a magazine of literature and art
in this issue poetry fiction nonfiction interview with Elise Juska feature art by Ernest Williamson III
a publication of Rowan Universityâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s master of arts in writing graduate program
For their support, the staff of Glassworks magazine would like to thank:
Rowan University’s Master of Writing Program
Rowan University’s Writing Arts Department
The Glassworks advisory board: Jeffrey Maxson, Jennifer Courtney,
Drew Knopp, Bill Wolff
Cover art: “THE OTHER PICASSO” by Ernest Williamson III To see more of this artist, visit www.yessy.com/budicegenius __________________________________________________________ Glassworks is available both digitally and in print. See our website for details: www.RowanGlassworks.org _________________________________________________________ Glassworks accepts poetry, fiction, nonfiction, art, photography, short video/film & audio relevant to literature. See submission guidelines for more information: www.RowanGassworks.org ________________________________________________________ Glassworks is a publication of Rowan University’s Master of Writing Program. Correspondences can be sent to: Glassworks c/o Ron Block 205 Hawthorn Hall Rowan University Glassboro, NJ 08028 E-mail: GlassworksMagazine@gmail.com Copyright © 2011 Glassworks
Glassworks maintains First Serial Rights for publication in our journal and Electronic Rights for reproduction of works in Glassworks and/or Glassworks-affiliated materials. All other rights remain with the artist.
glassworks Issue One
Master of Arts in Writing Graduate Program Rowan University glassworks iii
EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Ron Block MANAGING EDITOR Manda Frederick ISSUE ONE EDITORIAL BOARD Carla Spataro Tom Winkelspecht Laura Casey Lopez Aileen Bachant Sam Dodge Sharada Krishnamurthy Rebecca Force Krystle L. Wright Meghan Oâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;Donnell Alexa Mantle Mary Chrapliwy Jessica Landolfi EDITORIAL CONSULTANTS DESIGN/COPY Karen Holloway Julianna Lopez Lauren Covaci Frankie Anderson-Harris Myra Schiffmann Diana Riker Tamikka Malloy Laura Parise Joseph McGee
TABLE OF CONTENTS Poetry To the Boy Who Died in the Roller Coaster, Kristine Ong Musli……................…………….14 Mojitos, Joan Hanna……………………………………..............................…………15 Weekdays at 3, Liz Abrams-Morley……………………………………………………….18 I Tell the Class about My Childhood Memory of a Tree, Liz Abrams-Morley......................19 A Day Without Pain, Laura LeHew……...……………......................…………………28 Onions for Breakfast, Joseph Farley…….......……..........................……………………31 Winter’s Bloom, Joseph Farley........………………………......……………………….32 (For S.B.), Martin Itzkowitz.............................................................................................................37 Independent, John Grey...................................................................................................................47 154 South Street, John Grey.........................................................................................................48-49 Oh Say Can You See, Howie Good................................................................................................50 Brother Prometheus, Steven Harbold..............................................................................................51 Unshelled Peanuts, Richard Luftig...................................................................................................52
Fiction Sandscapes, Nathaniel Green…………….......………….............................………………1-7 Howie’s End, Jeffrey Haynes……………………………...........................…………….21-27 Touched by God: The Truth Story Henderson and Lloyd, Marc Schuster……………39-46
Nonfiction Life as a Sandwich, Kathryn Quigley………....................………………………………9-12 Death of a Pencil, Liz Ilawn……………………………………………………………13 Words, Joseph McGee......................................…………………………………………16-17 The Difference Between Sunshine and an Orgasm, Christopher Gutierrez...................33-35
Editorial Interview With Elise Juska, Aileen Bachant……….…......………………….........….....29-30
Index ContributorBiographies.............................................................................................................53-55 glassworks v
SANDSCAPES Nathaniel Green “The safest memories are the memories which are in the brains of people who cannot remember.” – Yadin Dudai, scientist and professor of neurobiology Harold understands that he can’t try to not think about his dead wife. The act of thinking about not thinking about her means he was thinking about her. So when Harold, standing alone in the kitchen, catches himself thinking that he’d not thought about Lydia for twenty-four hours, he curses. “Shit,” he says as he stares sightlessly at the silver scooper of ground coffee. His hand shakes and a few black, lonely grains of Folgers spill onto the counter. His best bet is to focus on something else. “Coffee,” he mutters as he refocuses his eyes as if they alone could set it to percolating. “Coffee. Coffee. Coffee tastes good. Coffee’s made of beans from the coffee plant. Maybe it’s a tree?”
through the clanging pile of utensils. “Ah, here it is.” Spatula in hand, he turns back to the stove. “Beans come from all over. Columbia. Kenya. Congo, maybe? The U.S.? Oh, right. Hawaii …” We honeymooned in Hawaii, Harold thinks, arm frozen. An image of his Lydia rises, unbidden. Her hair had been long then, and black. It glowed in the morning sun off the Pacific the way obsidian turns gold at the perfect angle. She raised a cup of coffee to blow on its surface. The purse of her lips formed around that smile, the same wide, sly smile she’d have for the next nineteen years. The toaster announces its completed task with a clatter. “Shit.” Harold’s eyes refocus on the spatula. He flips the egg and it sighs as it slaps into the pan. “Lydia never drank coffee,” he says in a whisper, his shoulders sagging. “She drank tea.” He steps to the side and begins to butter the two pieces of toast. He’d managed, or thought he’d managed, a full day without using his memories. Now he’d again used one of his most beautiful. He
The grounds tumble into the filter with a hissing that sympathizes
sets the memory away, gingerly, cupping it with both hands like he
with the sizzle of a frying egg.
might a wounded butterfly.
“But coffee’s good,” he says with bushy, arched eyebrows. “It’s
He crinkles his forehead and stares at the pile of butter in its dish
good with an egg for breakfast. Good to perk me up before work.”
as the knife slices through it. “Toast. Let’s talk about toast.”
He sets to his morning routine: cooking a single egg, two pieces
“Toast is almost a natural to go with coffee. I mean, have you
of toast. One mug of coffee he’ll refill when it reaches half-mast.
ever dunked your toast in coffee? Of course not. You’re a stick of butter. But let me tell you, Mr. Butter … you, on a piece of toast
He snatches the salt shaker from the counter and showers the
dunked really quickly in some hot coffee is damn good.”
egg. On the back of the stove, the clock shows 6:33 with a green, flashing colon between the numbers.
With a single clink that reverberates off the hard kitchen walls, he sets the knife aside and lays one slice atop the other. He then
“Plenty of time. Plenty of time for coffee. Coffee comes from
scoops the egg, now finished sizzling, onto the plate next to the
beans … I said that.” Harold slides open a drawer and rummages
toast and continues to speak to the empty room. His voice, like
the yellow light cast from the overhead lamp, seems to only reach
It’s not that he doesn’t want to think about Lydia, he tells himself
the edges of the kitchen and not pierce the pre-dawn darkness
with a frown. The thought of spending an entire day reliving his
through the doorway into the living room.
time with her brings forth a longing that pulls the breath from his chest and paralyzes his diaphragm.
“And doughnuts, too. There’s a pair! Doughnuts and coffee. It’s like they were made for one another.”
He could spend the rest of his life recalling every second, reveling in the thrill of the golden moment when a memory, long-unused,
Harold drones on to himself until he flicks on a TV sitting on the
resurfaces as if new. He could let his eyes close halfway as he
island in the middle of the room to watch the morning news. He
remembers the touch of her hand on his arm, lingering at his
eats his breakfast, leaves for work, and thinks no more of Lydia
elbow as they disengaged from a hug. The smell of her hair. He
yearns to recreate every detail of her smile, of the twenty-three years they had together. *** But that’s just the thing: recreating is an act of creation.
It’s Friday and the weather’s shitty. An awning hunches over Harold like a giant beast shielding its young as he crinkles his face
As his feet make wet, slapping noises against the pavement, Harold
at the rain-drenched city streets. People curl into miserable balls
hustles on toward his dinner and frowns. He thinks about his self-
beneath heavy coats as they emerge from the line of stone facades
imposed ban on thinking of his Lydia and feels like a petulant
of Old City. Umbrellas grind at one another over tight shoulders.
child about to scream, “But I want to!” He pulls his jacket tighter and walks faster.
Harold had meant to bring an umbrella. He forgot. He looks up the street, it’s slick gray seething with water and hunching people. He considers trying to catch a cab home, but it’d be a fight on a night like this. He thinks about just dashing to the train station like usual. But the train always makes him sad and sleepy on rainy days. And when he’s sleepy, his mind tends to wander where he doesn’t want it to. Besides, it’s a Friday night, and why should he go home to be alone? He’d just have to find something to occupy his mind, so why not head out for dinner? Someplace he’s never been. Maybe the new place on Seventh that’s supposed to be a German Brauhaus. He squeezes the lapels of his jacket against one another beneath his throat and steps out into the rain. Even without the soporific rocking of the train, Harold finds himself thinking of Lydia.
A traffic light sparkles yellow through hundreds of rain droplets ahead of him, and Harold speeds up even more. The water in the street laps over his shoes and against his socks as he jogs across the intersection and the light changes. In the car directly to his right, a couple sits patiently as he crosses, while somewhere behind them a horn sounds. As always, Harold’s longing to remember Lydia leads back to that painful moment when he learned he shouldn’t. That damn article he’d read. All the damn panicky, follow-up research he’d done. “Damn rat brains,” he says beneath his breath. The research itself had seemed so innocent. Scientists studied rat brains to learn more about human memory. Some of them discovered that by delivering a certain drug (anisomycin, if Harold recalled correctly) before the experiment, they could prevent the rats from forming memories. Then, they took it another step and learned that by administering the same drug while rats recalled their memories, they could erase them.
It seemed that if they could prevent memories from being formed,
from their high-top table in the bar area. The woman puts on a
and erase memories after the fact, then memory is recreated anew
long coat, and as she’s flipping brown hair from beneath the collar
each time, rather than recalled in a pristine form.
with both hands, she looks at Harold.
Harold wipes the rain from his brow and grimaces as he hears
“We’re leaving. You can have our table if you like,” she says. She’s
the researcher’s voice in his head. “Actually, the more you use a
young and pretty, easily half of Harold’s forty-eight years.
memory, the less true it is.” “Thank you,” he says and reaches for a stool. The man pauses The interview went on in more detail, but at that moment, the
for a moment to let the woman pass and he settles his hand on
implications had struck Harold like a punch to the sternum. The
the small of her back and holds the door open. The wind darts
researcher discussed how even the slightest suggestions can alter
in, ruffling the woman’s coat around her calves and giving Harold
memories that seem painfully vivid and exact. How memories
a whiff of citrus perfume while a sudden chilliness runs up his
aren’t photographs, but like images in those moving sand
landscapes that change every time they’re touched. Harold turns back to his table and eyeballs the menu. Harold imagined some delicate flower that blooms once a year in the dark, beautiful and perfect and pure. Though it would shrivel
Very quietly, he says, “Beer. Beer’s good. Maybe I’ll try something
at the light needed to see it. Or crumble beneath fingers trying to
touch its petals. *** “The more you use a memory, the less true it is,” he whispers and his voice seems to hang in the air around him as if uncertain of
Within an hour, Harold’s feeling better. There’s a quartet of
where to settle.
sausages visiting with some sauerkraut and mashed potatoes in his belly. He’s finished the better part of two beers and now holds
A finger of rain water snakes its way past Harold’s collar and chills
the half-empty glass between both hands as it rests on the bar top.
a line around the base of his neck before dispersing into his shirt.
Though he sits by himself, the atmosphere is cozy, the air is warm,
He looks up from the pavement, whose plain grey had filled his
and he listens to the echoes of conversations around him.
vision, to see a sign in gothic letters across the street that reads “Brauhaus Wolfgang.”
Leaning forward on his elbows, he smiles as he catches snippets of conversations around him. One group behind him is reminiscing
The inside of the restaurant is dry and warm and rosy from the
about their college days. A few men by the bar throw arguments
glow of low lamps reflected against polished wood. Bodies of
over their smiles and laughter, though Harold can only make out
strangers are clustered in groups of twos, fours, fives in smiling,
the tone of their voices and very few words. One man lays a hand
laughing knots under a low ceiling. To his left, an open area spreads
on another’s shoulder, says something, and the laughter of two
out from the bar, cluttered with the bodies and chatter of a Friday
others breaks through the crowd. Though he missed the joke,
night in the city. A dining area spreads out to Harold’s right where
Harold smiles along and takes another sip.
more tables and benches are supporting even more people. The door behind him opens yet again, though now he barely Now that he’s out of the rain and cold wind, Harold finally stands
notices the tickle of the cold sweeping against him. Only the
up straight and shrugs off his jacket. Beside him, a couple rises
lingering wetness in his socks still discomforts him.
Then, he hears a voice that chills him more than any November
A long breath. “Nah. I ate already and I don’t want to encroach
on your date.”
Felicia laughs and slaps his chest with one playful hand. “Date? We’ve been married twenty years, Harold. I think we’ll be ok if
Harold’s heart beats once. His brain races as terror and unbelievable
we miss one date. Besides, we haven’t seen you in too long.” Her
hope fountain in his chest. He can’t have heard Lydia’s voice. He
tone lowers and her hand moves to his arm. “I’d really like it if
you joined us.”
Then, his heart beats a second time, and the spell withers with the
Harold swallows. His eyes flick involuntarily to the table beside
wind as the door closes.
him where his glass sits, coasterless and nearly empty against the wood.
He turns on his stool to see two faces staring at him: Lydia’s sister and her husband, John. Their eyes crinkle with a mixture of
He nods. “Let me pay my tab and we’ll grab a table.”
curiosity and happiness. *** Harold pauses for a moment as he registers the surprise. Felicia and Lydia hadn’t looked all that much alike, though there were
The dining room exudes the same feel of Old-World cottages and
certain hidden similarities: their eyes, their voices. People couldn’t
fireplaces as the bar, though the people here are spread slightly
mark it at first, but would say “Ah, I can see it now,” upon learning
further apart, and much quieter. Harold shifts, trying to find a
they were sisters.
comfortable position on the wooden bench.
Harold immediately focuses on her sparkling eyes, framed by the
John reclines, one hand resting on the handle of his beer mug
same dark brows as his Lydia’s. He wonders whether Felicia dyes
at arm’s length. Felicia takes a sip of her wine and hums her
her hair; it’s the same glittering black his wife’s had been until she
appreciation with raised eyebrows then sets the glass back on
let the gray grow in naturally around her fortieth birthday.
the table. She pauses and runs her hands along the table as if smoothing an unseen cloth.
