A NARRATIVE NONFICTION MAGAZINE
A SPECIAL PUBLICATION OF THE ITHACAN
TABLE OF CONTENTS
“A journey is a person itself; no two are alike.” —John Steinbeck
2 MASTHEAD 3 EDITORS’ NOTE
4 WINGS OVER ITHACA 8 THE THINGS THEY CARRY 12 DID YOU MAKE A FIRE TONIGHT?
16 NOT THAT PERMANENT 20 IF THE HORSESHOE FITS 24 THE BIG, GAY POTLUCK
STAFF NIKKI BLACK / CO-EDITOR EMILY KREMPHOLTZ / CO-EDITOR GILLIAN SMITH / CO-EDITOR FLORA WANG/ DESIGN EDITOR RACHEL ORLOW / PHOTO EDITOR MARISSA SMITH / PROOFREADER LARA BONNER / PROOFREADER ALEXA D’ANGELO / PROOFREADER MATTHEW DEZII / CHIEF COPY EDITOR ROBYN SCHMITZ / COPY EDITOR ROSE VARDELL / COPY EDITOR SARA WEBB / COPY EDITOR VICKY WOLAK / COPY EDITOR AARON EDWARDS / ITHACAN EDITOR IN CHIEF MICHAEL SERINO / ITHACAN ADVISER
Hello and welcome to your personal tour of Tompkins County. For more information, please refer to the guide in your hands. Your tour will begin at the Ithaca-Tompkins Regional Airport, to get a bird’s-eye view of the land. Afterwards, we will be stopping at The Shop, where you can enjoy some light refreshments and poetry. If you would like a permanent souvenir of this tour, ask for James in the back. We will wrap up our journey with a sunset horseback ride to a nice quiet dinner at The Big, Gay Potluck. In case of emergency, exits can by found by closing the book. We have an excellent team of editors guiding you today and working to make sure your travel experience is enjoyable and informative. World Class Navigator and Journalism Professor Todd Schack will be leading us on today’s journey, down a road paved by the likes of Hunter S. Thompson, Truman Capote and Joan Didion. These masters of narrative non-ﬁction mixed creative writing techniques and traditional journalism to inspire a long-form literary revolution. Thank you for joining us today as we blaze new trails, making “new journalism” new again. Your Editors, Nikki Black, Emily Krempholtz and Gillian Smith
WINGS 0VER ITHACA Written by Jessica Dillon Photographs by Shawn Steiner EAST HILL FLYING CLUB DISCOVERY FLIGHT “We’ll be flying the same plane you flew in when Elson was here learning how to get his instrument license,” David says as Patti, Amy and I walk out to the tarmac. You mean the one so small you lifted it up with your hands by the nose and wheeled it out on the tarmac? It was inspiring to watch David teach Elson when we flew a few weeks ago, but I was a simple observer of his lesson and nauseous from being stuck in the backseat. Now, I’m ready to take Elson’s spot and have my own little adventure. “Can I take pictures?” Amy asks excitedly.
“Yes, please take as many pictures as you’d like, and I’ll take some with my camera too if that’s okay. We want people to have a memorable experience here,” David says. David begins to show us the pre-flight preparation work that needs to be done before we can take flight. We walk around to make sure there are no hinges loose, no damaged areas, and David shows us how to check to make sure there is no water in the fuel. If it is dyed blue, then there is no water in the fuel and we’re good to go. I remember from my flight with Elson. But I’m jittery and can’t stand in one position for too long, bouncing from right to left foot and back as Amy and Patti take in what David is saying and watch intently. His words are getting jumbled with my own thoughts of just wanting to get started, the wobbling and tingling in my
Wings Over Ithaca knees an all too familiar sensation. I’m excited and nervous and just want to begin my task. “Okay, everything looks good, so Patti and Amy, you can step right up and get in the back, and Jessica, you can sit in the pilot’s seat. Yup, I know it’s a tight squeeze back there.” ITH: INSIDE THE AIRPORT This is Tompkins County Regional Airport, an airport so small those who have traveled through huge airports like Atlanta or Dallas would not believe its size. But people have their own stories, their own reasons for leaving and coming back. Beyond the parking lot and the red brick crosswalk, the Tower peeks out from behind the airport building. Antennas poke straight up to the sky as if trying to get in touch with another galaxy. Inside, a black LCD screen lists a schedule of flights and their statuses. The Newark flight has been delayed. On my right, black dividers separate the lines of people — or lack thereof — between US Airways and Continental. From the ceiling hangs a large army green airplane model with a patriotic red, white and blue tail and stars underneath its wings. People begin forming a line at the previously empty security checkpoint. They put their electronics and bags in gray basins decorated with the ITH decal. “As you come through — lotions, creams, computers — take it out so we can see it. We’re trying to move the line along as quickly as possible.” The hefty security guard points to his eyes dramatically as he says “See,” annoyed that he has to make this announcement. “ALL GATES,” reads the sign above the opening, allowing passengers through this part of the airport and past security. It displays the time around the world: 6:10 Tokyo
1:10 San Fran
This international signage is most likely unnecessary since the airport can only directly connect to Detroit, Newark, and Philadelphia. A thin woman with blond hair cropped close to her head sporting a purple jacket and black pants walks in and sits on a wooden bench, hunched over her iPhone. Floating next to her are ten balloons of various colors, one of which reads “Welcome Back!” She is waiting just like the apprehensive girl who is rolling her small black suitcase, just like the man in the black suit who keeps looking around the room as he types on his Mac laptop, and just like the young man running his fingers through his short brown hair and jiggling his leg anxiously as he talks on the phone with his father. Waiting, waiting, waiting. “I talked to my daughter on the phone before she left Detroit,” Karen says. “The first thing I’m going to do is give her a hug and say congratulations.” Karen’s daughter, Kyle, is returning from a treatment facility in Nashville, Tennessee where she has been dealing with her anorexia. She was recognized at the graduation ceremony there two days ago. Karen saw Kyle for two days at Christmas, and she looked like she had put on weight. “She seemed joyful, genuinely glad to be home around Christmas and with family. I am cautiously optimistic.”
Karen noticed an “obvious change in [Kyle’s] appearance” during her final year of college, but Kyle denied it. However, when her family came for her graduation they saw “how very drastically she had changed.” She was seeing a psychologist and was “backed into a corner.” She knew it was hard to disguise her problem from her family, and she wanted to fix it. “It will be great to have her home.” Karen’s wrinkles become more pronounced as she smiles. “You must be very proud of her,” I say thoughtfully. “Oh, yes. It will be nice to get to know her again. She has a lot to tell me and I have a lot to tell her. I just want to be there and be an encouragement. I love her to pieces.” A young woman in blue jeans with black-heeled boots and a Burberry scarf wrapped around her neck carries a blue bag and a rolled up blanket out of the gate. “Woo!” Karen jumps up, her smile wide and eyes crinkling with the excitement of a young child. Karen hugs her daughter, who looks thin but not unhealthy. They walk over to get her bags, balloons floating in the air above them. TAUGHANNOCK AVIATION Chelse Shaff looks at the screen above her head that shows the area around Taughannock Aviation and sees an incoming plane appear. “November 123 Alpha Bravo, Citation Excel, is estimated to arrive in approximately 15 minutes, and we have no prior notification of the arrival, so we have no information of what they will need when they are on the ground,” Chelse communicates through the radio in her animated and high-pitched voice. “Copy,” responds Erik Balcome, the Fixed Based Operator Manager, and repeats Chelse’s words verbatim to let her know he received her announcement. While they know most of the time when a plane is landing, there are times when a plane does not give them notice. They could be stopping for anything — to fill up on gas or to even drop off a person on an impromptu vacation trip. “We’re like a glorified gas station or a limo in the sky. No matter what you need, we can get it,” Erik says. Erik converses with his workers about the incoming plane in order to decide who will help out with the landing (“Are you going to handle this flight or should I?”). When he see the plane break through the clouds, the line service technician marshals the plane in with batons (“I’d rather use pom-poms,” Chelse says) so it can land safely. He waves the batons up and down toward the tarmac to show the pilot where it is safe to land and continues to walk and wave them horizontally to show him where to let the plane roll to a stop. Once it is safe to move, Erik and two other men briskly walk over and chock the wheels, putting a small, wide piece of black rubber behind the wheel to make sure the plane doesn’t move. Erik and his crew give the signal — almost a two thumbs up, but instead the two thumbs are turned inwards toward each other — now the pilot knows the rubber is in place. Erik and his crew roll out the red carpet (“It’s royalty”). A picture of a blue airplane with the words “Taughannock Aviation” are printed on it. Erik doesn’t know what to expect because the people flying in could really be anyone. He knows there are no foreign dignitaries or royalty flying in today. Otherwise, Taughannock Aviation would have been
given much more notice and Secret Service agents dressed in stereotypical black suits and dark sunglasses would be waiting with hands behind their backs by a limousine, looking from side to side (“It’s like a movie, but it’s the real deal”). He’s even seen a 13-passenger plane used solely for an owner and his dog because he wanted to give man’s best friend the man’s best travel service. “I tend to wonder what’s really necessary, but I’m not here to judge; I’m here to serve and will simply hold the leash and escort the owner and pet to the exit gate as I would anyone else,” Erik says. The door opens and the crew says, “Good afternoon, ma’am,” to the woman in a business suit stepping off the plane and onto the red carpet.
