Fray is the quarterly of true stories and original art. This is Issue 1.
Fray is about True Stories We live in a world saturated with makebelieve, where even our politicians have a tenuous grasp on the truth. When we do supposedly get reality in the media, it’s constrained to the couches of talk shows, sidewalk soundbites of the “man on the street” interview, or, God forbid, reality television. Fray is an antidote to this fake reality. The stories in this book are all true, all told by the people who know best because they lived them. Of course, there’s always some artifice in storytelling – complicated truths omitted or sanded down for the sake of a good story. But the intent is to get it right, to be true as well as tell an entertaining story. Don’t get us wrong, we think fiction is a great and noble pastime. But all fiction writers know that their lives are woven into every imaginary situation. We think fiction is just personal storytelling with plausible deniability. We think a truthful intent is a kind of bravery. The book in your hands right now is the product of more than fifty independent artists and writers. Some of us do this for a living, some of us have day jobs – doctors, bankers, insurance agents. All of us are brought together by a love of stories and a desire to make something beautiful. The fun thing about true stories is that we all have them. So you’re invited to join us. Drop by fray.com and you could be in our next issue.
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Letter from the Editor
Faking It I didn’t even know why I was lying. I was about ten, in the back seat of a car filled with the local Jewish boys, going to Hebrew school, when the lies started pouring out of my mouth. Sure, everybody feels alienated as a kid, but some of us had good reason. I was an outcast at school, only partly because of the Jewish thing. After school, I was still out of place. I was too smart for the dummies, too dumb for the smarties – an outcast’s outcast. The boys in the car were talking about sports. I didn’t know anything about sports. Still don’t. But I just couldn’t help myself. When discussion turned to the last game, I joined in. “It was radical,” I said, in the parlance of the time. “Oh, you like that team?” poked William Mitchilsky. Will was one of the cool kids. Smart and athletic, the fucker. “Yeah, they’re great,” I said, guessing. He saw me for what I was: a faker. He reeled me in. “You also like the Westfield Argonauts?” “Oh, yeah.” “And the Springfield Crocodiles?” “Totally.” I don’t remember the actual team names, but I remember what came next. “Dude, those are fake teams I just made up. You’re a poser!” I turned red and stared at my seatbelt. “Wooooo,” came the chorus of boys in the car. “Buuusted!”
Illustration by Witold Riedel
It’s been almost 25 years since that happened, and I still think about it. I go back to that moment every time I’m tempted to be something I’m not – to put on a mask to fit in. I learned that people will always see me for who I am, so I might as well be myself. Better to live as an honest outcast than a popular faker, especially if I’m so bad at faking. That’s why we’ve devoted this first issue of Fray to busted stories. It’s moments like these that teach us who we are, and steer us toward who we’ll become. Maybe the kid who gets busted for shoplifting won’t grow up to be a bank robber ... or maybe he will – ask Joe Loya (page 10). Maybe the guy who gets drunk at a wine tasting won’t become an alcoholic – ask Eric Spitznagel (page 86). Maybe the kid who gets busted for changing his report card will grow up to become extra sincere – ask Steve Silberman (page 26). There are a lot of pieces that go into one of these busted moments. There are good intentions, social expectations, and a sense of propriety that gets challenged. Sometimes we bust ourselves (Evany Thomas, page 30), sometimes getting busted is just something funny that happened once (Jack Boulware, page 24), and sometimes it’s hard to tell who should be busted (Michael David Murphy, page 60). I love busted stories because, no matter the specifics, they prove that everyone has those oh shit moments, like I did. What defines us is what we do after we’re busted. Thanks for joining the fray, – Derek Powazek, Frayer-in-chief 3
Fray Issue 1: Busted! 3 Faking It By Derek Powazek
10 Ugly in Norwalk By Joe Loya
14 Machine Guns Over Prague By Shannon Okey
16 Scrap By John Allspaw
18 How I Blew It in the â€™80s By Bucky Sinister
22 Elementary School Confessions
36 The Writing on the Wall By Meg Pickard
38 Rope Burns By Vincent M. Farquharson
42 The Preacher and the Heretic By Lance Arthur
46 Going Under By Leah Peterson
50 Hosing Down the Prostitutes By Marc Cram
54 The Lifting Life
By Heather Gold
By Chris Brandt
24 The Swordfish
60 Busted in Jena
By Jack Boulware
26 The Tell-Tale Blotch By Steve Silberman
30 Buzz-Kill By Evany Thomas
32 Ropeswing Season By Kirk Read
By Michael David Murphy
70 Bunk Bed Rock By Kate Kotler
74 Busted Songs By Kevin Smokler
82 Busting the Busters By Derek Powazek
86 Hobo Balls By Eric Spitznagel
Bucky Sinister is a poet and comedian from San Francisco. He is the author of All Blacked Out & Nowhere to Go. His debut CD, What Happens In Narnia Stays In Narnia is available through Talent Moat records. myspace.com/buckysinister Photo by Raina Bird
Kirk Read is the author of How I Learned to Snap and the forthcoming collection This is the Thing. His work has appeared in Out, Genre, QSF, among others. He curates events and tours as a storyteller. kirkread.com Photo and paint by Toby Jantzen
Eric Spitznagel has written for Playboy, Esquire, Maxim, Spy, Blender, and Salon. Heâ€™s a contributing editor for The Believer, the web editor for Monkeybicycle, and the author of Fast Forward: Confessions of a Porn Screenwriter. vonnegutsasshole.blogspot.com
Evany Thomas is the author of The Secret Language of Sleep, a book that explores the hidden meanings of sleeping poses. She has also written about sausages, soothsayers, bugle corps, and more for all kinds of websites and magazines. She is currently working at a bank. evany.com
Michael David Murphy is a writer and photographer in Atlanta, Georgia. His words and pictures have been published in People, the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco magazine, USA Today, BBC2, Upstreet UK, and CBC. michaeldavidmurphy.com
Ray Frenden is a self-taught illustrator. He now makes a living drawing monsters and robots. He canâ€™t believe it either. Pinch Frenden if you come across him in the wild. frenden.com
Meet some of the people who made this issue of Fray. Continued on page 92.
Heather Gold is a geek comedian who likes people and truth. She does this in her interactive baking comedy, I Look Like An Egg, but I Identify As A Cookie, and her uniquely named live talk show, The Heather Gold Show. heathergold.com Photo by Scott Beale / Laughing Squid
Jack Boulware is a journalist, author, and cofounder of San Franciscoâ€™s Litquake literary festival. His writing has appeared in Salon, Wired, Maxim, and the San Francisco Chronicle. His newest book will be the punk oral history, Journey to the End of the East Bay. jackboulware.com
Joe Loya is an essayist, playwright, and contributing editor at Pacific News Service. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Newsday, and The Washington Post. His memoir, The Man Who Outgrew His Prison Cell, was published by HarperCollins. joeloya.com
Staff Derek Powazek Frayer-in-chief Magdalen Powers Managing Editor Chris Bishop Illustration Editor
Steve Silberman is a contributing editor of Wired magazine. His articles have appeared in the New Yorker, Time, the Shambhala Sun, and many other publications. levity.com/digaland
Vincent M. Farquharson is a Jamaican-born painter, artist, and photographer living in Washington DC. He is currently obsessed with color theory, sumo wrestlers, rubber duckies, and ladies on bicycles. shallow.com
Printed by Blurb, where everyone can make a book. Visit blurb.com for info. firstname.lastname@example.org www.fray.com
I have been with my wife for one decade. I chronicle this life with similar markers as the average person: our first date; our wedding; our first house; our baby girl. But before this incarnation, there were different events that marked my life: the loss of my virginity at age 12; my first expulsion from school; stabbing my father in the neck at age 16; two dozen bank robberies in Southern California; and my last arrest.
Ugly in Norwalk Story by Joe Loya The teller stood there paralyzed, stunned by what I just said. So I spoke again. Give me the big bills first, or I’ll blow your fucking head off. The words jarred her from her frightened stupor. She opened the money drawer and began to pass hundreds and fifties across the counter. When she was done, I ordered her to turn around, walk away, and not look back. The getaway began as usual. I took ten steps outside the front doors, then I broke into a run to my car parked in a large mini-mall parking lot across the street. Then I drove a half-mile to a side street where I could undress. I tore off a baseball cap, baby blue windbreaker, a loud red plaid shirt, and a heavy XXL brown sweatshirt. I tossed everything in a shopping bag and tossed the bag out the passenger door and down a drainage ditch carved into the curb. I peeked into the money bag as I pulled away from the curb, and saw many small stacks of bills wrapped with rubber bands. When I got on the next freeway on-ramp, I quickly moved over to the fast lane. All of a sudden, I had to jerk the car back to avoid sideswiping one of three sheriffs’ cars that zipped by me, their red, yellow, and blue roof lights 10
Illustration by Ray Frenden swirling. I looked ahead. A helicopter was hovering above the traffic about a half-mile up. It appeared to be headed my way. The traffic was flowing pretty well, but I suspected that a roadblock was being set up, so I got off the freeway at the next off-ramp. I turned right into a mass of herky-jerky traffic, where cars from the off-ramp and spillover from two side streets were all angling to make the light. Making matters worse were the cop cars nudging between civilian cars. They’d stop beside a vehicle, look at the driver, then pull up and repeat the procedure at the next car. One patrol car scooted up next to me. I turned and looked at the young blond cop in aviator sunglasses, a Leonardo DiCaprio look-alike with a butch haircut. He stared at me for a moment, and then proceeded to the car in front of mine. I figured I was safe from detection. The cops were looking for a fatter man, one in a red windbreaker and a bright red Madras cotton shirt (the costume I had worn in the bank). I was wearing a white tank top and Ray-Ban sunglasses. The light turned green, and the traffic moved awkwardly down the boulevard. I continued driving straight ahead, mentally checking off the things I needed to keep clear about. My registration
Ugly in Norwalk continued from previous tags were current. There were no outstanding warrants for failure to appear in court for traffic citations. My blinkers were in working order; whenever I made a lane change, I used them. At one point the helicopter was right overhead, able to see through my open sunroof that I was wearing shorts and that no gun or moneybag was visible. Nobody lay scrunched up on the floor below the dashboard. But as I passed cop cars coming to the chase from side streets, they slowly began to drift in behind the clear caravan of sheriffs’ cars forming behind me. My funeral procession. I’d been singled out. I tried to play it cool. DiCaprio pulled up on my left side again. I looked at him, then back at the road. He dropped back into formation. Then another cop drove up on my right side. Same thing: I looked at him, and he dropped back. In the end, at least twenty cop cars were behind me. I knew I was screwed when I saw their lights go on, and the helicopter began to hover low in front of me. Pull your car over, and put your hands on the steering wheel. I was surrounded. So I pulled over. I knew that they didn’t stop me because I fit the description of the thief. There was just no way they could have caught me by sound police work. I was too gifted. No, they were making one of their notorious racist rushes to judgment. I thought, These fuckin’ fascists can’t treat a brown man like this. I swear to God, I was actually offended. Fuck it, I thought. I’m going to make a big deal of this stop so I can use it against them in court. My rearview mirror showed deputies out of their vehicles, kneeling behind their patrol car doors, their pistols and shotguns aimed at me. Like Hollywood would do it. A bullhorn blasted directions. With your left hand, reach for the keys, pull them
out, throw them out of the car, and keep your arm outside where we can see it! WHY’D YOU STOP ME?!?! Shut the fuck up and reach out the window with your right arm, and open your door from the outside! Slowly! WHY’D YOU STOP ME?!?! I said shut the fuck up, so shut the fuck up! Now step out, and face away from us! Put your arms in the air! WHY’D YOU STOP ME?!?! If you don’t shut the fuck up ... put your hands behind your head, and clasp your fingers together. I said clasp your fingers beh— WHY’D YOU STOP ME?!?! Stupid motherfucker, better shut the fuck up before you get shot! Now start walking backwards to us. Slowly! Keep walking. WHY’D YOU STOP ME?!?! Keep walking. Keep walking. WHY’D YOU STOP ME?!?! Keep walking. Okay. Stop! Now take two steps to your left. Freeze! WHY’D YOU STOP ME?!?! You’ll find out. Now get down on your knees, yeah, down on your knees. Now lay down, and put your arms out away from your body. As soon as I was down on the hot afternoon asphalt, they rushed me. One sheriff, hyped up from the adrenaline of the chase, fell hard with his knee on my back. I felt gun barrels on my arms and legs, and a shotgun barrel on my neck. One cop yanked the back of my hair and raised my head back so that I thought my neck was going to break. Then he leaned down close to my ear. You wanna know why we stopped you, you piece of shit? We stopped you for being so goddamn ugly in Norwalk. From the back seat of a patrol car, I watched
a group of deputies creeping up on my car with deputy. I looked at the women trying to ID me, their guns drawn. No one was inside, so they and was relieved to see them looking at me but searched the vehicle. One of the deputies stood shaking their heads, as if saying to the deputy in up and held my moneybag up in the air like a the vehicle that I wasn’t the man who’d robbed prize fish. I got it! The deputy in the front seat them. looked at me in his rearview, through the bullet I hated the teller for her idiocy. There I was, proof glass between the front and back seats. the most traumatic event of her life, and she was You fucked up. You decided to rob a bank in the certain I wasn’t the guy. wrong city. On the other hand, I was pissed that I was I couldn’t have known it at the time, but finally busted by technology. I could best the there’d been a transmitter in with the money. brightest beat cop with my criminal antics, but Smaller than a checker piece, inside a small wad I knew I wasn’t smarter than circuit boards full of fives. The technology had been imported from of diodes and resistors and transformers, or any Nevada, the deputy told me, and could be traced of the burgeoning digital security protecting evby every law enforcement car and copter in the erything from cars and homes to computers and vicinity. That’s what their patrol cars were doing money vaults. I felt small and stupid. when they were driving up on both sides of me: Some men in prison will tell you they were They were verifying the coordinates with the red rescued, not arrested. I always thought they were indicator lights on their dashboards. weak – cowards in the face of a long prison sen We’re the city in California that got to test the tence – that is, until I became one of those men, transmitter first. And guess what? You’re the sixth halfway through a seven-year prison bit. Fatigue bad guy we’ve caught in two weeks. set in and I gave up trying to be a bad-ass bank The deputies held me at the scene, in the back robber. seat of the patrol car, because they wanted to do a But in the back of that patrol car, I could only sidewalk lineup. About twenfeel an intense rage that I had ty minutes after I was caught, There I was, the most been duped by my enormous I was told to get out of the car ego into thinking I was too and stand on a spot on the smart to get caught. traumatic event of her sidewalk and not to move. On our way to the station, Another patrol car drove life, and she was certain a call came over the radio: a 211 up to the curb. Two women in progress. Another bank robI wasn’t the guy. were in the front seat. bery. The chase was on for the Don’t look at the passengers next schmuck. White male. Late in the vehicle. Turn to your left and stand still. fifties to mid-sixties. White hair. Approximately I turned to my left and glanced at the car. One five foot eleven. Beige pants. Blue windbreaker. A of the women was the teller I robbed. description of almost every retired white man on If I have to tell you again not to look at them, then golf courses from Pasadena to Miami. you’re gonna be in big trouble when I get your smart The cop looked at me again through his ass to the precinct. Now turn to your left again. rearview mirror. A call from his walkie-talkie distracted the Watch. I bet we get grandpa, too. f
I felt like the carp every Czech family keeps in its bathtub come Christmastime – thoroughly out of place.
