Weâ€™ll Never Have Paris
7. MODERN FIRE
Editors Note – Modern Fire
I leave next week for the Portland Zine Symposium and San Francisco Zine Fest. As I mentally plan my trip to Portland my thoughts are on driving. Living so long without a car, I now feel burdened with micro and macro transportation needs. I want to drive east to the Columbia Gorge on Friday, my only free day during my trip; also I plan to drive from Portland to San Francisco. It sounded like a leisurely idea and now it feels like a burden as I contemplate finances versus independence. I flash to a mental image of myself both gripping the steering wheel tensely, driving the car, and also of myself simultaneously kickin’ it in the back seat, carefree, arms outstretched on seatbacks. I laugh thinking about how a picture is worth a thousand words and how this depicts exactly who I am. I make a note to take photos of myself in both seats. Can I bleed these together in Photoshop? One more great idea that won’t get done for lack of skill.
How fitting it is that I am coming home to Portland for a zine fest. Even presenting on a panel. I went there three years ago with my very first zine, unedited, on a flash drive, hoping to print and collate it in a few hours at the end of my trip at IPRC. I’d wanted my first zine to be printed in Portland. Then it hit me. That was 3 years ago? Already three whole years since I’d been to Portland? Yes, of course, it was the end of summer of 2007. All of us are 3 years older? But where did they go? I don’t remember them. I cannot account for the passage of time. I cannot visualize scrolling up or down through the pages of years of emails. I don’t have three years worth of hard copy paper daybooks to flip thru. My photos on my Mac are not organized
chronologically. What if I were to line up photos of myself, of then and now? Photos of my niece at one and now, my God, four years old. I’m lost. I’m freaked out at the passage of time – speculative, disarming, greedy, careless. Precious. This is my modern fire. A flood of ideas. Loneliness waiting even before the starting gun. Wanting to drive the car and wanting to just ride. Planning and forgetting. Planning and failing. Enjoying and forgetting. Chasing the internet. Time.
cONTRIBUTORS zINE 7 aNDRIA aLEFHI
rAYMOND lUCZAK -
vERONICA lIU - sAMANTHA cRANE -
vINCENT mCCLOSKEY -
cHOKING tO dEATH
lING tEO -
bARELY a fIZZLE
pARLOR jAZZ iNCIDENT
lAUREN nIXON -
sEPT 12, 2001
bEN mITCHELL -
mARTHA gROVER - iN rETROSPECT, iT wAS pERFECT
mARLON dUNSKSTER -
i’LL tELL yOU wHAT hAPPENED
mARGUERITE dABAIE wILLIAM sTEVENSON nICOLE mARTIN
digital rot malignland
We’ll Never Have Paris, a literary zine primarily of narrative nonfiction, is published by Andria Alefhi twice yearly in NYC since 2007. Submissions are always welcome on a theme of ‘all things never meant to be’. Tell us what’s happened in your life. Visit the blog, join the facebook group, email firstname.lastname@example.org There is also an affiliated monthly radio show on www. whfr.org called “Zine Therapy”. WNHP7 thanks Jon Lamberton, Gus Iversen, Jaime Borschuk, Vincent McCloskey, Veronica Liu, Betsy Housten and Gabriel Liston.
Last night, during the great torrential downpour of 2010, I was approached by a Hassidic Jew who unceremoniously asked me if I wanted to “lift boxes?” Well, I love being put to unexpected manual labor during rainstorms as much as the next guy, but I declined. His head tilted in incomprehension, he repeated his question, this time sweetening the deal by adding that he would pay me. Truly he saw it to be my lucky day. I again declined. He walked off without another word. I saw that I had somehow upset what he supposed to be the natural order of the world but there was nothing for it. He walked off disheartened and perhaps even bitter. As for myself, I was left wondering if there was anything I should or shouldn’t be taking away from that experience. The theme is Modern Fire and I admit it took some time before I became properly unsettled by the implication of fire undergoing modernization. When did it happen? Was there a press release? Who decided that the world had undergone sufficient enough change to render fire v. 1.0 obsolete? Granted, fire as we know it is a bit long in the tooth. I’m no Luddite, I understand that there must be progress but this caught me by surprise. I just didn’t know it could be done...The modernization of fire? The question begged is: What’s next for fire? Might it be privatized or socialized? If the former, will there be fire neutrality agreements ensuring unbiased scorching? If the latter, will everyone be entitled to fire as a basic human right? Frankly, I’m skeptical. Though I have no doubt modern fire will be twice as bright and spread twice as fast as before, I’ve noticed no one has claimed it emits any heat at all.