WHAT IS HE THINKING SURROUNDED BY ALL THESE GIGGLING GIRLS? DOES @=J=9DAR=L@9LO=<GFLCFGO WHAT THE HELL WE ARE DOING? “Do you need assistance?” Erik asks in a friendly but professional voice. The crew takes the woman’s small suitcase and leads her over to Chelse, who is waiting to direct her toward her destination and call in for a car service. (“Just like a hotel concierge!”) “I’m the paperwork lady,” Chelse says, her big green eyes growing even wider when she smiles. “We spoil people. That’s the nature of our business.” The crew asks if the pilot needs assistance, but he plans to take off almost immediately. The pilot will not make use of the “snooze room,” which is set up with a bed and pillows for pilots who need a rest or to stay the night. Today, there will be no catered meals ranging from boxed sandwich lunches to filet mignon. There have also been no special requests for Peanut M&M’s or other particular snacks to be stocked up on the plane. The pilot is “turnin’ and burnin’.” ITH: INSIDE THE AIRPORT A tall lanky boy sits on the wooden bench typing on his laptop. “My grandmother died so I’m going home for her funeral,” Michael tells me matter-of-factly. How is he so put together right now? I wonder as he offers me a welcoming smile. “I have a layover in Detroit so I’ll get to Missouri 9 p.m. Central Time,” he says, his big green eyes unblinking and attentive as he looks directly into mine. “I’m sure the funeral will be emotional, but it’s been expected for a long time.” “Are you coming right back or are you going to stay home for a few days with your family?” “Uh, I’m actually leaving Missouri tomorrow night,” he laughs,
rolling his eyes knowingly when he sees my surprised face. “When I get back to Ithaca, I’ll have until 4:30 a.m. and then I have to drive four other music students to the Music Teacher’s National Association conference in New York City.” “Wow, life never stops for anything, huh?” I say, shaking my head. “I’m just gonna get a Five Hour Energy,” he says, throwing up his hands as if this is the only possible solution. “Well, I gotta go get on my flight.” Michael rummages through his bag for a moment, thanks me politely, and heads over to security. *** “I can’t reach the pedals,” I admit, half embarrassed, half laughing at what I know is about to come. “Midget!” Patti bursts out giggling from the back seat, her face scrunched up and blue eyes bright. “Hold on, I’ll get you a cushion to sit under,” David says, always helpful and ready to accommodate anyone who comes to East Hill Flying Club. I can’t believe I’m sitting in the smallest plane I’ve ever seen and I still can’t reach the pedals. I feel like a child, too small to reach my plate at the dinner table. “Thanks guys,” I pretend to be mad at Patti and Amy for laughing once David steps out to find me an improvised booster seat, but we’re all too giddy with excitement and uncertainty to stop our uncontrollable giggles. “Here you go,” David slides back into the passenger seat with a thick blue cushion. “Okay, so everyone put their seat belts on — yes, yours is a little different,” David says as he reaches over to help me buckle the blue seat belts that come down over both of my shoulders from the ceiling. “Now, everyone put on your headsets and talk into it if you want to speak during the flight,” David says as he puts his own headset on, covering both of his ears. The microphone protrudes out, and he bends it so it just touches his lip. “This is so awesome!” The two girls laugh from the cramped backseat. What is he thinking surrounded by all of these giggling girls? Does he realize that we don’t know what the hell we’re doing? David reaches over and starts up the plane. “Please get us all back in one piece, Jess,” Amy tries to joke. The nervousness in her voice betrays her. What we’ve been squealing about for a month is now real — we are about to fly a plane. No more joking about our Facebook statuses (“Learning how to fly a plane today. Please watch your head”) or sending text messages to one another in all caps about how excited we are when we can’t concentrate in class. Now we are buckled in, headsets on and ready for takeoff. Well, almost. “When you’re on the ground, you use the pedals to move, not the yoke,” David says in his calm and patient manner. “I know it’s hard not to reach for it and turn it because you’re so used to driving a car.” I press my foot down lightly — press the right pedal to go right and the left pedal to go left — easy enough. I take us out by the runway slowly, though my mind and the racing beat of my heart are telling me to go faster. “Okay, now we need you to stop so we can talk to the Tower. So,
Wings Over Ithaca you can just press down on the top of the pedals because those are your brakes.” I push down hard with my toes and the plane stops abruptly. “Alright, here we go,” David says shuffling through papers. “Our wind is 33 over 4, so I’m going to write that here, and our runway is 32…” I wish I understood what he was talking about. Does he ever get scared taking people up in planes who don’t understand anything about them? He acts so sure that I’m not going to fail or do anything drastic. “Okay, here is your script, and now it’s just like the school play. Just push that black button and talk to Mike in the Tower.” “Ithaca Ground, Cessna 53045 North Ramp, Request Taxi, Discovery Flight with information Quebec,” I say as clearly as I can, only half succeeding in my attempt not to be self-conscious. “Taxi to runway 32 via Delta and Alpha taxiway,” Mike’s throaty voice comes through the speaker. “Okay now, so Mike said we’re clear so you’re going to turn us on to the runway and read this script to him so we can begin our flight.” Carefully, I move us over to the runway and take a deep breath for my next act. “Ithaca Tower, Cessna 53045, Runway 32, Request take-off, Discovery Flight.” “Clear for takeoff…” Mike talks too fast for me to understand him, but David can decipher Mike’s words. “Alright, so we’re ready to go. This is the throttle. Here’s how you use it.” David cups the throttle, a short, wide silver stick, with his palm. He rests his index finger on it for control. Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, I’m about to fly a plane. Who am I? How is this real life? I press down on the pedals and we’re picking up speed and with my hand cupped around the throttle and index finger out, I pull the throttle straight back to give the plane power and we’re up, up, up, gaining speed and shooting toward the sky. Eeeeeek, how is this happening to me?! “Now we’re up high enough,” David says, “so you can push in a little on the throttle and you’ll see the nose come down a bit so we’re level and yup, look at that. Keep one hand on the yoke and one hand on the throttle and you can just steer wherever you’d like to go. Yup, see she’s trainable, she’s trainable, ladies.” Naturally, with that small inspiration my thoughts drift to me becoming a certified pilot. “Where would you ladies like to go? We can be in Canada in an hour!” David jokes. Amy, Patti and I laugh as we shout out random places. As I fly everyone over the lake in the little four-passenger plane, my cheeks start to feel the strain from the wide smile I can’t seem to hide. Taughannock Falls, though still beautiful from the sky, now looks small and not-so larger than life, like when we see it at ground level. “Wow, that’s incredible,” comes Amy’s voice from the back along with the clicks from her camera as she snaps pictures to keep this moment in time. I turn the plane to the left to give them a better view. “Jess is trying to make us roll over in the sky here,” David jokes in his calming voice. “If you don’t mind, I’m just going to take control here and turn us so Patti can see better from her side.” The child inside of me wants to beg him to let me do it. Now that I’m in the pilot’s seat I want to take full advantage of this experience. We hear David point out different places through his microphone as
if we’re on tour up there in the sky (“There’s the new BJ’s, I’m sure you girls would just love to stop in there, the yacht club — can you believe Ithaca has a yacht club?…”). “Okay, now you’re going to have to land the plane,” David says. I’m ready. I push the throttle in slowly and we begin our descent toward the runway. Cars drive on the road beneath us, what seems like only a few feet away from the runway. “But, we’re flying so close to these cars!” I exclaim. “Yup, it is pretty close,” David says, unfazed. It’s funny how something can be so natural to a person because they’ve done it for so long when it seems so crazy to first-timers. “Okay, now push the throttle all the way in, and we’re going to hang in the air for a bit until the plane decides it wants to come down.” Until the plane decides it wants to come down?! After a couple of seconds of hanging in the air uncertainly, the plane’s wheels meet the runway with a thump and we’re riding along. But now I know what to do, and I safely use the pedals to turn us back toward the East Hill Flying Club and hit the brakes so that the Cessna 53045 comes to a complete stop. David turns around to the backseat and smiles. “Who’s next?”
David St. George, a pilot in Ithaca, stands by a plane at the airport.
The Things They Carry “I wish I never came back.” The six words that make up the last line of her poem. A poem she first jotted down on an envelope while on a Warrior Writers retreat on Martha’s Vineyard in 2007, shortly after getting arrested. A line that encompassed every emotion, every thought, every feeling inside of her. A line she wrote after leaving her soul in Iraq. The small room of the Unitarian Church of Ithaca was packed and buzzing with energy. Some came to share, some to listen, others to release. But no matter what the motive, veterans of all wars, activists and supporters filled the chairs to find solace and truth in the healing words about to be spoken. “Hellooo?” she says softly into the microphone, breaking up the
Written by Kristin Pellettier Photographs by Rachel Woolf disharmony of sounds and chitchat that echoes through the parlor. The whistles and chants from the audience imply that she can be heard perfectly. Her infectious laugh fills the room. “Oh the giggle is going to be awesome on this mic,” Jenny says through a smile. She picks up the note cards placed on the stand beside her and begins reading. “Umm, so thank you for all coming to our poetry expressions by the Veteran’s Sanctuary. The poets will be sharing their daily struggles, pain, regret, guilt, and PTSD, but also the triumph of finding solidarity among other veterans, allies and supporters,” she looks up at the audience and smiles.
The Things They Carry “This celebration is a way for us to heal by stating our experiences, to create an understanding of us. As Eli Wright said, ‘We don’t want to be honored, supported or thanked. We want to be understood so we can rejoin our communities and rebuild our lives.’ “So, I figured I would just open with one of my poems.” She grabs the book, Warrior Writers, from the stand next to her and begins flipping through the pages until she finds the poem she had written five years earlier. Her voice grows stern and loud, her body language stiff, as she begins reading. “We are not your heroes Heroes come back in body bags and caskets We are now society’s burden, ALCOHOLICS DRUG ADDICTS POTHEADS CRIPPLES We are displaying our pain. Begging for help that falls onto the VA’s deaf ears. Pill-popping to silence us into numbness and dead eyes,” her eyes snap up as she gives a piercing look at the audience. “We are not your heroes We are now a mental disease. NO VACCINATIONS FOR PTSD. NO CURE for post traumatic stress disorder. We fight for our cure with ALCOHOLISM DRUG ADDICTIONS SMOKING WEED… We are hurting ourselves, Letting society watch our pain and suffering... *** “Ok so here’s how it works,” Jenny explained. “I give you a prompt and you free write for ten or fifteen minutes. I won’t make you read. Well, usually I will.” “Yeah, if you don’t do it that means you got somethin that’s horrible,” Louie, an activist and Vietnam veteran, said. “No, no judgments Louie! It’s a safe environment, did you forget these rules?” Jenny said, laughing. “Ok, so the prompt ... Do you have a recurring image, dream, thought, maybe something you see, a consistent memory? The main gist of it is a recurring image. Annnd you can write about that! Questions, comments?” The silence reinforces everyone’s understanding. “All right, so like ten minutes…” “Who wants to go first?” Jenny said, breaking the silence. “Jim, since it was your idea? Jim, an anti-war activist and Vietnam veteran, looks down through his glasses at his notebook and begins to read his thoughts aloud. Heat waves, you know the wavy lines that you can see coming off the surface exposed to the sun on a hot sweltering day. My wavy lines are coming off of the PSP runway custom designed to allow C-130’s to
