass is detergent, or anyway that’s what she tells us. It will wash two loads for sure. Then she drinks it down. It was another dog, she says after, touching her napkin to her lips.

I dial him and he answers. Rasp, rasp, Sweetheart, he says. Do I sound like her that much? I say. Ah, the older one, he says. I saw you in your altogether yesterday. You promised no binoculars, I say. Sorry about your Dad, he says. Thanks, I say. I appreciate that. He had it coming to him, he did his time in the I.C.U. and he hated it. You could say that, I say. I don’t know that he did. Don’t live in the past, he says. Rasp, rasp. You might get to like it.

Rex once lay in my sister’s bed and refused to get out until she punched him. Get up, she said. I need my sleep, too. Rex told her he was mattress-testing and babysitting at the same time, he told our parents he was somebody they could always rely on and stayed with us while our parents went out to see shrinks. He would’ve commended me on how well I parked my parents’ car, such a big boat in such a small driveway, if I had just kept talking. He commended Dad.

My sister wasn’t standing in that foyer so many years ago, just me. That’s why she can’t have the silver. She should have been there to tell me what I was seeing. I consider jamming the grinder with fork after fork, listening to



the noise tear into my skull. My sister is looking into the refrigerator now, exclaiming that we still have two more days of leftovers to eat. I propose we give the Cad a test and take it to a restaurant. Rex is standing at the edge of our lot when we pull out, waving his crutches. I could put poison in the bird feeder, I say. But he’s too old to reach. She gets my gist but says I’m unreasonable. Something that happened so long ago? She doesn’t understand, I’m all attitude. He got away with it, I say. Sweet and simple.

The next morning is one morning too many. I empty the silver back into its bags, a series of tremendous crashes. My sister comes running in like I’m denting it. Maybe I am. It’s important to get air to it, the oxidation process you know, I say over the noise, letting her explain all about how the chemicals in silver play black havoc with any and all the air it gets. Did Mom totter out last night and get Chivas? I say when she subsides. I thought I heard something. We inspect the side of the garage. We don’t disturb her in the car, snoring. He could drive for her, I say. He could wear his leather and drive. It’s what he’s always wanted. It will be a fairy tale that ends in happiness. Except for his accident, she says. Maybe he’s prone now. I call him anyway. Sweetheart, he says. For you, I would drive around the world. Your mother? She had her chance.

Terese Svoboda is the author of ten books of prose and poetry, most recently Tin God (U. of Nebraska Press, 2006) and the forthcoming memoir, Black Glasses Like Clark Kent (Graywolf Press). Her fiction is forthcoming in Narrative, The Encyclopedia, Bomb, and Lit.

our new neighbor cartoon by CM Evans



Has anyone worried about the future of celebrity? Written a book entitled, The Death of Celebrity? It will have to be written by another species after the end of the human race.

big bill down under story by Jonathan Evison estimated reading time: 15:02


My name is William Miller Jr., and my father is Big Bill Miller, the bodybuilder. In spite of my namesake, I was never called Junior, never called Little Bill or Little Big Bill. I was always called William. My younger brothers, Doug and Ross, are identical twins. They are the image of Big Bill: the aquiline nose, the blue eyes, the turgid smile. And like their father, they would one day grow up to be bodybuilders. Not me. I was a mama’s boy. I had no interest in building my carcass up to world-class proportions. Instead, I walked in my mother’s shadow, clutching the hem of her blue velour bathrobe. That was before cancer carved her up, dried her skin to parchment, before she grew so frail and reedy that I was afraid to squeeze her. Big Bill didn’t say much those first weeks after my mother died. He was like a wounded elephant. You got the feeling he wished he could be small, wished he could hide in the shadows from all of us, but he was just too damn big, and too damn clumsy in his grief. Yet, all he could do to fight the crushing depression was to make himself even bigger. Six days a week we were all packed off to the gym, where the twins fell all over each other like puppies, lifting and flexing and posing in front of the mirrored walls. I was more like a mop bucket. I stuck to the dusty corner and waited out the interminable hours, thankful on those occasions I had homework to occupy myself.