Dehydration RAYMOND LUCZAK Veins have never been so transparent. My face is a map of broken journeys. The road has sunburned my punctured face. Breathing easily is a toughened art. Winds shiver through my spine. Dreams flit about like dead flies. Tree shadows hide my sneezes. My bones have no cushion for ache. Vultures above hiss their taunts. I lie there with my mouth open for rain. My skin weeps for the river of love.
Motel Show BETSY HOUSTEN That was the last night of the Bridge Motel. We were leafing through that week’s issue of the Stranger when we saw the story. The motel, with its crumbling pink paint, incriminating address on the edge of town, and close proximity to the city’s most popular suicide jump the Aurora Bridge, had long endured a damning reputation as emblematic of Seattle’s seedy underbelly. It was legendary, preserved in the collective memory of the municipality the way people talk about 42nd Street in the eighties or Amsterdam’s Red Light District. There had been murders here, said the papers, traveling salesmen and prostitutes, needles in the sheets and crack pipes under the beds. The cops had all but given up on the place, which had recently been condemned for demolition by local authorities. The only reasonably good fortune to befall its sagging structure in years had occurred when the building’s latest manager recognized the inherent potential of such a history and turned the motel over to a bunch of performance artists to give it a proper goodbye. And so, for one night in rainy September, it would welcome dozens of guests – free of charge -- to peer into its grimy walls and behold the spectacles within. Andy and I weren’t the only ones who found the idea irresistible. Kids from all over the city poured in, down Route 99 and around the hairpin bend just preceding the parking lot. Some people welcomed the imminent removal of what they considered a dilapidated eyesore; others lamented its passing as cultural landmark, this gateway to a wilder dimension, this last stop for the desperate. The hallways, the balconies, the lobby, and of course the rooms themselves all spoke of nights long gone, illicit and hidden away from
the world. To step inside was to find yourself immediately curious about the countless reasons someone would rent a bedroom for just one night -- the lingering feelings of the people who had taken up within its walls, where they had come from and the things they’d done while they’d been here. What they’d been thinking; the why, and the how, and the inevitable what now. Tonight, there was a room bathed in pink light, ankle-high with salt and strewn with torn-up letters. We left our shoes at the door and picked through the pieces, reading whatever we found, sometimes aloud, knowing none of it would really add up to anything. Another room contained a portable radio that broadcasted scratchy music over a single lit lamp and an eerily empty bed. Several conspicuously placed objects reclined on the few available surfaces – a man’s glove, a lace blanket, a teddy bear, things that didn’t really belong in hired rooms and were somehow frightening in their arrogant, unexplained innocence. Still another room featured a human-sized box of fluorescent twine hung at crazy angles from the walls and ceiling, crookedly stretching to graze the heads and elbows of anyone who opened the door and, realizing it had shut behind them, had to crawl through it. Crowds hung in the parking lot, drinking beer and rustling paper plates, glancing casually around in an effort to appear like they’d only shown up because everyone else had. I wondered which of them had been here before, or if, like us, this was their first visit. Andy and I wandered around hand in hand, mostly silent; every once in awhile one of us would sigh, or point, or offer up an appreciative glance. I loved her so much right then.
We walked past a series of scrambled black-and-white images projected onto a second-floor wall, depicting events that seemed significant if for no other reason than they were here, with the others. Suddenly something deep in my stomach pulled itself taut and rung out as if it had been struck. It echoed throughout my body, long and low and exquisitely mournful. Back on the ground floor a young girl served small plastic cups of red wine in a makeshift box office, all black cardboard and velvet curtains. A hand-lettered sign next to her elbow read “SPIRITS: ONE DOLLAR”; her face alternated between a smile and a scowl. Behind her, someone had relieved room 103 of its furniture, where a woman and a man now stalked back and forth, smearing ketchup on their faces and tweed clothing, as well as the peeling wallpaper from which glowered streaky bulls-eyes and random sequences of numbers. We threaded through the hushed assemblage and found a couple of spots to sit, right up front. Andy settled into my lap; I wrapped my arms around her belly and rested my chin on her left shoulder. On the bile-green carpet under the performers’ feet drifted Styrofoam plates and bits of drainpipe, frayed segments of twine and upended aluminum cans. They wore no shoes. Their dialogue was weird and irreverent and ominous, and it looped if you stayed long enough, which we did. Any other day I would probably have dismissed it as pretentiously obscure, the brainchild of bored actors with an unwieldy reliance on shock value for its own sake. I definitely wouldn’t have driven out of my way for it on a Friday night. But I couldn’t move; I was captivated. Maybe it was the three thousand miles that stretched between the Bridge Motel and Brooklyn, maybe it was the palpable tragedy of our long-distance love affair, and maybe it was that