land. The NC7 Caribou’s are no big deal, they just look funny. Poking up through the holes in the PSP is of course, red dirt. The source of the red dust that colors your weapons, your hooch, your radios, the sand bags and more eminently your fatigues, your boots, your hair, and your teeth if you smile too much. I thought I’ve left this image behind and although I’m always looking for it, it only appears on hot nights in my sleep. Jenny breaks the silence that lingers after his last word, “That was really good. I like that one a lot. The imagery is really intense.” “I can still taste it. It’s one of those things,” Jim answered. Harry, a non-combat veteran, volunteers to go next, holding his paper between tattooed fingers that spell out ‘WITH LOVE’ across his knuckles. Familiar landscapes change, there’s more shadows, more darkness. The traffic is just officers, soldiers patrolling in car, on foot. Public places are eerily empty. Catching glimpses here and there. Is that the shimmer of a badge reflecting from a streetlight? One of the few streetlights on? It’s all in plain view to me. I don’t know where I am, I don’t know who’s around me. Parks are empty, plazas empty, houses dim, streets dark, cars parked, where is everyone? What’s what, who’s who? Those are
“AS YOU DESCRIBE EVERYTHING, IT JUST ALL COMES TOGETHER.” cattle trucks. What the fuck. To round them up. To round who up? The subversive. Who calls the shots? This scene has a lot of different looks but in my mind it resembles something of what I heard of, the Nazi’s in WWII. The fascism. And here in my mind, the public witnessing that fascism again. In plain view, in plain sight. Who’s who, which side is who on? The cops are really cops now. Shit I don’t know ... But I wonder how shit happens when it’s all not so friendly anymore ...” He looks up at the table of faces looking at him, processing, “That’s it.” Jenny giggles, “That’s good!” “That’s an image!” Louie comments. “As you describe everything, it just all comes together,” Jenny said. “The whole thing about writing is to show, not tell, and you’re all very good at that. Describing things like the lights, the badges, the cattle cars,” She throws her head back in laughter, as if remembering a recurring image of her own. “That’s how I ended up in jail once, because I refused to get in one of those. “Oh yeah?” Louie asked. “Yeah, I got tased. It was awesome,” she said nonchalantly. “Was it during a demonstration?” asked Dirk, a first-timer at the workshop. “Nooo, it was at a DUI checkpoint,” Jenny says, throwing her head back in laughter. “Yeah, I used to drink a little bit.” *** “…And I’m HEREE, to REMIND YOUUU, of the MESS you LEFT when you went AWAYY,” Jenny screamed crazily, without inhibitions into the microphone, her eyes darting, following the lines of words
appearing on the small television set in front of her. “It’s not FAIRR, to DENY me, of the CROSS I bear that you gave to me. YOU, YOU, YOU OUGHTA KNOWWW,” her escalating voice emanates through the small, dark bar illuminated mostly by neon beer logos glowing from the windows. The loud applause from the table of girls in front of her implied that her first time singing karaoke had gone just as she always imagined. It was badass, even. After finishing the last pitcher of Washington Red Apple, a concoction containing whisky, sour apple pucker, vodka and cranberry juice, Jenny and her longtime best friend Bobby figured they should call an end to their much-needed girls night out. Bobby, a ditzy, “beam of fucking sunshine” led the way out of the bar through the double doors. She only made it a couple steps before stumbling off the sidewalk, landing head first onto the gravel parking lot, her long, dirty blonde hair scattered along the dirt and rocks. That’s what happens when you try and keep up with the alcoholic. “What the fuck,” Jenny mumbled shaking her head, her smile covered by the hand placed over her face. “Bobby really?! You’re the DD! Ah just give me the keys I’ll drive.” They got into Bobby’s red Honda Accord and headed down Route 447. Jenny hadn’t realized just how drunk she was. Drinking became more of a way of life for her after coming home from Iraq three years earlier. It helped her “pass out,” helped suppress the nightmares that would wake her in a pool of sweat. After driving along the highway for a couple minutes she noticed a huge beam of light looming in the distance, revealing shadowy figures and cars blocking the entire road. The whole scene had been reminiscent of the checkpoints she would drive through when she was a medic on convoys; only this time it was a police checkpoint for race weekend. She knew right then and there this was not going to end well. “We can do this, stay calm, we can get away with this,” Bobby whispered as she scrambled through the glove compartment to find Jenny a piece of gum. “OK Bobby shhh, just don’t open your mouth.” She rolled down the half-opened window with a confident smile, hoping the man on the other side wouldn’t notice the potent smell of Crown Royale Whisky entwined with sour apple pucker. He stood there shining a bright light on her face, staring. He didn’t even have to say a word. She knew. “Yeah. You can pull in right there,” he said with a sly smirk and nod. Fuck. She pulled the car over into the adjacent parking lot and stepped out. “Did you have anything to drink tonight?” “Yes. I was driving my friend home and had a couple of drinks,” she admitted obediently. They immediately guided her to a drawn white line on the street. Whatever. I might as well take it as it is. She took five steps heel to toe, teetered a little, and staggered onto the gravel beside the line. “Let me start again!” she insisted. After the second time of failing miserably to walk the ten steps in front of her she threw her hands up laughing, looking down at her feet as if they were to blame. “It’s my shoes! It’s my shoes! I can’t do this with my shoes on!” She said, kicking off her favorite pair of red flip-flops covered with sequins, now standing barefoot on the gravel road with her head thrown back in
a fit of laughter. The cops seemed to have had enough of her antics and they sat her down in a leather chair at a makeshift nurses station. After suffering numerous blown out veins from the bad techs in the VA while being diagnosed with PTSD, her patience was growing thin when the nurse tried to take her blood. Her mind grew blurry. The adrenaline started to kick in. She found herself scanning everything, losing details. Physically she was there, but her mind wandered. Suddenly, she was back on the dirt roads of Iraq, eyes tuned to the side of the road looking for bombs, “bad guys,” anything. She hardly noticed the nurse holding her arm down and the empty vial turning red. A cop with a 250-pound frame and broad shoulders came over to her. “We’re going to need you to go sit in that truck over there and wait for your boyfriend to pick you up,” he said pointing to this oval-like truck with metal bars standing idly next to them. Seeing the truck set off Jenny’s mind like a cannon. Flashes of images pouring in and out. She doesn’t remember if it was the claustrophobia of it all, being in a closed dark space alone, or the fact that her ambulances had been set up almost the exact same way. The only thing she was sure of was she was not getting in the back of that truck. “Dude, I can’t go in there. You can cuff me and put me in the back of the cop car but I am not getting in there,” she said anxiously, her eyes pleading. “You don’t understand. I have PTSD, this is not a good thing for me,” her voice grew more serious and her arms started flailing like a fish. “I will totally chill in the back of the car, I’ll do anything just don’t put me back there.” Jenny’s body language said it all. Bobby took off running from the parking lot across from them as if someone ignited a flame under her. She just knew. She didn’t even make it halfway through the lot before being tackled by the cop she was just talking to. Suddenly, Jenny felt that urge, her muscles flexed and her blood started to boil. She had two choices, run or fight, and she was “much more of a fighter than a runner.” She jumped up on the first step of the truck as if to gain some leverage on the cop in front of her, “No. Fuck this.” The laid-back cop grew angry and pushed her, his voice rising. “Just get in there, sit down.” Everything suddenly went red. She threw her arms back and braced herself against the door of the truck, her strength underestimated. She shoved the cop back, focusing the brunt of her push on his bulletproof vest, knowing it would impede his balance. With her balance already hindered, she fell on top of him and they struggled with each other. Then BAM – suddenly she felt a shooting, immense pain engulf her hand and expand throughout her entire body. Her vision went from red to white. It was electric; her whole body was on fire. The jolt had enough force to push her body backwards into the truck. She could hear the slamming of the doors in front of her. The last thing she heard over the incessant ringing in her ears was a distant, muffled voice from outside of the metal doors. “You just earned yourself a night in jail.” *** “I spent the night in jail being comforted by a pregnant chick, that was an interesting twist,” Jenny said giggling to the group, “I’m in the drunk tank and so was she, and she’s pregnant, and she’s comforting me,” she laughs. “I’m like where am I?! I was very careful after that
The Things They Carry with my interactions with cops. I did not like my one night in jail. It was a very sobering experience...” “Anyway, not supposed to be telling drunk stories.” “Well at least you had fun that weekend,” Louie said. “I did have fun, I sang karaoke that night,” she said laughing. After some of the others shared their writing, it was Jenny’s turn. “Mine’s a rant as usual. So just about every night, when I finally do fall asleep, I usually have this sequence of events. Even when I take my recommended dose of sleeping pills. If I take a lot usually I’m in a coma sleep and I sleep for like 20 hours and I don’t dream at all. But I don’t do that anymore. So here it goes…” Information given to me and experienced, I usually end up in the fetal position facing away from From right, Jenny Pacanowski leads a session with Nate Lewis and Casey Benson at the Veteran’s Sanctuary. my significant other, I mumble sometimes. I start sweating. And and feeling all these emotions that you used to numb, you know? Like by the time I am starting to awaken from the panic, my shirt is soaked, yeah, I’m going through all that dude, and it’s fucking intense.” I feel like I have a fever, my hair looks like I just got out of the shower, and my body feels like my veins are on fire, circulating like a train. I sit *** up and I feel like I should run but I don’t know where, I’m gasping for breath. I get up and then I pace, I pee, and then I smoke. Then I stare …WE ARE NOT YOUR HEROES. at the wall or cuddle up to my boyfriend once my heart has stopped We are your BURDEN beating out of my chest. I have some control over my thoughts during Smacking you in the face with our honesty of this needless war, the day but at night I fall victim to my own mind and its demons and WE FOUGHT horrors that I keep safely buckled down until night falls. I don’t dream So you have the freedom to judge us. during the day, though. “I have no protection when I’m sleeping. I don’t have like a specific event, I don’t have a specific memory or image it’s just like I wake up feeling like that, in a panic.” She looks down at her bullmastiff Boo, the service dog she rescued shortly after spending that night in jail. “He’s used to it — he doesn’t even wake up anymore,” she laughs. “He’s just like, yeah, mom’s doing that weird thing again!” “How is your bed situated, do you sleep with your back up against the wall?” Jim asks. “Yes I do.” “Cause that worked for me for quite a while, I slept on couches for a while when I first came home,” Jim said. “I had no problem sleeping, you know, while I was drinking a lot too.” Harry directs his question at Jenny, “How long have you not been drinking for?” “Since September,” she replies. “I’ve been sober for like four years now,” Harry said. “I felt pretty strange, I guess because of not drinking, I don’t cope the same, I cope really differently…” “Exactly!” Jenny said with enthusiasm. “Like feeling really differently
I wish I never came back.” She pauses and looks up. “Okay, so on that happy note…” she smiles as the room fills with applause. *** “Yeah, that line always gets me,” Jenny said after one of the veteran writing workshops. “I don’t like reading the poem because of the last line. It’s pretty strong, but that’s how I felt.” It had been a struggle for her to capture the same raw emotion and intensity she felt while first reading her poem, We Are Not Your Heroes, on Martha’s Vineyard. “It’s not where I am anymore. I read it because it needs to be heard,” she says sitting back in her chair, keeping an eye on Boo, whose wrinkled head is laid at her feet. “I still struggle — this isn’t magic. I’m better, I’ve made strides, huge strides from what I was, but it wasn’t easy,” she pauses. “But now, I feel like I really matter, especially in other people’s lives,” she smirks. “Especially in the lives of other veterans.”