Opium loves fiction, often more than fact. But we decided to jump in the middle of the rabid memoir movement with a 500-Word Memoir Contest (judged by Daniel Handler), if only to hurry the descent of what we saw as a noxious fad. We couldn’t have been more wrong. Our entries arrived brimming with a wonder and genius that we didn’t anticipate, a soulfulness knitted with consciousness, frailty and wisdom, and, of course, plenty of humor. Included here are eight of the thirteen finalists. Want more? Go to and indulge in the magic. “The judge would like to note that, as there was no way to verify the veracity of any of the memoirs, the contest was decided on prose quality and narrative delight.” –Daniel Handler

the future by John Jodzio winner of the 500-word memoir contest estimated reading time: 1:58


Every September, my Uncle Fungus knocked out the donkey with the wooden board and took him to the vet to get his shots. “Why don’t you just walk him there? Or have the vet drive out?” I asked. “That is how it is done nowadays.” “And yet,” Uncle Fungus told me, “that is not how our family does things.” Uncle Fungus hooked his thumbs under the straps of his overalls and turned toward the mountains, which meant he was done discussing this with me. One September, Uncle Fungus had trouble swinging the wooden board. He’d grown weak, and when he smacked the donkey on the head, the donkey just stood there. “John,” Uncle Fungus said to me after about an hour of this mess, “I need your help.” I had already decided that things weren’t going to be like this when the farm passed on to me. I had talked to some developers by then, had big plans to turn all this land into a huge theme park with roller coasters and banana stands and robot bears that played banjos and sang popular music. All that would have to wait now, though.



“Alright,” I told him. “Just this once.” Uncle Fungus looked distraught to be passing his wooden donkeyknocking-out board to me. His eyes welled up with tears. At that point, I think he understood that he would never have the strength to make it work again. I looked at that damn donkey. He was none too pleased either, his one good eye staring up at me. “Okay,” Uncle Fungus said. “Go on, then.” I gripped the wooden board in my hands. I’ll admit it felt good. I knew it had been passed down from generation to generation, this finely lacquered piece of hard donkey-knocking oak. I stepped back and took a couple of warm-up swings. “I’m ready now,” I told my Uncle. I planted my feet firmly on the ground, and then I wound up and swung it at the donkey’s head. I was about to smack the beast and be done with it, but at the last second my Uncle Fungus slid right in front of me. I tried to stop my momentum, but there was no way. I hit my Uncle Fungus square on the temple and he grunted once and fell over right in front of me, dead.

John Jodzio lives in Minneapolis. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Florida Review, Rake Magazine, Opium2 and Opium3, as well as many places on the web. His story, “If You Lived Here,You’d Already Be Home,” won the inaugural Opium Fiction Prize. He’s been nominated for the Best New Voices series, is a former winner of The Loft Mentor Program, and is a current recipient of a Jerome Foundation SASE Grant.

this is something that happened to me before i hit the big time by Damion Searls first runner-up in the 500-word memoir contest estimated reading time: 2:16


My friend offered me her ex-fiancé’s old car, and it came with a story. He had wanted to learn Arabic, went to the military language institute in Monterey because he couldn’t afford to study it otherwise—that was before 2001, he’d never have to serve. Now he was off to Iraq. He decided to drive across the country to where he had to report for duty. A last trip in freedom. But after a breakdown (mental, not automotive), he left his car in Boulder and flew to Georgia. The car was mine if I wanted to go get it. A strange letter came in the mail, sealed with black duct tape and written in crazy-looking capital letters. It was a handwritten “deed” on the back of a page of Arabic language exercises. I called the number I had in Boulder, and spoke to an old man who said yeah, it was on his lawn. I was welcome to it. I thought it was a Toyota or a Honda for some reason, but it turned out to be a brown Ford Bronco, the old kind. The whole thing started to feel too weird, so I didn’t call the man back or go get the truck. Someone I didn’t know had a breakdown (mental) in it and was heading to the Iraq war, and it just didn’t seem worth it. I asked my friend about her ex-fiancé sometimes. She said she got emails from him, in which he wrote that if she knew what he was doing she



would never speak to him again. Months later, I started seeing the unavoidable pictures of torture in Abu Ghraib. I imagined the duties of an Arabic translator and was glad not to have his Ford Bronco. I wondered if, technically, I owned it, thanks to the “deed” that I thought was in a drawer somewhere, but I’ve packed and moved since then and never saw it. A man named Tony Lagouranis finally broke the vicious silence and went on TV, wrote editorials—in the New York Times, for example—about what he had done at Abu Ghraib, and why, and who had told him to. He became one of my heroes, pretty much all I had in that terrible year 2004. It took a while before I made the connection and realized that it’s his car I could have owned, maybe do own. I drive around in it sometimes in my mind, usually listening to Dylan. One of the dark albums, the ones about America. Blood on the Tracks, Bringing It All Back Home. I guess they’re all dark really. My friend, she still lives alone.