something in the Pacific Northwest air that made everything feels simultaneously calmer and more alive. The man paced faster, tightening his obsessive circles. The woman held a huge knife in the air and growled – at him, at us, at herself. I wanted it never to stop, wanted to sit in this spot exactly forever, and I knew without speaking that Andy felt the same. When her friends pushed through the crowd and beckoned to us, I thought we could just pretend not to see them. They, for their part, had had enough, seen their fill of the disturbing reminders of human depravities past, and wanted out – wanted to go back to their lives, have a drink, maybe take a shower and laugh about how creepy the whole thing was. Remember that night, they’d say later, those freaky people and that nasty old motel. They squirmed in the face of the grotesque and stepped carefully out of its reach; this was the crucial distinction. Andy and I knew that beyond this waited a world much less interesting – one littered with too-short visits and too-tired phone calls, a slippery tower of escalating misunderstandings and the restless, growing dread that we were just too different. We were best when we could see a crazy thing happen right in front of us, could point and say There, that’s what’s really fucked up, all this little stuff doesn’t matter, just hang onto me and we’ll be all right. And just as soon as I realized this, I knew it was over. Her weight in my lap grew heavier. Our ride was still standing in the wings, gesturing more impatiently with every passing moment. And we had no other way to get home. So slowly we stood, making an elaborate show of stretching our limbs and brushing off our clothes, in one last attempt to convince them it was wrong to leave.
Power failures, they happen sometimes in the summer VERONICA LIU
When we were lying in the shade sun dancing at our feet, the fire engines hollered muffled by the trees lining the street—bordering the clipped walks from the calm—and as the light yellow zip of a warbler blurred streaks in the green overhead, and your bulbous bald dome—coming closer—glowed like the goddamn Comanche Moon—I tried very hard not to think of your girlfriend.
Haven SAMANTHA CRANE I once read a kind of tongue-in-cheek quote somewhere: the definition of insanity is doing something over and over again and expecting different results. Allow me to respond with a sarcastic “Haha”. In a lot of ways, this quote sums up how I feel about activism. I consider myself an environmentalist and an anti-capitalist (among other political/social/economic distinctions), but I am by far most heavily involved in the feminist movement. I discovered feminism through issue 1 of the zine Conquistadora, and for the first time I became keenly aware of the inequalities myself and other women face in what is—despite the veneer of freedom—a patriarchal society. After that initial zine, I read more zines and then books. I uncovered all this women’s history that no one had ever told me about before, and more importantly I came to realize that feminist work was far from over. I could barely contain this new fervor inside me; I wanted to tell all of my friends “Did you hear about this rally that happened in the ‘70s?”, “Do you remember the riot grrrl movement from the ‘90s?”, “Hey, do you know how much of this crazy sexist shit is still going on?” All this energy swirling around in my head, and ultimately I became involved in two feminist activist organizations. Now back to activism-as-insanity. When I first got involved in activism, I naively believed that what individuals couldn’t accomplish alone could easily be done with
teamwork—you just needed a big enough team. Surely, I thought, if we brought attention to feminism (or environmentalism or whatever, etc.), then more people would understand what we are fighting for and join us. At the most minimal, I expected our visibility and actions to spark discussion. Yet in reality this is hardly the reaction that myself or my compatriots provoke. I have taken part in a production of the Vagina Monologues, and I’ve set up sexual awareness events with the goal of promoting consent, communication, and mutual pleasure between partners. I’ve attended or helped organize film showings, fundraisers, and conferences. On one very noteworthy occasion, a feminist group I belong to staged a controversial rally to highlight the prevalence of sexual violence in mainstream pornography. We caused a big stir, yet even our most vocal protests which made regional TV news and were written about in a dozen or so newspapers were forgotten scarcely a month later. So we keep trying: more video screenings, more artistic productions and informational events, more marches, more radical protests. However, nothing seems to change on a larger scale, and people don’t seem to care. Certainly my fellow activists and I have received some compliments as well as some ridicule, but for the most part we’ve actually been ignored. Blame it on a relatively sheltered middle class upbringing, but my inner idealist was reeling. Whether they loved it or hated it, I had simply assumed that people would at least hear what we had to say and respond. I was prepared for debate or even outright hostility, but I never
anticipated that I would be stopped cold by so much apathy. Like I said, not quite the way I expected everything to turn out. Except for a conference in June, I spent this past summer quietly. Mainly I was working, but I was thinking too. In the grand scheme of the world, twenty or thirty women aren’t even a blip on the radar. If I was going to continue holding out for the grand scale feminist uprising, well then good luck with that. Dear self, don’t hold your breath too much. Right now I’m trying to focus on the smaller things, like the stories of empowerment or the set of statistics that draw an individual’s attention rather than magically converting people in droves. If I can convince at least one person to pause and think twice then perhaps that is some success. Also while being part of the feminist groups I belong to, I’ve seen new women join our ranks as well. Usually they’re hesitant at first, but the more they learn about feminism, the more their enthusiasm starts to remind me of what I felt when I first flipped open Conquistadora #1. Unabashed curiosity. Anger. That flicker of passion that screams ‘This has got to change!’ It makes me feel a little less hopeless to see that shift in perception. We are independent women who can learn and analyze and decide for ourselves what we believe rather than routinely follow the pre-formed roles that society dictates to us. There’s something powerful about being with these women that I trust. My friend K. calls us a sisterhood and the idealist in me would like to agree with her. Even if we’re not “changing the world”, we are changing each other.