Machine Guns over Prague Story by Shannon Okey Everything is connected to the 22 somehow – you could satisfy all your human needs with that tram alone. I stopped wondering why Czech girls wear such short skirts soon after first snowfall – a combination of keeping pants from being splashed by the tram, and the fact that couples use the backs of trams like American teenagers use cars. After ten successful minutes of blending in, my cover is blown. Alison, another American student from my dorm, shouts my very non-Czech name from a mile away, and I cringe. I agree to go out for a few beers with my compatriots. We’ve just made it through two weeks of survival-Czech class together – reason enough to celebrate. The Twelfth Century Club is located in a cellar several stories under Old Town Square, not far from the Astronomical Clock. Get all notions of a Third Man-style underground romp out of your head; this is a tiny, smoky, miserably packed bar teeming with the tourists I’d been trying so hard to avoid. Underaged Dutch girls are whipping off their shirts and dancing on tabletops. The usual pair of short Irish guys branching out from the omnipresent “Irish pub” now endemic to every Continental city are bouncing off the walls. We’re sharing a table with the male equivalent of a dumb blonde. He’s managed to get himself into an Ivy League school, and scarcely fifteen minutes go by without him reminding us of it. I grow discouraged, so I drink more. We realize the night tram will soon cease fer-
Illustration by James Unwin rying drunkards up the impossibly steep hills of the Castle District, so we make a valiant dash for the stop. No dice. We’ve missed it. Being tired, drunk, and in need of bed leads to significant mental impairment. Mr. Ivy League says he knows a shortcut, and he leads us up the Castle steps. At the top, my classmate and I pause to enjoy the nighttime skyline, when suddenly we hear “Uh, guys?” in a frantic little-boy voice. He’s standing near the entrance to the Castle garden, which of course is locked, since it’s the middle of the night. We trundle over, and suddenly find ourselves at gunpoint. A young guard, barely 18, is pointing his automatic machine gun directly at my head, and he will not put it down. I try English first, then German. At this point, we’ve had a scant two weeks of Czech lessons among the three of us, and can only say “give me a tram ticket” or “one beer, please” on a good day. I’ve heard that God protects drunks and little children: we certainly fell under the first category. Alison and I manage to spit out enough intelligible Czech to get the kid to radio for his supervisor, who marches in, sees we’re not dangerous saboteurs, and lets us go. The entire time, I am contemplating my imminent death, and how embarrassing it would be to get shot for taking a shortcut. My Czech got better eventually, but I never did learn how to say “Please don’t point that thing at me.” f 15
There’s a scrap of newspaper that’s been in my wallet for 12 years. I keep it there to help me remember this story.
Scrap By John Allspaw
In the spring of 1995, a group of friends and I left the bars of downtown Amherst, Massachusetts after last call, and planned on finishing the night at an off-campus house party. I was a senior in mechanical engineering at UMass. My girlfriend had just dumped me, and I was ready to continue drowning those sorrows, even though the taverns had shut for the night. The party had reached its limit, and my friends had hid the keys to my car, hoping I would just crash there for the night. Seemed like a good idea, so I laid down on the couch. There was no chance of sleeping; the theory that Bacardi Limon had energetic effects was being proven. My 1984 Volkswagen GTI and I headed out of the parking lot for the drive home. There’s one traffic light on this route, and it’s 3:30 in the morning. I wasn’t halfway across the intersection when the familiar blue lights hit me from the rear-view mirror. Now, at this point you’re right to think that I was an idiot to have driven home, that I should have either slept on that couch or walked the mile home. But I would argue that I wasn’t a complete idiot, just a normal one, because before I had pulled over, I knew that I was busted. I took the field sobriety tests as a challenge, but might as well have asked for the cuffs right away. The officer asked me to say the alphabet. I reached R, before starting to repeat some of what is between J and P, at which point I think I remember laughing out loud. At this point, I’m pretty sure that he just wanted to run through some of the other tests for entertainment as well. I stepped out of the car at his direction, and attempted to walk the line painted on the shoulder of the street. Not once did my toe touch my heel, and apparently that was part of the test. I remember thinking that the handcuffs were a bit tighter than they needed to be, especially since I went quite easily and quietly into the car.
When we got to the Amherst Police Department, I was given the opportunity to reveal exactly how much alcohol I had ingested: the breathalyzer test. I’m glad that I wasn’t too far gone to remember that I could refuse the test, so I did. The officer, who was definitely over 6'3", and definitely over 250 pounds, asked me to repeat my refusal for confirmation, so I did, as clearly as I could at the time. With a look that spelled total disbelief, he asked me again to confirm that I, here in this police station, right now, was refusing to blow into the breathalyzer machine. I said “Yep.” He then went to fetch two other officers in the station to be witnesses, both of whom I’m pretty sure were 9 feet tall and 700 pounds each. “Yep.” What that means (in Massachusetts, anyway) is that I was to have my license suspended automatically for 180 days, no matter what the outcome of the criminal case. I thought (and still think) that it’s a bit like being caught speeding with a radar gun: you can’t really fight it in court, because it’s science. Whereas with the field sobriety test reports, I could always say that I was exhausted from exams, or some other ridiculous story, but without the breathalyzer, they didn’t have chemical evidence. I was proud of my brilliance at the time, but I’m not sure it really mattered. In the end, I was able to get bailed out from the only person I knew who was still up and had the cash to do it: Dina. She was a friend who just so happened to be the barmaid that night who made such great Long Island iced teas. The next week, I got a continuance on my case because I didn’t have a prior record. When I found a mention of the incident in the police blotter in the local newspaper, I clipped it out. I spent a year on probation, and now my record shows that I was arrested but not convicted in 1995. But that scrap of newspaper lives in my wallet to remind me of the dumbest and most embarrassing event of my life. f
If you lived in LA in the ’80s, and didn’t do ridiculous piles of coke, you’re an asshole. That shit was amazing. Kids today don’t know what the fuck they’re doing. Shit now has been stepped on more times than a welcome mat. Back then the first line of coke made my face go numb, getting a little on my gums made it hard to talk, and coming down felt like a heart attack. Maybe rock stars or pro athletes get shit this good still, but the ’80s were the last time that regular fucks like you and me got pearly clean coke.
How I Blew It in the ’80s Story by Bucky Sinister I was 19, going to junior college in Santa Monica, which ranked just below a Grateful Dead parking lot insofar as scoring drugs was concerned. I scored full ounces of mushrooms, entire sheets of acid, and weed was constantly being smoked in front of the student center. I showed up on Fridays whether or not I had a class, just so I could get the lowdown on the parties. One look at me, and you knew I was strung out, high, or coming down. I didn’t eat, sleep, or blink for days on end. Everyone knew I was up for smoking, drinking, or snorting anything you had on you. The last person to figure that out was my roommate, who freaked out when he realized it. My roommate was so scared by my drug use, he called my parents and told them. I had the only sober roommate in the LA County area. My roommate was a conservative fundamentalist Christian. Just two years before, I had been one too. I spent three of my teenage years in a evangelical cult in Boston. I preached at subway stops. I asked strangers to church, fighting for evangeli-
Illustration by Paul O’Sullivan cal territory with the Moonies and the Nation of Islam. I converted people to our group, and slowly took all of their material possessions from them. After seeing the extremes that were way past the line of what I could handle morally and ethically, I tried to take a step backward into fundamentalism. Fundamentalism wasn’t that great either. I saw corruption first-hand at the core of every church I walked into. I witnessed rampant hypocrisy and prejudice throughout the memberships. One Sunday night, while preaching in some bullshit town in Arkansas as part of a preacher-training program, I lost my faith on the mike. The very next Friday I was in the trailer park getting drunk. Coke was a white chunky powdered tractor beam pulling me to Southern California. I was gakked on it two years before I did my first line. I’m telling you, the coke was that good. But I couldn’t leave religion completely behind. There were two cultures I understood: hardcore Christianity and the drug world. Anything else was a foreign experience. It made perfect 19
How I Blew It in the ’80s continued from previous
sense to me to move in with two Christians. I thought I could live with them and hang out in the drug life. I was wrong. My parents wanted me to meet them at a Christian rehab center in Reno. I agreed. I went of my own will for the intake session. By our religion, I knew that if I denied their request, they would likely never speak to me again. I still wanted them in my life. I thought I could go and convince them I was fine. Somehow I thought I could work it out. I stayed up all night doing coke the night before I left, and even did a line right before I got out of the car at the airport. When you’re doing lots of drugs and you run into a crisis, the best solution seems to be to throw more drugs at it. It’s not just with blow or heroin, watch how it works with coffee, cigarettes, pot, and sugar. It seemed like the right thing to do. It shouldn’t surprise you that I don’t remember the details of the intake session. I don’t know if my parents were there for the first day or the second. I’m not sure if I was there for two, three, or four days. My parents were barely fifty, but they looked much older. My father had aged from the stress of his work, and my mother had just undergone cancer treatments. It was the first time that they looked old to me. They were angry and yelling and crying all at the same time. What I remember more than anything was lying in the dark in the bottom bunk of a bunk bed, coming down, thinking my heart was going to explode. Being high, my heart beat the beat of orgasmic elation. Coming down, my heart beat the beat of panic and fear. If you haven’t done coke, I should tell you, the last thing I could do was sleep. It felt like I broke that thing in me that sleeps, that I was unable to die but eternally suffer alive. I wanted to pray, but it was like screaming into a bucket. No one would hear me. There wasn’t a psych eval in the ’80s I couldn’t beat. Ironically, what saved me then was the training I got in the cult years. We were taught how to beat the trick questions so we couldn’t be locked up by nonbelieving relatives. No one at intake could prove that I was a danger to myself, and I was free to go. f
Oh Shit by Dwayne Clare
It’s not that I’ve never had anything to hide, I just can’t handle hiding anything. I found this out in grade five. I was part of an city-wide enrichment class. This may sound like a wonderful haven for intellectually curious kids, but it wasn’t. I loved books like fags supposedly loved Commies. I loved learning. I had red hair. I was Jewish. I was shy. I was competitive. I don’t know which of these differences got me pegged as Target Number One by Joanne, the future alpha queen bee of adolescence. I was the kid to make fun of, and when I was tested and taken to the new school, I hoped it would make things different, since learning was going to be the point of the entire class. Unfortunately, Joanne came too, and recess just got worse. I didn’t have any friends, and Joanne seemed determined to keep it that way. She had only two strengths that I didn’t have: social intelligence and breasts. She could get a group of girls to shun and mock whomever she pleased, and she could get the boys to go along too. One day I couldn’t take my frustration anymore, and I took out a piece of paper in the school library and wrote “Joanne is a” and followed it with every bad word I’d ever heard. At the time that included shit, fuck, and stupid, which my cousins had convinced me was a terrible swear. I felt bad about expressing such horrible things – after all, it was horrible things that made me feel like crap every day – that I wrote everything in code, corresponding each letter to a backwards alphabet. Several days later, after music time which involved singing “Let’s Put the Rooster in the Stew,” Miss Ingold stood up to make an announcement. “Laura and Marianne have discovered something
Illustration by Linzie Hunter
terrible written about someone in our class. If anyone knows who did this, please come forward.” My stomach was in my knees. How did she know? Why did I do it? I felt like I just wasn’t allowed to be angry at other people like everyone else was. There was no escaping. Recess made everything clear, as it always did. They’d cracked the code. I’d forgotten to separate it from the note itself. Thrilled to have a mystery, Laura and Marianne marched around like excited little Nancy Drews. I saw them interviewing our classmates in the schoolyard, but they never came near me. As the day wore on, my head felt heavier and heavier. The feeling of embarrassment grew inside me and turned my ears and neck bright red as I pretended to straighten books in our classroom at the end of the day. Once everyone had cleared out, I went up to Miss Ingold and told her through tears that I was the writer of the note. The next day when Joanne was being sent to do an errand, I volunteered to go with her, and hurried down the hall to catch up. “Joanne, you know that problem we have?” I was apologizing for her as much as for me. “Yes?” “I’m sorry about the note. Friends?” I stuck my hand out. “Friends.” We shook on it. And that was it, for me at least: I’ve owned up to everything I’ve become aware of since then that needed owning up to. Even in public if necessary. I just can’t handle the feeling if I don’t. But Joanne? The pact lasted a few weeks, and then she was back to her mean old ways. I’ve heard she’s a teacher now. f
It’s difficult to deny that your bag contains something long and sharp when you’re carrying a swordfish head.
Swordfish Story by Jack Boulware
A few years ago, I traveled to Robinson Crusoe Island, a tiny land mass 300 miles off the coast of Chile, to write about an American treasure hunter. For eight years, he has been digging for buried treasure supposedly stashed there by a rogue Spanish conquistador. I had no problem finding the American – there are only 600 people on the island – and spent most of the week watching his crew dig holes in the hillside. As with the previous seven years, no treasure yet. My last day on the island, hanging around the docks, I start talking to two local fishermen. They disappear back inside their boat for a moment, then come out and hand me the freshly severed beak of a swordfish. It’s an amazing thing, three feet long and splattered in blood. The fish utilizes its beak to stun its prey, but it also tears up fishing nets, which is why this specimen had been de-nosed. The beak is sharp and hard. I bang it on the dock. Yep, that’s one hard beak. I start to hand it back, and the fishermen gesture, No no, it’s yours. Please keep it. You have to say yes, right? It’s impolite to refuse such a gift. And with America’s reputation overseas being what it is, I don’t want any more reason to apologize. The rest of the day, I carry the nose around with me, and end up in a pirate-themed bar with some friends who run a scuba tour company. In the background, a group of sailors are celebrat-
ing their recent voyage from the mainland, 24
Illustration by Chris Bishop
chugging Pisco sours and pounding their fists on the bar, shouting in unison, “Juan Fernandez! Juan Fernandez!” (the traditional Chilean name of the island). Over the noise, I ask my friends what I’m supposed to do with a threefoot fish beak? They excitedly say I can polish it up to a shine, attach a handle to the base, and make a very nice sword. When I get home, they tell me, I should start by hanging it upside down until it dries out. This will take about a year. At the end of the night, I take the future sword back up the hillside to my hosteria, and sleep with it next to my bed. The next morning, before my flight, I have the houseboy help me wrap up the snout in plastic. It’s too big for my suitcase, so I stick it in my backpack. I hop on the daily flight back to the mainland, along with a handful of locals and boxes of live lobsters. At the Santiago airport, I check my bag, and the airline guys behind the counter ask what’s sticking out of my backpack. I tell them, and they chuckle. “You’re never going to get that through customs,” one says. I smile and think to myself, This is a challenge I accept. Before boarding, I visit the gift shop and buy a pack of Cuban cigars. They’re illegal in America, but since the rest of the world doesn’t have a dysfunctional relationship with Cuba, it’s easy to find such contraband. I carry my backpack on the flight to
Atlanta. It’s starting to stink a bit, but otherwise no problem. After I land, trouble starts. At customs in Atlanta, I am immediately spotted by three Homeland Security dudes – massive, muscled guys dressed in black, their belts bulging with gear. They escort me aside to a separate area, invoking more than a few curious looks. One gets on his radio, and the others start asking me questions in quiet tones. I’m pretty sure most travelers don’t bring swordfish beaks into Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. I present them the beak, making sure not to spill the cigars in the front pocket of my shirt. (If you get caught smuggling them, your name goes on a list sent to customs around the world.) This is my big Midnight Express moment. My boarding pass is covering the cigars, but one quick search and I’m busted cold. The muscled guards inspect the beak, which now looks more menacing than before. I tell the story of the charming old-world fishermen who gave it to me as a gesture of friendship. Another issue emerges – it could be an endangered species. So one guard goes to make a phone call to the Department of Fish and Wildlife. After an uncomfortable amount of time, he returns and says it’s okay. The others frown, clearly disappointed they won’t be able to throw me down and cuff me. I stick the beak in my pack, and get back in line for the X-ray machine. Again, I’m stopped. Two hefty security women take me aside and ask more questions and talk on their radios. For the third time, I recount my tale of international friendship and the giving of gifts.