Damion Searls ( is a nationally endowed translator, writer, and plagiarist from New York City. He has published Everything You Say Is True: A Travelogue and five books of translation; current and forthcoming projects include translations of Rilke and Thomas Bernhard, an abridgment of Thoreau’s Journal, and his first novel, Lives of the Painters.

magnolias by Anna Vlasova second runner-up in the 500-word memoir contest estimated reading time: 2:26


“What do you think of this tape, Colonel Petropavlov? You work in the Ministry of Internal Affairs and don’t know of an internal affair in your own home. Tsk, tsk, tsk. Would you like to lose your stars?” How was my stepfather to know that I, at 15, had promised my hand to a Mormon missionary from America—promised it over the phone, curled up on my cot in the kitchen, while my mother and stepfather slept just behind the wall? How was he to know that I was having nightly telephone sex with said missionary, Elder Mifflin, himself tucked into a bed on the other side of Moscow, as cockroaches dropped from the ceiling into my hair? And who could conceive that, in spending five or six hours each night on the phone, I—the daughter of a Colonel of Internal Service—linked our apartment to a rental occupied by Americans and, naturally, wiretapped? “I would not have believed it, had they not made me listen to that tape! The humiliation! To be summoned at work, to have to sit down and listen to your daughter have phone sex! With an American! Bastard fucked-up prostituting cunt!” My mother saw me blanche. “Stop it! She is having a heart attack!” I was speechless, burning with humiliation and defiance, but her diagnosis was misplaced.



Two years later, I graduated from high school. My fiancé came back from America and married me. My mother and stepfather drove us to Sheremetyevo airport, where he and I joined the long passport-control line preceding the gate. My mother and stepfather were not permitted to move past the rope marking the end of the line. They stood there, weeping quietly, as the distance between us grew, until I finally lost sight of them. “Welcome to the village of San Lorenzo,” read the sign in the middle of the town I had imagined to be a city when I sent letters there from Moscow. No longer a missionary, my new husband stopped shaving and getting haircuts, and now wore his mouse-gray sweatpants every day, regardless of occasion. We lived with his parents. Most days, I slept until eleven and spent the afternoons in bed, writing poetry in Russian. When Titanic came out the following year, I fell in love with Leonardo DiCaprio. Then I fell in love with a classmate at the community college. And then, with a music professor. My husband took the birthday money sent to me by my grandmother. He never mailed my TOEFL registration forms that he offered to take to the Post Office, severing my hopes of university admission for the next year. When his parents asked us to pay rent, it turned out that he’d only pretended to have a job “operating a forklift.” He had driven each day to a local park, where he read the paper and napped in his car. In retrospect, what I liked best about California were all the magnolia trees.

Anna Vlasova was born in Moscow. She is a writer and a literary translator based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She can be reached at

travelers by Aharon Levy finalist in the 500-word memoir contest estimated reading time: 2:38


Here’s how it works in my family: as soon as you can, you get away from everyone else. My great-great-grandfather walked from Lithuania to Jerusalem when he was twelve, untangling himself from a dozen siblings with their own destinations. He traveled with his grandfather, who promised that all he wanted to do was die in the Holy Land, and who proved true to his word by dying upon arrival. His son, my great-grandfather, mumbled something about career opportunities and left Turkish Palestine for South Africa in 1913. He returned in 1923, claiming something about the combatant-nationals detention center where he said he’d been held, although the war had ended five years earlier. Within a few weeks, his oldest son was on a steamship to New York, where he changed his last name from the English-enough Pearl to the confusingly Hebrew Margalit. The same year, a great-uncle escaped his intended bride by donning a black dress and wig and riding an oxcart to the Haifa docks and out into the world. My father left his parents to their six p.m. whiskey and crackers in the Catskills for a diplomatic career. My mother took what she could from my grandmother’s apartment, an apartment decorated with busts of Freud where one would expect mementos of the late Margalit, and joined my father in Korea, Tanzania, Romania.



And then, of course, there’s me. Some snapshots: A playdate with my schoolmate, the Tanzanian PLO ambassador’s son. Two hours spent with a disappointingly black-andwhite Godzilla movie and some truly excellent Matchbox cars. Our fathers avoiding eye contact at dropoff and pickup. A 3 a.m. breakfast of honey and pickles in the Cyprus airport, the second stop in a five-leg journey from East Africa to upstate New York. The fat photobooth operator who, while petting a cat named Idi Amin, talked about life in Kampala before his family’s expulsion. My parents on their way to Germany, dropping me off at the house of an ancient Mormon woman and her ex-astronaut Baptist husband, who kept a 1950s fridge full of George Dickel in the basement. And so on. I’m cagey about rooting myself to a lesson from all this, because it’s not entirely my own story and in any case it’s not the full tale. Like cartoon gangsters, my family members draw away from each other so stealthily that we sometimes end up together, surprised to find ourselves back-to-back. Inoculated against homesickness, we suffer from motion ailments instead. And since this isn’t really our story but a hand-me-down, all we can do is shrug and wish luck to whomever comes next, and hope that they’ll keep in touch, wherever they may be.