Choking to Death VINCENT MCCLOSKEY I was raised Buddhist, and in accordance with Buddhist beliefs, I was taught that all of our circumstances are of our own making and that we are personally responsible for every aspect of our lives. This is often called Karma by the lazy. It also means that we have the power to change any negative experience into a positive one. Easier said than done! So, here’s what a problem solver I am. In my dream last night, I am hanging out with three of my dearest friends. The four of us are having a great time together. It is intimate. We are affectionate with each other. We reminisce fondly as well as look forward to things we hope to accomplish in the future. Then I choke to death. Scene two: I am helping some friends move. It’s frustrating work maneuvering the furniture up the stairs, moving the truck to avoid tickets, lifting heavy boxes. To thank us, my friend says that he will take us out for dinner. Only three of us can, so we have an intimate, affectionate meal, upon which I choke to death. Scene three: I am visiting a friend in her beautiful duplex apartment. She and her husband have been there for years. Their daughter has never lived anywhere else. It is very comfortable. We’re joined by a third friend who admires the new location of their Buddhist altar. One of them says something familiar – but it shouldn’t be familiar, and we all recognize it as a portent of some horrible event that will befall me. I ask, “Wait, is this what I think it is?” “No, no, no,” they say. “That won’t happen for years. Let’s enjoy dinner.”
Scene four: After I’ve choked to death, I know better than to trust my friend. I am now on a road trip with my family. My brother, my sister and I talk while my father drives. We stop in a hotel for the night. A friend asks if we’d like to go out for dinner. This is the ominous, portentous question. Instead of asking, this time I answer. No, I don’t feel like it. I would like to stay with my siblings. My friend decides to stay in with us, so do other friends. Now there are six of us. Now I am safe. We talk about all the things we’d like to do, and still I recognize the path of the conversation. I ask in spite of myself, “Is this it?” “Oh, my goodness, yes it is!” My friends say. I throw a tantrum. I rail against the cruelty of it. I talk about all the other things I haven’t accomplished yet. I was going to do things differently this time. Then I notice things are different this time. I said no to going out. There are six of us instead of four. I look around for other differences and ask my friends to do the same. They show me photographs of my childhood that I don’t remember, or that I remember as being slightly different. I look for other differences. I see a photograph of my other sister somewhere I don’t recognize. I ask when she was there, Mary answers me. I ask where Marsha is now? Mary answers, she’s dead. While I’m asking questions about the circumstances of her death, Virgil notices the dresser behind me moving. Maybe it’s her, he says. I ask the dresser to give me a sign of Marsha’s presence and all the drawers slam open. I start to tell Marsha that I’m sorry, that it’s not fair, but I stop myself. I realize then that it wouldn’t matter if I were sorry or not. I said no instead of yes because I didn’t feel like saying yes. If I had died (as I was supposed to)
Marsha would still be alive. In the end I just laughed, and kept telling Marsha that I loved her. I guess I was laughing at the futility of it all, how my choices didn’t seem to matter. It is actually funny I didn’t realize what I believed in until then.
Muffin Pocket SARAH DACOSTA Things that seem like they would be fun but probably arenâ€™t: Connecticut farmhouse Making pottery LSD One night stands Making candy Haunted places Meeting your idol Video games made for women Wearing black all the time Being rich ..... Hanging new clothes when you have only a finite amount of closet space and hangers is a better metaphor than I can think of for the constant shifting of priorities that life is made of. Instead of making your bed and lying in it, hang your new clothes and let what was there last week wait. The difference between being sorry to miss your call but being glad to receive. ...