“Felicia?” “It really is nice to see you, Harold. We were concerned about He stands and takes her in a hug. He notes with relief that she doesn’t smell like Lydia. “What are you doing here?” she asks as she steps back. Harold shrugs. “Weather’s shitty and I didn’t feel like trekking home. Figured I’d try a new place for dinner.” He extends his hand and John takes it in his own. “Us, too. Wanna join us?”
you,” she says. Her eyes are worried, so Harold looks to John. The husband frowns slightly and nods. Harold sighs and wonders how the alcohol he can feel buoying his brain will affect him tonight. “I know,” he says. “Is everything ok? I mean … we haven’t seen you in over a year,” Felicia looks down and suddenly talks more quickly. “And maybe it’s my fault. After Lydia died, I tried to keep up with you, and I
just … just when you didn’t return some phone calls, I stopped
John smiles and leans forward to examine his own massive
trying and then things got busy … and …”
portion. “You said you were hungry.”
“No. It’s my fault, Leese.”
“Harold, you have to help me with this.”
Their eyes meet for a moment. The look is both consoling and
Harold sees the waitress is already smiling. Perhaps she’s seen this
uncomfortable and Harold looks away first.
reaction before. “Let me get you an extra plate,” she says.
For a searing moment he wants to tell them everything. The words
“And another beer, please.” John holds up his nearly empty mug
burn at his throat, longing to get out, to explain to Felicia and
and points with it to Harold in question.
John, his two closest friends after his Lydia, that he can’t see them because they remind him of her. He wants to let it loose in this
Harold nods and says, “Two beers.”
place of coziness, to hear his words subdued by the mahogany and see them shrugged off with smiles by his friends. He clenches
his teeth and considers how to explain that remembering corrupts the honesty of his memories. That every single memory, every
In Harold’s belly, the sausages, sauerkraut and potatoes have
moment with his Lydia is too precious and beautiful, too pure to
been joined by more mashed potatoes, half a rump roast and a
few raisins from the sauerbraten sauce. Another beer and a half provide more buoyancy in his brain.
Instead, he says, “It’s just … hard.” John’s leaning forward, one arm across his wife’s chair, the other “Yeah,” she says.
resting against the table edge. “But then Dave looks at this cow and says, ‘Holy shit! I didn’t know the bastards were so big!’ ”
John sets a hand on the back of his wife’s chair and caresses her shoulder with one finger. With a tentative glance up, he says, “We
Harold’s head tilts back as he laughs at the punch line, open-
just miss seeing you, Harold.”
mouthed. Felicia smiles like she’s heard this story thirty times before. John shakes his head and takes a sip of his beer over his
“I know. I miss you guys, too.”
An uncomfortable silence settles in at the table of three, while
“You know, I grew up in the city, too,” Felicia says, “but at least I
around them, people eat their dinners and talk about their lives.
know what cows really look like.”
Voices float and mingle through the air to create a steady, calming, indecipherable drone.
John lets out a single wheeze of a laugh. “Now you do, but that’s only because we went to the game farm that one time. Remember
Harold brightens when he sees the waitress approaching with two
heaping plates. She sets down sauerbraten with mashed potatoes in front of Felicia, whose eyes suddenly go wide.
He draws a breath through his teeth, then says, “Yeah.”
“My God, that’s a lot of food.”
John shakes his head. “I know Leese hadn’t ever seen half those animals up close, and neither had Lydia, had she?”
Harold shakes his head slowly. “No. I don’t think so. Your parents
“I thought it was a sheep,” says John. “I remember getting that
weren’t really animal people, were they?”
food stuff for them out of the little vending machine, except it was all wet and sticky? God, that was gross.”
Felicia snorts. “You knew my parents. Animals? No way! Sure, we’d gone to the zoo, but never anything close enough to pet
“That was disgusting,” says Felicia.
anything. And they were probably right! Remember how bad that day was?”
Harold can almost feel the mealy wetness in his hands. “I remember that, but I’m pretty sure it was a goat.”
John shakes his head. “No, it was a great day! We had so much fun. Didn’t we, Harold?”
“Don’t you remember? Lydia didn’t want to feed anymore, so she just dumped most of the food on the ground and wiped her
A sad breath sneaks out of Harold’s nose. “Yeah. But I don’t think
hands on her skirt. I hope it wasn’t a good one. But then this
sheep started chewing on it and wouldn’t let go.”
“Oh, she got over it,” says Felicia. “So did I. And I had camel spit
Harold thinks for a moment, trying to clarify the image in his
all over my new blouse.”
head. He sees a goat, black and white, wriggling its head as Lydia traipses along beside it, screaming until it finally comes free. Then,
John reclines again. “I just remember her being dragged along,
just as clearly as the goat, it’s a sheep, its wool a dirty white as it
clinging for dear life as that sheep wouldn’t let go of her skirt.”
gnaws at her skirt.
Harold’s brain scrambles, clutching for anything else to distract
“I could’ve sworn it was a goat.” He turns to his sister-in-law for
him before inexorable gravity drags him beneath the waters
confirmation. “Leese. You remember, right?”
of memory. Despite his anxiety, he finds the image warm and soothing.
She chuckles for a second before answering. “No clue. I just remember getting spit on by a camel and watching my sister two-
Lydia was wide-eyed and screaming, both hands clinging to her
step across the yard, scattering little kids all over the place so her
skirt as she pranced along beside the animal. Her hair jostled
skirt wouldn’t get torn off completely.”
around her shoulders while families in the background looked on in shocked silence. She nearly toppled over as the goat suddenly
John shrugs, still laughing. “Eh. Doesn’t matter. It was still a fun
changed directions and Harold, slow to recognize what had
time. And Lydia had a sense of humor about it afterwards.”
happened, finally rushed forward to help her. Everyone’s laughter fades, though it still hangs like a blanked “It was a goat,” he says.
among them. Harold notices they’re both still smiling and looking at nothing in particular: Felicia’s eyes turned down at the table
and John’s out over the restaurant. Harold imagines that they’re playing their own versions of memories of Lydia as they gaze
“Yeah. She had a little frilly thing of lace at the bottom of her
skirt, and the goat got its horn caught in it and when she tried to pull it off, he got scared and started to run away.”
As the evening winds down, the three finish the last of their drinks and pay the bill. Outside, it’s stopped raining and they pause by
the entrance before they exit.
at the lamp’s switch for a moment, hesitating, then they twist, and with a snap, the room is dark.
John holds Felicia’s coat open so she can slip her arms in as he looks at Harold. “It was good to see you, pal. We should do it
Harold rolls back into the bed, pulling the sheets up across his
chest. After a moment, his eyes readjust to the darkness, and suddenly the room seems bright again. The moon, at full Harold
Harold feels a colorless smile form, dragged up from deep in his
assumes, pours through the windows with a gentle layer of
belly. “Yeah. That’d be good,” he says as he wraps his arms around
mercury that casts a shadow off the dresser at the far wall. In the
Felicia for a tight hug. He shakes John’s hand, then they push open
light, Harold can read the titles on a pile of books stacked beside
the door and a blast of cold, moist air grabs at Harold’s neck and
face. He rolls onto his side to glance again at the photo on the They step out into the evening and just before Harold turns away
nightstand. The moon’s light drains away the color, leaving it black
to walk toward the train, Felicia lays a hand on his arm.“Harold, I
and white, though somehow deeper with more texture. Lydia’s
know it’s hard. But we can’t always live in the past. We’re still your
hair is now grayer than it had been in the yellow of the lamplight.
family, and we’re here now. Remember that.”
The green hedges in the background are dark, more like the slate color of the sea. It could almost be an entirely different photo.
Harold smiles at the irony and nods silently before turning toward Yet Lydia still smiles.
the train. ***
Harold bites his lip as a rope suddenly pulls tight around his heart, making his breath catch in his throat with a weak rasp. He says her
Harold sits at the edge of his bed with boney elbows on boney
name once, then he rolls away from the photo and closes his eyes.
knees, and holds the picture between the thumbs and forefingers of both hands. Lydia’s face is half obscured by her hair, streaks
The tears squeeze past his lids, slide down his cheeks and pause
of white and black slope in layers from her eye back to her jaw.
on his lips to mingle with a slow, sad smile as he allows himself
She stands in profile against the row of young arborvitae in their
to remember. §
backyard. The gold and orange of early autumn are sprinkled through the green of the background. Lydia leans forward with laughter, her wide mouth open, one hand caught in mid-gesture as it rises to her mouth. The line of her jaw shows sharp and clean beneath the skin pulled tight with joy. With a long, heavy breath, he sets the photograph atop a mound of similar pictures on the bedside table. He folds his hands in his lap as he sits erect. Spread across the floor before him are a halfdozen photo albums—every one he owns, and most half-empty from him pulling the contents from their pages. He looks back at the photo he had just held, the glare of the lamp above it washing out part of the glossy surface. His fingers linger
â&#x20AC;&#x153;Understanding What Mattersâ&#x20AC;? Ernest Williamson III
LIFE AS A SANDWICH
of the show.
He knows he is the seventh of eight children and that his father
lot of “Seinfeld,” even though he can never remember the name
owned a candy and ice cream shop in West Philadelphia. But he Two guys who are terribly important to me fill my life. Both get
can’t remember half the words he wants to say, and his sentences
cranky, have peculiar eating schedules and need help peeing. One
are filled with gaps and pauses that I fill in. Dad used to love to
is my son and one is my father.
drive everywhere and take walks around the neighborhood. Now, he gets anxious if he has to leave the assisted living place for a
I am part of the sandwich generation – caring for a child as a
doctor’s appointment because his brain can’t figure it out; it is all
single mom, while also caring for an elderly parent. Here is a
typical snapshot of my life: Right now, my 4-year-old is playing the “Angry Birds” app on my iPhone. Five minutes ago, my dad
His biggest medical problem is that his bladder stopped working
got off his phone at the assisted living home because a nursing
and he wears a catheter that often leaks or needs to be emptied.
aide was coming in to change his catheter bag. Now, my son is
My visits to Dad involve changing his pee-soaked clothes, nagging
putting a toy fireman’s hat on my head as I type.
him to empty his catheter bag and then taking my recently pottytrained son to the toilet. Then, inevitably, I have to pee. Often, I
Let me be clear, I love my son. I love my Dad. But this “sandwich
start saying things like: “Does anyone ELSE here need to use the
generation” stuff sometimes stinks, kind of like a sandwich with
bathroom, because I am on a roll.”
mayo left out in the sun. My son is four and is full of energy, questions and a mercurial I am a licensed foster mother and my son came to me at 10 days
temperament. He is a Gemini in the true sense in that one minute
old in May 2006 – right from the hospital. His adoption was official
he can be laughing and joking, and the next he can be whining
17 months later. In between that, I won a hard-fought battle for
and fussing. I work full-time as a professor. Daycare helps, and my
tenure and increased care of my Dad. I have had many moments
Mom travels up from Florida when she can, but most of the time
of joy in the last four and a half years, but much frustration and
it is just me taking care of my son. I am always exhausted.
sadness, too. My son’s life is just beginning. My dad’s is ending. My Dad is 83 and expected to be dead 30 years ago. His two My dad has dementia. Maybe it’s Alzheimer’s; maybe it’s because
beloved brothers died of heart problems in their 50s, so my
of the small strokes in his brain. It really doesn’t matter – his mind
Dad—a melancholy Irishman—expected to croak by then, too.
is not all there. I won’t know for sure what ails him till he dies and
To his surprise, he is still alive. In fact, he recently let me know
his body is autopsied, if I decide on that.
he wouldn’t mind living until he was 85 or so. My uncles both smoked and drank, and had heart problems. My Dad has diabetes,
Dad knows his name and his Social Security number, but can’t
depression and dementia, but he never drank and aside from a
tell you what he ate for lunch or where he is. He knows I am
failed attempt at smoking a pipe, never indulged in tobacco.
his daughter and my son is his grandson, but often he forgets Nicholas’ name.
My Dad saved a decent retirement fund through TIAA-CREF. It covers most of the cost of his assisted living, but not all. He
Dad was a history professor for nearly 40 years who used to read
might qualify for a veteran’s benefit because he enlisted in World
voraciously and discuss earnestly the causes of World War II or
War II in June 1945, but the paperwork for the benefit is daunting.
the South after the Civil War. Now, he barely reads and watches a
It is on my desk and over Christmas break I hope to fill it out.
We’ll see, if after eight months, the Veteran’s Administration
was gripped by OCD and depression. My grandmother suffered
from depression while raising her eight children. My aunt and cousin were hospitalized for serious mental problems, probably
Dad’s will, funeral plans, and retirement were undertaken with the
bi-polar and schizophrenia. I can’t tell you the details—they were
assumption that he would, in fact, be dead by now. I am taking
not spoken about in my Dad’s family.
care of everything he didn’t plan on—like getting dementia and getting old. I learned an important point from this: To plan on
The irony of Dad’s dementia is that his symptoms have finally
being ALIVE during my retirement years.
lifted. Now, he is in a good mood nearly all the time. Maybe the plaque that is coating his brain seeped over his sad and moody
I take care of all his bills. I got him placed in the assisted living
spots. His bright moods are a blessing. He tells me he loves me
home. When his catheter bag breaks and he is covered in pee, I
and he hugs my son.
am the one who yells at the assisted living staff. When he was still at home, I organized the part-time caregivers. When his memory
A lot of these issues with my Dad could have been avoided. For
started slipping, I hid the car keys and took away the car.
instance, when my parents divorced in 1983, my Dad remained in our three-bedroom house, which has a steep set of stairs from
Why do I do this? Because he was a good dad. He taught me to
the sidewalk and another steep set inside. I started bugging my
read and to love books and learning. He was always there for me
Dad when he turned 70 to add a bathroom to the first floor or to
growing up, ready to pick me up from school or cart me to dance
move to a smaller place or to, I don’t know, clean out all the crap
lessons. When I became a reporter, he got mail subscriptions to
from his house.
the newspapers where I worked and made scrapbooks of my clips. Oh, back up. I forgot to mention that part about my Dad being a I also do it all because I have to. You might think I am an only
hoarder. Like on TV, but without the skeletons of dead cats mixed
child. I am not. My younger sister lives in Florida and my older
in with the junk. My Dad used the excuse “But I am a historian!”
brother in Washington, D.C. My sister calls and listens to me vent
for why he saved so much stuff. Of course, that doesn’t explain
on the phone. She has a back injury, so she can’t sit long enough to
all the balls of twine, rubber bands, canceled checks from the
fly or drive up here. My brother, a lawyer with a family of his own,
1970s, boxes for every appliance ever purchased and plastic food
chooses not to help. I don’t know why. We don’t discuss it. But my
containers that once held Chinese food takeout wonton soup. I
dad was sometimes a moody, difficult person and my brother does
don’t think there are archives for those.
not have a lot of patience. Like most hoarders, Dad didn’t think he had a problem. My As a “sandwich,” I have to take care of my Dad while, at the same
siblings and I were just “nagging” him. When my parents were
time, also taking care of my son. In the beginning, I felt like I
married, my mom kept the house clean and threw away stuff on
needed to care for both equally. Now I realize that is impossible.
the sly. After the divorce, things went downhill. I hired a cleaning
My Dad needs me as a daughter, but my son needs me more as his
lady once. That was a disaster. I tried to clean when I came to visit.
mommy. Believe me – tons of Catholic guilt while I came to that
He yelled at me. And still the newspapers, magazines, boxes and
conclusion. But I’m doing the best that I can.
old bills piled up. When my son came along, we visited my Dad, but had to cut down because his house was completely unsafe for
Most of the time I am fine with being the CEO of “Team Dad.”