`DID Y0U MAKE A FIRE T0NIGHT?' February hits Ithaca, New York, once a year for four months. Here, there is a quiet rage. Controlled. Students pin their backpacks with ideals, slap them onto the bumpers of their cars. Townies, more permanent residents, gather in coffee houses and pavilions outside of shops, arm their faces with beards and scarves, bodies protected by flannel. And the rage takes on other forms — poetry and song, protests and solidarity. It mellows. It melts. Tonight, in this pavilion in the middle of town, the solidarity is with Egypt,
Written by Nikki Black Photographs by Patrick Barnes
and Andy Doyle is sitting on a bench, hoping he put the right flag on his poster board. “I just wanted to say, we’ve been collecting poetry about Occupy Issues, and we’re having an open mic tonight at 7:00 at The Shop, so if anybody has anything — ” says a man with a megaphone, standing in the middle of a stone pavilion. Andy will be on his way to The Shop, on his way to the second Friday of this month, which brings him, as most second Fridays do,
Did You Make A Fire Tonight? back to Ithaca, to read some poetry and to listen to more. He’s expected there with his easy smile and blue eyes, his ears pierced with blue-oilrainbow rings. He is not an organizer, but a peripheral organ necessary to breathe life into the scene. He justifies the gas it takes with activist activities. The activism justifies itself. “I went to an event in solidarity with Taiwan, and somebody pointed out that I had put the wrong flag, the nationalist flag, on my poster,” he says to a man in passing, making his way to the open mic. The Shop transforms itself nightly, a coffee shop in front and tattoo parlor in the back. It is temporary home to college bands and featured poets. Artwork moves on and off the walls in waves, rolling with the passing months. Tonight there are photographs of mouths biting their own tongues. The cards underneath read, “green glass globes glow greenly — $65” and “Seth at Sainsbury’s sells thick socks — $65.” The performance area is situated in front of a red curtain and under the TATTOO sign, white on black in old-fashioned script. Stage left, a piano. Stage right, a hanging column of paper cranes in front of the community message board. The audience sits in small groups huddled around wooden tables, better lit than the performers themselves by the small, yellow-tinted lights. Andy walks over to a table, front and center, where two men sit: one with graying hair and goatee, a beret and glasses, the other darker, with hair halfway down his upper arms, grey roots fading into chestnut brown curls. Enter Phil and Steve. Phil has questions. He’s rummaging in his bag and asking me if I’ve ever been to Paris? No? Do I own a cat? No? Have I ever read The Little Prince? Yes? He stops rummaging and hands me a small, ceramic tile with a print of the Little Prince standing on the moon. He gives me a second one with a background of smeared, bright colors and the text CAKEWALK SHOW ITHACA — the show they record, featuring Phil and Steve, and upload to Vimeo. A business tile. *** CAKEWALK SHOW ITHACA — Episode Eighteen: “I Remember You” Fade in Slim Whitman’s “I Remember You.” Fade out. Phil: Oh God, Slim Whitman. Stevie? Steve: Who doesn’t remember that song? Phil (placing his hand on his chest): It just chokes me up; it’s such a beautiful song. Do you want to welcome our guests? Steve: Yeah, we’re back. How are you doin’? And Andrew’s found time, out of his busy schedule, to join us today. *** Josh, a man who helps run poetry night, has a beard and gleeful eyes and towers over the mic like a crashing wave, words bouncing off his tongue like a drum roll: … can’t resist a tightly clenched fist. OR LOVE … so let’s. Andy walks up to the microphone in a black knit cap, black sweater, black rectangle-framed glasses, gives a brief introduction —
“It’s been about two years since Peter De Mott died…” — adjusts the microphone slightly and starts reading like a new and different man: a court room scene play-by-play in a voice both frantic and controlled, a rapid airing of grievances with this or that trigger word elongated or punched up:
And good thing the department of Homeland Security was there that day, keepin’ us safe, while American boys who aren’t supposed to see blood on their recruiting posters are sent home in body bags. There is a controlled energy in his voice. His eyes are cast on the paper but he looks up, now and again, maybe to make sure we’re listening. To make sure we care. — they don’t give you like one third off for good behavior like the states do, most you get off for in federal prison is like one twelfth off for good behavior, so four months is like a minimum of three months and almost three weeks, and Clare Grady, Clare gets six months … *** “… So, when they called 911, they sent the border patrol, and they shot this guy …” Andy is petitioning for immigrant rights outside of Tompkins County Library. A fluctuating group of six people hold signs — Ithaca NEW YORK is the Northern Border — and stand on the street corner with petitions. Andy approaches passersby almost apologetically, asking them to sign the same way he’d ask if you’d like a cup of tea. Local poet Jay Leeming signs. Andy comes up to me after and says, “Do you know who that was? My mother gave me this anthology, it had Pablo Neruda and all these famous poets, and there’s Jay Leeming, right in there with them!” Andy introduces me to Clare. She’s got this serene face, skin pulled tight like she’s seen a lot of sun, eyes green and lively. She got six months for pouring her Irish Catholic blood on walls, posters, windows, a U.S. flag at a military recruiting center, Saint Patrick’s Day, 2003. She got six months because of a prior offense; Andy wants her to tell me the story. “B-52 bombers were being outfitted at Rome Griffiss air force base. It was a transshipment point for weapons, they were bringing first strike nuclear weapons — they just look like death — you know, like when you see those Darth Vader policemen, they make them look inhuman so you get the message right away. They’re just so big and ugly,” she says, and makes a vomiting noise to demonstrate. “So, after you smashed the thing — ” “We had agreed to make our action very real-like,” she knocks a hand against a newspaper stand, “not just symbolic. We went into these hangars, the doors were open, the lights were on. We started hammering. The refueling tanker had its own hangar — we were there for fifteen minutes hammering on the metal. Ping! Ping! We weren’t going to, like, trash the place, so we went outside and circled up and prayed and danced and nobody came, so we were holding these banners and finally civilian security came. “I have to escort you off the base,” he said. “Well, that’s fine,” we said, “But we have to tell you that we’ve been hammering on a B-52.” So, he went to his car, got on the radio, and within minutes the big guys came. “They put M16 rifles to our heads,” she says, making her hand into a gun and holding it to my own temple. “They had us in the
mud on our knees, they took us to a building, and they said, ‘Don’t talk or we’ll put you out in the snow.’” They took us one by one to be interviewed by the FBI, and two or three FBI men look at me and say, ‘We want you to tell us everything, your friends have told us about you,’ and I thought, ‘You guys watch too much TV.’ The trial was in May of ’84. Daniel Ellsburg and Howard Zinn testified, and we were found guilty of damage exceeding $100.” Towards the end, the crowd of protesters swells to nine people, and after another failed attempt at getting a signature, Andy says, “I shouldn’t tell people about them shooting him. They get scared and run away. That’s the second time that happened.”
they both graduated they camped out on her parents’ land. Eventually Andy helped build the house they still live in, and later the cabin. The cabin with its smooth wood floors, windows like a cathedral, the bottom floor with a bed where he sleeps every night next to a wood burning stove and the top floor converted into a dance studio with a body-length mirror. The cabin that housed human and animal rights activists, who would sneak out at night to release animals without Andy’s knowledge. Andy’s cabin in the woods. He built the entire thing himself, save for the help he needed getting the last two bricks on the top of the chimney. We are trying to figure out what made him an activist. “I don’t think I’m that good, actually. I’m not,” Andy says, serious and definitive. “I’m really not.”
*** CAKEWALK SHOW ITHACA — Episode Ten: “Travelogues” Medium shot of Phil and Steve sitting on a bench in front of Cayuga Lake. Their backs are to the camera. Phil: What else? Oh! Andrew! Andrew… I’m so pleased to remind everybody to write into that address and hope for a copy of Andrew Doyle’s… Steve: “Not the Same Tramp You Dropped” oh, “…Dumped.” “Not the Same Tramp You Dumped.” It’s a tremendous book, and Andrew’s a very generous man. If he doesn’t send it to you free, I’m sure you could send him five dollars… Phil: Five? Well that’s — that’s to be determined, I guess. Steve (laughing): I’m giving away a great piece of literature for five dollars, Andrew’ll never talk to me again! *** “I give out my chapbooks, it’s somewhat subversive of the people who make a big pretentious deal out of their chapbook. You know, ‘Chapbooks are for sale after this reading,’” Andy says, putting on a lofty
:GQ$ALKBMKLDAC=:MAD<AF?QGMJ OWN HOUSE!” — ANDY DOYLE voice, one that might have wished it was British. “And then people line up to pay $15 for this book they’ll probably never read, right?” We’re sitting around a table on the top floor of Andy’s cabin, observed by the watchful eye of Phil’s camera set up on a tripod. “It’s simple, you know? It costs me under a dollar to make one, and it takes just a few minutes, and it’s fun! I like doing it, like, the other night I was just stapling and folding them over and it was just very pleasurable,” Andy says, folding and stapling air with his hands. “I’m thinking, ‘Boy, it’s just like building your own house!’” he says. Andy married his wife after their freshman year of college, and after
“What do you mean when you say you do things ‘for style?’” Phil asks. “When people are like, ‘Oh, do you mind if I eat this steak?’ I say, ‘Oh yeah, I’m just for style, I’m just vegan for style.’ Because some vegans are like that, and they try to push their philosophy onto other people, but it’s really a complicated issue, and not one that I’m really into right now. But I’m still going to continue with the style, with the vegan style.” “You’re doing the same thing with poetry,” Phil says. “You’re not forcing anybody; you’re not putting yourself out there as the community poet. People take it or leave it, right? If they want to come down to the Shop they can listen to you, but you’re not — ” “Even when I was doing the slam, I wouldn’t ask people to come. They’d say, ‘Well I’ve got to make one of those slams one of these days,’ I hated that,” Andy says. “Wherever you went, people would avoid you because they were on your list and you had invited them. Especially I wouldn’t want to do it when I was performing.” “That’s a culture choice you’ve made, not to be out there,” Phil says. “There’s no intentionality, there’s no premise about your poetry, it’s just something you do naturally, and, here it is. Right?” “Yeah, I don’t even think it’s that much. Actually, these days,” he says, laughing, “I’m trying to get out of it…” *** “So for anyone that’s not clear, the slam is after the open mic. You need two poems under three minutes,” Josh says, addressing the audience at The Shop, which is fuller than a normal second Friday would bring. Tonight, the audience is spattered with students from Tompkins Cortland Community College, who have been taking a course in slam poetry that Andy visited to give a workshop. Chairs have been added, but the patrons spill out past the coffee counter and into the opening of The Shop — beanies, purple-shaded hair and classic cuts sit as one mass. Andy puts down his bag and removes his alternative food store sweatshirt to reveal a white t-shirt and surprisingly cut arm muscles — toned from years of perfecting the art of forestry. Amber colored beads strung together by wire hang across his collarbone. “You are the slam master, right?” Josh asks him, making his way down the aisle. “Am I?” Andy asks, slightly taken aback. “Oh, I guess I could be.” The surplus of bodies makes the tiny space heat up quickly, adding salty body undertones to the saccharine-smooth coffee scent. “Now, I need five volunteers to judge,” Josh says, taking the microphone again and handing out numbered cards held together by silver binder rings.
Did You Make A Fire Tonight? Standard for poetry slams. “I’m going to read a calibration poem,” he says, to make sure the newly crowned judges get a feel for how to rate each poet on a scale of 0.0-10. Andy takes the stage, adjusts the microphone, gives a slight nod to the audience and holds his chapbook in front of him. He opens and closes his mouth a few times without saying anything. The audience will not stop moving. He begins:
In the forest, in the shadow of the — He takes a breath, and as he pushes each word out of his mouth you can hear the air surrounding it, carrying it from his lungs —
upstate New York, you remember you care? In the second round Andy’s performance is more reserved. His voice is lower, darker.
She’s beginning to notice things about you. You like her. She can tell by looking into your eyes you’re really intelligent. His facial expression is attempting to be neutral, but combined with the way he’s tilting his shoulders, sharply back and forth, the words become almost sinister, or sarcastic.
She loves writing about you because the words are right there. Hanging. Like cherries.
dying grass moon, she is leaping! Arabesquing!
K@=KBMKLOJALL=F9F9E9RAF? POEM CEMENTING HER POSITION AS A UNIQUE AND POWERFUL VOICE IN THE YONI-VERSE. DID YOU MAKE A FIRE TONIGHT? DID YOU LEAP? I WISH I COULD HAVE.” -— ANDY DOYLE
He raises his arms and looks up at something invisible, hope or love or lust shining in his eyes. He is the poem itself. He lowers his arms slowly and comes back into himself, looks at the audience as though he’s only just realize they were there. “Thank you,” he says. Ben is a good-looking man, with dark hair and a strong jaw-line. He is slamming about texting, his gingham collared shirt hugging his young body.
I’ll text you under the desk. I’ll text you, “I want to kick your body.” Damn it, Tina! I want to lick your body, until you understand my tongue without me speakin’. A girl laughs a high, shrieking laugh, joined by a blanket of softer giggles. His voice has the hard edge of a New Yorker, the consonants clicking like tap shoes on a basketball court.
Last night, I robbed a bank. I texted you, “I made it back okay. Smiley face.” He sways his hips from side to side, lifting his arms into the air, the practiced and controlled movements of a dancer.
She’s just written an amazing poem cementing her position as a unique and powerful voice in the yoni-verse. Unfortunately, she had to burn the document… His voice is a grand whisper, an invisible, crashing wave. The wind through a forest.