Aharon Levy is a writer who lives in Brooklyn, New York, among many others of his kind. Published here and there, he’s finishing a series of connected short stories about Russian-Jewish immigrants in New York, and starting a novel about outsourcing and extinction.

the autobiography of my celebrity interview subject by Lisa K. Buchanan finalist in the 500-word memoir contest estimated reading time: 2:32


Lots of women in my field get all twisted up over their weight and you would not believe how bizarre and tedious they are. Sure, I pay attention, but I’m not calorie-phobic or anything. I just weigh myself every morning on my special scale and if I’m more than, say, six ounces over my target weight—like today, for example—I simply don’t eat. Sorry, am I going too fast? Interviews make me nervous, I mean, a cover story is great, but it’s a lot of pressure being a role model at 19—Okay, where were we? My fitness routine, right. So right now I’m doing a digestive detox with bottled spring water. Actually, one time I drank four and a half gallons of the stuff, and fell briefly into a coma. So stupid! Not me, because I would never say that about myself, but the coma, I mean. Anyway, I’m not a smoker, but sometimes when I’m detoxing, I have a few menthols, just to self-soothe, but don’t put that in the article, okay? Before you called, I was breathing warmth into my pancreas and could actually feel the fat cells disintegrating. Did I mention that I’m kind of spiritual? I know you write about fitness, but living it is hard work and not always glamorous. Like right now, my breath is all weasel-farty (off the record!), which means it’s time to let the exercising do the exorcising (my trainer is too hilarious). When I have walked the perimeter of my room 26.4 times (it’s a full mile so I’m starting now), I go to the mirror and—it takes some pinching, but—I can usually find the extra



ounces. “Look here, you fat repulsive, jiggling parasites!” I tell them. “You cannot live on my body. You absolutely cannot. Really, you can’t. I mean it. Go away!” Did you get all that? Because beneath the girlie-girl stuff, I can be, well, intimidating. Hold on, where are my matches? Not my drawer, not my purse, can you—What happened to all my goddamn, twat-puking matches? Sorry. I should keep it mellow because my mom is so—Remember, nothing about my smokes in the article. So, after that, I remind myself, “Yes, I will work again. Yes, I will date again. Yes, I will have another restaurant meal.” And if, say, by noon, I’ve done all my “ations”—meditation, confrontation, affirmation—and I’m still not ketosing or I’m just grinding my tongue all bloody, I pull all my stuffed animals into bed with me and go zygotic. In fact, I might just do that now because—Can you hear me under here? Hey Fifi! Hey, Giraffe!—I mean, why walk around if I’ll just eat? Better to weight it out. Got that? Humor is so important to good health! Hey, maybe that should be the theme of your article, because, I mean, it’s really all about proportion, wouldn’t you say?

Lisa K. Buchanan is a former editor of a women’s health magazine. Her fiction and essays have appeared in Mid-American Review, Natural Bridge, Quick Fiction, and Cosmopolitan. She lives in San Francisco and can be reached at

my first boob by Jay Wexler finalist in the 500-word memoir contest estimated reading time: 2:26


The boob, the first I ever touched, belonged to a thirteen-year-old named Danielle who lived a few houses down from us. Danielle belonged to a family whose thoroughgoing creepiness made it stand out in a neighborhood full of creeps. Her older sister had babysat for me once, but had not been invited back after she locked me in my bedroom and invited some guys over the house to drink bourbon and puke on our couch. Later, after Danielle’s sister had married a Hell’s Angel, the family turned its yard into a fenced compound so full of ATVs and makeshift shelters and attack dogs and other accoutrements of white-trash paranoia that it would have made a suitable training camp for the next generation of Branch Davidians. Danielle and I hung out sometimes around the neighborhood, where she would teach me how to do grownup things like say swear words and burn shit. Mostly, though, she wanted to be my friend because I was friends with Kevin, whose sturdy hairless twelve-year-old thighs and tight blue jogging shorts with crisp white piping made her quiver with pubescent longing. At Danielle’s urging, the three of us started doing stuff together after school. My house was usually the place of choice because, as a latchkey kid, there was never any adult supervision to keep us from doing what we wanted. We could have run an international weapons syndicate out of my playroom if we had felt like it. Hell, sometimes we did. One day Danielle suggested that