Today, I 1.Woke up and took a shower but did not wash my hair 2. Drank 4 cups of tea with milk 3. Received, filled out, and mailed my census 4. Found a midcentury modern lime green velour loveseat by the dumpster and dragged in onto the porch, where it will stay until I can find someone to help me take the old one out. 5. Talked to will on the phone from Texas but could not focus on what he was saying, said I would talk to him later. 6. Tried to go to campus where I went to school, but decided not to and turned around(on foot). 7. Got a coffee and saw a boy I used to have a crush on. (Didn’t say anything) 8. Took a picture of 3 children in the window of Blossom time daycare because they were waving at me like they were in jail. 9. Wore a perfume called Dior Addict. 10. Went to the grocery store, bought Italian sausage and a sink stopper. 11. Took a picture of the candles at the grocery store. (The cheap candles, not the expensive ones) 12. Watched a show about an old woman who is a drug dealer. Also found out that John Wilkes Booth’s father, Julius Brutus Booth, was friends with Andrew Jackson, and also made a verbal threat on his life. I’m nothing like my father. He has had three wives, I’ve had no marriages.
The Parlor Jazz Incident LING E. TEO We were hurrying down 160th Street towards Edgecomb to the home of a black lady where jazz jam sessions were held every Sunday. Anyone could come and play, or listen to the music. The cross-town bus had been half an hour late. Weâ€™d arrange to meet our friends there at four. The Washington Heights building dated from about a hundred years ago. The walls of the foyer were decorated with panels depicting satyrs in woodland scenes. The marble steps were worn down by use. A rusty ornamental chandelier hung from the ceiling. The lighting, made dimmer by winter, gave the place a greenishbrown hue. As we entered the apartment a pungent, musty smell filled our noses. The music was already under way. A middle-aged lady with her hair fashioned like a wind-swept bonsai was tinkling a ballad on an upright piano. A kindly-looking lady dressed in a white cashmere cardigan greeted us, and asked us if we would like to sit near the performers. We edged our way across the room, sidestepping between the players and the audience. We sat on a pew bench by the window. Our friends had not yet arrived. Enthusiastic applause followed the last note of the ballad. The pianist left her seat, and gave a little curtsey. She was immaculately dressed in a scarlet suit, and had a thick, black moustache. The next number, a fast one, began with a spirited entry from the tenor sax. The solo got us tapping our feet. People were bopping their heads; our greeter, who must have been about sixty, was clapping her hands like a delighted child. The middle-aged soloist looked more like a banker than a jazzer, but his notes flew
and dove like the seagulls in Central Park in early summer. The music took the edge off the odor. It was a program of standards: “Embraceable You”, “There Will Never Be Another You”, “All The Things You Are”, and “Oleo” - a favorite of mine. I could feel the notes jumping under my skin. The young piano player spontaneously let out shouts of joy. This is jazz, this is what it’s all about, I thought to myself. I could tell my husband was feeling the same thing. The person sitting in front of us was a well-dressed, young black man. His brown leather shoes matched his stylish suit and tie, and a Rolex watch completed the look. His legs were much too long for the chair on which he was sitting. He seemed not to be listening to the jazz. Later my husband would tell me that he appeared tired, or possibly agitated, and that he kept rubbing his face throughout the course of the first set. Our friends arrived mid-way through a swinging rendition of “All The Things You Are”. The room was filled to capacity, so they had to make do with a partially obstructed view from the seats in the hallway. For New York City the parlor was a good-sized room. The owner had possibly knocked down a few walls at the back to make the room look larger - but then again, the room might have been built this way. There were a few simple, effective touches that made the parlor an unmistakable jazz joint: a picture of John Coltrane on the wall, a flyer of the recently-deceased Jimmy Lovelace attached to the piano, a few black and white photographs of the bassist playing with younger men. The room was lit by exposed red and green light bulbs. The colors mingled with the pale light of late afternoon. The old scratchy wooden floorboards looked clean, and the metal fold-up chairs were arranged neatly in rows. A vase of chrysanthemums and daisies stood proudly on the piano, as well as