Did you make a fire tonight? DID YOU LEAP? I wish I could have. By the time he finishes, his throat is contracting slightly, as though the words got caught there or he were about to cry. The audience bursts into applause and the lonely whoop. His scores are 7.0, 7.2, 7.2, 9.2, 9.2. “This guy, if he pulls out something, it could be close,” Andy says to me after the first round. He’s referring to a college student named Ben, who has a following of at least two girls with matching red hair, giggling in front of the counter, and by the audience’s reaction to his last poem, probably much more. Andy’s sweating — is it the heat of his performance, or nerves? The realization that in a miniscule city in
He smiles at the audience and thanks them. The mix of poetry, humor and modernity gets lost in the applause, but not forgotten. The evening is drawing to a close. Andy stands with his arms folded, wavering in the aisle occasionally, waiting for the final tally. Josh approaches the microphone to announce the winners. Third place goes to Dallas, a big man with cornrows, then Kenton, a scraggly man who smelled of gasoline and refused to use the microphone. “And first place,” Josh says, “goes to… Ben!” Ben jumps up, claps twice and accepts the prize money amidst the applause, splattering throughout the crowd and rebounding off of the walls. Andy claps loudly, and walks up to me, smiling, but he seems unsure of himself somehow. “I gave them the prize money,” Andy says, laughing. “It would have been nice to get my twenty dollars back. But that’s alright, not winning is good karma.” He does not walk around, but people come to him, and students thank him. He offers words of encouragement; he no longer seems lost, finding himself again in the community, transcending the self. He becomes again an extra life-breathing organ. One that was not needed until it was there, but now, where would poetry night be without him?
Written by Gillian Smith Photographs by Lauren Barber It all started with a fish. A tribal symbol, simultaneously flowing and solid, the culmination of years of dreaming and planning. The first etch is always the most intense. After that, some people fall asleep, some people scream out, and others silently endure. Regardless of their initial reaction, the final product never ceases to impress. “I don’t even remember how it felt the first time. You just learn to block out the pain.” Phoebe rolls back and forth on her stool, bouncing about the tattoo parlor like a child’s ball. As she reaches up to grab another grip, she exposes her left calf, upon which lies a very colorful, opaque tattoo of a coffee cup, ESPRESSO scrawled across
the top in delicate cursive handwriting. The steam from the enticing coffee disappears into her cargo cut-offs. The smell of fresh brewed coffee from the café dances with the stale, metallic smell of needles in the parlor, creating an acrid yet tart perfume that hangs in the window drapes, the couches, and the clothes of the baristas. A toddler waddles around the café in pink suede cowboy boots holding a teacup with both hands like an ant holding a grape. More commonly known as “The Shop,” the café proudly displays its dual personality with its bright white sign: “The Shop and Model Citizen Tattoo: Espresso, Tea, Art and Music.” ***
Not That Permanent “Hang ten!” Phoebe shoots out from the tattoo parlor on a skateboard, her arms out to her side for balance. She catches hold of the empty coffee counter and swings back the other way, flying around the café like a bumblebee. “I’m getting so much better!” James looks up at her from behind the counter. “You’re going to kill yourself doing that.” “I will not,” Phoebe retorts, hopping off the weathered board and kicking it down the hall and away from the “Now Open” sign on the front door. She wanders into the consultation room and plops down in the office chair. She shuffles through James’ sketches, admiring her mentor’s innate talent. If only I were that good. She compares her sketches to his, proud of the progress she has made since she began her apprenticeship with him three years earlier. I was such a mess back then. Right after high school, Phoebe got her first tattoo, a tribal fish design that swims across her chest from collarbone to collarbone in thick, determined strokes. James, her mentor, worked with her for months perfecting the exact curl of the tail, deciding whether or not to use color, and determining how large the final product would be. *** “This is my life. Every day. Just broken pencils, getting frustrated by these damn things.” James sits back in the worn-out tattoo chair in a hole-inthe-wall parlor in Chatham, Massachusetts, admiring the tattoo currently being inked on his right bicep. A Number 2 pencil with a broken tip planted squarely beside a fire truck red sharpener, an ode to many excruciating late nights spent working through the fine details of countless tattoo designs. “Every day. Just as simple as that.” James spent most of his young life traveling around the country, frequenting Cape Cod to go on commercial bass fishing trips and traveling around with his band, Chemical Flaw. Around the broken pencil, “360 Degrees” was slowly coming to life in solid, sturdy handwriting. “It’s a song from my band. Just like, getting fucked all the time from every direction.” As James settles into being the canvas instead of the artist — something that he has struggled with ever since becoming a professional tattoo artist himself — he stretches out in the chair, revealing the astrological signs of his children and a giant fourth of July tribute to the day his son was born. “What was the craziest tattoo you’ve ever done?” The artist asks James as he fills in the pencil sharpener. “Jesus. I don’t even know if I can remember.” *** James hibernates in the consultation room of Model Citizen Tattoo, the brainchild he so successfully developed on State Street in Ithaca, New York. The front doorbell chimes obnoxiously as a customer enters the front room. I have got to get that fixed. He gets up quickly, knocking some designs on the floor as he gets up. To his surprise, the newcomer is a short, squat girl, not a day past 18, who looks around the showroom, touching too many things and staring too long at the art. “May I help you?”
She whirls around from the drawing of a green and orange winged dragon in flight across a woman’s back. Her eyes open wide as she takes in James’ Cheshire cat smile and oddly tan tattoos. “Um hey. I, uh, want to get a tattoo.” “Oh. Well you’ve come to the wrong place then, I’m not that kind of artist.” “Oh really?” The stranger looks around, confused. James waits. “Well, fuck, that was a joke, but I could just go and come back out to start this conversation over.” The intensity of the laughter that bursts out of the small girl is so shocking it nearly knocks James off his feet. “Well,” he says, grinning with his Colgate white teeth, “What can I do you for?” “So there’s this design of a fish…” *** “To me, its like the ultimate Zen moment.” Stretching over Phoebe’s head into the cabinet full of pencils and sketching paper, James pulls down a few pencils of various thicknesses and begins with the very basics of tattoo design. “You are just there with your thoughts. One time this guy was getting his whole arm filled in black and I did it with my left hand!” After six years of toying with the idea, James decided to take Phoebe on as his tattooing apprentice. Every time Phoebe had come into the studio to get work done, they had tossed around the idea. Finally, they took the plunge. “Sometimes people come in with a picture they printed off-line and you have to customize it for them. Sometimes they come in with ridiculous ideas or names of their boyfriends. I’m sorry, but you’re gonna have to go somewhere else for that, sweetheart.” James joked around as he showed Phoebe the basics. Right before her second year as apprentice, James came into the studio while Phoebe was sketching, and asked her to arrange the materials in the studio, as he had for the past month or so. *** “Alright, show me a good setup.” James saunters into the renovated back kitchen with a devilish grin. He stands behind Phoebe and watches over her shoulder as she sets up the necessary tools with shaky hands. “Give me black liner, blue shader …” he instructs her casually. Phoebe gathers the materials as quickly as she can. “Alright, there you go. Is that right?” “Perfect. You’re tattooing me today.” James settles himself in the chair and smiles mischievously at Phoebe. Phoebe looks at him, terrified. This is awkward. “Wait. What’s the design?” Phoebe was at a total loss. “Just touch up the one on my forearm. You know what to do.” James gives her a knowing look. Like hell I know what to do. Phoebe steadies herself and begins touching up the simple design. Well, the information is already here, so I guess I’m just gonna have to go with it. *** Phoebe and James decided it was time to make the monumental
move: create a collective that harnessed both Phoebe’s love for coffee and James’ extraordinary body art talent. Together, they bought and renovated an old record store and opened the doors in 2009. Unfortunately, the pair had decided to start up their business at the most inopportune moment — the recession. Phoebe spent hours a day skateboarding around the café, and James spent days on end sketching new and old ideas. After the first few months, customers began streaming in for their morning fix, and some even braved the journey into the consultation room to look at the tattoo books. “Can we come in here?” A couple stands awkwardly in doorway, looking around at the prints on the red wall with apprehension. “It’s a big ol’ open space! There aren’t even any doors! Come on in!” James smiles up at the newcomers, glad to have some company after a particularly slow day. “Are you interested in getting a tattoo?” “Oh no.” The girl shakes her head enthusiastically. “I’m terrified of needles.”
A<GFLK==EQK=D>9KJ=9DDQ PERMANENT. DO YOU?”— PHOEBE “Well then you are quite brave for coming back here. Take a look around and let me know if you have any questions about our work.” James goes back to his current sketch, a Celtic design commissioned to cover an old tattoo the owner had gotten sick of. I hope this girl doesn’t hear the needle in the back room and pass out. *** A barista comes around from behind the counter and squats down, holding his hands out for the toddler to high-five. “What’s up, buddy?” He lifts her up and tosses her in the air. She lands in his heavily tattooed arms with a giant grin on her face. Her grandmother laughs as she looks up at the chalkboard menu, deciding between a mocha espresso and a ginger vanilla specialty drink. Handwritten in chalk, the menu changes frequently with the “rotating list of seasonally selected, sustainable, above fair trade, specialty grade coffee from select roasters.” “Nothing I carry is fair trade,” Phoebe calls, noticing the grandmother looking at the display. “Its all direct-trade from Ecuador, Indonesia, South America. Hopefully someday we will figure out a way to work with Malawi!” Phoebe smiles and resumes masterfully creating a four-leaf clover in latte foam. The toddler runs her hands along the dark, paneled coffee bar, her fingers catching in chips and scratches from daily morning rushes. A foot above her head stands the wavy, carved wooden counter, which looks like it was ripped right off the tree and shellacked. An old-fashioned coffee grinder whistles and whirs into action, creaking after a few minutes of rest. On this quiet spring day, Noah, a local music teacher, strides into the electric blue parlor and flops down in the plastic white padded chair. Phoebe strides in after him, a warm smile growing
across her face as she starts setting up “the works” — grips and tubes, liners and shaders — and mentally going over the process from start to finish. She sits down on the rolling stool, bouncing around the room as she gathers her materials and relaxes into the familiar posture of the past six years. She starts up the machine and the hornet buzz fills the room, bouncing off the walls and down the hallway, mixing with the discord of the coffee shop. “Alright, here we go.” Noah tilts his head back and closes his eyes as Phoebe expertly works on filling in the amplifier tube. “Remember how slow you used to be?” *** Phoebe sits rigidly on the edge of the stool, crossing and uncrossing her legs, rolling up the sleeves of her shirt, rolling them down, taking off the magenta Ray-Bans, putting them back on. She looks around the too-bright blue room, unsuccessfully trying to blink the tunnel vision out of her eyes. The worn, dentist-style chair swims in front of her eyes. Tubes, needles and black ink float on the shelf. The roll of paper towels stands out stark against the wall and reflects back on itself in the mirrored backsplash. Phoebe closes her eyes. She thinks back to the endless hours of designing and sketching the broken amplifier tube and shards of glass, back to the piles of lemons, grapefruits and oranges with sporadic designs scrawled across their delicate surfaces. Sense of depth. Fruit peels will totally blow out if you go too deep. Just like skin. The heat of nerves crawls up behind her ears as black dots swim before her eyes. Chill. In between wavering deep breaths Phoebe goes over the process in her mind. Her eyes snap open as two pairs of footsteps approach the parlor door. Here we go. “Phoebe, meet my good friend Noah.” James steps aside and points the way in for the body art fanatic. “Um, hey.” Phoebe stands and shakes Noah’s hand, shamefully aware of how her nerves are making her hands shake. Noah sits down as Phoebe takes a deep breath in and puts together her equipment, frequently glancing back and forth between the sketch and Noah’s arm. She wipes the forearm with an alcohol wipe, with OCD-like precision in small, never-ending circles, following with the disposable razor to remove the hair. Slowly she drags the razor across the thick arm hair, repeatedly going over the same spot to ensure all the hair is gone. It’s a slow process, and she’s making it even slower. Well now I’m just wasting time. Hesitantly she starts up the machine. I can do this. I’ve done a million. What makes this any different? But she knew. Thirty jellyfish tattoos on friends couldn’t possibly compare to her first real client. The vibration of the machine through her hands puts her somewhat at ease and fills her with a small dose of confidence. Her inexperienced fingers search across the metal for the correct position. Tentatively, she weighs the machine in her hand. The idea of putting needle to skin makes her hair stand on end and sends a shiver through her spine, but the potential of creating a masterpiece quiets her nerves. Yes.