whisker get your gun story by Holly Wilson estimated reading time: 34:52


When I get a new client, I like to do things right. I use the most kick-ass room, the one with walls of tufted maroon velour and the little stick-on glow-in-the-dark stars all over the ceiling. Ahead of time I put on some electronica and light watermelon-scented candles. It says in Cosmo that the scent of watermelon makes men come faster, so you can bet that Chief Betty and I went to Target right away and bought some for each room. We have six Seduction Rooms, each themed differently, like Forbidden Island Fantasy and Farmer’s Daughter’s Frenzy. Number four—Wet Venus Love— is where I do my best work. The ceiling’s tiled in mirrors so there’s sort of an echo, and when I shout out dirty things there’s this great effect, like the guy’s with three of me at once. Today I have a two o’clock. When he gets here, he’s ten minutes late, and I try not to say anything, but I’ve got a two-thirty, and this new guy is acting like he wants to take his time, standing around in the parlor, touching the feathers on Miss Nasty’s gold boa. She’s talking him up, trying to book him for next week, so I kind of walk up to him in this sexy, nononsense way, run one of my long long fingernails down his cheek, and pull him into number four. “My name’s Whisker Bomb,” I say, brushing imaginary dust from his shoulder like I’m a sexy wifey type. “What’s yours?”



“Well, here I am, Shelly. I got on NYPD Blue. I’m not going anywhere.” I grab near half the money wad and stuff it in an envelope. Outside the ground’s soggy and worms have risen to the top of everything. “Oh, you squirmy fuckers,” I say. “Tomorrow you dudes are gonna fry!” I fake shoot each one I see with my finger all the way to Mama’s trailer. The moon shines like a big-ass shining sugar cookie, like you could shoot it down from the sky and catch the tasty glowing crumbs in your mouth. It lights my way down the gravel rows.

Holly Wilson is a PhD student at Florida State University. Her fiction has appeared in The Portland Review, Eye Rhyme, and Short Story. She was a finalist for the 2005 Miami University Press Novella Prize, and is a fiction editor at The Furnace Review and assistant fiction editor at The Southeast Review.




Heather Sparks is a San Francisco-based artist whose work has recently been included in the Observatori Biennale in Valencia, Spain, Carter Gallery in London, and the Miami Basel Art Fair. Heather is an alumna of the San Francisco Art Institute and The Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. She received her MFA from Stanford University this spring and is currently working on a series of drawings for her upcoming book It Colors Your Life, a coloring book of drinking and smoking.





We know celebrities not by their place in the world but by their place in our minds.

award poetry by Dave Morrison estimated reading time: 1:30



It would be awesome if I won that award. It would be great to see the mailman carried to my front door on a sedan chair, I’d know something was up, especially when he had to use a small amount of plastique to blow open the small vault that held the letter telling me that I had won the award. I can see him waiting for me to sign for it with a quill dipped in the blood of a baby lamb that bleated with terror as they bandaged its neck, the letter passed to a man in a hot air balloon wearing a turban and an eye-patch.



I’ve never really won anything, so it would be so cool to win that award. I’ve never even seen a Secret Service man, let alone had three in my house. Why they would need to dig a tunnel under the house to come and go in is beyond me, but then again, I’ve never won an award like this. It’s not so much the public part of it, but it would be awesome, waiting to go up on a stage to accept the award, beautiful veiled women in black, and all those bagpipes making a horrible, beautiful tidal wave of sound, the smell of burning roses, the tolling of every bell in the city, the maddening tension, and then the elevator platform would lift me onto the stage, and the giant pipe organ would play and the doves would be released and go wild in the rafters, and my chest would split open and people would faint when they saw my huge beating heart with the fiery eye in the center, and a burning white light would scorch the whole auditorium and blind those who had doubted me.

After years of playing guitar in rock & roll bars in Boston and NYC, Dave Morrison currently resides in coastal Maine. You can e-visit at

jonny’s mid-life crisis guide to st. petersburg story by Jon Paul Fiorentino estimated reading time: 2:40


The City St. Petersburg was founded in 1941 by an ex-merchant marine named Peter Parker. He was such an awesome guy, and really cool to drink with, and so all the local people called him “Peter the Awesome.” He had a short temper, however, and he forcibly shaved off the beards of every Russian woman who lived in the city. He killed Finnish people for sport and was an excellent bowler. The city was originally named St. Petersbourg, but the O was soon dropped when Peter the Awesome deemed it too sexually suggestive. When the Germans attacked in 1988 the city was renamed Hasselhoffgrad. It was renamed recently when a drunken David Hasselhoff appeared in an embarrassing video on the Internet. To this day, the people of St. Petersburg are excellent bowlers and not particularly good at making love. The Neva River When Peter the Awesome founded St. Petersburg, he decided to build an entire river, complete with many canals and tourist-trap river boats with video-lottery terminals on board. Peter wanted to distinguish the Neva from all those other boring rivers he swam in as a child. So he ordered that instead of water, the Neva be filled with Fresca, a refreshing, carbonated soda beverage. When it was discovered that Fresca could not