They bring out some scissors, delaying everyone in line, and cut the plastic to examine the beak. A big whiff of rotting fish escapes, repulsing the travelers waiting behind me. One of the security ladies wrinkles her nose and turns her head, then walks away like she’s going to throw up. The other waves off her reaction, saying to me, “Aw, thass all right, she just pregnant.” I explain that the other security staff already called it in, and it’s not an endangered species. One pokes the flesh with a gloved finger, then shrugs, the Homeland Security signal for, I have more important things to do than bust a guy with a fish beak. I make them wrap it back up, because at this point I can demand a little respect. They get some tape, and rewrap the proboscis, and I once more stuff it into my pack. I find my seat on the plane, and toss the pack in the overhead. Now that the beak has been unwrapped twice, it’s really starting to smell. A powerfully rank odor, like an alleyway in Chinatown, fills the cabin and hangs in the air the rest of the flight back to San Francisco. I arrive back home, unwrap it and set it out on my deck because the stench is just too much for the house. Fashioning it into a sword seems a little corny, but I don’t know exactly what to do with this thing. So I let it dry out naturally, thinking maybe someday I’ll figure out an alternative use. Not long ago, my neighbor’s dog discovered the beak and, realizing she’d stumbled upon the world’s biggest chew toy, systematically destroyed it within a day. f
My fall from grace came in fourth grade. I was always considered smart as a kid, even some kind of high-IQ prodigy. My parents were intellectuals. I knew that great things were expected of me. So when I got a bad grade on my report card, I was determined to keep my parents from ever seeing it.
The Tell-Tale Blotch Story by Steve Silberman
In the ’60s, my family was living in Fresh Meadows, a tree-lined residential enclave in Queens. Looking back, it was a fine place to grow up, particularly by New York City standards. The neighborhood was a planned development of buildings of various sizes – duplexes, three-story buildings like the one we lived in, and a couple of highrises – with plenty of green space and playgrounds between the buildings, linked by paths that were protected from traffic. I like to think that my capacity for solitary musing was nurtured by my exploration of these paths, along with my daily walks to elementary school. It was on one of these excursions that it first occurred to me that a very long sentence was continuously unspooling in my head. I may have even asked myself at that moment if that meant I would be a writer. It was also on one of these walks that I hatched my plan to deceive my parents. I was no stranger to the misdemeanors of childhood. I would rifle through my parents’ dusty, tobacco-lined coat pockets and purses for loose change, which I used to buy Hostess Fruit Pies, Ho-Hos, BBQ potato chips, Carvel ice cream cones, and blue Italian ices. It was at one of my pit stops for these much-anticipated delights – a
Illustration by Stephan Grambart
store called Sweets ‘N’ Treats, right across from P.S. 26 – that I made a major discovery about criminality. I was wandering the aisles, picking up items I needed for school, like Flair pens and loose-leaf notebooks, when I suddenly found myself outside the store without having paid. I don’t think I consciously intended to shoplift, but I had learned a dark little lesson: because I didn’t think I was doing anything wrong, I hadn’t radiated panic and guilt as I boldly strode out the door with an armful of school supplies – and I had gotten away with it. I don’t remember much about 4th grade, other than the name of my teacher – Mrs. Adams – and a blurred image of her severe face in hornrimmed glasses. (She is ancient and spinsterly in my memory, but may have been 30ish and very pretty, for all I know.) I was nearing the end of the period of psychosexual development that Freudian theorists call latency, with the first storms of puberty just around the corner. A year or so later, I started peeking into the backs of muscle magazines for the ads featuring a skinny dork who had sand kicked in his face at the beach by a bully as girls watched. Humiliated, the dork kicked a chair, cried out “I’ll gamble a dime!” and sent away for a life-changing pamphlet by Charles
The Tell-Tale Blotch continued from previous Atlas. The comic-strip images of the former dork, flexing a newly swollen bicep to the adoring thrills of girls who had formerly dissed him, were one of cultural artifacts around which my burgeoning sexuality coalesced. I’m not sure when I first devised my shadowy plan. I may have intuited that my 4th grade career wasn’t unfolding as swimmingly as my parents hoped, and decided to frantically check the mail every day to intercept the dreaded report card. Or maybe Mrs. Adams handed us the cards to take home to our parents, though if you ask me, that would have been tempting fate. In any case, I somehow got a hold of the document in question, examined it, and found that my worst fears had been confirmed. Right in the middle of the rows of grades, there was a C, or maybe even a D, casting a long shadow over my parents’ opinion of me. The first priority had to be putting my parents off the scent. “Wasn’t today the day I was supposed to get your report card?” my mother asked. My heart rate shot up as I explained that there had been a delay of some sort. Already I was treading on unsteady ground, but I probably put my shoplifting lesson to work: Say it with confidence, look innocent, and the world will not suspect otherwise. Days passed while I schemed to alter the offending blotch on my academic record. I made another trip to Sweets ‘N’ Treats to reconnoiter methods of hacking the data. It wouldn’t be easy – report cards were not filled out in pencil. Pen erasers seemed promising, if applied with sufficient delicacy. I marshaled my forces as my mother grilled me every afternoon about the inexplicable report-card delay. Didn’t she have anything better to do? So I learned my second lesson in criminality: until you’re a seasoned liar, every act of deception plants seeds of obsession in the mind. Soon I was thinking about nothing else, hot bees of guilt swarming in my brain. Finally, the moment of decision came. I could put off my mother’s relentless inquiries no longer. I pulled out the report card and prodded it tentatively with my coarse eraser. This would take some doing. The first layer of paper slowly wore away under my febrile abrasion. But no: the mark of shame had percolated downward to the deeper strata of paper. I would have to keep rubbing. Then, disaster. The frayed document ripped, and a crater opened up in its otherwise orderly alphabetic grid. I tried to make the best of things – I patched up some arrangement of torn paper, Scotch tape, and correction fluid, inscribing a B (not an A, I’m wasn’t that evil) in place of the original grade. 28
Soon I was thinking about nothing else, hot bees of guilt swarming in my brain.
For years I thought about my hopeless crime as the official end of my childhood, but it was just the beginning.
My birthday is December 23rd. Though my family is Jewish, we always celebrated Christmas, and my parents were Marxist atheists anyway. But like all people born that close to Christmas, I was consistently ripped off in the birthday department. I had to feign double enthusiasm while opening gifts that were supposed to be double, though they clearly weren’t; I silently suffered through birthdays that were forgotten by everyone as they rushed off to do last-minute Christmas shopping at E.J. Korvettes. To remedy this situation, my mother had promised to arrange a real birthday party for me. Other kids had birthday parties, complete with Borscht Belt magicians and pedophilic clowns; for me, a cake with candles and friends from school would be enough. About a week after getting the report card, I entered the kitchen of our apartment and presented the falsified document to my mother with sweaty fingers and pounding skull, muttering with exasperation about the delay. I tried to radiate the same force field of guiltless confidence that had enabled me to march out of Sweets ‘N’ Treats with a stack of notebooks. I may have even said a prayer to the God my parents told me didn’t exist. One look, however, and the jig was up. It was pathetic: a torn, taped up, Liquid Papered, ragged piece of deception with some kind of pen marks scribbled over where Mrs. Adams’ authoritative judgements should have been. “What’s this?” my mother said, though no one needed to tell her. To portray my feelings at that instant, the appropriate sound effects would be avalanches, bridges collapsing, and once-great civilizations crumbling into dust. There was no escape. My upcoming birthday party was cancelled immediately. I even had to disinvite my friends in red-faced humiliation. For years I thought about my hopeless crime as the official end of my childhood, and a decade would go by until I had my next birthday party. But it was just the beginning of my scheming: a couple of years later, I would be passing a pipe in the schoolyard, telling flagrant lies to impress my friends, and jacking off over those muscle magazines. But in some ways, the ordeal marked the opening of a new place in my mind, where I make my own decisions and suffer my own fate. Eventually I decided – in that same solitary place – to try to live as honestly and transparently as I could. Though the Report Card Incident has always loomed large in my consciousness, when I asked my mother about it recently, she could barely remember it. “Why did you need to change your report card, you genius?” she asked. f
You learn some amazing things about people when you move their stuff.
Buzz-Kill Story by Evany Thomas
I was unpacking dishes in the kitchen when one of the movers, the big footballish one, walked in carrying a box labeled Misc. “What do you have in here?” he asked, “Like, a toy dog or something?” I turned to see what he was talking about, but all he had was this box, tightly wrapped in an insane cocoon of twisted late-night-packing tape. I gave him the squinty Huh? face, but he just held the box out to me by way of elaboration. We stood there for a second, me puzzling and him unwilling to say any more. And then I heard it, the soft mechanical grinding coming from somewhere deep inside the box. It was so faint that it would have been inaudible had I not been craning for it, and by the way the mover held his hands on the box – like he was cupping a bomb, or feeling a pregnant bump for signs of a kick – you could tell that what had drawn his attention wasn’t the sound but the Funky-Bunch feel of the box. Totally boggled, I looked over at my boyfriend, Marco, whose house I was moving in to, and he raised his eyebrows in wide-eyed alarm. I flapped my hands at him, like What? And then I figured it out. A friend of mine who used to work for a moving company once told me that you learn some amazing things about people when you move their stuff. Particularly when you lift up their beds. People have all kinds of forgotten surprises hidden in those dark, unswept corners – used condoms, handcuffs, rotten food, sex toys. My face went from pleasantly confused to zombie-slack, and my whole body just started radiating heat. The mover looked at Marco, then he looked back at me, and then he abruptly turned and carried the buzzing box into the living room.
Illustration by Annie Galvin
We heard the box hit the floor, and then things went quiet. After a few seconds, he yelled, “Everything’s okay now!” – apparently dropping the box had jostled it into silence. The mover fastwalked his way out the front door, averting his gaze as he passed us. “Oh my God,” I whispered to Marco. “Was that a ...?” Marco asked, scandalized. The second mover, the short one with the hangover smell, came in carrying the next load. By the smile on the face it was clear that Mover One had stopped him on the stairs to share the good news about yet another confirmed Code V, or whatever seasoned movers call it. I ducked into a box full of packing paper and started in with some important rustling. After a busy day of inventing reasons to remove myself from whichever room the movers went into – the ring of a phone heard by no one but me, a sudden need for lip balm – I handed the movers a gigantic tip delivered with a clipped “Thanks! Bye!” They grinned and slowly made their way to their truck, which they then took an eon to start, and a thousand-million years to drive away. It wasn’t until late that night, after we’d shelved all my books and sorted the pots and pans and stacked my sweaters and plugged in my toothbrush charger, that I realized what had happened. As I stood there at the sink, the toothbrush’s busy buzz amplified in the open cave of my mouth, I remembered that months ago I’d removed the batteries from my vibrator – a pink novelty act with a fine layer of dust – the night the batteries in my remote control died right in the middle of some important television. Those good vibrations were nothing but my innocent, dentist-recommended Braun Professional Care two-speed electric toothbrush. f 31
When I was 17, I had a 41-year-old boyfriend who lived three hours away. Mitchell and I had been together for months, but few knew about us. I mean, people knew, but in that Southern way where things aren’t acknowledged.
Ropeswing Season Story by Kirk Read I grew up on the Maury River and spent summers swinging off the banks on various ropeswings. September was when the water would turn cold, and ropeswing season came to a close. In addition to the bummer of having to go back to school, river time became a clothed activity toward the end of September. Plus, there was this green slime that gathered on the surface of the river near the banks. If you were hell-bent on getting on that swing, you had to earn your splash. In Rockbridge County, Virginia, and probably beyond, there was a tradition that when you took your last jump, you brought the swing back and hooked it onto the tree for the next person. Driving up to a ropeswing and finding that rope in place was early proof to me that people are basically good, that it’s possible for a civil society to be based on neighborly concern. The week before, during a college admissions tour at Yale, I burst into tears, and told my mother about Mitchell. She surprised the crap out of me by agreeing that I should go to the University of Virginia so I could be close to him. Mitchell and I had exchanged teddy bears to tide us over between weekend visits. We wrote each other ten page letters on a daily basis. We were in love. Understandably, Mitchell was terrified of
Illustration by Alan Defibaugh running into my parents in my little hometown. What’s the big deal? We’re in love! But to many people looking at our relationship from the outside, I suppose it was a big deal. Lexington is not ancient Greece, I guess. I didn’t understand why anyone would be bothered. But at the end of the day, I wasn’t the one staring down the barrel of a statutory rape charge. Mitchell was only visiting me because I told him that my parents were out of town. This was plausible, since my father traveled so much for his job. He and my mother often went out of town to go to Southern Conference track meets and retirement banquets for my father’s Army buddies. Mitchell said he’d only come up for the day, which was just as well because the calendar in the kitchen said my parents would be home at seven. We went to the river and parked. Alas, the rope was hanging in the middle of the river. Some country boy did not get the memo about river etiquette. I swam out to get it and brought it back. Mitchell didn’t want to go in, but I talked him into it. “Don’t stare too long at the river, or you’ll back out,” I told him. I’m an advocate of jumping into water straightaway. Easing your way in leaves too much wiggle room for
Ropeswing Season continued from previous abandoning your mission. Mitchell pulled himself up on the rope and jumped. He swung about half the way out, then plopped down. He let out a hybrid version of a grunt and squeal, then walked back up the bank. He was quivering from the cold water, and by the time he got back up to land, he was muddy up to his calves. The rest of him was covered in a thin layer of green algae. “This is really fucking fun,” he said, handing me the rope. He didn’t seem to share my disappointment that ropeswing season was ending. “Let’s go home and take a shower,” I said. Mitchell resisted with all his might, but I persuaded him to come back to the house and shower. It was 5:30. We still had an hour and a half until my parents got home. We could take a quick shower and he’d be on his way home. Everything was fine, I told him. Don’t worry. We got in the upstairs shower and soaped each other up. Mitchell kept looking at the showerhead like it was a clock. I kept trying to calm him down. I mean, what did I have to lose? I was 17 years old, taking a shower with my boyfriend in rural Virginia. As far as I was concerned, life was good. Just as I’d worked a big lather of shampoo into Mitchell’s hair, we heard the dogs barking wildly. Mitchell switched off the water without even rinsing his hair. Sure enough, we heard the gravel in the driveway crunching under my mother’s station wagon. I looked out the window – it was just Mom. This came as no relief to Mitchell, who grabbed his clothes and scurried down the steps and out the back door. We have a big backyard, so by the time Mom came inside, he’d barely reached the black walnut tree. Mom stood with me in the dining room, peering out the French doors. We watched Mitchell hauling ass through the yard with a full head of shampoo suds. “Look at his little white tush!” she screamed, clapping and cackling. “Poor thing!” For years, she teased him about the incident, careful to reassure him that he had a cute butt. Of all the reasons I love my mother, that ranks right up there. f
Goth Girl Caught by Evan Yarbrough
The others were watching, goading me on, waiting to see if I would actually do it. I uncapped the marker and went to work.