Sometimes, I resent it like hell. Therapy and a daily anti-depressant help. No, I don’t care that you know I take care of my mental
For years, I fussed over my Dad. Actually, I’ve worried about him
health. My dad didn’t take care of his. For much of his life, he
since the divorce. He has that effect on people—looking sad and
lost and getting people to take care of him. So for 10 years after
also covered up his symptoms with humor. But when I would check
the divorce, I worried. Then I moved away from Philadelphia for
his bills—strewn haphazardly on his messy dining room table—I
10 years to work as a newspaper reporter and get some space. In
noticed many were unpaid. And he was so forgetful. We went to a
2002, I was homesick for Philadelphia and wanted to return to the
neurologist who did tests and used the word “Alzheimer’s” for the
area. I knew what was waiting for me—dealing with Dad. I was
first time. I did not want to believe it. I did not want my Dad to
up for it. I am an unmarried daughter; I am Irish; I am Catholic. It
be an old man, sitting in a nursing home, drooling and incoherent.
was practically pre-ordained that I would be on Dad-Duty.
But at least there was a name to it. The neurologist found that my Dad had suffered a series of small strokes. That was causing some
For four years, things were okay. He lived on his own and came to
of the dementia. The rest was a guess.
visit me at my apartment and at my office at Rowan University. We went out to dinner and I occasionally dragged him to the movies
Luckily, I found a website called Caring.com—a resource for
or the theater. But slowly, I started noticing subtle changes in his
families who are affected by Alzheimer’s and dementia. The
behavior and memory.
website has sets of lists for children dealing with aging parents. An item from one of the lists instructed that I get power-of-
When my son came along in 2006, most of my attention shifted
attorney and update his living will, which had last been signed in
to him. It had to. For the first two years, my Dad was a help.
1994 (when he expected to be dead). I thought my Dad would put
He is good with babies and could be counted on to entertain
up a fight, but he signed. Maybe he liked the attorney. Maybe he
my son for short periods of time while I ran to the drugstore
was tired of my nagging. It was the best thing we ever did.
or supermarket. My Dad and my son instantly loved each other. Nicholas’ adoption finally came through and I finally got tenure.
I tried to keep my Dad at home as long as possible. Of course,
For a few months, I could breathe easier.
I considered moving him in with me. That thought lasted about a week. What would my Dad do all day in my townhouse in
But in the summer of 2008, it all came crashing down. It started
Deptford while I was at work? And while he loves my son, the
with the day my Dad wet my couch. He stood up and there was a
chaos and noise make him nuts. So I hired part-time caregivers for
giant urine stain and his pants were sopping wet. Unnervingly, my
Dad. That worked for about eight months.
Dad was not bothered. But the late-night trips to the emergency room for a clogged I stepped in, which my stubborn and independent father resented.
catheter or pain in his abdomen became more frequent. It got so
I started accompanying him to doctor’s visits, which he hated. It
that if he wasn’t at home, I knew to call the Emergency Room
turned out his bladder no longer contracted due to his unmanaged
of Frankford-Torresdale Hospital. I was running over to his
Type 2 diabetes. That began a series of hospital stays every few
house at least once or twice a week—while still raising my son
months and a catheter that he now has to wear every day till he
and teaching full-time. He got broken into one night, waking up
to find a stranger standing in the second floor hallway. But it took Dad two days to call the police and when they came, his story was
I went to Dad’s house and took a good, hard look around. It was
so convoluted, they didn’t believe him.
filthy. Somehow, in just a short time, dirty dishes had filled the sinks. The bathroom was disgusting. There was dust and piles of
Putting him into assisted living was the hardest decision I ever had
old newspaper everywhere.
to make and placing him there in July 2009, right after yet another hospital stay, was the hardest thing I ever had to do. It was one of
Meanwhile, Dad’s memory was truly slipping. He had always been
the worst days of my life, and I had to do it all by myself. I was
an absent-minded professor type, so it was hard to tell at first. He
too wracked with guilt to take solace that he has his own room, a
flat screen TV, a dining room and a supportive staff to fuss over
blood sugar. He eats dinner at 4 p.m., which is the best possible
him. But at least I had my little boy to come home to; a little boy
scenario for him (For me that is a late lunch). He doesn’t worry
filled with life, light and joy.
about money and often says “thank you” to me.
Then, in Fall 2009, my Dad’s empty house got broken into again.
Yet he is still slipping away. Every day, incrementally, his cognition
Perhaps the thieves noticed he was not sitting on his porch as
gets a little worse. My son notices it when we visit Dad; he misses
usual. But they took the opportunity to break into the back door,
the Pop Pop who would come to his house and play with him. I
go into the basement and steal every bit of copper plumbing. Oh,
don’t know how long Dad will live or how long he will be aware
and they left the water running so the entire basement flooded.
of us. But I am glad he is safe and sound.
For two days. Then, they went upstairs, rifled through Dad’s belongings and stole his World War II medals. I hope they rot in
People sometimes say to me, “Oh you are a good daughter.”
Maybe. But I know that if one of my siblings suddenly and magically took over managing his finances, I would not miss being
I had a bit of a nervous breakdown right about then. This is
CEO of “Team Dad” one bit. It is hard enough remembering to
where my mother came through, God bless her. She flew up from
pay all my bills, much less my Dad’s.
her home in Florida and spent a week cleaning out my Dad’s house to get it ready for sale. We hired the incredible guys from
I do know in my heart that whenever he dies, I will be sad. But
1-800-GOT-JUNK—whom I found from watching the TV show
also, I will know I did the best I could for him. And that is a
“Hoarders”—and they threw out and threw out and threw out.
satisfying sandwich. §
My mom—long divorced from my dad—made sure the house looked nice and clean and happy. “I was there when we moved into the house in 1964 and I wanted to be there when we said goodbye to the house,” my Mom said. And we did. We gave it a nice goodbye. Which is making me cry as I write this. Miraculously, the house sold by Thanksgiving. It didn’t sell for much money, but it was enough to give my Dad a small financial cushion. However, if he has to go into a nursing home, that cushion will last only about three months before he would need to go on Medicaid. But here is the thing—my Dad is actually content. That is what he told me when I asked how he is. “I’m content,” he said. “If I was at home, I would be by myself, going to the diner for meals.” And he does seem content. He likes the food, he likes his room and the young nurse’s aides who change his catheter and check his
DEATH OF A PENCIL Liz Ilawan Today, June 12, 2010, marks the tragic death of the graphite pencil as we all have known it. It’s demise was caused by rapid technological growth and the evolution of modern communication. The graphite pencil came from humble beginnings, first being used to mark sheep. Eage to demonstrate its potential though, the pencil partnered with an Italian couple, Simonio and Lyndiana Bernacotti, who were the first to design its iconic yellow wooden suit. The pencil was best known for its creativity, sleek design and overall simplicity. It will undoubtedly be missed for its charcoal gray marks and gummy eraser. Many great artists, designers and scientists attribute much of their genius to the pencil. Distraught by the news, renowned theoretical physicist, Stephen Hawking revered the pencil in a comment to the London Times, “Never was there a human invention so powerful and influential across all boundaries of time, space and social class as was the graphite pencil.” The pencil is survived by sons: pen, gel-pen and Sharpie® marker, as well as a sleuth of infant grandchildren, most notably, the newborn iPad by Apple©. Services will be held at the Cumberland Pencil Museum, in the pencil’s hometown of Cumbria, England, followed by a public viewing for its fans. As per the pencil’s request, its shaving will be collected, cremated and turned into India ink for use by dignitaries in official capacities. Donations can be made in honor of the graphite pencil to it’s long-supported charity: Save the Writing Utensils. §
TO THE BOY WHO DIED IN THE ROLLERCOASTER Kristine Ong Muslim To the boy who died in the rollercoaster, whose heart just stopped beating maybe because of fear or awe or both or just because he thought that it was the right time to die, and there will never be any moment like this: being on top of the world, having your arms raised to touch the cold nothing above your head. Not to mention the feeling of lightheadedness, the musical thudding of your pulse. How that bliss splits you open. How the air nibbles at your will— I say don’t come back down, boy. There’s nothing down here that’s worth seeing anymore. For a fleeting moment, we have grown small down here, shielding our eyes from the sun as we watch the motion of the rollercoaster. We loom bigger and bigger before you as the roller coaster turns and brings you back down. That would have destroyed the illusion you have gathered while you were up there.
MOJITOS Joan Hanna I was thinking about holidays at our house and missing hugs, sibling wrangling and mixed drinks that we could never get quite right. Like the pina coladas K— and B— made with tangerines, grapefruit and pieces of coconut picked from the top of an Entenmanns’s cake because we ran out of Coco Lopez. Or, E— concocting grasshoppers by adding every green liquor in the house since no one could ever remember the peppermint schnapps. Those times seem so simple now, diffused by my melancholic cede. But after mom died it was just too depressing for me to be there, without her, pretending everything was still the same. And none of you ever really understood just how much I missed her. But, if you were here, we would probably be out of mint leaves to make summer Mojitos, complaining about the hot sun in my shadeless back yard. B— would be sinking Wise potato chips into sour cream dip with too much Lipton onion soup. And E— would be elected to taste every leaf growing in my herb garden searching for a substitute for mint leaves to crush for our summer Mojitos.
Incense fosters ritual thought, “it honors his body.” Braziers send tendrils of heavy smoke to choke me. The vaulted ceilings are laced with thick beams of oak that crisscross the heavens like a
wooden web. Jesus looms over me like a spider, waiting to snare me in his ministry of sacrifice. But, it’s hard to sacrifice when you
The organ fills this hallowed place with haunting melodies. Its
have nothing else to give…when you’ve bled out…when you are
beauty is lost amidst the sea of anguish. I carry my words toward
already an empty husk.
the pulpit like a herald of the Gods, words of power meant to convey his spirit to the afterlife. Ave, ave dominus Ave Maria
Gratia Plena We are together, the family, in this room. The sun is leaving us, Cold sun bathes the bare branches of Winter birch. A grey wash
beginning to drop below the bones of the forest. “It won’t be
sky threatens snow, promises melancholy days ahead. Nothing
long now,” says his nurse. She wipes away her tears and squeezes
stirs outside, save the skeletal hands clawing the clouds from the
his hand. We drift like ghosts, through the room, unable to speak.
ends of anorexic branches. Through the window, that world seems
Sunken eyes shimmer with frozen tears.
so far away. But here, in this room, with the fever consuming him, Winter is coming. Storm clouds rage inside his broken body and Winter’s chill touch may be only hours away. A handful of leaves
Benedicta tu in mulieribus
have not surrendered.
The steps loom like the banks of the River Styx. For years, I feared these polished, wooden fingers, ascending to a nightmare place; a world awash in pain and turmoil.
I seize the pulpit with icy fingers. The congregation is a sea of upturned, tear-choked faces. Every seat is full. Every pew is occupied. It is a mass of somber bodies, packing the aisles and crowded against the walls. I stand before them, ready to eulogize
The ferryman does not hold out his hand. He does not request
a hero whom I could not save.
payment. The fee has already been paid, in blood. His blood. Jack’s blood.
They are a blur. They are a mass of still beating hearts who cannot know our anguish – the anguish of my parents, who have had Maria, gratia plena
their child replaced with a small, flower decorated coffin. Eight
Maria, gratia plena
years is not enough.
The last leaves are falling from the trees. Nothing lasts forever,
I draw in the spiced air. A sign of our community prayer of faith. I
but this hardly seems fair. I hold him on my lap, soothing back his
push away my sorrow, my guilt, my emptiness. I have my words;
sweaty hair. Every breath is raspy, a death rattle. My little brother,
my body and blood…
unbridled innocence, is an hourglass in my arms. Every breath is a grain of sand and the bottom globe is almost full. I read to him,
His blood, coughed up in purple-red chunks. I hold his cool body
choking on every word. This will be the last time I ever read these
and blot away the scarlet reality. It is stark against his porcelain
stories to him. The last time my words will make him smile.
skin. Tissues stained like paper roses. He is so tired, so scared. But the morphine helps. I help, the little I can. They need me, he needs
me, in his final hour. I stand before them, this morning congregation. This mourning congregation. My eyes dance between them and the words I have so carefully crafted. These words, that open the torrents of tissues and tears and fill their hearts with love for our Jack. My words, transferred from the pages on the pulpit to the heavens, carried on the wings of incense. Incense signifies our trust rising to God. I share with them, with him, these words. Words that had the power to bring joy to a broken little boy. Words that hold the power to warm the heart in the coldest Winter. My words, borne of anguish. Borne of sorrow. Borne of pain. My words, empowered with the strength of Jackâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s spirit. I offer them in sacrifice, losing a part of me but gaining a part of him. It is all I have left before he is laid to rest and I am left here, wrapped in the warmth of my words. Â§
WEEKDAYS AT 3 Liz Abrams-Morley Turn off that crap, your mother said. Then, with a decisive click, it was gone, that perfect world. This is what’s to love of daytime tv: no one owns a toothbrush comb, tissue. Furniture, smile, make up: Nothing out of place. At real funerals—say your nephew dies— noses and mascara run. Nothing pretty then or at some random two a.m. when you dig through drawers in the kitchen. Face it: All housewives are desperate sometimes, the baby hot and screaming upstairs. What’s her temperature? The doctor will ask. No. No. No. Not that. Where the hell is– Improvisation’s all well and good and you haven’t slept in three days but tempted and tired as you are you know you can’t stick a meat thermometer in a human rump. Turn off that crap, her long gone voice echoes, as you slump into a chair, fondle your remote. On screen, docs in white coats stay clean and starched after heart surgery, patient lapses into a long term coma. You want to live there, where hair splays artfully against a plump pillow. You want her shampoo, her secret, her chestnut curls perfect, so much shinier than yours.