stay carbonated in the open air, Peter became enraged and shot many Finns. The Neva, of course, was named after American actress Neve Campbell. The Rick Astley Monument Like so many aliens on Star Trek, Rick Astley is capable of instant matter regeneration. He was so many great men in our history: Plato, Churchill, JFK, Lincoln, and, of course, Rick Astley. When the people of St. Petersburg first heard “Never Gonna Give You Up,” they knew instantly that Astley was the real fucking deal. The Astley monument is located on Nevsky Prospekt and features a gigantic statue of Astley in pleated jeans and a cardigan sweater, drinking a bottle of diet Pepsi. Looking good, Rick Astley, looking real good. The Church on the Spilled Blood Once, while summering with John Travolta, Jesus went to this now famous church to pray to himself. Travolta got tired of waiting in the beer garden for Jesus and marched into the church and said, “Hey, Jesus, like c’mon! We gotta split!” Jesus got super pissed off and drop-kicked Travolta in the face. Travolta’s cleft chin burst open and he said, “Aww geez!” Travolta stumbled out onto the steps of the church and he collapsed there, bleeding and crying and in great pain, for Jesus was very powerful and had taken Kung Fu lessons. The Hermitage Museum The Hermitage is the world’s largest old folks’ home. There’s some art on the walls. It is a favorite of tourists from far and wide even though there are a lot of old people in it. It features the world’s longest game of shuffleboard and smells very, very bad.

Jon Paul Fiorentino is the author of the comedy book Asthmatica and the poetry books Hello Serotonin and The Theory of the Loser Class. He lives in Montreal where he teaches writing at Concordia University and is the Editor-in-Chief of Matrix.

the present is far more interesting than the future: an interview with william gibson interview by James Hass estimated reading time: 10:32


William Gibson has written a novel for those of us who not so much suspect but really believe there is a hell of a lot more going on around us than we’ll ever know. Since providing science fiction a new landscape with Neuromancer in 1984 by introducing his readers to cyberspace—the “consensual hallucination” used by computer operators in the distant future to manipulate massive amounts of data—Gibson’s fiction has crept ever closer to our present. Gibson’s early fiction portrayed a distant future populated by Internetdriven criminals, corporate hegemony, failing governments, and ultimately the ways humans could transform through technology. His next batch of novels, the Bridge Trilogy, showed our near future, just decades away: the wiped-out middle-class, structures as iconic as the Bay Bridge taken over by the homeless, nanotechnology growing buildings instead of constructing them, and mass media manipulation being the ultimate power. Now, with Spook Country, which takes place in 2006, and his previous novel, Pattern Recognition, William Gibson has shown that our present is every bit as worthy of wonder as any future that even he might cook up. opium: With relation to the writing, I’m interested in the way you’ve structured your plots. Neuromancer and Pattern Recognition were the only

Living solitary private lives, we long to share in the public life of a celebrity, to simulate the feel of community without incurring the costs of participating in one.

a short essay about internet dating story by Stephen Elliott estimated reading time: 7:48


I got a car and went south of the city to meet her. It was one of those carshares where you go on the internet and check out the car for a few hours. I had a magnetic key. I waved it in front of the window and the doors unlocked. I had reserved the car for four hours. I drove to San Mateo. It took twenty-five minutes on the 101 counting a wrong turn down East Third Street. We met at a ramen restaurant. She was tall and her hair was cut in a bob. The sign in the window, printed on a cardboard box top, said no vegetarian food. Except that “vegetarian” was spelled wrong. It was spelled “vegetarian.” Isn’t that funny? she said. We split pork soup in pork broth and grilled corn and I paid for the dinner. I had water and she had a coke. The restaurant was crowded. It was good ramen. She said she had moved from Los Angeles, which was a real city, not like here. She had moved because of asthma and because of a boy. But they were broken up now. They were still living together, but he was out of town. She had a friend in San Carlos and she stayed there. She was twenty-two years old, a retired sex worker. She was dating a CEO of a major company. He was into some sick things. Like what? I asked. I can’t tell you, she said. The CEO had to answer to the shareholders.



I said yes, I wanted to see her again. What else could I say? The gates were lowering, blocking the road. The train was about to arrive. We stood in the fluorescent glow of closing suburban stores then she turned and ran across the street. I wouldn’t see her again. I would make an excuse or I just wouldn’t respond to her at all. She had voted for George W. Bush in 2004. In 2000 lots of us made mistakes. I worked for Ralph Nader. I couldn’t judge. But in 2004 we had the facts. She had done it to piss everybody off. The world had done something to her, so an eye for an eye. My father used to get angry and scream and hit people and break everything in the house, and it was your fault. You had made him angry, so he was entitled to do whatever he wanted. My mother told me when I was ten-years old that she would leave him and we would go somewhere else. But she died first. Fault is a tricky thing. The Arabs attack, so Israel takes their land, so the Palestinians are justified in attacking Israel. A suicide bomber explodes in Sbarro’s in downtown Jerusalem. The settlers in Hebron burn down Palestinian houses. Hamas burrows beneath the electrical fence and kidnaps an Israeli soldier. The tanks roll into Rafah. Qassam rockets fall like rain. A police station in Ramallah is flattened. Gaza is reduced to rubble. Trade is shut down. Roadblocks. Everything depends on your starting point. It’s late heading back into the city and I have to return the car. There’re still things I could do though my friends are all in bed, books on the floor near the lamp, cats on the chairs in the living rooms. There’s always things. Projects to start or to finish. Dishes in the sink. I was just trying to connect.