Not That Permanent She begins to etch the busted guitar amplifier tube into Noah’s arm. The pink, baby-soft skin flushes as the needle makes its pilgrimage toward the bicep. James sits behind her, a mostly silent observer. With images of bursting orange peels in her mind, she applies as little pressure as possible while still inserting the ink. James slowly rolls his stool closer to Phoebe as she works, aware of the visible tension in her hand. He gently places a hand on her shoulder. “Oh here, let me show you something. Do you mind?” She shakes her head gently and drops the machine into his hand, rolling backwards to give him space. Don’t worry about it. James handles the machine with the ease and grace of an experienced artist and sets to work in a seemingly effortless style. Phoebe is enamoured with her mentor’s extraordinary talent and watches unblinkingly. Remember it all. It’s important to maintain the balance between too deep and not deep enough, he reminds her. “If you don’t etch deep enough, it will fade, and you will have to do touch ups more often.” Dammit. She already knew that. As she takes back control, keeping in mind his directions, the tattoo starts to materialize before Phoebe’s eyes. A jet-black tube starts to crawl up his forearm and shards of glass begin to shatter across his bicep. The tunnel vision dissolves with every stroke. Her grip loosens and her ears pick up the whirls and grinds from the coffee shop. Noah watches intently. “Pretty intense, huh. Having this on your body permanently?” Phoebe smiles as she lets the creative juices flow. “I don’t know. I don’t see myself as really permanent. Do you?” *** A woman with curly, salt and pepper hair sits by the bay window at the front of the store, reading George Orwell’s 1984 and sipping a glass of freshly ground carrot juice. She jumps as she feels a tug on her pants, and squints down through the early morning light at a little boy in Osh-Kosh overalls. “Hi.” He grins widely, revealing two missing front teeth. “Well, hello there.” The woman smiles warmly back at him, and glances around the café for his mother. “How are you today?” “Good.” He reaches in the chest pocket of his overalls and pulls out a heaping handful of coins. Dimes and pennies spill out of his hands and hit the floor, a chorus of metallic sopranos. “Oops.” More coins spill out as he bends over to retrieve the escapees, and he follows them around the floor, dropping two for every one he picks up.
“Oh dear,” the woman exclaims. “Where in the world did you get all this money?” “I made it.” He stands up, having finally collected his fortune, the equivalent of the retail price of a bouncy ball or stuffed monkey. He smiles a chipmunk smile and waves goodbye with his pinkie, not daring to risk letting any coins fall again. With determined steps, he marches back over to the counter and asks for a cookie. The woman smiles and goes back to her book, shaking her head with amusement. Phoebe laughs to herself as she watches the little boy charm his way through the line. She presses espresso grounds into a little silver cup and inserts it into the machine. As the steam billows up into her face, the familiar whirs and whistles fill her with ease. She surveys the warmly lit room, making a mental note to secure the art on the walls when she opens the windows for spring cleaning. Along the walls sit college students in eclectic garb, typing furiously on their laptops. A group of young professionals gather at the large, round table, talking loudly about reports and financial accounts. When the timer goes off, she takes a delicate china cup from the rack and pours in the caramel colored foam. She fills the cup slowly in a clockwise motion, pulling the carafe away from the cup, then putting it closer to the rim, repeating this process until the cup is nearly full. At the opportune moment, she makes a quick, zig-zag movement with her hand and in the foam appears a heart, surrounded by swirls that encompass the entire surface of the drink. A round of applause erupts from the other side of the counter and Phoebe is startled to see her impromptu audience. “Latte art is just like tattooing,” she says to the onlookers. “The more passionate you are about it, the more beautiful it becomes.”
IF THE H0RSESH0E FITS Written by Emily Krempholtz Photographs by Emily Brown and Emily Krempholtz “I really think horses are magic. They’ve survived for millions of years on their flight instinct, and, let’s face it, their bodies aren’t put together to be doing what they’re doing. But they run, they jump... just the fact they can walk with the way their bodies are, with how lanky their legs are, it’s an anatomical disaster, but it works, so it has to be magic!” — Beth 20
Kortney and Dudley dance like a couple in love, alone in a crowded room with eyes only for each other. Yet this dance floor is made not of polished wood, but of dust and dirt dotted with small piles of manure; there’s no disco ball hanging above them, but harsh warehouse lights that buzz quietly and cast a greenish-yellow hue over the center of the cavernous indoor riding arena. The occasional cluck of Kortney’s tongue is the only sound that accompanies the soft, dull thud of Dudley’s hooves as he canters the ring, his gait creating a consistent and soothing rhythm that could lull a small child to sleep. 1, 2, 3. 1, 2, 3. 1, 2, 3. Kortney stills the movement of her seat and applies pressure to the reins, and she and Dudley slow to a walk. The transition is smooth, and she leans forward to pat his long, golden neck.
If the Horseshoe Fits “That’s my boy,” she tells him softly. The fat palomino horse perks up under the attention, gleaning from the pat and her tone of voice that he’s done a good job. Kortney dismounts, swinging her right leg behind her and sliding down Dudley’s left side to land on the soft ground. She leaves the reins slung over Dudley’s neck and walks away from him to set up some jumps for their workout, leaving him to stand alone and untethered in the center of the ring. But Dudley, ears perked forward in curiosity, refuses to be left behind, and follows Kortney, keeping close to his friend. “Dudley is my little puppy dog,” Kortney says of the 1300-pound animal. “He thinks he should be allowed to sit in my lap or get in my car. He tries pretty hard to please me.” In the ring, Kortney begins to run. Dudley picks up a trot and follows in quick pursuit. The horse could easily outrun Kortney if he wished, but he paces himself equally with his friend, keeping the space between them consistently at no more than a few feet. Kortney comes around to one of the jumps she just set up, a pole set horizontally at about two feet high, between two standards that look like wishing wells, and like a track star, leaps over it, right leg extended in front of her. She looks behind her just in time to see her “puppy” follow, using his powerful hind legs to spring over the jump. He canters a few strides until he catches up with Kortney, then stops and puts his head down, waiting for her to catch her breath. She hugs him around the neck and stays there for a moment, leaning into him like a giant pillow and murmuring soft praises into his right ear. “Relationships are so important. You have to have a good one with the horse. The stronger your relationship, the easier it is to communicate with a specific horse.” Kortney grins, thinking of Dudley. “I feel like we have a pretty strong relationship. He’ll do almost anything I say.” When Kortney is ready, she mounts again, and the two fly over the jumps she set up with ease. The air between the two is not one of work or even exercise. Like two best friends having the time of their lives, it’s what horseback riding is supposed to be. Kortney would know. She’s been doing it since she was four years old, and riding at Stoney Brook Farm since she was twelve. Now twenty-two, and employed at the farm, she considers it a second home. “It’s become a lot of things at this point,” she says, thinking for a moment. “A source of income, a second home, a place where I go to relax, to see my pony, a place where I go to hang out with my friends, and sometimes have a night out. It’s cool because it’s somewhere where you can feel like it’s your home and also kind of a nice sanctuary. You can escape and relax after a stressful day. And it’s all in the same place, like, I don’t have to ever go anywhere else. It’s a one stop shop.”
“If you want to make a small fortune with horses, start with a large one! ‘Cause that’s about the way it goes. But really, there’s so much more to it than money. It’s so rewarding.” — Beth Within the Lower Barn, a stack of hay bales looms about eight feet high in the corner, just inside the heavy sliding door, shrouded in shadows that even the soft yellow light of the bare bulbs overhead
cannot reach. Yet it’s not an ominous darkness, but more of an inviting one that calls ‘climb me!’ to passing children, adults, and cats alike. And indeed, many have been found reading, napping, chatting with a friend, or crying over some personal heartache in this looming fortress of cut grass, a stronghold of straw that would put the most epic of blanket forts to shame. The heavy rectangular bundles make not only great building blocks but great seats as well, albeit ones that leave bits of hay forever to be discovered in the pockets of hoodies and jackets months, sometimes even years, and many washings, later. The scent of the hay, sweet and grassy, lends an air of summertime
“A LOT OF OTHER SPORTS ARE LIKE A TEAM. IN HORSEBACK RIDING YOUR TEAM IS YOU AND YOUR HORSE.” — KORTNEY NUNEZ
to the place. It mingles with the underlying tangy-sour scent of manure, rich, sweet grain, and the earthy, musky smell of mud and horse and sweat to create something unique, something that those uninitiated might consider at first to be unpleasant but nearly everyone “on the inside” would describe as comfortable. The twelve big box stalls are all built with horizontal boards of thick heavy wood and hinged doors with sliding metal locks, but each looks a bit different. The dry erase boards next to each door list the name of its occupant, some decorated in girlish handwriting with little love notes to favorite mounts and drawings of hearts or smiley faces. Between the two rows of stalls is a long concrete aisle that is empty of even the smallest specks of hay, for it’s swept and blown with a leaf blower every morning. “The whole barn gets cleaned from top to bottom every day,” says Beth. “It’s cleaner than my house. There’s a lot of pride I take in my horses’ care.” It’s cold today, with a breeze that makes overhanging branches scrape and rustle atop the metal roof. In the rafters of the Lower Barn a lone bird chirps, taunting Chip and Tuck, the two lazy barn cats dozing in the warm tack room, daring them to chase it. Snow begins to fall softly on the uphill walk to the Upper Barn and indoor arena. It’s barely noticeable, like dust motes swirling in a beam of bright sunlight. Smoke puffs merrily from the chimney atop the vast red structure known as The Shop. The woodstove inside The Shop’s small lounge makes it the warmest room on the farm, and employees, boarders, and owners alike are often found, beer in hand, enjoying a respite from the bitter cold. The Upper Barn is dark, and the doors are closed, but the lights in the indoor riding arena beam through the small windows with a yellow light that directly contrasts with the dull grey of the sky outside.
“Riding horses gives you a great understanding 21
of how to be in a relationship with the world. You can take the horse to a much grander scale, be it your colleagues, family, husband wife, neighbors, children. It’ll be like graduating from college in relationships if you can transfer what you learn from horses.” — Beth “We’ve got some lazy ponies tonight,” says Beth with a smile. “Don’t let them fool you, they all did nothing yesterday.” She glances pointedly at Jess and Cody. “Do you want a crop?” Jess refuses the riding tool, preferring to keep trying to make her sleepy horse move with just her legs and seat. Beth walks behind Cody for a few seconds, clucking her tongue and clapping her hands, trying to incite some energy from him. She’s successful, and the brown and white paintedwww horse picks up a bouncy trot.