The Writing Story by Meg Pickard It was the mid-eighties in Thatcher’s Britain, the first month of the first year of secondary school. I was eleven, with a bad pageboy haircut and an ill-fitting green blazer emblazoned with a school crest that looked like a lion being sick. I was in that starting-to-get-to-know-people phase at the beginning of a new school – forming unlikely alliances with the least offensive people in my class, the ones who looked like they wouldn’t beat me up, at least not straight away. There were five or six of us, all vaguely well educated and well-brought-up, and clearly not particularly mad or bad, because we were, after all, attending a fairly strict uniform school in West London. How much of a rebel can you be in an ugly blue serge skirt with stiff pleats and kneesocks? We took to hanging out the local tube station. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why we did this there before school. I lived on the other side of town. Still, I’d get up at the crack of dawn and leave the house extra early in my uniform in order to meet my new friends near East Acton tube, where we’d hang around for a bit, kicking fences and acting like disaffected youth. One morning Alison produced a thick black marker pen. “Go on,” she said, waving the pen in my direction, “I dare you to write some graffiti.” I hesitated. I was a good child – apart from the random penny-sweet-pinching everyone had been involved with in primary school – and I’d never done any graffiti before. 36
Should I take up the dare, write something on a
Illustration by Claire Robertson wall? Or should I run away and get laughed at for the next five to seven years? The choice was clear. I took the pen. There are two questions to consider when contemplating graffiti – what to write, and where to write it. The key is to maximise the impact and longevity of your work. Something witty on a wall is far more likely to stick around than a simple “I like Billy” on a toilet door. Take my advice: if you’re ever going to be a successful criminal, don’t leave a calling card. For reasons I can’t imagine now, I wrote “Meg Pickard was here” on a cold metal pillar outside a church on East Acton High Street. Yes, I really was that stupid. The others, either impressed at my gall or horrified by my abject moronity, ran away, screeching with delight. I followed until we got to school, panting with exhilaration. And then the guilt set in. There can be no guilt in the world more burning than the guilt after doing something particularly stupid, for which you know you are going to get caught. Why hadn’t I thought to write someone else’s name instead? Or even God’s? At least that would have been theologically accurate. The idiocy made my face burn with shame. That night, I didn’t sleep. I became strangely, obsessively convinced that the holy men of West London did nightly checks of every church, and that sooner or later they’d come across my little autograph, and then come roaring round to bawl
on the Wall me out. I stayed awake all night waiting for angry footfalls on the landing. Or worse still, the God I didn’t believe in would strike me down for defacing His house. He certainly wouldn’t be very fond of me when He found out what I’d done to His gaff in Acton. I got up at six, and walked back to the scene of the crime in the dark. I carried with me some toilet cleaner and a scouring pad, and spent forty minutes at dawn, before I was due to meet my friends, cleaning my name off the church pillar, scrubbing and scrubbing with harsh chemicals until my fingers were as red as my face. Only when I was sure there was no trace of my criminal act left – in fact, it was cleaner than it had been before – did I pack away the cleaning products in my school bag, leave the scene and meet my little gang of friends, where we kicked more fences, pulled leaves off bushes and discussed playing truant for the day. But we didn’t actually do it, of course. We were far too nice. f
It wasn’t my idea. Regina knew about my odd arrangement with her friend Brenda, the dominatrix. She knew about my ill-fated relationship with Mira. Because girls talk, she even knew everything I liked, everything I loved, and just how far I would go.
Rope Burns Story by Vincent M. Farquharson It didn’t take long for Regina and I to fall into bed, and because she knew so much, it didn’t take long for us to reveal our true colors. Regina has several fetishes, I quickly found out. She already knew all of mine. One day, I got home to find her atop a rickety ladder, putting a sturdy O-ring into the slanted ceiling of my living room. I silently began to regret giving her a key to my apartment. “What are you doing?” I asked her. “And where’d you get that ladder?” “The super gave it to me,” she said. “I told him I was hanging a plant as a surprise for you.” Regina didn’t have a nurturing bone in her body. Her apartment, unlike mine, was devoid of living things. “What’s it really for?” I asked, smiling. “It’s a surprise,” she said. Regina had been reading about asphyxiation, and now considered herself an expert. In no time, she’d constructed a sketchy rig of ropes that she said would allow both of us to experience it at the same time. Basically, she’d sit on my telephone bench, and I’d kneel in front of her and enter her as we both hung from the same stretched rope. Very simple, she said, and if anything went wrong, all I’d have to do is stand up. As I returned the ladder to the building super, I felt somewhat sheepish; it was nearly 9pm, and
Illustration by Jeff Coleman it was slightly suspicious that anyone would be hanging plants. I was worried, too. Regina had no medical training at all. Was she crazy? If we tried that, where would we stop? I had the feeling that we were opening the door to something dangerous. It took her hours to talk me into it. At one point, I flatly refused. I tried to distract her by taking her out for dinner, but as soon as we got back, she resumed her efforts to convince me. One bottle of wine, four shots of vodka, two bong hits, and an hour of heavy petting later, my doubts were gone. I was ready to do something foolish. A fuzziness crept into my field of vision and large spots swam before my eyes. My hearing started to go. I could hear Regina choking – a sickening rattle that sent shivers down to my cold feet. She rasped, and managed a scratchy scream that chilled me to the bone. I clawed at the wall, struggling to bring myself to my feet. Regina saw what I was doing, and shifted her weight. Panicked, I grabbed her to stop her from tumbling backward and to the floor. Regina wasn’t heavy, but I knew that if she slipped from my grasp, the rope might snap her neck. Regina leaned forward and wrapped her legs around me. She locked her ankles behind my back and took me deeper. I heard the crash as the flimsy bench fell backward. Still thrusting her 39
Rope Burns continued from previous hips, she took hold of my end of the rope and pulled as hard as she could. My hands instantly went numb, and I heard a rattle as I struggled to pull air into my lungs. Amazingly, I got calmer. Maybe I had started to trust her with the rope. Maybe my concentration was gone. Either way, my arousal was undiminished. Regina’s beautiful brown eyes were rolling back in her head. Her face was nearly crimson. All you have to do is stand up, she had said. Both my legs had turned to jelly. I couldn’t move. I didn’t hear the tearing as the wall anchor exploded from the ceiling. I didn’t hear the thud as we hit the floor. I didn’t see the cloud of plaster debris that rained down on us. I only felt the strained muscles in my thighs, the wrenching in my left ankle, Regina’s cold breasts against my chest, and the intense shivers of our mutual orgasm. Everything seemed quiet for a long time after it all subsided. My body rang with exhilaration and fear. My hearing returned slowly, and I realized that we were both coughing uncontrollably. Regina was elated and glowing. She had tears in her eyes. We lay there for a time, staring at each other, unable to move or speak. As my adrenaline rush began to subside, I remembered that I was in intense pain. In addition to the pain in my thighs and ankle, my elbow was very sore because I’d landed on it when we fell. Regina sat up suddenly, and stared straight ahead, as if seeing something arriving in the distance. “Are you all right?” I asked her. She stared at me suddenly, still smiling. “You okay?” she asked distractedly. “Yeah,” I said. All of a sudden, something about her was making me very uncomfortable. “Can you move?” she asked somewhat urgently. I nodded slowly, not taking my eyes off her face. “Good,” she said, bubbly, “I think I’ll need a ride to the hospital; my arm is broken.” 40
Vincent M. Farquharson
I was speechless as we drove to the hospital. It was only five minutes away, but it had taken nearly twenty minutes for us to get her dressed. Between winces of pain, all she could manage to say was, “That was really good.” She said it over and over. Since it was 2:30 on a Wednesday morning, and I lived in the suburbs, we didn’t have long to wait to see a doctor. The attending physician, a plump redhead in her early twenties, checked Regina’s mobility as I looked on. “So, how did this happen?” the doctor asked. “I fell,” Regina answered. “We both did.” “Uh-huh,” muttered the doctor as she helped Regina out of her shirt and into a gown. She said little further to us as they X-rayed Regina’s arm. By now, our adrenaline buzz was long gone and we were both fairly groggy from lack of sleep. We returned to the exam room, and the doctor told us that Regina had broken her radius. The doctor and a nurse then cleaned and prepped her arm for a splint. Another woman came in while Regina’s splint was being set. She was a tall, slender woman with thick dreadlocks styled into a severe bun. She surveyed the room very quickly without addressing anyone. Her gaze lingered on Regina at length, then she looked over at me. “Sir, may I speak with you?” she asked. I nodded. I was very tired, and this woman made me apprehensive. Unlike her peers, she was professionally overdressed and her demeanor was noticeably frosty. I got up from the chair and followed her down the hallway. We walked without speaking, and were almost in another section of the hospital before we got to an empty office. She asked me to take a seat, and then went to her own behind a desk piled with paperwork. “Mr. Ferguson,” she began simply, not giving me the chance to correct her on my last name, “my name is Ms. Berry. I’m the hospital’s resident counselor.” She pulled a clipboard from under a tower of documents.
I responded inaudibly. I wasn’t sure where this was going, and I was barely lucid by then. Straight to the point, she continued. “Hospital policy is quite clear in cases like these. I’m required to ask you a few questions.” “Cases like these?” I asked. That really got my attention. “Well,” she said simply, “When a woman is brought to our hospital at 2 a.m. with bruises and broken bones, the cause is usually domestic violence.” I was appalled. All I wanted to do was go to sleep. “It’s definitely not what you think,” I said. “Well, how do you explain the marks around your girlfriend’s neck?” Ms. Berry asked. I was cornered. “Those are rope burns,” I explained, digging myself in deeper, “and I have them too.” I moved my shirt collar and showed her my neck. Ms. Berry leaned forward for a closer look, and then returned to her normal, stern, upright position. She looked very confused. “Mr. Ferguson, why don’t you tell me what really happened?” I sighed and covered my face with my hands. “It wasn’t my idea,” I began. How do you explain to a total stranger that you and your girlfriend nearly died in a quest for edgier sex? I don’t think there’s a formula, but I believe I successfully walked the tightrope between sincere embarrassment and proud accomplishment. I left out some of the more indelicate details, and kept my recount as succinct as possible. When I was done, Ms. Berry was aghast. She’d had a pen in her hand, but had not taken any notes. She felt the need to advise me that what we’d done was extremely dangerous (duh). I told her that I did realize that and would never do it again.
Ms. Berry escorted me back to the examination room. Regina was already done, and she was laughing and giggling with the nurse. As I helped her gather her things, I noticed her hair was speckled with plaster dust. As we walked out to the parking lot, I could feel that Ms. Berry and the nurse were still watching us. I looked at Regina. She was barely stifling a laugh. “Uh-oh. What’s so funny?” I asked her. She burst into full laughter, cradling her sling in her right arm. “Do you know what they asked me?” “They asked you if I was beating you,” I said dryly, trying to douse Regina’s amusement. She stopped in her tracks. “What?! How do you know that? They asked you too, right?” I told Regina that the stern Ms. Berry was a very concerned hospital psychiatrist and I was compelled to recount to her the events at my apartment. Regina laughed again. She’d told her doctor and nurse as well. Apparently her encounter wasn’t nearly as embarrassing as my run-in with Ms. Berry. I resumed my course to the car, fully aware that we were still being watched. “C’mon, it’s funny,” she said, catching up with me. “You know it’s funny. You’ll probably end up writing about it. I know how you are.” “Never,” I responded. “I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to forget this experience.” Regina didn’t believe me. She simply threw her good arm around my neck as we walked along. “Maybe,” she half-whispered into my ear, “but you have to admit it was really good!” I put my arm around her waist. Above us, I couldn’t tell if the glow in the sky was city lights or sunrise. She felt perfect next to me. We were bruised and tired, and we had another secret and another broken boundary. “Yeah,” I said, smiling back at her. f
The only thing worse than looking stupid in high school was looking smart. I was somehow in danger of being both at once.