Stephen Elliott is the author of six books, including Happy Baby, a best book of 2004 according to, the Village Voice, and others. His most recent book is an almost all true sexual memoir called My Girlfriend Comes To The City And Beats Me Up. He’s been featured in Esquire, The New York Times, GQ and Best American Non-Required Reading.

the vampire at the bakery story by Karen Hugg estimated reading time: 1:38


Al parked his Volkswagen bus next to the kid’s stupid old Le Baron. When he got out, Al noticed some black lace gloves on the ground and shoved them in his pocket, knowing to whom they belonged. With his sinister eyeliner and weird hair-swoop and combat boots, the ghoul always showed up late and never said a word and Al would’ve fired him had there been any satisfaction in it. But Dracula wouldn’t care, his indifference was constant. The fluorescents were all on and the punk was hunched over the counter. Al wanted to shout, “They’ll be here in ten minutes,” just to startle him, but then Al caught sight of the cake. There were Mediterranean awnings and shutters, gondolas and St. Mark’s Dome. It was a flawless confectionary Venice, crafted as perfectly as the nearby Paris and London cakes. The kid was arranging a chocolate-shaving chimney, his light blue eyes locked in a trance. When the shaving fell out of place, he gently picked it up with his black nails and repositioned it, his nostrils, with their tiny safety pins, quivering. After the old ladies picked up the order, Al and the kid smoked cigarettes in the alley. The kid sat on a crate, his black shirt unbuttoned at the top. A woman’s ring, on a light bulb chain, dangled around his neck. Al took the gloves from his pocket and shoved them at him. “Here,” he said. The kid’s blood-red mouth opened, his eyes sparkled. He fingered the

sad poetry by Julia Story estimated reading time: 1:34


Most things that were supposed to be sad weren’t sad at all. When a terrible disaster happened, teachers all over the school cried. One of the teachers, standing in front of the class, cried down at his cowboy boots. Another teacher cried into a pizza box–her blond head bobbed as if she were retching. People watched a TV that had been wheeled into the cafeteria for updates. The hallways were quiet for once, except for occasional sniffing or nose-blowing. Someone’s mom came and quietly took her son out of class. Their faces were streaked and rubbery. What the crying people seemed to want to do was to hide their heads. Two kids’ heads were in their desks, their fingers gripping the desk lids. You tried to figure out how to be sad about it. You spent a good part of the day in the bathroom rubbing your eyes until they were red, or stiffly hugging the limp, weepy girls in your class. Other sad things had happened—Old Yeller dying on a movie screen in the church basement, a grandpa dying in his chair, other people sick or dying. Some sad things were told to you by your dad, either on the banks of a river with a bucket of chicken, or on your best friend’s bed while your mom flew off in a plane towards where the sad thing had happened. Your dad would put his arm around you and you’d still be damp from your friend’s sprinkler, and he would shake and sob and make it look so easy while you stared at the carpet, pinching the inside of your wrist, and there wasn’t anything to cry about in the mean world that reached for you every day, that is reaching for you still.

Julia Story’s work has appeared in Verse, Good Foot, Quick Fiction, Octopus, Ploughshares, and other publications. She is completing a book-length poem called “Post Moxie” and she lives in Somerville, MA.

more steve mcqueen than anything story by Rich Ferguson estimated reading time: 13:26


First: don’t even think about asking to borrow either of your old man’s cars. Nope. Not the Blackwater-issued Ford Crown Victoria police cruiser, nor his off-duty Chevy Caprice. He doesn’t even trust you to polish the hubcaps on either one. Especially after that time you put a dent in his Caprice while whipping a Frisbee drunk on the front lawn at two in the morning. Next: don’t ask to borrow your mom’s car. All she’s got is her Mary Kay Cosmetics company car. The white-trimmed pink Caddy that looks like an enormous Hostess Snowball on wheels. What about the time you took it to that Friday night football game versus Toms River South? All your stoner buddies laughed you right off the high school campus. You ended up at home watching lame triple shots of Duran Duran and Pat Benatar on Friday Night Videos. Don’t make the same mistake twice. Last: no matter how hard up you get, don’t ask to borrow Jimmy’s car: the Ford Ranchero with the rusted-out floorboard. The last time you were in it the engine caught on fire. So did your Converse high tops. Drive that and you’ll do some serious damage to your date. She’ll get the wrong kind of hot and your evening will be toast. So that means you’re stuck taking your own car to your senior prom: the Chevy Vega. The one you bought when you turned seventeen. Seventeen: your year of extremist stupidity.