a framed photo of the younger pianist in his graduation gown. After “Oleo”, the group stopped for an intermission. People got off their seats to stretch their legs and mingle. My husband walked across the room to greet our friends while I sat with our coats and scarves. I opened the window by the bench to let in some air. An elderly black lady came around with a tray proffering pasta salad served in plastic bowls. When she came round again, I complimented her on the food. “Oh, good. I’m glad to hear that,” the lady said. By this time the well-dressed, young black man had returned to his seat in front of me. He tore open a packet of cheese and crackers, and crammed the crackers into his mouth. He chewed voraciously, leaving crumbs on the right side of his mouth. He motioned towards the man to my left - a tall, white, lanky man with a quiet air - and mumbled something at him. At first I thought he was trying to make conversation, until I heard what he was saying. Slapping his right hand on his left forearm, he repeated, “You’re a crackhead.” The white man’s manner was deferential. “I sorry, I don’t understand.” “You’re a crackhead!” The black man got up and stood over the white man. The white man winced slightly and said, “I’m sorry, I think you may have mistaken me for someone else.” The black man stood tall, and pulled up his collar. “Wanna fight?” A young woman sitting with the white man intervened, “Hey, hey ...” “Shut up, bitch!” the black man barked. An older woman sitting nearby began protesting, “Now that’s really ... “
“SHUT UP, BITCH!” It was as if the words had been programmed into his head. The elderly black lady who had greeted us came up and asked, “What’s going on here?” The older woman tried to explain, but before she could complete her sentence, the black lady was nodding her head. She walked up to the young black man, who seemed twice her height, and said quietly, but firmly, “Calm down.” Something in her tone caught the young man’s attention, and he sat back down in his chair and remained quiet. The situation had been defused and diffused, I thought. At this instant my blue-eyed husband walked across the room to me, and stopped by the black man’s chair. “Go back,” I said, “go back.” My husband looked perplexed. “Go back,” I said emphatically. “Git the fuck outta here,” said the black man. My husband turned around and left. I breathed a little easier. The man threw his plastic cracker wrapper at my husband’s back. I sat quietly on the bench so as not to trigger anything. The young black man muttered something under his breath, then got up from his seat, and moved towards the back of the room. The lanky white man and his female companion stood up and made for the exit. I picked up our coats and scarves. When I located my husband, he was sitting with our friends, and relating the incident to them. Perhaps time in the city had inured them to the harsher aspects of human relations, our friends continued eating their pasta salad as I recounted the details. To begin the second set, the female pianist announced that she was aware that a guest had been insulted in her home, and expressed that this was unacceptable to her. She added that she did
not know the details of what had transpired. Most people had no idea what she was talking about, and by this time, the two parties - the black man, as well as the white man and his companion - had left. The audience clapped their hands to show that they understood her intentions. The concert was resumed. As the music drew to a close, the pianist-hostess stepped up to give her formal parting words. She talked about Black History Month, the time of year we were in. “It would be nice if our children and grandchildren did not have to observe Black History Month, or remember the Holocaust, or celebrate International Women’s Month, or anything like that. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all get along?” Her elocution was perfect; her words delivered in clear intervals. “Welcome, our Japanese trumpeter friend, Endo, into our family.” The audience applauded. On our way out I slipped a ten-dollar bill in the donations pail. Treading uneven marble steps down a narrow staircase, I realized I was glad to get out of the parlor room. As our cross-town bus traversed a snow-covered Central Park, the incident replayed itself in my mind. I chattered to my husband, trying to talk the strangeness out of me. The park was shrouded in a grey mist, giving the trees a spectral quality.
flash narrative LAUREN NIXON I. I ate a grapefruit and left the peel on the windowsill, let the sun kiss it for a few days. I watched it rot and harden, a circus of flies crowding the bitter rind. I watched em buzz for an hour or so, then walked away from the mess. If mother were to see the flies, the larvae, hatching, new lives blooming, she’d have a fit. But mama, I’m telling you, I like the filth of things. II. Choose a loaf of bread (sourdough, white, honey wheat, pumpernickel). Something sturdy and seeable. Begin at the barn, tearing and dropping hunks of bread from the barn to your new destination. You will know when you’ve found a good place to stop cause your shoulders will feel like feathers and your insides’ll glimmer and blink like Orion. If you must go back, just follow the trail of crumbs. But just so you know, the barn has just burned down.