“Good, now keep him moving, please!” While her riders warm up, Beth sets up a jump course. She sets a single pole horizontally between two standards, to create a “vertical,” and “crossrails,” or jumps made of two poles set in an X. Her long, curly brown hair ruffles slightly with the breeze coming through the open door at the end of the indoor arena. Her daughter Chrissy helps wordlessly. She knows her mother is still healing from a shoulder injury, and though Beth refuses to stop moving or working, Chrissy walks from jump to jump, setting poles in place and adjusting their height. Her horse, a black mare named Fritzey, trails behind her on a loose rein. The jump course looks unorganized, an array of standards set haphazardly around the ring, but the riders know that Beth has a plan that will eventually lend sense to the various twists and turns. Now finished with the last jump, Chrissy forgoes the short set of stairs known as the mounting block and instead mounts from the ground. She lifts her left foot high into her stirrup and, after a few small bounces for momentum, vaults herself over Fritzey’s back. She lands softly, adjusting her body and her weight so that both she and her horse are comfortable, and with a firm squeeze of her legs, she joins the other four riders on the rail. The riders weave in and around each other with an unspoken grace. They make circles and cut across the center of the ring in order to maintain space between their horses. They follow all the familiar rules: when moving in opposite directions they pass each other left-on-left, making sure their respective left sides are closest to each other, and call out if they are going to be circling or getting in anyone’s way. It looks almost choreographed, like a complicated dance. And indeed, some of the horses even lengthen or shorten their strides to match the beat of the music from the stereo. “Why did I put so much sappy music on this playlist?” asks Chrissy with an embarrassed laugh, pulling a face when the song switches to a slow ballad by Adele. “Oh, I like it,” says Lori, ever content. Lori and her horse Tia match tonight. Lori’s lavender North Face zip-up is exactly the same color as Tia’s saddle pad. Tia’s bridle is bedazzled, too, with some colorful stones set into the leather brow-band across her broad forehead. When Beth asks the riders to drop their stirrups, they stretch their legs down, taking care to maintain their equitation, or riding position. They focus on stretching their weight down into their heels and relax the muscles and bones in their seats and backs in order to be able to move with their horses as one being. “A lot of other sports are like a team. In horseback riding, your team is you and your horse,” Kortney says. “It’s all about you and what you’ve done with that particular horse, not so much about helping a team but showing what you and your horse have accomplished and improved together.” Beth agrees, adding, “You’re not going to get what you want if you don’t ask the right way. You have to be willing to ask a hundred times to get it, and you can’t lose your patience.”
If the Horseshoe Fits Tonight Kortney needs to make good use of that patience. She is riding Anney, a tall thoroughbred mare who, despite her white coat, is technically considered gray because like most horses, Anney’s skin underneath is black. Anney’s name is short for Animation, and it’s a moniker that fits the spirited young mare perfectly. She prances about the ring at the trot, lifting her feet as high as she can, and her dark gray mane and tail stream behind her. She could be a picture in a calendar. Beth asks the riders to prepare for a canter, and Anney’s ears prick forward and her speed increases. When Beth announces, “Off we go!” Anney hears it like a gunshot, and immediately transitions into a beautiful canter, albeit an extremely fast one. She stretches her legs out in front of her, leading correctly with the leg closest to the inside of the ring, though she occasionally switches leads just for fun. Kortney circles her horse at the far end of the ring, muttering soft and soothing words to her excited mount, and the other horses move around her. After several small circles to show Anney she can’t run wild around the ring, Kortney eventually gets the crazy mare to calm down, and Beth nods from the center of the arena, impressed. “You’re not always going to get them to do whatever you want them to do,” says Kortney. “Especially mares. They’re huge animals so you can’t try to overpower them, you just have to ask nicely and hope for the best.” “I think this is finally Anney’s year,” Beth says to no one in particular. “How Anney got her groove back,” Chrissy jokes, and Beth looks at her with a grin. “Nah, how Anney got her groove at all,” she counters. Warm up completed, the riders begin the jump course. They take turns heading over the various jumps, only doing a few at a time in order to put the course together at the end. Chrissy adopts a faux-British accent and tells Fritzey, “Now we’re going to be very ladylike about this. Let’s do it at normal speed.” But just a few strides before the jump, she lets Fritzey move out into a fast canter. As they leap over the jump, Chrissy redirects her weight to her stirrups and leans forward, balancing herself in the air over Fritzey’s back and neck in the riding position called a two-point, named for the sole two points where a rider has contact with the horse: in their feet. Fritzey, pretending the vertical is three times its actual size, soars over it with her neck and front legs extended. She is clearly enjoying herself. Chrissy, who is having just as much fun, lets out a whoop of surprised laughter when they land and take off suddenly into a fast gallop. Beth, standing off to the side, rolls her eyes and shakes her head at her daughter, but resists the urge to chastise her. Some of the other riders clap and cheer. “Whoo! Go Chrissy!” calls Sarah from atop her mare, a tiny pony named Ellie. As the jump course progresses and the riders begin to put it together, everyone continues to show their support for each other. They cheer whenever someone manages to remember the course correctly without Beth dictating which jump comes next, or when a horse canters on the correct lead after the jump. When Jess has trouble asking Cody to canter, everyone in the ring starts clucking their tongues in an attempt to get him to move. And when she finally makes it over the course, everyone makes sure to tell her “good job.” While waiting their turn to jump, most of the horses stand in a line along the rail, but Chrissy and Fritzey walk, deftly moving around the
ring and avoiding any jumps that are actually in use at that moment. “What is it they say?” she asks jokingly. “Idle horses are the devil’s something or other?” Lori chuckles at her as she and Tia begin the course. Beth dictates to the riders as they jump, telling them what comes next if they look to be heading in the wrong direction and occasionally offering advice. “Okay, now half-halt,” she tells Kortney, as Anney races toward yet another jump. Kortney applies just a bit of pressure with her reins, not enough to make Anney stop, but enough to get her to slow down. “You’re on the wrong lead,” she tells Sarah and Ellie, and Sarah quickly brings Ellie back down to a trot and then asks her to canter again right away in a maneuver known as a “simple lead change.” This time, Ellie picks up the correct lead with her inside legs. “She’s so damn cute,” Chrissy says, watching Ellie, whose short pony legs blur like Fred Flintstone’s as she canters. When the pair sails over a jump, Chrissy smiles. “And she’s so good!” Beth looks at her, eyebrow cocked, as if to say, “Unlike some horses I could name...” Chrissy grins in understanding. “Hey, if I wanted to ride a 4-wheeler, I’d be on one. But I like something a little more independent.” Beth snorts as Chrissy and her mare begin to trot toward the first jump. “Yeah, and Fritzey’s a lot independent!”
“Everyone who comes to work here, they have the same work ethic, and the same dedication and love of the horse. If it’s raining in the middle of the day, I never get a negative response if I ask for people to come early and get them in quickly. If I ask for help with anything they have a great attitude, and they treat it like an adventure.” — Beth Lori leads the horses in two at a time. Scout, on her left, pins his ears back, a warning, whenever Cody gets too close to him, but Lori calls his bluff and ignores his body language, keeping her grip on both lead ropes tight and striding purposefully toward the Upper Barn. The quiet crunching of grain gets louder as more horses are brought inside to eat their dinner. As the horses finish, some poke their heads out over their stall doors, blinking in the artificial yellow light and watching Lori with dark, wide eyes. At the opposite end of the barn, Elvis, a dark bay (brown-coated with black mane, tail, ears and feet), blows a raspberry. Other horses turn to the back of their stalls and munch on hay, or call out to their friends a few stalls down. A pony named Guinness immediately lies down in his stall, legs tucked beneath him. Lori turns out the lights in the barn, leaving only a bright floodlight directly outside the door, beaming a harsh light onto the parking lot and the outdoor riding ring, which is quickly becoming obscured by a thick layer of new snow. A few soft whickers echo through the barn as Lori slides shut the door. Goodnight, they’re telling us. See you tomorrow.
The Big, Gay Potluck Written by Adam Polaski Illustration by Daniel Sitts The little house on Muriel Street has hardly ever seen so much action. Cars are lined up and down the narrow residential street, a stationary parade that crowds the road and sends a clear message to the neighbors on this February night: There’s a party going on. All evening, men have been filing into Dan’s house, greeting the
jovial host with enormous smiles, affectionate kisses on the cheek, and platters of food. Some men apologize for their store-bought laziness and others make disclaimers that they weren’t “meant to be a chef,” but Dan pooh-poohs all of the excuses and apologies, happily placing home-cooked casseroles next to an array of Wegman’s
The Big, Gay Potluck pre-made dishes on a large oval table, the centerpiece of the house’s dining room. Dan directs the guests to the kitchen, encouraging them to help themselves to a drink from one of the many wine bottles cozily nestled on the counter. By 7:30, he’s gone through the motions of the greeting ritual 50 times, and the house is packed. Guests stand shoulder-to-shoulder around the dining room table, while other groups overflow into the living room, desperate to escape the climbing temperature and crescendo-ing volume of the rest of the house. “We’re at maximum capacity!” someone marvels from the kitchen. “I’ve never seen so many gay men in one room in my life!” Many guys laugh and nod in agreement, relieved that someone else has admitted to their potluck virginity. But for the rest of the guests, 50 gay men in the Jamese place isn’t that remarkable — at least no more remarkable than the parties from every other month, when homes throughout the Ithaca area are similarly packed with the guys from the Ithaca Gay Men’s Potluck, a night devoted to food, friends and being fabulous. Marcos, a graduate student at Cornell University, is taking this last pillar of the Potlucks — being fabulous — to heart. With a cup of red wine in hand and a slight slur that suggests he pre-gamed the gathering, he bursts into a circle of guys and interrupts with a pressing question: “Does anyone have a cigarette around here? I tried to buy some earlier, but they were out,” he says, flipping his shoulder-length black hair out of his eyes. Those bastards. Christophe, a short French man, probes Marcos on the smoking habit. “Why do you smoke?” Christophe asks with borderline indignation. “Don’t you worry about cancer?” “See, cancer doesn’t bother me!” Marcos says with an airy, high-pitched breath. “I feel like cancer’s kind of nice. You know in advance you’re going to die, and you can savor those moments with your loved ones! I think it’s very, very nice.” The other men don’t have time to challenge Marcos’ thoughts. Dinner is served. Thomas, a 60-year-old retired engineer, has just spent the last ten minutes circling the table and pulling aluminum foil or lids off of the dinner dishes, and now he’s calling for everyone to line up and grab something to eat. Marcos rushes toward the front of the pack, taking a plate and silverware from the buffet line that Dan has set up for the party and beginning to shovel items onto his plate. The food is a mix of ambitious and underwhelming, a true testament to the “luck” portion of the word “potluck.” There’s a mountain of deli sandwiches on freshly baked wheat bread, a plate of wilted blue cheese-stuffed mushrooms, a salad that relies too heavily on broccoli, a smoky braised pork tenderloin, an enticingly spicy stew with carrots, potatoes and onions, and even a pan of pre-made tacos, stuffed to the brim with ground meat, lettuce, and cheese. It’s impossible to make out each item’s scent from the cloud of aromas lingering in the room. Marcos fills up his plate before even completing his walk around the table. His attempts to fit more items onto the platter hold up the line, and quickly, there’s a huddle of guests jamming up the dining room table, the most privileged soup kitchen line in history. “I feel like the line is not moving at all!” Christophe shouts, his French accent more evident now. “Stop the chitchat and just grab some food!”