The Preacher and the Heretic Story by Lance Arthur In 1979, life is an endless chain of challenges being an overweight, myopic, homosexual teenager in Bakersfield, California. I am 17 years old, a junior at West High School, and have never been kissed. I wear shirts from Miller’s Outpost and Husky jeans from Sears. My face is round and unsmiling, and the glasses I have chosen from the small selection available at my optometrist’s resemble inverted teardrops embedded in tortoiseshell frames. My hair, unruly and the same color as mud, is piled into mounds separated along an axis bisecting my scalp, more a hedgerow than a hairdo. I spend my non-school hours watching TV, or rehearsing my role as Oscar Madison in the umpteenth high school production of The Odd Couple, having taken up theatre and chorus as my weapons against the tyranny of a sports-centric environment. Sex has no part in my life. In fact, I’m shocked when I find that one of my friends has had any. I have managed push those desires so far down that I don’t even fantasize. In that sense, I am already halfway to being a priest, at least as far as my education concerning religion extends. High school is all about the clique. Sometimes the clique proclaimed its own name, like the unimaginative Sportos. And sometimes the clique had a label applied, as in my own Art Fags. None of us would proclaim ourselves “fags” to the world, or even to each other. There was never any untoward touching or even highly masked
Illustration by Chris Bishop flirting going on in the Art Fags, we merely remained above everyone else in our own sad little world, disdainful of every other group because of its higher popularity and seemingly unnatural ability to always be better than we were. But if there was one overriding quality that linked every Sporto to every Art Fag, it was a deep-abiding love of Jesus Christ and his dad, God. Spirituality, it seemed to me, was as fleeting as fashion. Fear, rather than love, was the enticement to start looking for supernatural help. I had more faith in aliens and The Force than I did in the cross, but peer pressure is an amazing thing. It all started with a bumper sticker. They spread from cars to street lamps and telephone poles and sidewalks. Eventually, they were blown up into billboards. All they said, in three words printed white on a dark blue background, was I Found It. Viral marketing at its best. It was the rallying cry of a movement to bring people back to the Christian church, or to introduce them to its loving embrace and community of familyoriented good times, and once you accepted it, you were Born Again. I didn’t really understand what being Born Again meant. Wasn’t birth a horrible experience? There was a lot of crying and spanking and messy afterbirth. You were pulled from somewhere warm and innocent and thrust out into this world, expected immediately to fulfill a role and start along the path of being a constant disappointment to everyone else. Why go through that 43
The Preacher and the Heretic continued from previous again? Wasn’t just living in the present world punishment enough? We didn’t have Goths when I was in high school, so I had to be morose on my own terms. Being a Christian was suddenly The Thing. Bibles were being carried in backpacks along with Pee-Chee folders and Trapper Keepers. Small circles of Born Agains assembled in the quad during lunch break to witness at each other. Crosses dangled from necks, proclaiming membership in the newest, hottest clique on campus. Everyone wanted in, including me. My understanding of being a Christian amounted to some desire to be good, often to be chaste, and to refrain from using dirty words or calling people names, none of which seemed to mesh with my understanding of being in high school. It was like Crazyland, where getting up early on Sunday gave you entry to the same club as the cheerleader, the football hero and the school’s student body president. I figured I could fake it. Jesus seemed like a nice enough dude. Surely he wouldn’t mind if I came along for the ride. So what if I was gay – no one knew, really. I barely knew. I was more chaste than most guys my age. It was all about faith, anyway – something that couldn’t be proven. How much different was that from believing in aliens and earthquake predictions? I pulled out the dusty old family Bible that had been sitting unused on a bookshelf next to Art Linkletter’s Kids Say the Darndest Things, and tried to make sense of its language and violence. I started praying before I went to sleep, folding my hands together and closing my eyes while asking God to please not make me gay. I nodded my head when a truly Born Again person cited the teachings of Jesus in everyday
conversation. I began looking at crosses as an apt fashion statement and I even thought about dating outside my gender. In my head, I became a Christian, even though I barely understood the feeling that holding Jesus in your heart seemed to have for others. A couple of weeks into my newfound calling, I was attending a Southern Baptist church with my choir friends, Rob and Cindy. They were the children of the church’s pastor, whom I had met on several occasions, having been invited to Christian dinner in their Christian house, enjoying the feeling of closing my eyes and praying over food, as long as all I had to say was “Amen” at the end. The sermon that morning was long and dull, and I only paid attention to a little of it. It was really hot in the church, and we were all sitting in hard, wooden pews, which I was told was to help us keep alert and pay attention. Comfortable seating, it tuned out, was a tool of the devil. Apparently, so was air conditioning. The pastor wasn’t exactly preaching fire and brimstone, but I got the impression that God wasn’t interested in my comfort. God, it seemed to me, was pissed off. I started to sweat. I could feel it crawling down the spine of my back and seeping between my butt cheeks. I began to feel eyes on me, as if they all knew there was a heathen within their midst – a liar and a deceiver – a living breathing tool of Satan who was here not to worship but to fit in. The sermon droned on – something about baptismal waters and this John guy and Jesus and probably his mom and maybe his dad, though it seemed like no one much cared about his father since his Father had laid claim to him. Poor Joseph, I thought, a man made into a footnote just because he couldn’t afford a nice hotel room dur-
ing a busy night. we’re all, like, so totally into him – had all seen We all dipped our heads. We were finally at my actions. With a simple gesture, I’d revealed the end of the morning’s long and detailed listing myself as the only nonbeliever in the building. of everything that was wrong with us, and why Jesus wasn’t in my heart. He wasn’t in any of exactly we wouldn’t be getting into heaven. my internal organs at all, not even in my pancre I wasn’t sure I believed in heaven, but if it as just a little bit. He was a nice enough guy, said was there, I intended to pay it a visit. Who had I some good things, made sense a lot of the time, killed? Who had I harmed? I wasn’t even having from what I had gathered. He certainly managed sex with anyone. This didn’t seem fair at all. to talk a great many of my friends into believing “If any one of you,” the pastor intoned, “has that He was the passage to eternal salvation and not welcomed Jesus into your heart and accepted a life after death among the clouds with so many everlasting forgiveness in the baptismal waters, other good people who had managed to get themlook to me now and be saved.” selves dunked under water or had eaten a tasty Really? That was it? That was all it took? I Jesus-flavored wafer. looked up, surprised. I was just a sexually confused teenaged boy And he was looking back, directly at me. with the attention span of a gnat and a fear of I didn’t have to look around to realize that no self-discovery. When it came down to me and other eyes in the entire the pastor, eye to eye across that church had raised themexpanse of the faithful, and Jesus wasn’t in my heart. hot selves to this entreaty. the sight of that Plexiglas tank Just mine. Looking at just behind him awaiting my sinful He wasn’t in any of my him. Just us, the preacher flesh, the idea that I could do and the heretic, eye to eye anything I wanted to as long as internal organs at all, in the Southern Baptist I agreed to a dunking was too not even in my pancreas church in a silent struggle much. between faith and falseThat was my last visit to just a little bit. hood. church as an interested party. I lowered my head Jesus would have to look elseagain. Had I any foresight, I may have been a bit where for another disciple. I would be blissfully more surreptitious in my head-nodding, but as it free of ties to any religious affiliation from then was, I had managed to draw attention to myself on. by thrusting my noggin around like a puppet, so Eventually I’d find comfort in the very chathat everyone else in my pew –the pastor’s chilotic nature of life. That confrontation with my dren and my other new Christ-centric friends, fears of the unknown made me realize that the with whom I had only moments before sung unknown was my religion, and that just because about lambs and flocks and suchlike, and how I lacked answers to the big questions didn’t mean we are all so much in love with the Jesus and I had to seek them out. The questions answered devoted to his everlastingness and his dad, and themselves, simply by existing. f
I’ve always wondered how an undercover cop manages to deceive while still maintaining integrity. I don’t think I could do it. And I wanted to talk to someone who could.
Going Under Interview and photos by Leah Peterson
Interviewing an undercover cop was challenging. I was stood up a few times. There was no explanation as I sat drinking my coffee, alone, imagining my interviewee had been sucked into deep cover and was currently speaking with a Russian accent and wearing a wig. The truth was probably less exotic than that, but by the time I finally got to interview him, I didn’t care anymore. He answered my questions openly and honestly. I never did catch his name.
far into it but sometimes the suspect gets hinked and they won’t believe me when I say no, I’m not a cop. If they feel like something is off, they just won’t do the deal. Then we lose them. The point is to get the bigger fish. If I pinch someone for drugs, I’m really after their supplier. I want to get more information so we can give them marked money or set them up with a wire. If I can watch a deal go down, that person is automatically busted. And they owe me three deals.
Did you always know you wanted to be a cop? At the time I applied to be a cop, I was just really bored and burnt out on the job I had at the time. I began applying for different agencies and got hired by the Sheriff’s Department. I did not always know I wanted to be a cop, I kind of just fell into it. I thought it would be exciting, which it is at times.
Three deals? Any person we bust on possession has the option of doing three buys for us, all with different suppliers we hope, and in exchange we remove the felony charge. Most people go for the deal.
What’s it like to work undercover? Do you ever get found out? Sometimes the person will confront you and ask if you are a cop. We’ll set up a deal and get pretty
So, you’re basically making them go undercover? Well, they don’t have to. They have a choice. But most people would rather wear a mic a couple of times than have a felony on their record and face jail time. We tell them where, when, how and how much of the dope we want and what kind.
Going Under continued from previous Do you hide out like they do in the movies? Let’s say we tell them to meet their supplier in the parking lot of the fast food joint down the street. We’ll tell them to get one ounce and meet in an hour. Then we’ll have a team of six undercover cops in unmarked plain vehicles waiting there and we’ll do the surveillance from a distance. We’ll see the suspect come into the parking lot and we’ll watch the transaction happen. And then we’ll let him leave as we call in all his identifying information to the cop down the street in the patrol vehicle and he’ll be the one to pull him over and take him in.
How long have you been working undercover? I’ve been a cop for nine years and worked undercover for this past year. This is the best job I’ve had in the department. But, even when I worked patrol, that was so much fun because you’re surrounded by a bunch of good guys and there is a great camaraderie. Does anything funny ever happen on the job? All the time. One night we pulled over a car for drunk driving. The married woman who was
driving happened to be in the car with her boyfriend. She had been drinking so much that she begged us to let her use the bathroom on the side of the road before she took her sobriety test. We finally let her and her boyfriend held his jacket up to cover her so she’d have some privacy but he was drunk, too, and only held the jacket low enough to cover her face. We had front row seats to watch her defecate on the side of the road next to the freeway. People that are drunk do dumb things. Were you ever busted for anything? When I was 16 I took a tube of ChapStick. I don’t even know why I did it because I remember I had money for it in my pocket. I suppose it was a crime of opportunity. I was caught up in the moment but when you look back you think, Man, that was dumb, because you think about the consequences and the humiliation you would have faced if you had been caught. It wouldn’t have been worth it. I was always so afraid of getting caught that I was never brave enough to do anything worse. My parents put the fear of God in me. Oh, and when I was 4 I took a candy bar from the grocery store. I started eating it in the back seat on the way home. My mom asked me where I got it and then turned the car around and marched me back inside to apologize. My mom paid for the candy bar but I paid for it in humiliation. Having been in even just a little bit of trouble, is it easier to feel compassion for the people you’re busting? Do you feel bad you are lying to them to bust them? You try to be compassionate for the people you are busting, but at the same time, you realize they’re dirtbags and they are committing crimes. Narc officers will get moved to a new location and given a fake name, change their look and their voice and they do whatever they have to do to catch the criminals. No. I don’t feel bad lying to criminals.
There are times when you’ll feel compassionate for someone when, say, a homeless guy goes into a store and steals food. You know he’s only doing it because he’s hungry. But you know when someone is stealing from a department store where they go in and steal five pairs of jeans and walk out? They are professional criminals and I don’t have much compassion for them. There are tons of drunk drivers and they crash their car into the pole or something and you sometimes feel a little bad for them. Seventy-five percent of people in America have probably gone to a party, had too much to drink and then driven home. But then sometimes they kill a family and you instantly lose all that compassion. Do you ever get scared? When I worked patrol I would sometimes work in the mountains. One night I saw a small SUV around 10:30 at night sitting along the side of the road. Something just didn’t feel right, you know? I pulled up behind them to check it out and suddenly they took off and jumped back on the road without turning their lights on. I pursued them and as they rounded a corner to get on the freeway, an AK47 comes out the window. When backup came and we finally got them pulled over we found two loaded guns and four Armenian mafia guys who we had interrupted from doing a hostile drug deal in a second car we didn’t see up in the mountains. Situations like that get your adrenaline pumping. You can sometimes get a little shaky but you keep it together because it can mean life or death. When I’m training someone new and they freeze up in stressful situations like that I have to wonder if they are really cut out for the job. It’s not their fault if they aren’t, but you don’t want them to get themselves or someone else killed. f
There was very little for teenagers to do in Vegas in ’82. Sure, you could go to a movie, play video poker at the Mexican restaurant, or sneak into the Caesar’s Palace Jacuzzi. But all that got old. So my best friend, Jeff, and I came up with the perfect game. We called it …
Hosing Down the Prostitutes Story by Marc Cram The game goes like this: First, take about two feet of surgical tubing. Remove the guts of a ballpoint pen, and stick the front half in the tube, with the cap on. Then fill the tube with twenty-five gallons of water. The tube will expand to the circumference of a good-size Schnauzer. This makes the most excellent water-assault weapon ever. There’s so much pressure that when you pop off the cap, the tube releases all the water in a blast with laser-like precision. I had this enormous battered station wagon with tinted windows. The operation started with my friend Jeff and me in the front seat and our girlfriends, each holding a fully loaded Water Weenie, hiding in the backseat. I would slowly approach a “sexual service engineer”; Jeff would partially roll down the window and motion her over. When she entered the target zone, the girls would kick open the back door and blast the prostitute with fifty gallons of water, and then we would speed away, before the pimp arrived. Perfect fun for the whole family, and a public service at the same time. Where Sahara Avenue meets Las Vegas Boulevard, there’s the famous Sahara Hotel on the east side, but on the west side, there was a big patch of desert. Usually, this was trolled by the toughest and meanest whores in Vegas, and we avoided playing the game there. However, on this night there was only one prostitute, and she looked like she wasn’t cranked up on angel dust and probably wouldn’t try to shank us. Seemed like a 50
Illustration by Reilly Stroope perfect way to start the night. The operation began smoothly. I pulled the wagon to the curb, and Jeff motioned her over. But she did not approach. Instead, she shouted, “What do you want?” I looked at Jeff. “What do we want?” Jeff shrugged. “I dunno what we want.” “Tell her you want some action,” said my girlfriend from the back seat. Jeff shouted, “We want some action.” “What kind of action, and what will ya pay?” she retorted, not moving an inch closer. All the blood had drained from Jeff’s face. “What kind of action do we ask for?” “How the hell should I know?” I was a bit panicked. “Let me think for second.” The girls were giggling in the back. Jeff’s voice was now quivering. “Uh … hold on … I’m uh …” My mind was only coming up with the most depraved and perverted things. Things I would never say out loud. I was sweating and red-faced. After a long five seconds of silence, from the back came, “Tell her you want a BJ for fifty bucks.” I turned around, absolutely stunned. This was from my girlfriend, who in the presence of her father was like pure Snow White goodness. She even apologized for saying “darn it,” and now she’s now teaching my best friend how to solicit a hooker. I will never understand the complexity of women. It worked. The hooker got up and meandered
Hosing Down the Prostitutes continued from previous
over. She hit the target zone, the back door kicked opened, and the water blast from hell hit her square in the neck. Suddenly from the dark desert, her pimp lunged for the car. But our girls were too quick; they turned the water blast from the hooker and hit the man right in the face. I stomped on the gas, and we flew over Las Vegas Boulevard and east into the night. Now that would make a perfectly good ending right there, only it wasn’t the end. You see, that was no prostitute we hosed down, and that man wasn’t her pimp. She was a detective with Las Vegas Metropolitan Police, and the man was her partner. It was a sting operation. So at the same moment we were speeding down Sahara, cheering and laughing, there were about thirty police cruisers chasing us down. The first thing I saw was red and blue lights in my review mirror. I thought I was caught for speeding, so I pulled over. Then I saw another set of lights, then another, then another. Two more sets approached from the front, and within five minutes my car was surrounded by cops. All four of us were folded over the hood of my car, when an unmarked police car screeched to a halt, and out hopped a soaking wet pair of cops. They were so mad, but I could see the other cops were laughing. I would have laughed too, but they had called our parents. My girlfriend’s father was the first to arrive. As soon as he stepped out of the car, my girlfriend broke down sobbing. I mean, she was cool as a cucumber through the whole event, and suddenly she was like the fountain at Caesar’s. The police yanked her off of my car, and brought her to her father. She whispered something to him, and then he looked at me. It was like cold death melted with hot steel poured over the testicles of a rabid bull. Veins started popping out all over his red, sweating forehead; his eyes were wide and bloodshot, and he was panting like a crazed dog. I could hear his teeth grinding under the pressure. I turned my head toward Jeff, like, Check out this shit. Jeff just shrugged. Then my girlfriend’s father was standing next to me, with a cop between me and him. “If you ever, and I mean ever,” he spit, “talk to my daughter again, I’ll …” The father looked at the cop, then made a motion with his hands like he was breaking a twig. He stomped away, grabbed his daughter by the shoulder, and then gave her a great big hug. As he was gently putting her in the car – and this I swear to God – she gave me a quick glance and winked. f
Untitled by Frank Kolodziej
Greg is a philosopher, an actor, a stand-up comedian, an entrepreneur, an orthopedic consultant, an amateur historian, a weapons expert, and a criminal genius. I know this because he told me – Greg mostly likes to talk about Greg. And while I cannot verify any of his claims, the one thing I know is this: Greg is my next-door neighbor.