September 12th, 2001 JOSH MEDSKER “Dude, I just had the worst nightmare,” Eric said to me. He walked over to the kitchen, where I was making another pot of coffee. I hadn’t slept that night, and had dragged my bedding out into the living room. I was crying again and didn’t realize it. I had been glued to the radio. “I dreamed that someone dropped a bomb on New York and everyone was screaming and it was chaos.” “Eric, it’s no dream, dude.” I walked over and turned up the radio. We both went back and filled our cups, and listened to the news reports. They didn’t know how many more planes were in the air. We listened and were shocked as the news reporters on ABC said “Holy fuck!” over and over again when he saw the people jumping from the buildings. Then I felt a panic set in because I knew that it was real. They didn’t bleep it out. It was four o’ clock in the morning, and I knew I had to be up for work in three hours. I turned down the radio, because I couldn’t bear to not listen, even though I didn’t want to know anymore. I fell asleep listening to the screams and explosions and panicked shouts of Americans, and I was all the way on the other side of the planet in Japan. I have never felt so disconnected in my life. By the time I got to Kawakado Junior High at nine that morning, the news had already reached the teachers and students. I felt like someone had drained the blood out of my body and replaced it with coffee. I’d had too much caffeine, and not enough sleep. I started crying on the train ride in, only quietly, and to myself. I couldn’t believe it. Attacked. With our own planes. The teachers were sympathetic, as were the students, but after a while, after a
few hours of non-stop asking me if I was okay, asking if I needed a cup of green tea, asking if I knew anyone in New York, asking, asking, asking—I couldn’t stand it anymore. I just wanted to be left alone, to have a few minutes to think. The day when my mind stopped reeling would be a long time coming. After I got off work that day, Eric and I found each other at home. We put on some Motorhead, busted open our bottle of Suntory Red whisky, and cranked up the stereo. If any night was a straight shot night, it was that night. After a few shots, we walked to Jams Diner, our favorite gaijin bar in Kumagaya, where we hoped our friends would be waiting to help us take our mind off of everything. And that’s when we saw it. On the house television, we saw the footage of the planes hitting the first tower, then the second. There was no audio on the TV, but it didn’t matter. It was like I’d been born listening to it by now. “Dude, we have to go home,” one of us said. “We have to go back to Alaska.” “We have to join up. We have to join the Marines, they’ll be the first ones to go,” one of the foolish young men said in all earnestness. “We have to do something.” I won’t chalk it up to liquid courage. I know that something in me changed that night, and Eric too. I don’t remember who came up with the idea first, but we both agreed it was what we had to do. I felt a sense of duty. It would’ve seemed funny to you had you known us at the time, because we’d decided against joining the Peace Corps in the summer of 2000, a little more than a year and a half earlier, because of their intimate ties to U.S. foreign policy. But there we were, ready to drop everything to move back to Alaska and enlist. I had just gotten paid, so
I ordered a round of drinks for our friends at the table. After we closed down the bar that night, Eric and I went wandering around the streets of Kumagaya. For the next week, we listened non-stop to the scary public service announcements on the Armed Forces Network, the only Englishlanguage station we got on our radio, urging American servicemen and their families to watch what they say in public and to keep an eye out for suspicious-looking people on the trains. The air of suspicion added to my anxiety, and I eventually decided to turn it off. We did not join the military, both of us for different reasons. For my part, I decided that I’d made an impulsive decision, and unlike other similar decisions I’d made in my life, I probably wouldn’t make it back from my military tour alive. And I also realized that I didn’t want to fight and die for something I didn’t fully understand. I was going to be of service to my country, my community, as a writer and a teacher, not as a solider. About a week after the attacks, I was boarding the JR train by my apartment, on my way to meet some friends down in Tokyo on a Saturday afternoon. As I got on, I saw a Middle Eastern guy in a suit, a turban and a bushy beard, sitting on the seat across from me, pulling papers out of his briefcase. I felt a pang of a fear in me, and the little hairs on the back of my arms stood up as I sat on the cushioned seat and lay my grocery sack down. I immediately felt guilty for pre-judging the man. I opened my bottle of iced coffee. But still, I stared at him, wondering what he was thinking as he rifled through his folders. I couldn’t take my eyes off him, and wondered if he was as scared as I was. I ate my mini-mart sushi with my fingers, dipping it in the soy sauce. I turned my attention
to my favorite lunch, and I felt a sense of comfort. As the train hurtled down towards an afternoon of cutting loose and no worries, I couldn’t shake those noises still shrieking in my head, and wondered when I’d feel human again, and what was coming next.
Setting Fires BEN MITCHELL
Standing on the hillside, grasses bow down before me in wind-combed waves like quiet surf around the stones too large to pile on walls. Down the hill the village burns, cobbled streets between thatched roofs. Children swell from their shelter into the wind. Red-faced men hurl themselves magnificently onto leaping plumes of flame. Women kneel in ashen blankets, lift their hands to their faces. And now my father’s hand fingers through my hair to rest on shoulders. His voice so calm, “Easy now... it’s all going to be just fine.”