I Tell the Class About My Childhood Memory of Tree Liz Abrams-Morley But maybe it wasn’t an evergreen at all. Maybe deciduous. Maybe I forget the aftermath of fall, the skeletal gray branches, the way, in January, the trunk stood at attention: naked, revealed. Maybe I crawled under only once. Maybe a dozen times on a single summer day. Is it still there, your tree? A third grader asks. After each retelling some third grader always wants to know: Could I go see it, Mrs. A-M? And because I can’t be sure even I could see it, have ever seen it, No, I say. I say Someone put up a building. I say it’s gone now. And then we all hang our heads in sorrow. We are, for a moment, silent recalling its dark green needles, its scent that said Christmas to a child in a not-so-Jewish home, the way, in midday, warm blue shadows freckled our twiggy legs, dappled the soft earth below its embracing branches.
“Broadway is Calling” Ernest Williamson III 20 glassworks
HOWIE’S END Jeffrey Haynes
“Come on, Bernie. How much further?” he asked again, pushing his black-framed glasses up onto his nose. Those glasses were always fighting to escape his face, sliding up and down, bouncing like a loose basketball with each heavy step he took. “Damn, Howie. It isn’t that much further, cut out the crybaby act,”
As I looked down upon Bernard’s withered body in the casket, I
Bernard replied. He looked the part to be leading the expedition
realized that I was the last witness–the only person left to carry
into the deep woods. He carried a big walking stick in one hand, the haunting memory of what happened forty-five years ago. and the ‘big one’ in the other, taking two steps with the cane and What killed Bernard was what the coroners, the doctors, his then swinging the blade. He reminded me of the explorers we family, called ‘natural causes’, but I knew better. I could see in his
heard about on the radio programs after dinner. Bernard’s face
face that the secret had killed him, ate him from the lungs to the
was tan from all the hard work he put in with his dad: painting
heart, and caused his cheeks to sink in until the soft flesh that he
houses, mowing yards, cleaning gutters, whatever it took to keep
held in his mouth became pasted to his pink gums.
them both in house and home. He had borrowed a pair of his father’s overalls for the journey and he looked strikingly similar to
As I said it was forty-five years ago. I was thirteen years old,
his old man, with his angular jaw and piercing blue eyes that stuck
Bernard was a year older, and Howie was the same age as me. It
out against his dark hair.
was the summer before our last year of middle school and we spent most of the summer like the rest of the kids in Ridleyville:
I was almost inclined to agree with Howie and ask how much
swimming, playing pick-up games of softball over in Alfred Field,
further it really was to the campground. It was all new to me since
and riding bikes. Bernard had been left back when he was in grade
I was the new kid in town. I had just moved to Ridleyville from
school, had what they called dyslexia and made it hard for him to
Cincinnati with my mother after my Dad died in a car accident–
ever really concentrate in class. When you’re just a young kid, a
hit by a drunk coming out of his office building. We worked
guy like Bernard—an older guy—well, he seemed almost like a
further into the forest and what sunlight hung in the afternoon
hero of sorts.
sky started to poke through the dense overburden of limbs in splintered ribbons of brightness. It even began to feel a little bit
It was late July, and the mosquitoes had pretty much ate us up
cooler. Although, in my older age, and from the way I remember
when we went out to camp that afternoon in the woods behind
it, it might just be a feeling I attribute to the events that took place
Bernard’s house. He lived on the edge of town in a little two-
bedroom home that he shared with his father, a man that drank as much as any man I had ever known. Bernard led the way through
“Here it is,” Bernard announced. We had come to a clearing
the dense foliage and debris that covered the path that led into the
against a shallow riverbed. What were once tall Poplar trees had
heart of the woods. He carried a heavy machete that he called the
been uprooted or chopped down and used to build a perimeter for
‘big one’ and cleared away the branches and weeds, Howie and
a makeshift campground. Some stones were piled in the middle
I followed behind with our backpacks slung over our shoulders.
of the clearing to act as a fire-pit; and around the stones, large stumps acted as stools to sit upon. Empty beer bottles littered the
“How much farther?” Howie whined. He could be like that
dirt floor where we set up camp.
sometimes, a real complainer. Howie looked like almost any other kid of the fifties, wearing a white t-shirt two sizes too big that
Bernard worked at building our tents as Howie and I unloaded our
made his little frame appear even more slight. He wore a baseball
supplies: beef jerky, marshmallows, hot dogs, and some chocolate cap sporting the high school baseball team’s name–The Hornets. bars, essentially all the necessities that a teenage boy would need
for a night away from home, and in the wilderness. Howie really
Bernard was slumped over on one of the old stumps rolling a
wasn’t much help when it came to building a campsite. He
cigarette. He had amazing dexterity when it came to tasks like
wandered about the clearing, kicking at the trash leftover from
these. His fingers would pinch out just the right amount of
the campers before us, and every once in a while, picking up and
tobacco for the lily white paper, and would fill the empty cigarette
examining one of the old, half-buried beer bottles.
and never drop a single grain of the dried Kentucky gold. He finished rolling his cigarette and gave it a lick to seal it. “Yeah, I
“Look guys, a Budweiser!” Howie exclaimed, holding the brown
got one,” he answered. “But what’s the magic word?”
glass in front of his face. “Estelle Richards,” I answered. A wry smile spread across my lips “That’s very nice, Howie,” I said. “But do you mind giving us a
and I saw Bernie’s face get red in the diminishing sunlight.
hand? A fire isn’t just going to build itself, you know. We’ve got to get some wood gathered up before sundown. You don’t want
“Very funny, wise guy,” he said, tossing me the lighter. Estelle
to get… Well, never mind, Howie. You don’t need to know.”
Richards was a girl that Bernard used to have a crush on. He thought the girl was the Virgin Mary herself until he learned that
“Need to know what?” Howie asked. His eyes were getting big
she used to give hand jobs to the junior varsity basketball team for
a dollar a pop. Even when he was all grown and respectable, any time you ever mentioned Estelle Richards, a big rush of crimson
“Nothing, Howie. It’d only get you nervous,” I answered. I
would fill Bernie’s cheeks. “But the correct answer isplease. Just
looked over at Bernard and gave him a knowing wink.
for future reference.”
“Come on, guys. What is it? Bernie, do you know what it is?” “Yeah, I know what it is,” Bernard answered. “Well, tell me guys,” Howie said. “I don’t think that’s such a good idea. What do you think, Alex?”
“Smoking’s bad for you, Bernie,” I heard Howie say. He was already starting in. Before he even said the words, I knew what was going to come out of his mouth next. “My mother said so.” “Did she now?” Bernie said, his voice growing incredulous. “Well, Howie, if you’re mother said it’s bad for me, I guess I’ll just have to quit, won’t I?” Howie beamed as if he had just won the Nobel prize. “But do you know what’s bad for your health, little Howie Kerschbaum?”
“I tell you what,” I began. “If you be a good little boy and help me and Uncle Bernie gather up this wood, I’ll tell you all about it. But only after we get the wood.” “Okay,” Howie pouted. We piled all the branches we found into the middle of the smooth stones and tried to gather up all the dead leaves we could to help insulate the fire we were going to build. “Anyone got a lighter,” I asked.
“No. What?’ “Your mom’s got syph. And she’s been drinking out of the milk carton at home. Did you know that? I seen it myself.” “Nuh-uh,” Howie said. “You’re lying.” “Am I? I don’t know about it, young Howie. I just don’t know. You better be careful when you take a leak out here tonight–you might cause a forest fire.”
“Nothing. Just thought I heard that old coon’s voice saying, ‘Howie….Ho-ow-ie..’” Bernard’s voice scratched as he exhaled
“No, it’s not. Is it, Alex?”
the tobacco smoke.
“Nope. Not impossible at all. I knew a guy back in Cincinnati,
“Let me get one of those cigarettes, Bernie,” I said. He handed me
caught the syph and pissed the bed. Burned his whole house
a freshly rolled one and I lit it and settled back on my stump. The
down. Killed his whole family, even the dog. Pretty serious stuff,
fire was starting to get a little weak so I kicked a lump of branches
Howie. You better be careful, kid. You might just wake up one
onto the pile and watched the embers spurt like a fountain of
day, decide to go to the bathroom and kill everyone you know. I
sulfur. “Now, Howie, remember what you wanted me to tell you
know I couldn’t live with myself after that.”
earlier? Back before we went to grab the sticks?”
“Neither could I,” Bernard agreed.
“Oh yeah. I almost forgot. What was it?”
“I still don’t believe you guys,” Howie lied, pushing his glasses
“I don’t know if you should tell him, Al. He’s already pretty
back into place and shaking with anxiety.
freaked out,” Bernard said, giving me another wink.
We ate our dinner of hotdogs and chocolate bars next to the
“Well, if you really want to know, I’ll tell you. But you have to
raging fire, the smell of burnt poplar bark sinking into our clothes. promise you won’t get too scared and keep us up all night booBernard smoked away like the Marlboro man and told old ghost
stories that his dad told him when he was younger. Most of the stories you could easily see as bullshit. One was particularly
“I won’t get that scared,” he said. “And I don’t cry. I’m not a
entertaining and had to do with a runaway slave who died, then
came back to life and drove his master to suicide. Not exactly a frightening story to me; but to Howie, he was trembling as if he
“Tell that to your mother,” Bernard quipped. “She was feeding
could hear the slave’s chains rattling throughout the entire woods.
you on her tit this morning. I seen it myself.”
“And to this day,” Bernard was finishing, “they say you can still
“Shut up, Bernie. Or I’ll tell Estelle about how much you love her.”
here the old buck’s chains rattling in that same house.” “Howie, that would require you having the balls to actually talk “God, is it true?” Howie asked.
to a woman. And you and I and Alex all know you’re a eunuch.”
“Of course, it’s true, Howie. Why would my pops lie to me about
“What’s a eunuch?” Howie asked.
some shit like that?” He paused and cupped his hand to his ear, a lit cigarette dangerously close to his shaggy hair. “Did you guys
“Enough, guys,” I said. “Do you all want to hear the story or
“Hear what?” Howie looked like his heart would stop at any
“Yes,” they both answered.
moment. He clutched his sleeping bag tight around his shoulders, and wiped his glasses clean on his shirt sleeve.
“All right. Are you sure?” I asked again.
“Yes!” “God damn, Howie. Will you just let the man tell his story.” “Okay. Now keep in mind that this isn’t even really a story, it’s
Bernard said. He was sucking down another cigarette and I could
true. I heard it from Withers. You guys know Wither’s, right? tell that he was interested too. The goofy guy that gathers up and sells all the glass bottles?” They nodded. “Well he told me this when I first moved to town
“It’s alright, Bernie. Actually it’s a really good question. The
Greensburg Gutter was a mental patient from over in Greensburg. And apparently he got loose that summer, but the police didn’t tell
“He warned me about these woods, you know? Said it wasn’t safe
anybody. ‘Why didn’t they tell anybody?’ I asked Withers. He
for anyone to come out into. Especially dangerous for kids like
said, ‘Because they didn’t want to cause a panic.’ ‘A panic?’ I asked
us to stay out and camp in. I didn’t really believe him at first, just
him. Apparently this Gutter nut was a pretty big deal here in the
thought he was some kind of drunk or something.”
thirties. They said he was just born wrong. Said he had a limp all his life and it caused him to get a chip on his shoulder.”
“Why did he say it was dangerous?” Howie asked. “How’d he get the limp?” Howie asked. “He’s getting to it, Howie. Damn,” Bernard replied. “That’s right,” I began again. “So I asked him, ‘What’s so dangerous, Pops?’ He said that on a night just like this one, three kids came out to camp, just like we are now. None of them came back.” “Oh yeah?” Howie asked, apparently the story didn’t ring true to him. “And just who were these kids? And how come I never
“Yeah. How did he get it?” Bernard asked as well. “Well, from what Withers told me is that when the Gutter was a kid, he got his leg caught in a thresher. The blades ate it up pretty good, and he limped because his leg got so mangled that if you raised his pant leg, it looked like hamburger meat and bone.” “That’s gross,” Howie said.
heard about them?” “Very gross, indeed. But the other kids used to pick on the “They were some kids from north of Delaware county. Anyway,
Gutter, see, and it started making him crazy. They’d hit him with
who they are isn’t important, Howie–it’s what happened to them
eggs every time he left the house, and once some kids chased him
that counts. The kids were out here camping just like we are now. down, hit him with some lumber and made him show them his It was summertime too. Right before school started back up disgusting leg. and they were just wanting to have a little fun. Come out to the woods, drink a little beer, tell some stories, just regular summer stuff. But they were in a lot more trouble than just getting caught
“These things bothered the Gutter greatly. He was a weak boy
with some beers, being underage and all.
but grew to be a really strong man, despite the limp. When he was around eighteen his whole family mysteriously disappeared,
“Because what these kids didn’t know about was the Greensburg
and that’s when the trouble started.”
Gutter.” “What trouble?” Bernard asked. “What or who is the Greenburg Gutter?” Howie asked. Now his attention was getting peaked again.
“The gutting,” I replied. “Withers said that the police came up
one day to see what happened to the Gutter’s family since no
forward me with his hands under his thighs.
one had seen them in town for a while. When they got there, there was no trace of anybody: not his mother, his father, his two
“Gone,” I replied. “They simply thought he just disappeared.
sisters, not even the family cat. When the cops asked the Gutter
Just like his family. The cell was locked, the window was too small
what happened to them, he just pointed out to the field.
to fit through. It’s like he just stopped existing. That was until the murders.