A Lifting Life Interview and Illustration by Chris Brandt “I’ve been courageously shoplifting since kindergarten,” Greg reminisced, explaining the first time he stole was also the first time he got busted. “Mom found a Pez in the bottom of my fucking dresser; she made me take it back to the store manager, and I told him I’d found it on the floor, which was a lie.” Greg is now thirty-six, and he’s been refining his shoplifting techniques since that first day. Snagged at twelve stealing fishing lures, while on vacation at a family cabin. Mom: “Why do you have to do this around my family?” Caught at fourteen while shopping with his mom, and she chased him around the store. Mom: “What do you have in your pocket?” Collared at sixteen for the first time by the police. Sent to juvie. Busted, again, at seventeen, the day after being released from juvie, cornered by the cops while eating a stolen Kit-Kat and smoking a joint. It would be nearly twenty years before he was caught again. “I stopped at Fry’s on my way to the gym,” Greg recalled, “doing my normal routine.” He parked in a shopping center across from the Fry’s parking lot. “It gives you some freedom to run. You can get the jump on them, and go back to your car later without them watching you.” 54
“I’d been there many times before, and seen them try to catch me. Normally you need identification plus surveillance in order to be caught. I eliminated the surveillance part of the equation by knowing what I wanted before going in, then I could just go in, grab what I wanted, and walk back out. They might see and recognize me, but they wouldn’t have a chance to check me out, so they’d just see me leaving the store, and not know if I had anything. If they were by the door, I’d just put the stuff down on my way out, and they’d glare at me. One time a guy followed me on foot all the way to the mall.” Greg had been divorced a month earlier, which he blames for his recklessness on that day. Normally he’d be wearing a business suit, but, “I walked in, wearing my workout clothes, and started looking around for things I was thinking of legitimately paying for. But I got bored, and was ready to leave, but didn’t want to leave empty-handed. I’d been on autopilot for years. I’d stolen every movie in there already, so my choices were limited. I eyeballed what I was going to take, then on my way out I grabbed Get Rich or Die Trying and some type of video game, and immediately slid them under my arm, beneath my sweat jacket.” He got two steps outside of the door, then
heard an unexpected, but not unfamiliar question: “Sir,” the security guard began, jumping in front of Greg, but careful not to touch him, “do you have any merchandise on you?” “No, bro,” Greg responded, as he stiff-armed the “little Filipino runt,” faked left and right, then started running to the left. He got only a few steps away before losing his balance and falling to the ground, tearing holes in the knees of his sweats. Immediately they were upon him. “Three or four of ’em jumped on my back: a girl, a big Indian ogre, and the runt. People in the parking lot were screaming. As soon as they jumped on my back, I felt the dookie squeeze out. I knew it was over then, but I still continued. I crawled up off the ground with them on my back, and did a slow march, but collapsed, and they were able to handcuff me.” “As they were taking me back in, I could feel pieces of shit rolling down the back of my calf.
All the way back to the office I was leaving little ‘presents.’ They put me on that bench they had for criminals, and I couldn’t help but think about how I smelled. Employees kept coming in, and every other one of them is stepping in my turds, and tracking them all around. They had to send someone in to mop up.” “So, how long you been stealing?” the girl asked. She and the other guards were all ten years his junior. “How long you been working security here?” Greg quipped. A Mexican security guard smiled. “I gotta admit, you’re pretty good. We’ve been watching you for a long time. You’re one of the best.” Greg’s ego was stirred. “What do you mean by that?’ “You’re really good. You’re in and out. Even though we know it’s you, we could never catch you. Where’s your Acura at today?” 55
I Knew It by Chad Walker
A Lifting Life continued from previous “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” “Where’s your car?” the guard repeated. “A friend dropped me off,” Greg lied. Luckily, he’d driven his Lexus that day. It was a good thing they didn’t find his car that day – he’d done the rounds of all the stores, and the car was full of stolen goods. Picture frames. Deodorant. Cookies. Fig Newtons. The security guard continued recounting Greg’s modus operandi. “You came up the steps, and said, ‘Hi, how you doin’?’ Very nicely, I might add. You’re clever. Really personable guy. You pull the wool over everybody’s eyes. I can only imagine how many times you do this per day.” “This is my only transgression,” Greg said, hoping they didn’t check to find out that he’d been arrested at the same store three years prior. His lawyer looked it up later. “Are you fucking kidding me?” he asked. “You went to the same store? If the judge sees you did it at the same place, you’re going to prison.” He was supposed to be in surgery later that evening. Greg was an orthopedic consultant earning $80,000 per year. He ended up missing the surgery, instead spending a night in jail; then came the 30 days of court-ordered Cal Trans, a $1,500 fine, and the $1,000 lawyer. Greg talks about having changed his ways, but in the same breath will admit to continued minor transgressions. “I want to change,” he said. “I’ve got this great business getting off the ground, and if I keep fucking around, it’s all going to get fucked up.” “I got caught stealing a stupid movie I never would have even watched. My psychiatrist said she’s scared that I’m an OCD combined with kleptomania, which means I’m really fucked, because I’m trapped in a pattern of criminal behavior. She’s probably right about that. But habit is the flywheel of society, at least according to W. G. Harris. I’d have to go back to my paper I did on habit to explain what that means, but it’s uncontrollable. It’s what you are.” f
At summer camp, I met a guy who I knew would want to kiss me after we went for a walk in the evening. I was barely 13 and I told him beforehand that it had been so long since I kissed anyone I hoped I wouldn’t “forget how.” I was trying to cover in case I was bad at my real first kiss.
Right before he leaned into kiss me, he said,
“You’ve never been kissed, have you?” A weak little “no” escaped my mouth right before he planted one on me.
I floated back to my cabin on newly discovered
hormones and excruciating embarrassment. – Penny René
Grace by Ben Roberts
Busted stories usually have a nice, tidy moral. Somebody does wrong, gets caught, and pays a price. But what happens when the busted are both victimizers and victims? What happens when the whole town is busted?
Busted in Jena Story and Photography by Michael David Murphy Sitting on the steps of the LaSalle Parish Courthouse in Jena, Louisiana, beneath a growing chorus of demonstrators chanting “Free Mychal Bell,” my reporter friend confessed she was the first to write the phrase “Jena Six.” By that day, in September 2007, when thousands had traveled to Jena to protest what they saw as unfair treatment of six black youths by an overreaching District Attorney, the Jena Six had become a household name. President Bush said the case “saddened” him. Barack Obama rolled Jena like a worrystone through his stump speech. The big TV news networks hit Jena hard. The case had all the makings of a national superstory; two scoops of die-hard Southern prejudice, protests over a racially-charged judicial system, and nooses swinging from a schoolyard tree. But beneath the outrage and rhetoric, the story of Jena was more complicated than it seemed.
The march in support of the Jena Six begins with a prayer. 61
Hereâ€™s what happened. A year earlier, in September 2006, a group of African American students asked for permission to sit under a tree that, according to school tradition, was for whites only. (That there could be such a tradition at all shows how strained race relations are in Jena.) School administrators said they didnâ€™t care where students sat, but the next day, students arrived at school to see three nooses in school colors hanging from the tree. The school administration chalked it up as a prank and suspended the white boys who hung the nooses from school for a few days, but the fuse was lit. Fights and unrest broke out. District Attorney Reed Walters was called in to address the students, where he 62
Busted in Jena
A young man selling his art in support of the Jena Six.
A member of the National Black Caucus marching.
told them he could end their lives â€œwith a stroke of my pen.â€? Black students were assaulted at white parties. A white man drew a loaded rifle on three black teens at a local convenience store. (They wrestled it from him and ran away.) Someone tried to burn down the school. Then, on 4 December 2006, a fight broke out that landed white student Justin Barker in the hospital and six black students in jail, charged with second-degree attempted murder and conspiracy. True to his word, D.A. Walters pushed for maximum charges.
Michael David Murphy
My path crossed the Jena Six by chance. The BBC broadcast a documentary called “Race Hate in Louisiana” in May 2007. When I watched a copy of it in June, I was dumbfounded. I quit my job a week early, packed the car with my cameras, and drove to Jena. In June, it was still a quiet place. There was a demonstration by the families of the accused on the courthouse steps, but it was mainly for a documentary filmmaker’s lens. When I returned home, I uploaded the photos to my site and put together a video about the case. Without trying, I’d beaten mainstream media to the story. My site came up first on “Jena Six” searches for months. As traffic rolled in, so did phone calls from the press, concerned citizens, and anyone who was outraged by the case and just needed someone to listen. 64
My last day in Jena, CNN stopped by the courthouse, and they aired a
Busted in Jena
Drop Knowledge Not Bombs, Jena, Louisiana.
Reverend Al Sharpton and radio talk-show host Michael Baisden at the head of the march.
brief story a few days later. Their report was buried as soon as Paris Hilton was released from jail. The progressive show Democracy Now! dedicated a few hours to the case in early July. But by the time the rest of the media caught on, theyâ€™d been outpaced by the story itself. Al Sharpton and Michael Baisden had used their radio shows to organize thousands of marchers to travel from across the country for a rally in Jena on 20 September 2007. I returned, too. At four-thirty in the morning, it was a surreal scene. Bleary-eyed bus drivers from South Carolina sipped coffee beside sign-making students from Howard University and commemorative T-shirt vendors from Baton Rouge. Everyone walked around in the pre-dawn hour, ogling the courthouse, drawn to the lights of the cameras set up for the early morning news. Marchers coming into town were met by S.W.A.T. teams, crowd fencing, and satellite trucks. It seemed like every cop in Louisiana had been shipped-in to Jena. Some marchers were pulled over by suspicious state troopers before they could reach their destination. I was tailed for 35 miles into town. As the media unpacked their gear, they came face to face with a tangled, complicated story. They cranked up their generators and started boiling the story down to race, a small country town now divided, a stubborn district attorney with stay-in-place hair, and the looming reminder of nooses, swinging from an oak tree in a schoolyard.
Michael David Murphy
Back in June 2007, before Mychal Bell went on trial as the first of the Jena Six defendants, I pulled up a chair in the LaSalle Parish Courthouse to look at documents from the case and read the witness statements. Or, I tried. The spelling and grammar of the students was so poor, it was hard to piece together what exactly happened. (Louisiana traditionally ranks near the bottom of the 50 states in educational quality and effectiveness.) I couldn’t tell who’d hit Justin Barker, or why. The students who witnessed the fight weren’t even in agreement. Barker – who, months later, would be expelled for arriving on school grounds with a firearm – was definitely attacked, and a few black students at Jena High (there are only a few black students at Jena High) were charged as 66
Busted in Jena
The New Black Panther Party preached Black Power from the mound of dirt where the noose tree once stood.
The early march from the LaSalle Parish Courthouse continued past the baseball fields before returning to Jena High School.
adults, even though they were still minors. The first time I saw D.A. Walters, I was sitting in the second row of courtroom seats on the morning the court decided whether or not Mychal Bell’s case would go to trial. I’d snuck a voice recorder into the courtroom, and pressed record as the judge said, “jury trial.” At that point, both Bell and Theodore Shaw were still incarcerated, unable to make bail. When Shaw was escorted out of the courtroom, he raised his wrists high above his head and defiantly shook his shackles. Later, I saw Bell do the same. Months later, I’d see Bell do it again, but this time on CNN, and it read like a cliché of defiance, because of all the spotlights. But on that June morning, when Shaw raised his arms for only a few people to see, I gasped. Michael David Murphy
By 20 September 2007, the world had turned its attention to Jena, and accordingly, everyone had arrived in Jena to play a part. Marchers marched and chanted. Speakers spoke and inspired. The press, police, even the FBI were there to take measure of what Jena had become. For that day, Jena stopped being a small country town in Louisiana, and became center stage in the middle of the mediaverse. It was as if the story of the Jena Six, of these black youths who had allegedly beaten Justin Barker, had turned into a story about itself. The truth was somewhere, but it was all tangled up in the wires unspooling from the satellite trucks. Newspeople walked around waiting to “go live,” while Bryant Purvis and Carwin Jones were followed like rock stars, smiling and posing for pictures. Chants echoed off the Bank of Jena, only to bounce into microphones and land on the CBS Evening News. It’s hard to tell if Jena was truly “the beginning of a new Civil Rights movement” as Sharpton said, but the story has stayed alive, thanks to a predictable racist backlash. The day of the march, a kid was arrested while driving around Alexandria with two nooses hanging from his truck. His nooses multiplied into a widespread epidemic. My hate mail continues (in ALL CAPS) but pales in comparison to the incredible stories I’ve received from people who saw a few pictures I took in Jena, and wrote to me with their dreams, stories of the past, and hopes for the future. Jena will be known for the Six, regardless of what Dr. Phil does to “help the town heal.” Congress got involved, Mellencamp wrote a song, Bowie donated money, and a University of Louisiana student who videotaped her friends in blackface re-enacting the Barker beating declared she’s wasn’t racist because she has many
Busted in Jena
A man from Atlanta, Georgia, with his well-worn Bible.