“Be civil, gentleman,” Dan says, calming the crowd and grinning to himself at how big and successful this Potluck was shaping up to be. It was one of the most well attended Potlucks that Dan had ever hosted, and he had hosted more than a half-dozen. In fact, the Ithaca Potlucks wouldn’t have even existed without Dan — he organized the gatherings for the first time in Ithaca back in October 2006. *** “People call me the Gay Czar of Ithaca,” Dan says, laughing. “And I do think of myself as something of a facilitator in gay socializing. At the Jamese time, it’s a very self-interested facilitation — I make this happen because I want to live in a community where that’s going on. I want to participate in it.” The Potluck concept wasn’t something Dan came up with independently. He was inspired, rather, by similar gatherings from his former home in Bloomington, Indiana. The Bloomington Potluck evenings were very similar to the Ithaca Potlucks: food, wine, new friends, old friends, maybe boyfriends. “I really identified with being a man,” he said. “I thought of myself in very masculine terms, and the idea of me being perceived as a sissy was foreign for me. I couldn’t conceptualize ‘gay’ in a way that wasn’t Pansy/Sissy/Faggot. I didn’t think of myself in that way, and I couldn’t imagine myself embodying that side of being gay. “ At the Potlucks, Dan found that the men represented a wide spectrum of masculinity, one where the Pansy/Sissy/Faggot label certainly didn’t come into play. The stereotypes don’t matter, Dan realized. There’s a full range of types. I can be hyper masculine AND a gay man. I can kick ass AND kiss guys. Once Dan moved to Ithaca to teach at Cornell University, he migrated the Potluck idea over to his new community, reaching out on local LGBT listservs and networking with local gay men. Now, five and a half years later, Dan has a mailing list of over 300 people, whom he messages each month with the address and directions to the new Potluck location. “I don’t advertise anymore,” Dan says with a smile. “I really don’t need to.” *** Each person in Dan’s living room is speaking at a normal, appropriate volume. And yet, the overlapping cacophony of 50 semi-drunk gay men sharing their opinions on French poetry and the politics of Grindr is creating a decibel rate that rivals that of a Britney Spears concert in San Francisco. Many of the men at the Potluck are middle-aged or older, and many are coupled. The Potlucks, of course, lack the super dark lighting, Boom Boom Pow pop song remixes, and belligerently drunk bachelorette parties that are staples at gay clubs and bars — and those absences are intentional. The parties are meant to be relaxed, friendly environments where “gay party” doesn’t have to mean “shirtless, sweaty men making out on a dance floor.” The older crowd seems to enjoy the vibe — it’s a social situation where they can let down their guard and be a little flirtatious while still remaining respectful. A number of younger guys have unconsciously secluded themselves to the Kiddie Corner. A significantly tipsier Marcos plus
two other Cornell grad students and Christophe, are sitting on the loveseat, while Brendan, a just-graduated music student from Ithaca College, sits in a folding chair nearby. Brendan is completely sober and his plate is completely full – he’s only recently arrived, coming straight from his shift at Americana Winery, where he’s the right-hand man for his partnered gay bosses, who accompanied him over to the Potluck. Marcos, who’s sporting a pale pink wine moustache just above his upper lip, is craving a cigarette again, and he’s back to soapboxing about the joys of cancer. “You can share the suffering!” he says, throwing one hand up, exasperated that no one seems to understand his point. “For months! Maybe months! It’s a love. A love for cancer! All I want to do is to be missed.” He pauses, then clears his throat. And, addressing no one, asks, “How do you want to die?” Brendan averts his eyes from his friend Marcos and gives a quick shake of the head. He knows that Drunk Marcos is speaking out of a place of real pain — he’s got Mommy issues, he’s got Daddy issues, and he’s made more than a few harmful decisions regarding sex, drugs and older men. Best to just play along. “I would favor going out with a blaze of glory!” Brendan announces. “I want to be written about.” “Well, I want to savor my death. I want to share the sadness. I just don’t want to die alone.” He stops again and looks somewhat uncertain, doing the logic puzzle in his head. “If you die of cancer, you’re not dying alone. Your loved ones are going through it with you! That’s why I like cancer.” Marcos slumps down off of the loveseat, content to kneel on the floor in front of the chair. He places his head deliberately in Christophe’s lap, while Christophe gently runs his fingers through Marcos’ hair. Across the living room, small groups of middle-aged men have circled up. There’s a gaggle of gays in the corner who are all more than a little bit overdressed. One is wearing a vest, another is wearing a bright purple tie, and they all have spiked, gel-heavy, frosted-tipped hairstyles — obvious hangovers from the days when boy bands and the Queer Eye guys were all the rage. A few feet away, John is sitting on a chair and clutching a small plastic cocktail cup full of soda, taking occasional sips to give him something to do. It’s been a while since John has been at a potluck — about a year and a half. But these parties used to be his old stomping ground, a place where he knew everyone and where his identity was wellestablished as the largely closeted schoolteacher from Elmira. Back when he was slowly tip-toeing his way out of the closet, John considered the Potlucks “can’t-miss” affairs, immovable dates on his social calendar. They served as an alternative to the anonymous, online dating services that John had found frustrating — a way for him to conceptualize gayness in a real-life setting. *** John’s first Potluck experience was on a Saturday night in December 2006. That evening, he arrived at the house in Collegetown with a still-steaming chicken dish, wrestling in his head to find a
middle ground between his high expectations for the night and having none at all. It was only the third potluck ever, so it was still relatively small, with just over twenty people milling around the spacious dining room. Gradually, John began talking with some of the men, offering a story about his hobby in home renovations as conversation fodder. Many of the guests were coupled, but that hardly seemed to register with John. He wasn’t looking for a boyfriend. He was barely comfortable identifying himself as gay — he certainly didn’t have his hopes set on starting a relationship with another man. He slowly sipped his Chardonnay, careful not to be overpowered by even the faintest buzz. As the minutes ticked on, he started to settle in, lowering his guard and calming his heart rate to a more manageable pace. At around 8:00, John was so relaxed and engaged in conversation with a group of guys that he hardly heard the doorbell ring. Jeff, the Potluck’s host, greeted the new arrival, Steve, whisking the apple crisp out of his hands and urging him to go and mingle.
AEFGL?GAF?LGK9Q9FQL@AF?& ALKFGL9FQ:G<QKHD9;=LGGML 9FQ:G<Q&L@9LKQGMJBG:LGL=DD L@=EO@=FQGMJ=J=9<Q&— STEVE Out of the corner of his eye, John noticed Steve, and his calm heart rate shot up again. Fuck. Steve and John were vague acquaintances in Elmira, one of those “friends of friends” deals that seem to pop up so often in smalltown communities. In these kinds of towns, gossip travels fast, and in his head, John imagined Steve blabbing to the world about how his cute Mr. Fix-It acquaintance from Elmira was a big homo. He’s going to tell people, John thought, his eyes shifting anxiously around the room. Fuck. He’s going to tell people. They’re going to know. John didn’t know what to do. He could stay at the potluck and further incriminate himself, proving to Steve that he was, in fact, here by choice. He could pull Steve aside and explain that he had no idea this was a party for gay men and that he had no idea why he received an invitation. Or, he could leave and hope that Steve would totally forget about him. John excused himself from the circle. He hurriedly removed his coat from the rack by the door. He picked up what remained of his chicken dish. He thanked Jeff for his hospitality. And then he left. That week, John was a mess. At the supermarket, at the hardware store, in his neighborhood, he read every sideways glance toward him as an accusation: I know you’re a faggot.
The Big, Gay Potluck A few days after the potluck, John came home to find a note on his door. Hand-written, affixed to the door with tape. If you need me, give me a call. You have nothing to worry about — I’m not going to say anything. It’s not anybody’s place to out anybody. That’s your job to tell them when you’re ready. — Steve For the first time that week, John relaxed. Smiled. Took a deep breath. The Secret was safe. Steve’s encouragement proved to be vital for John — it helped him to see that the Potluck guys weren’t out to “get” him. They’d all been through the coming-out process, and they understood that it wasn’t so easy. This process, for them, was normal. “For a long time I thought it was just me,” John said about being attracted to men and starting to act on it later in life. “I thought I was different, and I knew I wasn’t normal. Normal is going through life, getting married, having kids, having the perfect suburban life. That’s what I had dreamt about for a while.” Despite the scare from his first Potluck, John decided to go to another Potluck, and then another, and then another, until the dinners were monthly rituals. Now, John’s essentially out of the closet. He’s been dating a man, Lee, for two years, and he’s out to his parents, his friends, and his co-workers. The principal at the school where he works even came to a dinner party he hosted last December. “It just got to the point where I was like, ‘This is crazy. This is insane,’” John said. “I’m done lying, and I’m done faking everything.” *** By 10:30, the house has cleared out, save for 13 stragglers who have migrated to the small, cramped kitchen, intent on polishing off every last drop of the wine. “Um, gentlemen,” Dan says, clearing his throat, smiling and commanding the ears of everyone in the room. “I think we have just the right number for an orgy.” Everyone chuckles — although a few of the guys are doing so nervously, not quite sure if Dan is joking. Brendan decides to join in on Dan’s joke: “Should we all do it with our shoes on?” “I mean, it looks like Marcos is definitely ready to go,” Christophe says, pointing toward Marcos, who’s leaning on the wall, rubbing his red eyes and jerking his neck every few seconds, trying to prevent himself from falling asleep. He may not have found a cigarette, but he sure as hell found something to smoke. James walks into the kitchen, returning from the bathroom, and Dan throws up his arms, lamenting, “Oh no! Now we’ve got one extra. Too many.” The room deflates with a collective faux-sigh. What a fun-crusher. The group conversation has shifted to the topic of Christophe’s clothes. It’s not the first time tonight he’s been teased — with his turquoise undershirt and brown corduroy overalls, he looks like a devoted day laborer. Brendan calls him a “Gay Paddington Bear.” “What do you keep in your little pocket, Christophe?” Dan asks, coming up behind Christophe, and reaching into the pocket that shields the chest of his overalls. He pulls out the prize: It’s a condom. Red. Durex. PleasureMax. “Oh God!” Dan says, clearly surprised. “You come carrying condoms?”
“No, no, NO,” Christophe says bashfully, turning red. “I have A condom. And it’s been through the wash! I left it there accidentally!” “Is that for you and me later tonight, Christophe?” Brendan asks, winking and making a kissy face. “Yes, yes it is,” Christophe replies, desperate not to be the butt of another joke. “I’ll give you the night of your life.” “Ohhh, Christophe,” Brendan gushes, playfully pushing Christophe away with his hand. “You probably say that to allll the girls. I think I’ve even seen you say it on Craigslist.” Christophe laughs it off and crosses the room toward James, whose six-foot frame towers over Christophe’s tiny body. “You know what, Mr. Gardening Club President?” James says, sizing up Christophe and continuing to taunt his outfit. “I’ve been wanting to do this all night.” James turns Christophe around so they’re vertically spooning, latches onto the back of the overalls, and lifts him up. An unmistakable RRRRRRRRRIP pierces the room. Silence. “Oh my god,” James whispers. He pauses. “Oh my god!” He starts hysterically laughing, and, through his guffaws, confesses, “I just ripped your pants!” Christophe is Drunk Outraged, a disbelieving, shocked smile lighting up his face. “Are you serious?! Why did you do that?! Are you serious?! Stop touching me! Stop touching me! Everybody stop touching me!” No one is touching Christophe. They’re too busy laughing to bother. Christophe realizes he must join in with the crowd. “I’ve been ripped!” he says, feigning Puppy Dog eyes and smiling. “I’ve been ripped! What will I tell the tailor?” ***
AN=:==FJAHH=<O@9LOADDAL=DD THE TAILOR?” — CHRISTOPHE Just before midnight, a few of the remaining men begin saying goodbye. The kitchen shenanigans have tired them out. Dan lets out a sigh of relief. He likes hosting parties, but damn, hosting an all-night potluck is exhausting. He grabs aluminum foil from the kitchen while the boys recover their jackets, and he begins wrapping up extra desserts, distributing them as party favors to the departing guests — “Take a slice! Take the whole pie, even!” The designated drivers corral up their passengers, making sure everyone is accounted for. The receiving line forms again as the men thank Dan for his incredible hospitality, embracing him warmly. Closing their coats tight around their necks, they run out into the cold winter air. Dan closes the door and heads up to his room, saving the cleanup tasks for tomorrow morning. He smiles, thrilled at the Potluck’s success. The Gay Czar of Ithaca can rest easy tonight: The city’s gayest party of the month was once again absolutely fabulous.
The Ithacan's narrative nonfiction publication