“They never found the family in the field. People could never prove it, but they knew that the Gutter had killed them all. “So those kids I was telling you about, from up in Delaware Figured he probably went crazy one night and just killed them all. county? They came down here to camp, but they didn’t know But anyway, it didn’t take long for the Gutter to really prove he
that the Gutter was on the loose. Nobody said anything about
could kill someone. A few months after his family vanished, the
him not being locked up. They just figured, good riddance to bad
Gutter wandered into town and got cornered by some local boys. rubbish, you know? They were wrong. They shouted at him, ‘Where’s your family, Peg Leg? I bet you ate them, didn’t you? Yeah, I bet you did, you freak.’ The Gutter just
“It was just around midnight when the kids first heard the sound–”
stood there while they kept tearing him up. Just saying all kinds of mean shit, until he snapped. They had him pinned up against
“What sound?” They both interrupted.
the general store over there in Greensburg, and started pushing on the Gutter until he pulled out a machete. Not unlike the one
“The sound of the Gutter’s ruined leg slumping through the
Bernard brought with him tonight.
woods. They thought it was just an animal or something. Until they heard him cough. A really, loud, nasty hacking cough. The
“Well, the Gutter just started swinging away. He diced those guys up
kinds like when you got a loogie caught in your throat.”
like a Thanksgiving turkey. There was blood and guts everywhere, just piles and piles of intestines and livers and kidneys all over the
“The kind you’ll have if you don’t stop smoking, Bernie,” Howie
place. The Gutter got done with them and walked into the store
and bought a soda float and then the cops came and got him. The whole damn scene wasso nasty, they said the sheriff ’s deputy
Bernard just glared at Howie and said, “Go on. Then what?”
resigned right there on the spot.” “Well, all the kids sat up and listened, and the scooting leg and “So what about the woods?” Howie asked. He looked pretty
the coughs just kept gettingcloser and closer. Needless to say,
much like an Eskimo now in his sleeping bag. It was pulled all the
they were all getting really freaked out. And rightfully so. They
way over his head and zipped, with only a hole big enough for his
decided that if someone was wandering around out in the woods,
eyes and nose to stick out of.
that whoever it was, was probably not a good guy. So they put
out their fire and hid in their tents and hoped that whoever it “Right, right. The woods. They put the Gutter away, you know. was, that whatever it was, wouldn’t find them. And guess what Stuck him right up there in the loony bin and threw away the key. happened.” But that didn’t stop the Gutter. This was in ‘34 when he killed the kids outside the store. Well, it was like three years ago, when one
“What?” They both asked.
day the guards came to do the rounds and give him his medication and they checked the cell and the Gutter was gone.”
“No one ever found them. They never found any part of the boys. Just a little bit of blood next to one of the empty tents.”
“Gone?” Bernard asked. He wasn’t smoking anymore, but leaning
“What happened to them, you think?” Bernard asked.
His tent flaps were open and his backpack was lying on the stump where he had sat the night before.
“I’m not sure. Withers said that the Greenburg Gutter found them and carried them off across the creek, gutted them, and
“Maybe he just went off to go take a shit or something,” I said.
dumped them in–never to be heard from again. I don’t know myself, and I certainly don’t aim to find out.” I cupped my hand
“I don’t think so. I’ve been up for an hour looking for him. He’s
to my ear. “You guys hear that?” I asked.
just not here.”
Both Howie and Bernard turned slowly around on their stumps
“Well, maybe he took off at sunrise and went home.”
and listened into the deep woods. I coughed as hard as I could and Bernard fell off his stump, flat on his ass.
“And left all his stuff behind? I doubt that, Alex. You know his mom would kick his ass.”
“Some tough guy you are,” Howie chuckled. I started to realize that it was really bizarre for Howie to leave his “Shut up,” Bernard said. “You were practically having a stroke
stuff behind, he was much too anal to do something like that.
over there, little Howie-bear.”
“I’m sure there’s a reasonable explanation. Look, let’s pack up and I bet we’ll find Howie at home drinking a Coke and eating a
“That’s enough out of both of you guys. Let’s get some shut eye,
huh? It’s late,” I said. I tossed another handful of branches onto the now diminishing fire and crawled into my tent.
“Doubtful,” Bernard said.
“Sounds good,” I heard Bernard say.
We packed up our tents and went back to town. We moved extra slow with all of Howie’s stuff strewn over our shoulders, but we
“Good night, guys,” called Howie in a weak voice.
finally made it back. We knew we couldn’t just leave all of his things out there in the woods. The sun was shining on the dead
“Good night,” I answered.
grass when we came into Bernard’s backyard.
The next morning, I woke up to Bernard shaking me. “Get up,
“Are you going to come with me to Howie’s?” I asked.“I better
Alex. Wake up! It’s Howie.”
not,” Bernard replied. “Dad’s probably already cheesed off with me being out all night.”
“What about him?” I muttered, wiping the dried crumbs of sleep from my eyes.
“You didn’t tell him?”
“Gone?” I asked. Surely, I was still sleeping.
“Well, can I leave some of Howie’s stuff here, and he can come back for it later?”
“Yes, Alex, gone! See for yourself.” “Sure. That is, if he ever comes back.” I wandered out of the tent and sure enough, Howie was gone. “I’m sure he’s at home, just like I said.”
“Let’s hope so,” Bernard said, as I started off for Howie’s house.
“I certainly hope so,” she replied. “When you see him, tell him that he needs to get home right away. Okay, Alex?”
He had to be at home. It was just a story. It’s true that Withers did tell me the story when I came to town, but I figured it was
“Sure thing, Mrs. Kerschbaum.”
just something he told all the new kids, just to give them a good spook.
If there is anything I have learned since that day forty-five years ago, it’s that there is no sure thing in life. There’s no such thing as
Howie’s house was a beautiful two story about three blocks
everything is okay, and that reasonable explanations never go as
from Bernard’s run-down shack. The house had red shingles,
far as you think they can. They never found Howie Kerschbaum.
and brand-new white aluminum siding. A very expensive house,
There wasn’t a single shred of evidence except for an unknown
especially in a town like Ridleyville. I went up the wooden front
finger print that the cops found on an empty Budweiser bottle,
steps and leaned my head to the door and listened to see if I
and a Ridleyville school cap with the logo Hornetsembroidered
could hear the television playing (Howie’s family was about the
over the bill. That campground was littered with beer bottles
only family in town to have the luxury of a television). I raised
though, so they chalked it up to coincidence. The baseball cap
my fist and knocked loud and solid on the door. Shave and a
was the only remainder of Howie Kerschbaum.
haircut–two bits. They were lowering Bernard’s body now. The casket tipped back Mrs. Kerschbaum was coming to the door, I could always
and forth on the ropes as it descended to its resting place below
recognize her gentle steps tapping across the hardwood floor. She
the earth’s surface. They could call it ‘natural causes’ all they
really was a beautiful woman, especially for a middle-aged Jewess. wanted. It’s the secrets you keep that send you to the grave. We She had a long, lean face with delicate cheekbones and soothing
never talked about Howie after he disappeared. Tried not to talk
blue eyes that often glassed up when she was excited, just like
about anything that reminded of us of that camping trip. I made
the mistake once of mentioning Estelle Richards to Bernard at a class reunion and the poor guy broke down in tears.
“Hello, Alex,” she greeted me at the front door. I’m the last to carry the secret. I never told anyone about the “Hello, Mrs. Kerschbaum. Is Howie home?” I asked.
story I told my friends that evening. We kept it to ourselves just in case it turned out to be true. And no one ever wants to know
Her face looked perplexed and I could already tell I was dead
the real truth. Sometimes it’s best just to leave things open-ended.
wrong in my assumption from earlier. “No. I thought he was camping with you and Bernard. Is something wrong?” she asked. I froze. What could I say? What lie would ease this gentle woman? She was kneading her soft hands together and her eyes were getting wet to the point where they absolutely glistened. “Oh, well I, I woke up later than all the other guys and they were already gone. Maybe he’s at Bernards,” I lied.
A Day Without Pain Laura LeHew “… but the Duende draws blood, and in the healing of the wound that never quite closes, all that is unprecedented and invented in a man’s work has its origin.” ~Frederico Garcia Lorca she had one of those once —a day after acupuncture, cupping, massage, after chiropractic a day edged in tears but the day after a day of euphoric achelessness no thoughts to bending to pet the cat hand rails falling down stairs picking up her purse it all just happened and she liked to recall it as often as she could store it looped to her prior recording—10 years gone January— 2 weeks before surgery the day the Celebrex kicked in every joint mobile even the knee that refused for months to bend the flashback to the singular the day without blurs as the duende seeps in
Interview with Elise
feeling of clicking, of sudden understanding. It ended up being the first story I published (in the Seattle Review). Looking back, of course, the story feels young and flawed; I can see in it how much I didn’t know yet. But in a way, this lack of knowing was a strength as well as a detriment; the story had a kind of raw, unfiltered voice I’m not sure I could recapture now. But I can
Elise Juska is the author of the novels One for Sorrow, Two
still recall the moment of “clicking” and, as I keep evolving as
for Joy; The Hazards of Sleeping Alone; and Getting Over Jack
a writer, that process continues–hits, misses, instructive failures,
Wagner, all published by Simon & Schuster. Her short stories
moments of new understanding.
have appeared in numerous magazines including The Hudson
Review, Harvard Review, The Carolina Quarterly, Black Warrior
Q. What can you tell us about developing characters that
Review, and The Missouri Review and been cited by the Best
you have little in common with? Did you have any difficulty
American Short Stories 2010. She teaches fiction writing at the
developing the character of Charlotte in your book, The
University of the Arts in Philadelphia.
Hazards of Sleeping Alone?
Q. Who are your three favorite authors and why?
I had no difficulty developing Charlotte, which may say less
about my ability to inhabit characters than it does about the
That’s a hard question, and the answer changes, but in general
sense of kinship I felt, at twenty-eight, to an anxious fifty-year-
my favorite authors are short story writers. I gravitate most
old. I related to her internal makeup, but I was not a mother,
toward reading (and writing) in that form. Tobias Wolff, William
so that part of her character was more of a leap. In general,
Trevor and Alice Munro are writers I return to again and
though, I love the exploration of characters with whom, on the
again. My favorite authors are those whose fiction feels honest,
surface, I don’t have much in common. This is one of the great
real, and unpretentious, who manage to illuminate something
joys of fiction, isn’t it? As a writer and a reader, it allows us to
universal and true.
enter other lives, empathize with them and recognize them and,
if we’re lucky, return to our own life with some new insight.
Q. What are you reading now?
In the novel I recently completed, the central characters range
from a sixty-three year old dean to an eighteen-year-old cellist.
I’m currently loving a book of stories called Yesterday’s
I notice that, the more I write, the further I move away from
Weather by the Irish writer Anne Enright–biting, honest, funny,
devastating. She manages so much in so few pages.
Q. Tell us about your newest novel. Did any of your personal
Q. When did you first start writing? Can you recall the first piece
teaching experiences help shape this story? Have you learned
you were truly proud of ?
anything new about yourself as a teacher through the story’s
I’ve been writing stories since I can remember; I started typing
when I was about four. When I was eight, I wrote a “book”
My experiences helped shape the story, but only indirectly. None
called Ten Candy Sticks for Mother that was bound and shelved
of the characters in the novel are based on people in my life, but
in the library at my elementary school–it’s still there, I believe!
the question at the heart of the novel–about how to deal with
As an adult, though, what stands out is a story I wrote in grad
students in trouble, when and how to intervene–is something
school; after writing several stories that were plagued with
that I, and I would imagine many teachers, struggle with. It’s
problems, I finally wrote one that “worked.” I remember that
the fictional what-if: take your small, real fear and exploit it–
what if a student wrote a troubling paper, you did nothing, and something terrible happened? I began working on the novel shortly after the Virginia Tech shooting; I was affected by the interviews with the English teacher, who described the disturbing material she’d seen in the shooter’s papers. In my novel, there is a troubling paper and a devastating event, but the link is not so black and white. I wanted to explore the complicated nature of the situation—the difficulty of identifying students in real trouble, the increasing pressure on college teachers to do so. While I’m not sure I learned anything new about myself as a teacher, the process of telling this story, from different vantage points, confirmed just how complicated the issue can be. Q. Did any of your former professors challenge you and help you grow as a writer? Have they influenced your own teaching styles? Oh, definitely. I had wonderful writing teachers throughout my life and still find myself quoting them in my own classroom. I feel grateful to have had teachers who cared about, in my view, the right things: how to tell a story well, how to tell a story about something that matters, how to put the story first. Q. What advice can you offer to never-before-published writers? Don’t focus too much on getting published; first write the best story or novel you’re capable of writing. Don’t over-plan stories. Don’t wait for inspiration to strike. Do sit down and write, every day if you can, and learn the craft by reading as much and as widely as possible. Do have good, supportive friends to cheer you on. §
Onions For Breakfast Joseph Farley jazz on the radio, raw onions on my plate, listening to the sad sweet music that has become my life, a tear comes to my eye as I take another bite.
winter blooms Joseph Farley girls in red and yellow parkas move through snow packed streets, dozens of floating flowers bringing a brief glimpse of spring to a world still trapped in winter.
The Difference Between Sunshine and an Orgasm Christopher Gutierrez
about her being late and about how terrible I looked that day even though I looked exactly like I always did. Grumbling about my appearance seems to be an indicator of my level of insecurity and anxiety. Possibly due to the fact that I have studied and assessed my first date behavior over the years with a fine toothed comb looking for, and extinguishing, all signs that I am not as confident as I would like to present myself to be. But, like a damn about to
We began flirting online a while ago. Our schedules never seemed
burst, the pressure of the water will find its way through a crack
to have the right amount of free time so our banter was relegated
to a handful of playful texts throughout the day. After a few weeks of plans falling through, we finally made time to meet. It was after
“Holy shit, I usually don’t look this terrible,” I said. But in all
1 a.m. in the shittiest of local bars; the kind of place that tries
actuality, I did.
and fails at making you feel as if you’re at a beachside Mexican resort. Every night a different suburban cover band rolls through
She was in a band that frequently played this club. The singer
butchering your favorite 80s songs while drunk single moms raise
of one of the suburban bands I mocked in passing on weekend
their foot-long margaritas and yell out mating calls like, “Woooo!”
evenings. But for some reason, I found this endearing. Any woman
and “Yeah, baby!” I’ve walked past their windows in disgust on
who has a passion for a specific interest immediately jumps up a
more than a dozen occasions and now, here I was, tired and
few points on my attractive scale. I have gone on hundreds of
cranky but finally with enough time to pull my ass away from the
dates with unimpressive women.
comforts of my warm apartment. During the course of the date, I intentionally ask the open-ended I walked in and scanned the room. It was slow for a Wednesday
question, “So tell me things.”
night. All of 30 people scattered about in tiki booths and a handful making fools of themselves on an empty dance floor. The colored lights spun around blinding me, like passing an accident on the expressway, and I didn’t see the single step that was in front of me and I did the “almost trip”– which is only slightly less worse than an actual trip since you still have to try and play it off like it never happened. She wasn’t there yet so I made my way to the bathroom to pee and fix my hair. I walked out and stood against the light of the indoor basketball game and saw that my zipper was down. I was reaching down to pull up my fly when I heard, “Oh, uh, hello.” I laughed and said, “Oh hey,” as I reached in for a hug, “My zipper is always falling down.” She smelled nice and I could feel her large breasts press against my chest.