A protester in support of the Jena Six at the march.
black friends, and that she “loves them to death.” No one’s come through Jena unscathed. Donations made to the Jena Six via radio host Michael Baisden have come under scrutiny. One of the accused, Robert Bailey, posted pictures of himself to his MySpace page, showing him lying on a bed, his mouth stuffed with hundred dollar bills. Residents of Jena told me they weren’t racist, but they had to leave town to “protect their families” from the marchers. Jones and Purvis, with litigation pending against them, walked the red carpet at BET’s Hip Hop Awards, mugging for the cameras. Reed Walters tried to save his reputation on the editorial pages of The New York Times, which itself failed to report on Jena until the story was too large to ignore. When listening to audio I recorded in Jena over the summer, I keep returning to Caseptla Bailey’s remarks on June 25, protesting the charges against her son Robert. “We love you, we love you, and we’re here to support you,” she said. Caseptla spoke through a megaphone, but there were only a few people on hand, and she was standing right in front of me. This much about Jena, I knew: here was a mother, fighting for her son’s future, standing on the courthouse steps with a megaphone, calling out with vibrance and clarity to anyone who’d listen. f Editor’s Note: An appeals court forced D.A. Walters to treat Mychal Bell as a juvenile. Bell pled guilty to second-degree battery in December 2007 and agreed to serve 18 months in juvenile custody, and testify in upcoming trials. The other five cases against the Jena Six are still open. Justin Barker and his family have filed a civil suit against the Jena Six, their families, and the LaSalle Parish School Board. The suit is ongoing.
Michael David Murphy
I lived and worked in a backpackers’ hostel in New Orleans. It was a hedonistic time. New Orleans is a city that drips with sex, and hostelling lends itself to meeting new people to shag for short periods of time.
Bunk Bed Rock Story by Kate Kotler
I shared my living quarters with four women: Roxy, Duchess, Cara Lee and Janine. Sometimes we had our own beds, sometimes we shared beds, slept in shifts and stacked our possessions in a corner to free up space. This changed with the rise and fall of tourist season. Roxy was a pretty tough tomboy lesbian. Duchess was her asexual best friend. Cara Lee was a punk heroin addict whom everyone had a soft spot for (which is why she remained employed at the hostel despite her inclination to being a useless train wreck). Janine was a sassy Canadian. Roxy and Duchess never had sex with anyone in the entire time that I knew them. Cara Lee used to disappear for weeks at a time and would resurface by calling one of us for a ride and a loan with stories of addict boys she banged while gone. Janine was my “Crescent City Sister” in more ways than one. Janine’s three favorite things were: Scrabble, gin, and fucking tourist boys. We were much alike, except that I like vodka and Trivial Pursuit.
Illustration by Meg Hunt
Janine and I shared a bunk bed – me on top, she on bottom – while Rox and Duchie shared the one across the room from us. Cara Lee slept on a mattress kept under one of the bunk beds during the day. Between Janine and me there was pretty much always someone having sex in that room. Our little merry crew was polite, and we all shared our portable CD players and headphones. We hung a sheet from the ceiling or the bottom of the top bunk so that nobody walked into a one of us in a compromising position. One night, I had excused myself from our normal evening activities, because I had a bad cold and had to be up early to work at the front desk. I had been sleeping peacefully in the room for a couple of hours, when the door to the room banged open, and Janine came stumbling in with some random boy. Cara Lee moaned in a drugged-up coma from her mattress, at the light or because someone stepped on her. Roxy and Duchess were gone. I knew the drill, and just put my headphones on and pulled the blanket over my eyes.
Guilty As Fuck by Julie Jackson
Bunk Bed Rock continued from previous Janine kissed me on the cheek as she tucked a sheet underneath my mattress on the outside of the bunk, and then the lights went out. I drifted off to sleep. I didn’t notice anything else until I was jolted awake sometime later by my head being banged against the wall of our room. Our bunk beds were bolted into the wall: I don’t know how in the hell it happened – Janine and her boy-toy were having crazy fun down there – but apparently our bed had, at some point, pulled free. I couldn’t fall back asleep. The motion of the bed was making me feel like I was going to throw up every time I closed my eyes. I just laid there with my headphones on in the dark, hoping that they’d finish so that I could go back to sleep. Just when I was fed up and about to move to the other empty bed, they stopped. I drifted back to sleep only to be woken a short time later by the head-banging, nausea-inducing movement of Janine and her fella going for round two. It was 6:30am, so I decided to just get up. I jumped down, grabbed my shower stuff, and said, “Oi, J, you have 15 minutes while I shit, shower, and shave my legs, before I come back into the room and turn on the lights to dry my hair. Cara Lee will sleep through that, and I know you don’t care, but Stud Boy might be shy, so finish up.” There was a pause in the bed-banging and then hysterical laughter erupted from behind the sheet. “Right on, sister,” Janine said, “have a good shit!” When I came back to the room, Janine and guest were gone. Later she confided to me that she took lover boy to the back seat of the hostel owner’s boat. It was broken down and tarped over in the back yard of the hostel, and was a common destination for hostel staff who lacked a place to fuck. Then she walked Mr. Man through the lobby of the hostel to his waiting cab. That was the day I nicknamed her “Ho-J.” She liked that nickname. f
I’ve been busted twice in my life, and both involved other people barfing. I take this as proof that my life has not been the stuff of a Busted Song, those self-righteous stalwarts of popular music where you get caught doing something you shouldn’t have, and sneer at the consequences.
Busted Songs Mean Never Having to Say You’re Sorry Story by Kevin Smokler I’ve never busted Maybellene because she couldn’t be true. (Her name was Nancy. The answer was, “because it was Christmas break, and you were back home in Michigan.”) Never had a lover who caught me red-handed creeping with the girl next door. (It was internet porn. And only a few times.) And I’ve never been caught stealing once when I was five. (Accused at 17, but acquitted). I’ve probably done the equivalent of each of them, but with the raciness of a dull middle-class upbringing. The difference is, I was always sorry – tearfully, wimpily sorry – and that violates the first rule of a Busted Song: you are never sorry. Listen close to the classics of the genre, and something becomes immediately clear. They’re not really about the misdeed or getting caught, but rather the attitude you lay on afterward. We all have stories of getting nailed doing something we shouldn’t have, but what makes them memorable is the telling. And in a telling worthy of rock ’n’ roll (or hip-hop or punk or any genre born of defiance and youthful troublemaking), immortality isn’t contrition. Head that way, and you’ve jumped the fence between “My baby caught me” and “Please baby take me back.” Or between fighting for your right to party and promising you’ll never party again.
Rock ’n’ roll is a hybrid of rhythm and blues and
Illustration by Mal Jones country, which themselves are descendants of gospel and traditional American folk. Sin and bad choices are embedded in the DNA. But the more American music shifted from honoring its heritage (think Pete Seeger) to slaying it (think Pete Seeger howling in protest as Bob Dylan “went electric”), the less Busted Songs were about penance, and the more they were about bratty disobedience. “I did wrong and I’m sorry” became “Yeah, I did it. So what?” or worse, blaming the accuser for raising the subject. Which is why most of the “Baby, I’m sorry” songs come from pop, soul and country – genres with clearer, older antecedents – and the “I did it and I ain’t sorry” songs seem native to the adolescent rebellion of rock, punk and hip-hop. Revisionist exceptions prove the rule. Take Johnny Cash who “shot a man in Reno just to watch him die” and imagines those outside his prison cell who “keep a’ moving/and that’s what tortures me.” It seems like a classic jailhouse lament, but he isn’t sorry he did it – just bummed out that he isn’t on the outside where all the fun is. Stax Legend Johnny Taylor’s “Who’s Makin’ Love” is a warning to other men about cheating women that implies “I been there, and what of it?” “I Fought the Law” may have sounded wistful 75
Busted Songs continued from previous when the Bobby Fuller Four popularized it in 1965 but countless punk covers have transformed it into a glorious celebration of being right when the law that busted you is wrong. R. Kelly’s Busted opus Trapped in the Closet is nearly an hour of lies, deception and midgets resulting from a single affair. You can’t help but think it’d all be over if they all accepted each other’s apologies. I asked a sampling of friends about their favorite Busted Songs, and additional patterns emerged. Busted Songs often telegraph their theme in the title, using words of imprisonment (trapped, jailbreak, renegade) or deception (sneakin’, caught). For reasons I still can’t figure out, Busted Songs seem the product of male swagger and arrogance, and fewer are penned by women. (Tales of nabbing no-good lovers, like Erykah Badu’s “Tyrone” are the exception. Most are about dumping the loser and moving on.) Subgenres of busted songs do double duty as tales of dysfunctional relationships. The Velvet Underground’s “Venus in Furs” and Depeche Mode’s “Strange Love” are about everyone sinning against each other and liking it still. Strangely though, perhaps our national Busted Song turns its own self-righteousness against itself. When I asked Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kott, Chicago music critics who host the public radio show “Sound Opinions,” they pointed me to the century-old Appalachian folk song “Where Did You Sleep Last Night.” It’s now must famously known as the closing number of Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged special, the last performance Kurt Cobain gave before taking his life the following spring. My girl, my girl, don’t lie to me, Tell me where did you sleep last night? In the pines, in the pines Where the sun don’t ever shine I would shiver the whole night through. It’s easy to think Cobain sang about his wife, Courtney Love, whom he suspected of infidelity, but the corrosive sorrow of his delivery speaks as much to the pain of busting someone you love as it does to haughtiness of being right. The lyrics are an accusation, a demand for an apology. But the tone goes somewhere few Busted Songs have the courage to go – taking a peek into the well-lit back rooms of forgiveness. f 76
Youâ€™ll Never Know What I Was Doing by Sam Brown
Thanks to Wheaton Mahoney for supporting Fray.
WHEATON MAHONEY FINE ART PHOTOGRAPHY
Uh-Oh by David Rebuck
Illegal Donuts by Goopymart
I got busted during the Rodney King riots in San Francisco. I remember walking through a very empty Union Square and seeing broken windows on Macy’s and Victoria’s Secret and a battalion of cops in riot gear marching down Geary. They cordoned off the street and arrested everyone, handcuffing us with zip-ties. I made the mistake of asking the cop if I could be handcuffed in front to have access to my asthma inhaler. “No one ever died from asthma,” he said, and pushed me to the ground and handcuffed me while I cried. People yelled at him to stop. I got on the bus with tears and snot bubbles on my face that I couldn’t wipe away. A girl came over and told me to wipe my face on her shirt, then stood next to me while I rubbed against her. They took us to a Coca-Cola plant in a bus because the jail was full. I sat for hours on the floor before being fingerprinted, mugshotted, and released. It was 4am and I had no idea where I was. Later, all the charges were dropped. – Lane Hartwell
Three things I learned from Barry Cooper: 1. If you’re going to carry pot in your car, also bring your cat to freak out the drug dogs. 2. It takes balls to go on Fox News and talk about drug reform. 3. The word “marijuana” sounds a lot more interesting with a Southern accident.
Busting the Busters Interview with Barry Cooper by Derek Powazek Barry Cooper spent eight years of his life as a cop, busting people for drug possession and teaching other cops to do the same. Now he teaches stoners how to avoid arrest with his Never Get Busted Again DVDs. He’s unabashedly self-promotional, but his true story gives us a fascinating look inside the cloistered world of drug enforcement and shows that, just because you spend years of your life on one side of a battle, it’s never too late to change your mind. You’re responsible for hundreds of arrests. Who were you were busting? Go to your local grocery store and watch all the people. Those are who I busted. Ordinary, normal, everyday citizens. My typical arrest was a marijuana smoker driving down the road. 82
How did you bust them? One technique I invented and taught other officers was to place a yard dog at the exit of a bus and say that if any person carried drugs off the bus, the dog would bark. Of course, the dog was not trained to detect drugs, but this made passengers leave their drugs on the bus. I would then instruct them to remove their luggage from the overhead rack and place it in their seat before exiting, so the dog could take a sniff. With five cops and myself standing around, drug couriers would leave the drug suitcases on the top shelf. I would then search the bags left on the top shelf and find drugs in every one. I made over 100 seizures this way. I never had to use a real drug dog and I never had to interview anyone to find their stash.
Now, looking back, how do you feel about all those busts? I still get teary-eyed when thinking of the 5-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter crying as I escorted their mother and father away to jail during a marijuana search warrant. I orphaned those children. I caused much more trauma and harm on that family then marijuana could ever have caused them. I am proud that I overwhelmed my field, but sad I ruined those lives. I should have researched the facts for myself and not listened solely to my teachers. I am sad about that. Later in your career, you taught other cops how to be better busters. What were those students like? They were not the brightest crayons in the box. Even as a cop, I noticed the ignorance
Officer Barry Cooper with 310 pounds of seized pot in 1993.
wants to use meth until every tooth rots in their head, they
should have the right to be miserable. If that person ever crosses the line and harms another, then arrest
them for the assault, or rape or murder. We already have laws in place to protect us without unjustified drug laws.
levels of other officers. The pay is so little, the more intelligent ones leave once they figure out how to make a living doing something else. I’m not picking on them, but it’s true – they just aren’t that bright. You got in trouble for busting some high-profile people (the mayor’s son, a city councilman). Is there an unspoken rule about certain people being off-limits? There used to be. Now those people seem to be trophies for cops. The old standard was to protect the businessmen and politicians in the community.
Now, these people are targets of law enforcement. My goodness, we
put Martha Stewart in jail! Now that no person is safe from arrest, more awareness is being brought to the problems with our criminal justice system. When it was just the black people getting arrested, nothing was said. Now that white America is watching their sons and daughters go to prison, the issue is being raised across the country. So are you for legalization of all drugs or just pot? I am totally against prohibition. It does not work. If a person
Now you’re producing the Never Get Busted Again DVDs, helping people to avoid getting busted themselves. Is this a “fuck you” to the system that ousted you? It is standing up and doing the right thing more than anything. My mother used to tell me, “It doesn’t matter if 5,000 people are wrong and against you, stand up and be heard.” This is very simple to do but rarely seen in today’s time. If standing up for what is right means I have to say “fuck you” to the system, then so be it. It would be unpatriotic to do anything else. My work is also a political stance against the war on drugs. It is clear the courts are doing nothing to protect us from unreasonable arrests and searches, so I am teaching Americans how to subvert their efforts and stay out of jail. I’m running for Congress, by the way. f You can find out more about Barry Cooper at nevergetbusted.com. 83
My elementary school had large communal sinks outside of the bathrooms. Each formed a half circle – the radius would have been about 2.5 feet. The volume was roughly that of a small bathtub. One day in fourth or fifth grade, I had gotten a pass to go to the bathroom. As I was washing up, I noticed how empty the halls were. Everyone was in class. I listened carefully and didn’t hear any footfalls in the echoey halls. Looking over my shoulder, I carefully climbed into the sink. I stood. I put my hands in my pockets and looked around with a satisfied grin. I was standing in the sink. Just then, the principal, rarely seen outside of his office, rounded the corner and looked right at me. He asked me what I was doing (it seemed pretty obvious to me) and escorted me back to my classroom. For my punishment, he informed the class that I had been standing in the sink. I got hassled about it occasionally, but people thought I was weird anyway. They might as well have a reason. I’m still proud of it. It’s like that mountain that you climb just because it’s there. – Jason Fraser
Systematic by Ford Minton
I hoped that my unfortunate remark would eventually be forgotten, but the damage was done. I’d crossed a line and there was no turning back. I had demonstrated, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I was a man unable to hold his liquor.