lemonhead story by Ryan Bartelmay estimated reading time: 2:50


Gregory liked to eat lemons. One afternoon he ate seven and had to go to the store to get more. The store was crowded, but there were many lemons, and he bought ten. Waiting for the bus, he ate two. Then, his tongue fell out. It looked funny there on the sidewalk. He tried to pick it up but it slithered down the street. At that moment, a beautiful woman in a red dress walked up and smiled at him. She sat down on the bench, took a paperback book out of her purse, and crossed her legs. She had nice legs. On the bus Gregory ate another lemon and kept looking at the woman’s legs. A man in the back of the bus was eating an orange and the aroma of that orange filled the bus. The man sitting next to Gregory leaned over and whispered, “Makes you want to eat an orange, don’t it,” and nodded toward the woman in the red dress. At a stop where a lot of people stood, the woman put her book back in her purse and readied herself to get off the bus. Gregory took a lemon from his grocery bag and offered it to the woman. She looked at him, then the lemon, and smiled. Gregory smiled. Gregory wanted to tell the woman, “You make me want to eat an orange.” Instead, he continued smiling at her, and the woman, feeling a little strange about being offered a lemon, quickly accepted the lemon and put it in her purse.



Gregory watched her on the sidewalk as the bus pulled away. He waved, but she didn’t see him. Then Gregory had complications breathing and died. A few days passed, and the woman found the lemon in her purse, recalled Gregory as a man on the bus wearing glasses, and threw the lemon away under the kitchen sink. At that moment, her husband called and said he was working late and not to hold dinner. The woman was hungry and didn’t like eating alone. Her husband, she thought, was working too much. This was the third time this week he called and told her not to hold dinner. The woman opened the refrigerator and next to a grapefruit, in a Ziploc bag, was Gregory’s tongue. Her husband sometimes brought odd things home from the store, but she loved tongue. So she put some olive oil in a pan and sautéed it with garlic, and remembering the lemon, she dug it out of the trash and squeezed it over Gregory’s tongue. At the cemetery in the center of town, Gregory, newly buried, craved a lemon. He had been without lemons for four days. In the casket it was very dark, and there was an annoying hushing sound that reminded him of when, as a kid, he tried to watch television while his mother ran the vacuum cleaner. He tried to yell out to someone, his mother, anyone, to stop the horrible hushing sound. But he couldn’t. He found it odd that he couldn’t call out. Then he realized how dark it was. It was like crouching down in the back of a closet, behind hanging clothes, sitting on shoes—waiting for someone, anyone, to find him.

Ryan Bartelmay has published work in Boulevard, Phoebe, The Greensboro Review, Sycamore Review, and The Believer, and he won Boulevard’s Emerging Writer’s Award. He holds an MFA in Fiction from Columbia University. He lives in Chicago.

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The Pen is Mightier than the Sword, and Ink Will Be Spilt. WATCH WRITERS ON BOTH COASTS GO HEAD TO HEAD IN THIS MONTHLY COMPETITIVE READING SERIES. “I’ve never competed so gently before! I felt somewhat like I was the happiest member of a circus or the most colorful fish in a bowl. It was fun.” —Deb Olin Unferth, LDM NYC Ep. 1 Finalist

“I think we should do whatever it takes to invigorate the live transmission of literature. Writing was meant to be performed. It goes back to the discovery of fire. We’ve told stories around the fire for millennia. I think the Literary Death Match is an invitation to step it up, whether you’re in the audience or onstage. Paint your face. Come in costume. Read something you wrote earlier that day. Memorize your piece. Sing an unexpected song. Arrive tripping on mushrooms. Mingle with the crowd and say hello to strangers. Use props. Take off your shirt. Play an instrument. The audience always appreciates the effort.” —Kirk Read, LDM SF Ep. 2 Champion

Opium’s Literary Death Match San Francisco and New York City:

Opium Magazine Issue 5  

Celebrities are Bad Company. Hang with us. We're unknown and rugged as a canyon. Issue 5, 144 pages, 7 x 10. Includes the story "Dead Boys,"...

Opium Magazine Issue 5  

Celebrities are Bad Company. Hang with us. We're unknown and rugged as a canyon. Issue 5, 144 pages, 7 x 10. Includes the story "Dead Boys,"...