“What kind of things?” they always respond. “That’s the genius of the question,” I smile. “To see where you take it.” Sometimes they tell me about their children, about their school, about their travels, about sex. It’s all designed to give me an insight into their intentions. They tell me what they think is important for me to know. The subject of children indicates how important they are in their life, and that if I’m not okay with this then I should probably just leave. School demonstrates that they value intelligence and a career-minded man. Travels indicate how adventurous they are, oh, and how they like to brag about the one time they ate barbequed rat while in Kenya – Something they did so that one day they would impress a stranger with that story in a coffeehouse. And sex. Well, they talk about sex because that
We picked a booth out of the firing range of the band that was
is how they view me. They assign me that place in their life, and
poised behind a large fake tree and sat down. I jokingly complained
most of the time I am completely okay with this. It’s what I expect.
I’m open with my past, hell, I even post the stories so they know
I’m looking for. A real moment. Give me something real, and
what they’re in for. It intrigues them. They want to know what the
you’ll get it back ten-fold. But, you’ll never get what you don’t
other women found compelling in me – in my pants. They want
to know, and I’m more than willing to satisfy their curiosity. But I have no expectations or illusions of them impressing me. Most
The banter is surface and struggling. I’m tired and the music is
people I meet, most people in the world are unimpressive. Once
loud, and since her band plays here often she knows the staff
you make that realization you no longer have to walk away from
who keep coming up to our table to say hello. I don’t mind the
people feeling cheated. Rarely do they ever tell me anything real or
reprieve in the awkward conversation, but it does derail the small
substantive. I know what they’re thinking.
amount of conversational progress I continue to make. I start digging then I hear, “OH MY GAWD! What are you doing here?”
“Why should I tell this guy my secrets, my inner workings, my
I sit back in the booth and sigh.”I havent seen you in forever!”
hope, my dreams, my prayers, my fears, my passions? Why make
Probably not the best place to have agreed to meet.
myself vulnerable to this guy?” A large and burly guy with massive forearms sits down next to us Sometimes the words falling out of their mouths are so boring
without any introductions. She looks to her right and says, “Oh
that I am almost obligated pry. I ask questions. I want to dig deep
my god! How have you been?”
into their chest to satisfy MY assumption that most people are boring, hollow creatures blindly strolling along in life long enough
I look at the time and wonder if it would be rude to leave after 8
to fulfill their idea of the American dream and not offend anyone
along the way. But I still hold out hope for the few who just need the push, the right question to set them off on a rant, a tangent
“Chris,” she looks over at me with a smile, “this is… ” I don’t hear
that will give me hope that there are other living, breathing, loving,
his name over the bands screeching rendition of “Jessie’s Girl.”
deliberate people still walking around out there. I reach out my hand and shake his. I recognize him. He’s the “But I don’t want to give away all of my secrets,” they say.
bouncer who carded me when I walked in. He’s nice enough like most of the world is, but he’s sitting. It’s obvious I am a boy sitting
“Why not?” I shoot back. “Why not give it all away? Why not tell
with a girl. Obvious to everyone in the bar, but clearly not him.
everyone your everything?”
Or maybe he doesn’t give a shit and he’s pulling the alpha male move where he confidently strolls in and steals away “my lady.”
They usually sit there shocked. This is what I came for. It’s the
Honestly, at this point I would prefer he did so I could make a
only real moment in that evening.
Why not tell me about your abuse or your fears or how you bite
They talk and discuss mutual friends, and I sink further into the
your toenails when no one is looking? Everyone walks around
hard booth. I watch the band through the leaves of the fake tree
with this safe three-foot emotional distance between themselves
who play Brian Adams’ songs while wearing beer helmets, and
and they expect everyone else to “give” first? How can you expect
I wonder if they’re having fun. I wish I was as oblivious to the
to find substance when you’re not willing to be bold with your
world as they seem.
life. It’s bullshit. I look over and hear her ask him how his girlfriend is doing and Their faces range anywhere between open-mouthed silence, to smiling nods of approval, to outright indignation. And that’s what
with his chin in his chest he says, “She’s okay.”
“Just okay?” she asks.
“Do you try over and over to convince yourself that she SHOULD be the one, because it only makes sense? Do you secretly pray that
“It’s like, she’s amazing and all but,” he pauses and looks her in the
one day you will wake up and everything will feel right?”
eye, “It’s just not there, you know?” “More than anything.” I lean forward, “Is it like all of your friends love her and all that she is, has accomplished and wants to become looks amazing on
“And you know that feeling is possible because you’ve felt it with
“YEAH! exactly!” his eyes grow wide and he leans towards me
over the table,”So you know what I’m talking about?!?” “And you stay awake at night feeling guilty because she deserves to “More than you think, my friend.”
have someone feel the way about her as she does of you.”
“I mean, she’s wonderful – ” I cut him short.
“She’s wonderful and does an amazing job of making you feel
“My friend, I hate to say this but I don’t envy your position.”
loved and appreciated, but you can’t just shake the feeling that she’s not ‘the one’, right?”
I look over to the band who has just finished their set and is walking off to a smattering of applause.
“Totally!” “Because you will only find that true appreciation for her once you “It’s like you spent your entire life desperately looking for that
lose her forever and she will be the one you refer to as ‘the one
person who fits this idealistic mold. Then you find her. One who
that got away’, because everything is romanticized in hindsight.”
lives up to all of the expectations yet for some unidentifiable reason you can’t help but have one foot out of the emotional
The music has ended and he says nothing. The bar lights come on
and he sits there like a 10 year old boy who just found out his dog died. I look over at my “date” and say, “And on that note, I think
He said nothing.
they want us out of here.”
“And do you lie next to her at night thinking that there is someone
Everyone slides out of the booth and i stand and put on my coat.
else out there who understands you better? Someone out there who makes you nervous and challenges you? Do you lie next to
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to ruin everyone’s night.” I say with a
her feeling like a bastard because you have those thoughts?”
I can see that the excitement he once felt in having a companion
“No dude,” the bouncer says to me. “You’re right. I wish you
on this journey is now being overshadowed by hearing the words
weren’t, but you are.”
he hasn’t had the courage to say aloud or admit to himself. I walk out into the cold night and she stands next to me quietly. “Yes.” he is defeated. Demoralized.
I don’t know what she’s thinking because she doesn’t say. She
wont say. They never do. They sit and think and wonder why no one takes them seriously. But I can guess what she’s thinking but assumptions of peoples’ characters aren’t fair so I keep walking towards her car. She asks if we can extend the night. I ask what would she suggest at 2 a.m. and she says she doesn’t know. I know what she’s getting at but if she doesn’t have the balls to say it she isn’t getting it. I say I’m going home and she asks again if we can continue to hang out and I tell her no again and that I’m tired. And I am tired, but more than that I’m tired of people without passion or the balls to scream. I’m tired of people not saying what they mean and asking for what they want. But most of all, I’m tired of giving my all to a world who only gives back in tiny almost unnoticeable bursts of sunlight and inspiration. So I go home. Alone. To rest up to do it all over again the next day. Because I refuse to allow the hundreds of black clouds ruin it for my one ray of sunshine. Wherever she is. §
(for s. b.) Martin Itzkowitz puppet on a string he seemed to move against his will in scattered spasm— foot-drag head-loll arms aflail— all messages across the neural chasm lost, altered, shunted, failed held to bare civility by thinnest threads he lived at home long past maturity and worked a meager job beneath his means: his public polity was self defense— thick tongue spittle-lip slack jaw— jesting at his own expense until with deftness unsurmised he fit the hempen twist and left his last dependency a stark surprise
“For Those Who Tango” Ernest Williamson III
Touched by God: The True Story of Henderson and Lloyd Marc Schuster
eighteen, Henderson predicts as she wallops her brother in the eye and the boy starts to scream. During a three-day reconciliation, her ex will turn her on to crystal meth, and she’ll spend the next eleven years eating Top Ramen straight from the envelope and shoplifting VCRs from high-end department stores to pay for her habit. Then she’ll discover Jesus in Orlando, Florida, settle into a cozy pair of turquoise sweatpants and make a living yelling at middle-school students about the evils of getting high.
He can tell by the color of their balls how things will play out. Raising his voice, Henderson informs me that the screaming The little girl with the pink ball will swing her putter in wild wide
older brother will fail at everything he attempts, including a stint
arcs until she connects with her older brother’s face and gives
as a hotel concierge during which he’ll be falsely accused and
him a black eye. The older brother, who has a blue ball, will drop
convicted of passing counterfeit postage stamps to a Portuguese
his club, let out a scream, and press both hands to his wounded
businessman. After three years in a federal penitentiary, he’ll
orbital while the younger brother walks dazed circles around a
respond to a personal ad that reads Lonely old woman seeks
fiberglass Indian chief, pausing only to pop his snot-colored ball
fun and conversation. They’ll never marry, but the older brother
in and out of his mouth. After sufficiently scolding the older boy
will be named the woman’s sole beneficiary when she dies. Her
for crying in public, their father, adorned in a yellow Hawaiian
children, however, will see to it that he doesn’t receive a cent, and
shirt and a red baseball cap that reads PSORCON Cream: for
he’ll end up spending the best three months of his life living in a
your RASH decisions, will usher the children toward the first hole
corrugated iron hut near an airport runway.
where they’ll lose interest in the game and start climbing on a massive lime-colored bison.
The younger brother will operate a crane at a junkyard and spend his money on beer and doughnuts. For the most part, this life will make him happy.
“Once that gets old,” Chris Henderson informs me, passing the waxy plastic balls to his customers, “they’ll give up on the game
“Coincidentally,” Henderson adds as the kids start climbing on
altogether and seek out a video arcade, preferably one that serves
the lime-green buffalo, “they’ll all lease Scions at one time or
pizza. From there, they’ll move on with their lives—growing up,
moving out, crossing paths at major holidays, communicating via collect call and email.”
Chris Henderson knows these things, he claims, because he’s touched by God, a fact that became clear to him when, at the tender
The children take their balls and clubs, and Henderson collects
age of nine, he correctly predicted the loss of three toes from
eighteen dollars from the man in the yellow shirt. Out front, a
his father’s right foot to an escalator with an appetite for untied
spring-mounted sign sways back and forth on the sidewalk. Red
shoelaces. Since then, he’s predicted the return of sideburns, the
letters on yellow metal spell out Wild West Miniature Golf Course,
birth of the Internet, and the invention of iced coffee, among
Atlantic City, New Jersey. Adults: $8.00. Children Five and Under:
other things. Lately, however, Henderson’s strongest premonitions
$6.00. By some miracle of chance, every golfer in town has yet to
center on his triumphant return to the Christian-pop music
scene—with or without longtime collaborator Eric Lloyd. As the kids abandon the miniature golf course and go off in search
The little girl will marry and divorce a drummer before she’s
of the nearest video arcade, Henderson plunks a tune on the toy
piano he keeps next to his cash register. He’s not particularly
they’re the same, and the T, well, let’s stop kidding ourselves. It’s
tall, but the low ceiling forces him to stoop over the tiny piano.
obviously symbolic. I’m not speaking as a religious authority when
Before I can ask him whether or not a reunion is in the cards
I say this but as someone who knows a thing or two about the
for the erstwhile Christian-pop duo whose biggest hits included
human brain. Believe me, that little T has everything to do with
the hip-hop flavored “He Rose (What Did You Do?)” and the
my crucifixion hang up. Because what’s a cross but a constant
country-western crossover “Water into Wine,” Henderson draws
reminder of the T that’s not in my name? When you get down to
my attention to the décor of the cramped wooden shack where he
brass tacks, you know, the thing I’m really looking for is a new kind
spends the better part of his days.
of Christ. A Christ without a cross. Pure glory, you know, without all the suffering. And when you dig a little deeper, the cross and
“You’ll notice I don’t keep any crucifixes on the walls,” Henderson
the T are pretty much the same, so what I’m really looking for is a
says, inviting me to inspect the four-by-six plywood cell with a
Christ without a T, which I guess is me.”
sweep of his arm. “Or crosses of any kind. I’m not particularly fond of the letter T, either, but I’ll get to that in a minute.”
Henderson grabs a pen and pulls a length of white tickertape from his cash register.
The walls are painted a soothing shade of blue and decorated with portraits of Christ and the Madonna. A gray toilet gurgles
“Do you like the way that sounds?” he asks, scribbling a
in a corner of the shack. A bare bulb hangs from an overhead
prescription for his own salvation. Playing a few tinny notes on
wire. Our chairs look as if they’ve been pilfered from the local
the toy piano, Henderson bites his bottom lip and croons: I need
elementary school. There are, of course, the cash register and
a Christ with no T. I guess that’s me. Old Chris Henderson on
toy piano as well, but there isn’t a single crucifix in the lot. This,
Henderson says, is because the very idea of his lord and savior suffering such a blow depresses the hell out of him.
“I’m always working on new ideas,” he confesses. “Concepts for albums. I want to take the whole genre to a new level, and I think
“Think about it,” he continues, toying with the zipper of his
the place where I’ll find the most inspiration is right here in my
trademark orange jumpsuit. “One day they’re saying you’re the
heart.” He taps his chest. “Which isn’t to say I’m looking for the
king of the world, and the next they’re nailing you to a tree? What
Christ in Chris so much as the Chris in Christ. What I really want
kind of message does that send? I mean I know it’s all about irony,
to do is find myself in Jesus. I know it’s popular to reverse that
but the whole deal stinks as far as I’m concerned.”
formula, to try and find Jesus in your own heart, but this is what works for me. This is what Chris Henderson’s all about.”
The skinny musician plunks a few sad notes on his piano. He ***
wishes he had more time to play, he says, but lately music has been taking a backseat to business. And Jesus has been taking a backseat to both.
Henderson’s search for the Chris in Christ started in 1997 with the formation of his first band, the funk and reggae-influenced
“They don’t want me to tell you this, but I will because it’s
Apocalypso, in the basement of St. Olaf the Fat’s Lutheran
important to me. The industry, I mean. They don’t want you to
Church in Bridgeton, New Jersey. Running a mail order Christian
know what goes on behind closed doors, and they don’t give a
music label from the church offices, the band generated a modest
damn about Jesus, even though that’s who it’s all about. For me,
tax- and royalty-free buzz with their loping versions of “Jesus is
anyway. And to a lesser extent Lloyd, but that’s only because he’s
Just All Right” and Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky.” In
Jewish. Then again, so was Christ himself, and did you ever notice
1999, however, creative differences forced Henderson to strike
that Chris and Christ are just one letter apart? Except for the T,
out on his own.