Hobo Balls And Other Things That Shouldn’t Be Compared to Wine Story by Eric Spitznagel “This wine tastes like hobo balls,” I said, loud enough for the entire room to hear. Even as the words left my mouth, I knew that it was a horrible, horrible mistake. It’s not the sort of observation that a civilized person should make, and certainly not while partaking in a posh wine tasting. The other party guests just stared at me, too stunned to respond. I smiled and tried to laugh it off, saying something like, “Whoops, wrong crowd.” It wasn’t always this way. During my 20s, I was able to drink socially without making a complete ass of myself. Sure, I made the occasional alcoholrelated mistake. There was at least one college mishap involving a bottle of generic rum and projectile vomiting across a crowded dorm room. But like it does for everybody, mindless intoxication lost its charm as I got older and learned how to recognize my limits. I became a responsible drinker, able to walk that fine line between “comfortably numb” and “passing out on a stranger’s lawn while spooning a garden gnome.” Everything changed, however, when I moved to Sonoma, a quaint small town in Northern California in an area better known as Wine Country. Along with Napa, Sonoma produces some of the
Illustration by John Reddinger best wines in the country, and the locals fiercely
proud of that fact. They’re so proud of their wine that it’s literally available anywhere, at any time of day, in any quantity. I’ve personally witnessed wine being served at gas stations, libraries, and even high schools. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that the water fountains in Sonoma’s public parks are filled with pinot noir. Since moving here, I’ve tried to assimilate myself to their culture – when in Rome, after all – but I just don’t have the immune system for constant wine consumption. There’ve been days when I’ve wondered if I might be an alcoholic. It’s impossible to know with any certainty anymore. I’ve lost all frame of reference. It’s like being the village idiot in a village of idiots. There’s nothing to set you apart anymore. It’s not enough to have a slanty forehead and vacant stare. You have to do cartwheels through the streets with a pumpkin on your head and a suit made entirely of old newspapers. When the bar has been raised this high, you have to do something extra special to get noticed. Sonoma locals are not, as far as I can tell, drunks. They drink more than most people, but you’d never know it from talking to them. Even after consuming enough wine to kill a small herd of
Hobo Balls continued from previous buffalo, they’re still able to speak normally and even maintain their equilibrium. They don’t display any of the usual signs of intoxication, like slurring their words or clinging to the nearest stranger while muttering “I fucking love you, man.” Only a fool would attempt to keep up with them and match their wine intake glass for glass. It simply can’t be done. Trust me, I’ve tried. The problem with wine is that it seems deceptively classy. If you were to, say, pass around a bottle of Jack Daniels with your friends, you’d be well aware that you’re doing something dirty and wrong. Not so with wine. Wine has the appearance of sophistication. You don’t just pound it down. You sip on it. You swirl the glass and breathe in the aroma and make pithy comments like, “This is very fruit-forward.” I don’t know what the hell that means either, but you’d never hear a drunk saying something like that about his strawberry daiquiri. The aforementioned wine party was actually a blind tasting. The guests weren’t just enjoying their wine, but encouraged to determine exactly what vintages we were drinking. Every bottle was concealed in a brown paper bag, so we had only our palates to guide us. Now a reasonable person might say, “Uh, you’re drinking booze out of a paper bag? Let me see, where have I seen that before? Oh yeah, that’s right. A wino passed out in front of a Qwik-Mart.” Au contraire! Would a wino be able to prattle off useless minutiae about his beverage? Does a wino bother to amass a wealth of arcane knowledge about what is essentially just crushed grapes and alcohol? I should say not! Winos do, however, drink until they’re no longer able to feel their extremities. And that’s exactly what happened to me. If I was smart, I would’ve kept my trap shut after finishing my third bottle. I would have just nodded thoughtfully, crinkling my nose as if carefully pondering the wine’s essence. If I felt compelled to speak, I should have repeated what the other more knowledgeable (and less obviously blasted) people were saying. “Yes, yes, I agree. This wine is very young. It still has too many tannins.” But no, that would’ve been too easy. I just
had to bring up hobo balls. In my defense, the wine did taste a little of scrotum. I may have been exaggerating slightly to suggest that it had a hearty hobo flavor, but there was definitely something testicley about it. Here are a few other things that, as I soon discovered, it isn’t appropriate to say during a wine tasting: “This wine tastes so good, I’d drink it through the ass crack of a dead hooker.” “You know how I figured out that this wine isn’t from France? It hasn’t surrendered to the Nazis.” “Does all wine contain the Blood of Christ or just certain varietals?” “You know what’d go well with this wine? A microwave burrito and a fistful of Pop Tarts.” “I fucking love you, man.” I woke up the next morning amazed that I was still alive, and even more amazed that I’d somehow managed to get home without committing any number of felonies. It felt like Tito Puente was pounding out a vicious mambo beat directly onto my cerebral cortex. A million tiny midgets in clogs were dancing across my cranium. I guess I’m pretty much done here, I thought. Time to leave before an angry mob chases me out of town. There’s no way I can show my face again after that humiliating public spectacle. But y’know, the more I think about it, maybe it wasn’t so bad after all. Maybe every wine party needs a guy like me. I wasn’t the only one who drank a little too much. The guests left a mountain of empty bottles that would require several garbage trucks to haul away. We all had reasons to feel embarrassed. I knew that somewhere, at least a few people were waking up and trying to piece together the events of last night. And then, just as the drunkard’s lament seemed certain to take hold, their bloodshot eyes would light up. “Well,” they’d say with a sigh of relief, “at least I never mentioned hobo balls.” That’s right! And don’t you ever forget it, Drunky McDrinksalot. You owe me. f
Take Down by Randall Cosco
Guide to Health by Gary Taxali
Thanks to Media Temple for supporting Fray.
Contributors continued from page 7 Alan Defibaugh is a professional illustrator and graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design. He lives outside Washington D.C. with his partner and their cat Lola. When not whipping up vector confections, Alan paints whimsical and sometimes unsettling acrylic images. alandefibaugh.com Annie Galvin was born and raised in Ireland, attended art school, went through many hair incarnations, and drank lots of Guinness. She moved to San Francisco two weeks before the 1989 earthquake and has been there ever since. wexfordgirl.com
Chad Walker is a freelance illustrator living in New England. He spends most of his time drawing and trying new vegetarian dishes. Many of his drawings end up on
his site. Most of his food ends up in his tummy or on his shirt. devotedbee.com
dannygregory.com David Rebuck is chief of anesthesiology and surgery at Community Memorial Hospital in Hamilton, New York. He has a wife, Barbara, and four children. He enjoys amateur photography, racquetball, internet speed chess, and weight training.
Chris Bishop is a Washington DC-based painter, illustrator, cartoonist and web designer for PBS Kids, known for his Pretty Girls and Robots paintings and comic strip Her! Girl vs. Pig. chrisbishop.com Chris Brandt is an artist and filmmaker living in Los Angeles. He keeps his doors locked, but his website is open. bainst.com
Ben Roberts is a photographer who has been exhibited in the Museum of London and published in the Fader, the Sunday Herald, and JPG Magazine. He is currently first assistant to the award-winning UK documentary photographer Zed Nelson. benrobertsphotography.com
Danny Gregory is the author of several books including Everyday Matters, The Creative License, and An Illustrated Life. He lives in Greenwich Village and his drawings appear in The New York Times and many other books and publications.
Claire Robertson lives and works in Melbourne, Australia. These days she spends most of her time being a full-time mother to two little monsters, but in her spare moments she is working on a series of childrenâ€™s books for publication some time this decade. loobylu.com
Derek Powazek has a hard time deciding what to call himself. Hereâ€™s a list of things he is: writer, designer, storyteller, photographer, husband, publisher, entrepreneur, Chihuahua guardian. He started this whole Fray thing and really hopes you like it. powazek.com
Jason Fraser is a product of the late 20th century. He is a closet iconoclast who studies linguistics, kung fu, and history. He loves his family and friends more than they could possibly know. muspilli.com
Dwayne Clare is short and ugly. He makes doors for a living, but sometimes he draws. If he had to make a living from art, he would fare slightly worse than if he had to make a living selling his body. Fortunately, unskilled labor pays better than
both. dwayneclare.com Evan Yarbrough is a professional artist in Los Angeles. He designs massive Flash websites during the day and freelances apparel, print, and digital media at night. He hopes that one day his work will cure hangovers and bring about instant orgasm. evanimal.com
Frank Kolodziej is an interactive art director and sort-of photographer living in New York City. He has never been arrested. positive-negative.com Gary Taxali’s work has appeared in the Luz de Jesus
Gallery in Los Angeles, the
Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, Rolling Stone, Esquire, Time, Newsweek, Fortune, The New York Times, and Entertainment Weekly. garytaxali.com
Ford Minton is the product of an over-priced San Francisco art school education and several years pushing pixels in Silicon Valley. If pressed, he will never, ever, admit to growing up in Las Vegas, nor will he attempt to use the term “relational aesthetics” in a conversation. fordminton.com
Goopymart is a one-man (Will Guy) design studio specializing in bright, colorful lumpy illustrations. A wide variety of artwork, comics, and animations are made for the delight and confusion of the world’s population. goopymart.com James Unwin is a Londonbased illustrator and writer. preshaa.com
Jeff Coleman is a musician, comics artist and illustrator. He is one half of the band
World Racketeering Squad and co-creator of the webcomic Progressions. On the web he can be found at his blog or at his current adults-only webcomic, Chastity Towers. progressions.org John Allspaw likes making things go. kitchensoap.com John Reddinger is a freelance illustrator, graphic designer, and art student, but usually not all at the same time. He currently resides in Pennsylvania. johnreddinger.com
Contributors continued from previous Kevin Smokler is the editor of Bookmark Now: Writing in Unreaderly Times (Basic Books) which was a San Francisco Chronicle Noteable Book of 2005. His writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, Fast Company and on National Public Radio. He lives in San Francisco. kevinsmokler.com
Julie Jackson is the creator of SubversiveCrossStitch.com, where you can get a limitededition kit of the cross stitch pattern seen on page 72. She collects vintage Siamese cat photos, inflatable footstools, Kilgore Rangerettes memorabilia, and obscure Peggy Lee songs. kittywigs.com
Lance Arthur was born in Bakersfield, California and regrets that more than anything. He now resides in San Francisco with a cat, a big-screen TV and a 342-disk movie collection. Lance is an atheist by choice, and a procrastinator by nature. lancearthur.com
Kate Kotler is a loudly opinionated freelance writer from San Francisco, California. She currently writes the weekly column “Femina Po-
of Philadelphia … er … Paris. He’s in
Linzie Hunter is a freelance illustrator based in London. She obsessively collects vintage picture books and kitsch tat from the ’50s and ’60s. linziehunter.co.uk Magdalen Powers writes and edits in Oregon when she is not teaching and finishing her MFA in Florida. She is the author of The Heart Is Also a Furnace. foolsparadise.org
tens” for DollyMix on the Shiny Media Network. adorkablegrrl.wordpress.com
Kevin Cornell has successfully executed 13 diamond heists, one cubic zirconia heist, and one backwards heist to return said cubic zirconia. When he’s not heisting, he’s designing and illustrating in his home outside
Leah Peterson does interviews for print, text and video. She crafts, shoots photos, paints, writes and is generally up to something at all times. Leah is made from 100% recycled materials. leahpeah.com
Lane Hartwell is a freelance photographer in the San Francisco Bay Area covering arts, tech and culture. She’s a frequent contributor to Wired News, San Francisco magazine, and other local and international publications. fetching.net
Mal Jones is a Washington DC artist that draws comics, paints fish, and makes websites. maljones.com
Marc Cram is a third generation Las Vegan. He was a designer and writer for Westwood Studios and worked on such games as Eye of the Beholder, Dune II and DragonStrike. Currently, he designs slot machine and poker games. Also, Elvis secretly lives in his basement. Thank you very much. kmuzu.com
Reilly Stroope is an illustrator and designer from Dallas, Texas. reillystroope.com
Meg Pickard is a thirtysomething creative geek who is part anthropologist, part storyteller, and part photo fiend. She lives in London, where she spends far too much time on public transport, and not enough time hanging out with her cat. meish.org Marc Johns creates insightful drawings filled with dry wit and humor. His artwork has been exhibited in many cities, published in several books and magazines, blogged about thoroughly, and caused him to grow antlers. marcjohns.com Meg Hunt is a 24-year-old illustrator and cartoonist. Her world is inhabited by strange monsters, secret meetings, and people in disguise. Her clients include The Washington Post, Phoenix New Times, Fantagraphic Books, Nickelodeon Magazine, Las Vegas Weekly, Utne Magazine, BUST, and more. meghunt.com
Paul O’Sullivan is cooler than a polar bear’s toenail. drout750.com Penny René is a surprisingly honest writer and a creator of therapeutic websites who dreams of inspiring the masses, one conversation at a time. Her husband and daughter are her favorite obsessions. slowmotionrace.com Randall Cosco is a Vancouver, BC-based allegorical photographer who teaches conceptual editorial photography. He is also the staff photographer for Adbusters. randallcosco.com
Sam Baden is an insurance industry professional who occasionally gets the courage to submit freelance pieces. He has previously written for The Citizen and Chronogram. He lives in Brooklyn. oddsagainst.blogspot.com Sam Brown draws pictures. explodingdog.com Shannon Okey is the author of over ten craft-focused books, including the bestselling Knitgrrl series and Spin to Knit. She is a former stockbroker. She knows Martha Stewart used to be a stockbroker too, and is okay with that. knitgrrl.com Stefan Grambart is an animator and graphic designer and a member of the Robotface online community. He’s now working toward becoming a full-time freelance illustrator and artist. ripsey.com Witold Riedel is a draftsman, photographer, and writer who explores the often-unfamiliar corners of the seemingly familiar universe. He was born in Poland, lived in Germany, yet is a New Yorker by choice. He carries a little bear with him most of the time, though not always, so don’t ask. witoldriedel.com
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This book proudly contains the following phrases: 12 Fascists can’t treat a brown man like this … 19 A white chunky powdered tractor beam pulling me… 25 Rewrap the proboscis … 28 Hot bees of guilt swarming in my brain … 31 Soft mechanical grinding coming from somewhere deep inside … 34 A hybrid version of a grunt and squeal … 36 The holy men of West London … 41 Nearly died in a quest for edgier sex … 45 A tasty Jesus-flavored wafer… 52 Cold death melted with hot steel poured over the testicles of a rabid bull … 55 Felt the dookie squeeze out … 58 Newly discovered hormones and excruciating embarrassment … 73 Hysterical laughter erupted from behind the sheet … 76 The well-lit back rooms of forgiveness … 82 Not the brightest crayons in the box … 88 Definitely something testicley about it.
The story continues at fray.com
Published on Oct 22, 2009
We’ve devoted this first issue of Fray to busted stories. It’s moments like these that teach us who we are, and steer us toward who we’ll be...