“The other guys were into all this end-of-the-world jazz,”
things. A guitar and two voices? As far as I know, that had never
Henderson says. “Four horsemen. Seven trumpets. The Whore
been done before. And Eric, he had to interrupt the show every
of Babylon. God knows where all this stuff came from, but I
five minutes to get sick backstage. Believe me, it’s a good thing he
could never get into it because, well, I guess for the same reason
started drinking, or we never would have gotten off the ground.”
I can’t get into the whole crucifixion thing. Who wants to spend their days worrying about the end of the world? And it turns out
Running a hand through his thinning hair, Henderson decides it’s
I was right. I mean, look at me, and look at them. Gary works
time to close shop for the day and grab some lunch. When I ask
with blind people now, and Jamie teaches fifth grade. Who needs
if it’s common practice to close down miniature golf courses so
that bullshit? Sure, I’m stuck here at the Wild West, but it’s only
early in the day, he shrugs and says there’s something he needs
temporary. This time next year, I’ll be at the top of the charts
to show me. Two blocks away we step into a luncheonette where
autographed portraits of celebrities hang on the walls. Among the honored are Dean Martin, Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra. The
His speaking voice, a squeaky-clean screech not unlike the sound
establishment’s proprietor, a white-haired Italian gentleman in a
of a squeegee scraping against a dry windshield, still smacks of the
pink and green leisure suit, speaks of all his celebrity customers,
teen angst that drove Henderson to seek his own brand of musical
past and present, like they’re his best friends in the world. For all
salvation. Three months to the day after leaving Apocalypso, he
I know, they are.
found that salvation at a local Kentucky Fried Chicken when he heard the voice of his soon-to-be musical partner Eric Lloyd
Flies beat angrily against slow-spinning ceiling fans as Henderson
crackling over the drive-thru intercom. Even through the static,
leads me to a booth in a dim corner towards the rear of the
Henderson knew that he had found his musical soul mate.
restaurant. The booth itself looks accidental, hidden as it is
Marching purposefully into the restaurant, he demanded to see
behind a soda machine and piled high with empty pizza boxes.
the manager and had Lloyd fired over trumped-up charges of
Removing the boxes, Henderson tells me to sit down. This is
spitting in the gravy. (The evidentiary saliva was Henderson’s own.)
his booth, he says, nodding not so subtly at a color photograph
Stripped of his paper hat and headset, Lloyd shouted homicidal
hanging on the wood-paneled wall. It’s a shot of Henderson
threats in the parking lot until Henderson calmed him down with
and Lloyd taken during their 2003 Up With Christ tour. When
promises of easy money and fast women. With the right kind of
I take it down for closer inspection, I see two young kids armed
promotion, Henderson said, they were destined to become the
with nothing but faith in a higher power and a dream of scoring
next big superstars of the Christian-rock scene.
with beautiful women. Henderson is a skinny kid in Coke-bottle glasses, and Lloyd looks more or less the same. Studying the
The duo’s first musical outings, however, proved shaky at best.
photo, though, I know I’m not just looking at two dead-end kids
Going under various names—including but not limited to The
from Jersey. I’m looking at a unified front against the devil and all
Jesus Twins, The Devil Beaters and Saved!—they played to half-
his machinations. I can see the chemistry between Henderson and
empty bingo parlors and at Christian youth rallies up and down
Lloyd in this photo, a shared spark in their eyes, a working synergy
the Jersey shore for months before Lloyd got comfortable with
that says these guys are the real deal: Here is your sign from above.
the idea of performing in public and Henderson defeated his own
Here is your path to salvation.
demons. It’s the jumpsuits that do it—Henderson in his trademark orange, “The fans wanted Apocalypso,” Henderson explains. “But
Lloyd in a hospital-issue pale blue.
Apocalypso was dead, and I had to move on. The new sound— the one I found with Eric—people weren’t ready for that yet, and
“Some people might call it fate,” Henderson says. “But I say it
it took a long time for them to warm up to us. We were doing new
was Jesus all the way. I was arrested for petty theft in Margate
and sentenced to six weekends of hard labor on the Atlantic City
was Jesus!), opened the floodgates for a host of legal difficulties,
Expressway. Meanwhile Eric was in the hospital with a massive
not the least of which was a series of lawsuits alleging copyright
ulcer.” But the duo had a gig at Most Precious Blood Methodist
infringement. Even the band’s most loyal supporters had trouble
Church in Rio Grande, New Jersey, and the show had to go on.
distinguishing new Henderson and Lloyd tracks like “I Want Jesus”
“So I showed up in my prison clothes, and Eric showed up in his
and “The Jesus Dance” from their mainstream counterparts “I
hospital gown, and the next thing you know, we have an image to
Want Candy” and “The Safety Dance” by one-time chart-toppers
live up to. An arrest. An ulcer. Like they say, the Lord works in
Bow Wow Wow and Men Without Hats respectively. Likewise,
copyright issues regarding their single “The Savior” left musical cognoscenti scratching their heads not so much because the
From there, things started to snowball: a contract with the Harvey
song so closely resembled a jingle for The Clapper, but because
Brooks Talent Agency of Hoboken, New Jersey, a distribution
anyone had bothered to copyright the jingle in the first place. That
agreement with Salvation Records, and a national tour to promote
Henderson and Lloyd released a seven minute disco remix of the
their first album, Knives of Stone. Yet even at this early stage, the
song just days before they were due to testify on the matter didn’t
mustard seeds of scandal were taking root. Unbeknownst to either
help their case, nor did their allegations that Joseph Enterprises,
musician, the album’s title track was a reference to the book of
The Clapper’s manufacturer, stole the tune via time travel and
Joshua: “Make thee knives of stone and circumcise the children of
a pact with the devil. In all, Henderson and Lloyd faced eleven
Israel.” When the mainstream press questioned the duo’s position
charges of copyright infringement, but they refused to admit
on circumcision, Henderson commented somewhat cryptically
that he’d never even been to Canada let alone around the world. Lloyd, whose Judaism was not yet an open issue, remained silent
“Take a song like ‘Highway to Salvation Zone,’” Henderson says,
on the matter. Though certainly a setback, the incident taught the
still bitter over the debacle. “When you write something like that,
divine duo a valuable lesson. Except for the powerfully haunting
the last thing on your mind is how much money it’s going to make.
“All About Lot,” their sophomore effort, Soul Stable, avoided
I mean, I’ve always said that I’m not in this business to make a life
specific Biblical references altogether.
for myself but an afterlife. And, sure, if you take the song apart
“Our thinking was that the Bible has its place,” Henderson says
and analyze it with mass spectrometers and such, yeah, it sounds
over an Italian sub. “But it also has its limitations. For example,
a little like a Kenny Loggins tune. But find me a song that doesn’t.
did you know that Jesus was born in a stable? I don’t know about
Besides, it’s the spirit of the song that matters, and the spirit of
you, but I’m a little uncomfortable with that whole aspect of the
that song is so far removed from anything Kenny Loggins sings
story. To tell you the truth, I’m a little uncomfortable with the
that there’s no comparing them. And you know something? I’d
whole notion of childbirth in general. Babies creep the hell out of
bet anything that Kenny feels the same way. It’s the lawyers and
me. Which is why we don’t talk about that aspect of the story in
the bean counters that screwed us over. All they care about is the
our songs. Instead we talk about things the Bible leaves out, like
bottom line. Like Zacharias and the fig tree. And we all know what
the time Jesus put a baseball through his neighbor’s window but
Jesus did to that guy. Meanwhile, the only thing the corporate fat
offered to pay for it out of his allowance. These are the kinds of
cats can think about is how they can get in on the action. As if
things people need to hear. Practical stories about practical issues.
they can just buy shares of salvation. As if they can just walk up
Not all that shepherds and donkeys crap.”
to someone and say, ‘Pardon me, but can I borrow a cup of Jesus?’ Or, ‘Did you hear? There’s a sale on salvation down at Safeway.
*** Despite their new formula, scandal continued to plague the duo. The release of their third album, He Touched Me (I Think it
Three cans for a dollar!’” Having downed enough Cherry Coke to float a navy, Henderson rushes to the bathroom and is still gone when the bill arrives. Our
waitress is a middle-aged woman with curly black hair and thick
harshest critics have called Christian pop’s finest half-hour, the
eye makeup. When I ask if she’s ever heard of Henderson, she
brief but uplifting God to Go.
shrugs and says all she knows is that he’s a bad tipper. To all appearances, the prayerful posse was back in the saddle I pay the bill and leave a generous tip. On cue, Henderson emerges
again, but a highly vaunted world tour fell apart during the planning
from the restroom humming a melody that sounds remarkably
stages when executives at Salvation Records mysteriously and
like Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline.” The tune, coincidentally,
abruptly dropped Henderson and Lloyd from the label despite
was playing while we ate.
brisk sales of their latest release. Though several boutique labels clamored for their attention, the duo had decided that their time
“What do you think?” he asks. “Solid gold or what? I’m thinking
had come. In a joint statement to the press, they announced their
something along the lines of Sweet God of mine! Ba-ba-baa!”
retirement from the entertainment industry, citing, among other things, creative differences and a complete disregard for Kosher
It’s hard to tell whether he’s serious or joking. When I mention
laws on the part of their management. Even so, their legions of
the Diamond song, however, Henderson’s eyes narrow and he
fans continue to hold out hope for a reunion.
informs me that our interview is over. *** “You need to understand something,” he says, heading for the door. “Henderson and Lloyd have made their share of mistakes,
“I know what you want to talk about,” Lloyd says when I meet him
but you need to keep your eye on the big picture. Sure, Eric’s
for lunch in a Manhattan sandwich shop. There are three tables
a little gun shy, but I’m betting the house that he’ll fall off the
here, each the size of a silver dollar. Lloyd sniffs his sandwich
wagon any day now. And when that happens, we’re talking David
suspiciously before lobbing a zinger from left field. “That whole
and Goliath. They banged the hell out of those guys, but they got
pornography episode. But the thing you need to understand is
back on their feet and built that wooden horse.”
that we were under the impression that Christian Porn was already a big industry. I mean, look at the Bible. Christ’s best friend was
a prostitute, right? And those women at the end? Aren’t there dragons or something? The whore of Babylon? Come on. You’re
Henderson isn’t kidding when he says that his one-time partner is
telling me it’s so far-fetched that there could be a market for this
a little gun-shy. In fact, he’s speaking literally. In 2004, Eric Lloyd
kind of thing?”
was held up at gunpoint by a deranged fan named Victor Gelding. As a young teen, Gelding had attempted to circumcise himself
Lloyd’s cheeks turn red when he gets excited, and his voice jumps
while listening to Knives of Stone. Confronting Lloyd in front of
an octave. If he keeps going at this rate, no one but dogs will be
an audience of three thousand adoring fans in Clearlake, Iowa,
able to hear him by the time our conversation is over. But Lloyd
the stringy attacker waved a .357 Magnum in Lloyd’s face and
catches himself mid-sentence and forces a deep breath.
demanded an apology. Henderson, meanwhile, had leapt from the stage in a panic and was quaking with fear amongst his devoted
“All I’m saying is that if we never turned to the Bible, we never
followers. By the time authorities subdued Gelding, Lloyd had
would have gotten involved in the Christian Porn industry,” he
made up his mind not only to give up touring, but to forsake the
whispers. Unlike Henderson, he no longer wears his trademark
music industry altogether.
jumpsuit in public. “Especially since it never existed. And I know what you’re asking yourself. You’re asking yourself how two
A greatest hits package seemed to spell the demise of the divine
grown men could possibly be ignorant of the fact that there was
duo, but the pair reunited briefly to record what even their
no such thing as a Christian Porn industry. But if you look at
it from our point of view, it makes perfect sense. I mean, for
When I ask if circumcision was a requirement, Lloyd shoots me
all intents and purposes we lived in a bubble. We came from a
a shriveling look.
world where all you had to do was put the word Christian in front of anything and it sold like hotcakes. Christian Metal. Christian
Romance. Christian Science. So why not Christian Porn? I mean, we’d gone as far as we could in the music industry, so we figured
I’m still reeling over the first revelation as we head down
why not branch out? But we barely got the first flick in the can
Broadway. Christian Porn. What must it look like, I wonder? Are
before the guys at Salvation caught wind of the operation and
copies available? Can I see it? When I press him on the issue,
put the kibosh on us. Then all of a sudden Henderson’s pointing
Lloyd picks up his pace. His legs are long and skinny, and I break
the finger at me, saying the whole thing was my idea, and all I can
into a run just to keep up with him.
think about is how much happier I was working at the KFC in Bridgeton.” In fact, Lloyd says, the historic restaurant still stands, though what once was a Kentucky Fried Chicken has been transformed into a Taco Bell. The Taco Bell, in turn, expanded to include a Pizza Hut Express takeout window in 2007. Colonel Sanders is long gone, and the scratchy intercom through which Henderson first heard Lloyd’s angelic voice is now a vandalized and weather-beaten creature straight out of a Salvador Dali painting. Yet despite the change in ownership, Lloyd remains pessimistic about his chances of being rehired.
It was called The Gates of Heaven, he says. It was about Saint Peter. That’s all he knows. Struggling to match Lloyd’s pace, I try to imagine the world from his point of view, that alternate plane of reality where the term Christian, applied as an adjective, can sell anything, and wideopen vistas of marketing potential stretch out ahead of me: a Christian hotdog stand, a Christian roasted peanut vendor, a man in a dirty tee shirt selling Christian Kate Spade knockoffs. I see a Christian drug dealer disappear down an alleyway and thinkwhy not? It’s as good a niche as any, and suddenly the Christian Porn industry makes all the sense in the world, an untapped market
“That bastard spit in his own gravy and blamed it on me,” Lloyd
with unlimited potential. Christ, it’s not like worse things haven’t
yells, pulling his sandwich apart and inspecting it for foreign
been done in the name of God.
substances. “That kind of stink follows a guy forever.” “Assuming one were in the market for such a thing,” I call after Satisfied that his sandwich is safe to eat, he finishes it and points
Lloyd, “where might I find a copy of this movie?”
to my soda. I shrug. If there’s one thing the last five minutes have taught me, it’s never say no to Eric Lloyd.
I’m gasping for breath at this point. My face is red. My lungs are burning. I’m seeing spots. If I try to keep up with Lloyd much
“I have eleven months sobriety,” he says. “And the bastard calls
longer, I’ll pass out.
me once a week asking if I want to meet him for a drink. I’m talking about Henderson, of course. He thinks if he can get me
“Listen,” he says, spinning on his heel and shaking a bony finger at
drinking again I’ll go back on the road with him. As if that’ll ever
me. “We never said we read the Bible. All we wanted was to make
happen. Do you know how hard it is to get a Kosher meal in
a few bucks doing what we loved.”
Wichita? They had to fly it in, and Salvation deducted it from my royalties. Dad tried to warn me. The music industry’s loaded with
“Please,” I say. “I just want to see it.”
gentiles, he said, and they’ll eat me alive. I really wish I’d listened to him. He used to be a Lutheran, you know. He converted.”
Lloyd lives with his sister in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, two
girls has a special talent. As the pimp speaks, I turn to Lloyd who
blocks from a 24-hour typewriter repair shop that, for reasons
mouths each line as it’s spoken: Candy can tie your shoes with her
unexplained, is closed when we walk by. I have no doubt that
tongue. Muffy can suck a lemon dry. Britney can uncork a bottle
the walls of the apartment have long since disintegrated. All that
with her thighs. The list goes on, and Lloyd tells me they actually
keeps the ceiling from crashing down on us are layers and layers
met girls on the road who could do all these things and more. To
of ugly old wallpaper, the most prominent of which bears a
be fair, of course, Candy was based on an amputee rather than a
velvety zebra-stripe pattern. All of Lloyd’s earthly possessions are
prostitute, but Henderson insisted at the time of filming that it
stacked in a neat pile next to the tattered green sofa that doubles
was a talent worthy of documentation.
as his bed. He’ll move out as soon as he finds a job, he tells me. And he’ll find a job as soon as he can get a resume together. The problem with that, however, will be explaining the massive gap in
By the time the film concludes, Saint Peter is clearly impressed.
his employment history.
Heaven, however, isn’t the place for these girls. They’d be too much for the place. Besides, they deserve a slightly warmer climate.
“What am I supposed to do?” he asks, riffling through one of
Cut to a roiling hot tub. The girls are dressed in string bikinis
six boxes marked The Lost Years. “Write 1999 to 2006: Christian
and sipping champagne. Red satin horns emerge from beneath
Pop Icon. Duties included singing about Jesus, hosting orgies in
their thick, curly hair. Saint Peter and the pimp sit among them,
cheap motel rooms and traveling around the country with the
grinning ear to ear. Someone offers a toast, there’s the clinking of
biggest asshole in the universe? I dropped out of college for him,
glasses, and the picture fades to black.
did you know that? Junior college, anyway. I was studying dental hygiene. Maybe that’s what set me off when he spit in his gravy. I
“See?” Lloyd says, shaking his long, bony finger at the screen.
know what goes on inside the mouth. I can tell you exactly what’s
“There’s a moral to this story. They all went to hell in the end.
swimming around in your saliva.”
Isn’t that what the Bible says? Sinners go to hell? And the guys at Salvation said it was no good. They said it was blasphemy and
Lloyd finds a DVD innocuously labeled Summer Vacation
dropped us from the label.”
2006 and slides it into the DVD player. The movie’s a little rough, he warns me. In need of further editing. He and Henderson had
Lloyd starts to work himself into a lather again but loses steam
just begun recording the soundtrack when a newly re-christened
as old concert footage materializes on the television screen.
Salvation Entertainment Group pulled the plug on them. A little
Henderson and Lloyd are in their trademark jumpsuits. They’re
on the funky side, boys, a memo from above read before anyone
smiling, laughing, joking with the audience. It’s from the 2003 Up
figured out exactly what the pair was up to. What’s with all the
With Christ tour, Lloyd informs me—before all the allegations of
copyright infringement, before the Victor Gelding incident, and long before the Christian Pornography debacle.
Onscreen, the scenes are shot at odd angles. Faces blur in extreme close ups. Voices fade in and out. They’d have fixed these problems in post-production, Lloyd assures me as the plot unfolds. From what I can gather, it’s the story of twelve prostitutes who die when a van driven by their pimp (Lloyd with a purple feather in his cap) plunges into a river. Cut to the pearly gates where Saint Peter (Henderson in a bed sheet) wants to know why the girls deserve admission to the eternal hereafter. Speaking on behalf of his charges, the pimp explains to Saint Peter that each of his
His voice grows soft, and his dark, brown eyes get a faraway look. “He sent me this,” Lloyd says, pulling a tattered wallet from his back pocket. There’s no money inside, just a purple ticket good for one free game at the Wild West Miniature Golf Course, Atlantic City, New Jersey. There’s a crude drawing of a cowboy on the ticket. He’s wearing a ten-gallon hat and firing a ray gun at a two-headed dragon. “I’ve even gone down there a few times.
To Atlantic City, I mean. One of the girls from our movie deals blackjack at Harrah’s. I visit her once in a while and ask how the bastard’s doing. Always the same. Always plotting some kind of comeback.” I mention Henderson’s premonitions, but Lloyd isn’t impressed. Henderson’s been making wild predictions from day one. Some pan out. Most don’t. Even so, Henderson can’t take his eyes off the old Up With Christ footage. I’m close to asking if a Henderson and Lloyd reunion has so much as a snowball’s chance in hell when a key turns in the apartment door. “Who’s this?” a short woman with close-cropped black hair asks. Her nose is tiny, her eyes wide and brown. If I didn’t know better, I’d insist I saw her in the porno I just watched. When Lloyd explains why I’m here, she flies into a rage and tells me her brother isn’t in “that business” anymore. All he wants is a normal life with a steady job. He needs to get married and have kids. He needs the calming influence of a good woman. More than anything, he needs to be left alone by sleaze bags like me, she screams, swatting me with both hands as if I were a swarm of locusts. She’s still threatening to call the police as I slip out the front door and head down the sycamore-lined street past an Italian grocer and, eventually, the twenty-four hour typewriter repair shop. The sun is sinking in the September sky as I make my way to the nearest subway stop, and I can’t help wondering what the future holds for America’s most notorious Christian pop duo. In the end, I guess, God only knows. Then again, so might Chris Henderson.
Independent John Grey She welcomes volunteers, someone to stand with her at the full-length bathroom mirror, tell her the butt and belly really do belong to the rest of the body, were not just glued on for effect. She’s tired of her head only ever being on her shoulders. She’ll take a consensus. “Am I pretty? Am I pretty enough?” She’d prefer a “Yes” but she’d accept an “It’s not even an issue.” She wants to be touched with a purpose. Is her naked body still the strange convergence of strength and softness that it’s always been? Her fingers have been doing this job for too long now. They suffer lapses in concentration. Sometimes, they neglect to report back to the mind. She sees, feels one thing, her man another. She seeks an independent voice, something to depend on.
154 SOUTH STREET John Grey One artist, one who wanted to be an interior decorator, a third who claimed Cherokee blood and drank draft beer when he could afford to drink at all. And a landlady who was a Russian refugee, and the store-keeper next door who cashed their checks, from the government or from home. Nights in one apartment, talking, or, perched on stoops, cruising on the cheap. Some who had jobs made them supper. Others, in the same indigent situation, shared the spoils of “when I finally sell something.” One convinced women to pose, paid them in portraits. One took in roommates who became lovers. The third parlayed his swarthy good looks into the generosity of older women in bars. One got into heroin. One was beaten up badly by a boyfriend. One got so drunk one night he fell down four flights of tenement stairs. I remember seeing them out on their fire-escapes on hot July nights, faces all green and purple and blue from strip club neon. One shook, one looked as sad and vacant as the full moon, one just grimaced from the pain. Artist with a 1 plastered across his forehead, wannabe interior decorator with a 5 for an eye, Cherokee kid with a 4
where his teeth should be. And down below, the sign, South Street, your place or mine.
OH SAY CAN YOU SEE Howie Good You don’t know who I am or what happens next. If an underworld informer told you, would you believe it? There’s a “s” as in salt, there’s a “n” as in November.
BROTHER PROMETHEUS Steven Harbold In prison, he first learned to tattoo the yellow skins of grapefruits with an ink-gun made from pen shaft, battery and coil. When he was good enough to work the ink into his own skin he told his cell mate, This is the only true canvas. It began on his left forearm with red roses dedicated to our grandmother. Then tributes to lost friends cascaded down his thighs. Then the dawn sun came to rise and burn on his chest. He used a mirror and employed infinite patience. And over the sun, a Roman cross with broken limbs eventually emerged, intersected his heart with the word “Daddy” centered into the vertical board. He drew death on himself. But he never etched into the skin above his liver that carnivorous eagle with cold black eyes and fierce hungry beak— though it was the same as being chained to a rock to linger so long within the rotten holes of punishment.
Unshelled Peanuts Richard Luftig The jays go nuts for them, fighting over the ones I toss out each morning. They lift one, then another, testing for weight and sizewho knows what’s desirable in a peanut to a jay? They get mad when they can’t pick up two at once, but finally have to choose and fly off to a tree to do God-knows-what. Maybe they have nutcrackers up there. Best of all is when they “squirrel” them away in drainpipes, rain gutters, or in pecked-out holes in my yard. I’ll find some later in the morning when I wander out in my garden searching among their secret places for any buried poems.
Liz Abrams-Morley’s second full-length collection, Necessary Turns, was published by Word Press in 2010. The collection won an Eric Hoffer Award for Excellence in Small Press Publishing. Other collections include Learning to Calculate the Half Life (Zinka Press, 2001,) and What Winter Reveals (Plan B Press, 2005). Her poems and short stories have been published in a variety of national anthologies, journals and ezines, have been read on NPR and featured in InterAct Theatre Company’s Writing Aloud series. Co-founder of Around the Block Writing Collaborative, Liz is on the MFA faculty of Rosemont College and has served as a poet-in-residence in schools throughout Pennsylvania. Aileen Banchet is an author interviewer and founding member of Glassworks. Joseph Farley edited Axe Factory for 24 years. His books and chapbooks include Suckers, For the Birds, Wolf Poems, The True Color of You and Longing for the Mother Tongue. Howie Good is the author of the full-length poetry collections Lovesick (Press Americana, 2009), Heart With a Dirty Windshield (BeWrite Books, 2010), and Everything Reminds Me of Me (Desperanto, 2011), as well as 24 print and digital poetry chapbooks. He has been nominated multiple times for the Pushcart Prize and the Best of the Net anthology. With Dale Wisely, he is the co-founder of the digital chapbook publisher White Knuckle Press, http://www.whiteknucklepress. com Nathanael Green’s a writer who isn’t sure where his MFA diploma got to, but he knows he has one somewhere. Some of his other work’s been featured in New Myths, Disingenuous Twaddle, 322 Review, and is forthcoming from Fractured West. He’s currently writing a novel inspired by American Indian traditions and mythology, and you can find his blog about all the strange things in the English language your eighth-grade teachers never told you at 500wordsonwords.wordpress. com John Grey is an Australian born poet, US resident since late seventies. He works as a financial systems analyst. John recently published in Connecticut Review, Alimentum, and Writer’s Bloc with work upcoming in Pennsylvania English, Prism International and the Great American Poetry Show. Christopher Gutierrez is a nonfiction writer. Joan Hanna was born and raised in Philadelphia. She has a BA in Writing Arts from Rowan University and is currently attending the Ashland University MFA Program in Creative Writing for poetry and creative nonfiction. Joan will begin her position as the new Nonfiction Editor for the quarterly publication r.kv.r.y. in January 2011. She recently had the poems “Dragonflies” and “Ghosts” published in the Ohio Poetry Association’s publication Common Threads. Her nonfiction story “Breathing” appeared in the October issue of r.kv.r.y. Joan is a reader for River Teeth and her reviews have been posted on The Ashland University MFA blog, Author Exposure, and Poets Quarterly. You can follow Joan on her blog: Writing Through Quicksand. Jeffrey Haynes is a fiction writer. Steven Harbold has a Masters of Arts in Writing from Rowan University, and is currently the poetry editor of 322 Review, an online literary magazine.
Liz Ilawan is an instructional technologist at Rowan University in Glassboro, NJ and teaches Italian online for the University of Oklahoma. She was born in New Orleans, LA, and later moved to Norman, OK., where she completed the majority of her schooling and her Bachelor of Arts in Classics. She is inspired by various philosophical and classical authors, namely Vergil, Socrates, Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. Martin Itzkowitz teaches in the Department of Writing Arts at Rowan University. His poetry has appeared in various publications, both print and online. At Rowan, he has served as an editor for the literary journal Asphodel and Glassworks, a title that now graces the present publication. Laura LeHew, an award-winning poet, has appeared in numerous national journals, anthologies, and a calendar. She received a writing residency from Soapstone. She interned for CALYX Journal. Laura is on the Lane Literary Guild’s steering committee, an active member of the Eugene/Springfield chapter of the OSPA, and co-founded UtteredChaos, which organizes local readings. She received her MFA from the California College of The Arts. In her spare time she facilitates a critique group. Richard Luftig is a professor of educational psychology and special education at Miami University in Ohio. He is a recipient of the Cincinnati Post-Corbett Foundation Award for Literature and a semi- finalist for the Emily Dickinson Society Award. Richard’s poems have appeared in numerous literary journals in the United States and internationally in Japan, Canada, Australia, Europe, Thailand, Hong Kong and India. His third chapbook was published by Dos Madres Press. Joseph McGee writes from Southern New Jersey, deep in the heart of suburbia. When he is not pounding away at the keyboard, he is off to travel amongst a million imagined worlds. He is addicted to board games, books and cheese. He is currently working on his graduate writing degree. “What if ?” and “Imagine” are thoughts most often on his writer’s mind.. Kristine Ong Muslim’s publication credits include more than four hundred publications including Boston Review, Contrary Magazine, Mary Journal, Narrative Magazine, Potomac Review, Southword, and The Pedestal Magazine. She also authored the full-length poetry collection, A Roomful of Machines (Searle Publishing) and several chapbooks published by small presses. Kristine has been nominated five times for the Pushcart Prize and twice for Best of the Web 2011. Kristine lives in the Philippines. Kathryn Quigley is an assistant professor of journalism at Rowan University and a freelance writer. She worked as a daily newspaper reporter for 12 years before coming to Rowan to teach in the Fall 2002. Marc Schuster is the author of The Singular Exploits of Wonder Mom and Party Girl and the editor of Small Press Reviews. He teaches English at Montgomery County Community College
Contributors: Liz Abrams-Morley Aileen Banchant Joseph Farley Howie Good Nathaniel Green John Grey Christopher Gutierrez Jeffrey Haynes Joan Hanna Steven Harbold Jeffrey Haynes Liz Ilawan Martin Itkowitz Laura LeHew Richard Luftig Joseph McGee Kristine Ong Muslim Kathryn Quigley Marc Schuster
ARTISTâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;S BIO: Ernest Williamson III has published poetry and visual art in over 300 national and international online and print journals. He is a self-taught pianist, singer, and painter. His poetry has been nominated three times for the Best of the Net Anthology. Visit his gallery: http://www.yessy.com/budicegenius glassworks 55