In Retrospect, It Was Perfect MARTHA GROVER It’s autumn, two hours until twilight and you’re restless and it’s bad. Your legs bump up and down like you’re on the nowhere bus. Your stomach aches. A small persistent something whimpers between your ears. Forget about dinner, forget about all those things you said you’d do, or thought you would do. Don’t think. Don’t call your mother, or reach for your cigarettes. It’s time to take a walk. Throw open the door to your damp, stuffy bedroom and advance through your living room, straight to the street windows. Push back the curtains and examine the sky. Squint towards the light and check the treetops for movement. Lastly, look at the ground. Once you’re satisfied, don the appropriate outerwear. As you’re walking out the door, if a roommate, child or dog asks you where you’re going, keep walking. Leave your wallet, and phone at home. You’re not going anywhere- you’re taking a walk. Turn east and start walking. You’re heading uphill now, against the flow of water. The rain has swept the leaves from the sidewalk, concert posters from telephone poles, leaving tiny staples like hangnails on the timber. Gone is all the garbage, yesterday’s newspaper, dog shit; gone is the piss and vomit of last night. Fruit has fallen. There is freshness and decay in the air. You pass the white, concrete funeral home, the ribs place and the corner where a drugged person appears to be performing a strange circular dance near the bus stop bench. The back of the bench is an advertisement for two local real estate agents, their faces neatly mustachioed and their eyes jagged out. Flip a mental coin and turn the third corner. If a friend
waves at you from a front yard, his hand should seem slow motion and his mouth even slower, something about your name and in the neighborhood. You can’t hear him. Just wave and keep walking. You are now on a quiet, residential street. Sounds are louder now, smells stronger, colors more intense. Large Japanese maples in deep brown soil shade you overhead. A strange dog charges, barking through a mossy, wooden fence. The top of the fence splits down its middle like a snarled tooth. You start to see the tiny trails of insects as they’ve made their zigzagging way through the green algae. When you run your finger along its surface, green crud collects beneath your nail. You already know how to walk. You’ve known how since you were a one-year-old. We were made to walk. Our walking is a concentrated falling. So fall. And fall again. You are on a roll. Don’t stop. And now you start noticing. There it is: the fallen apple, its one white wound puckered around the edges, dried out in the last of summer’s sun and now swollen with recent rain. And there they are: a pile of cigarette butts near the bus stop stained with lipstick, pools of tar around the bottoms of telephone poles, two crows screaming into the darkening sky, pumping their bodies up and down on nearly naked branches. You pass a coffee shop and your friend waves from the front window. Wave back and point at your wrist where a watch should be. Shrug. Your friend smiles and makes the motion of a phone against her ear and mouths, “call me.” You feel your cheeks go warm, your lungs now working hard to pull in cold air as you pass 60th and Belmont. The whimpering in your head has stopped as you concentrate on just getting enough oxygen to your brain, and putting
one foot in front of the other. You enter Mt. Tabor Park. Several groups of walkers are exiting the park and nod hello to you in the way that only hikers will do. Judging by the direction of the sun you still have about forty-five minutes of light. Head up the paved switchback trail until it ends and then up a dirt path, straight up hill until you are now at the top of Mt. Tabor Park. Amid the tall firs, there are a couple people milling about, holding hands or either alone, solemnly staring out into the distance. From here you can see all the way down Hawthorne Street to downtown Portland. The whole stretch glistens in the setting sun. There are no epiphanies here, only saliva building up in the back of your throat, the ache in your stomach replaced by a base need to pee. You will never know how much you love this city until you move away. You cannot experience joy, only bittersweet memories. But now itâ€™s time to go home. Take one last glance at Big Pink and the reservoir and start back.
Tell Us About Your Previous Work Experience MARLON DUNKSTER Okay. I’ll tell you how it happened. How I ended up working as an assistant at a small regional museum in New England. How when families from Boston and New York City left this particular fishing village after Labor Day, I stayed behind to answer phones and register students for “Gouache for Beginners,” hang pictures on the wall and bask in the deep industrial and pop-cultural void. How retired men and women became my only company, and how frequently they empathized, “Oh, it must be so boring for you out here with no young people your own age to spend time with.” I’ll tell you how wrong they were, how I loved to be surrounded by water. And on the subject of water, I’ll tell you how Bruce, head of museum security, told the one about the time he and a partner found a floater face down near Seaport Boulevard. The time when its sleeve was caught on something near an embankment, and Bruce tried to poke it free with his nightstick. I remember what he did when he told this story: He pulled a comb from his back pocket. He raked it across his head. These motions were – like everything Bruce did – natural and effortless and part of the larger ongoing gesture of preserving an enormous spirit. I will relate how Bruce then described the retrieval of the buoyed corpse: “I was poking it, and it had that texture, you know, when a dead body’s been in the water for a while? And it starts to crumble apart? Like breadcrumbs in the rain.” I’ll explain how the museum accepted two interns. How they were asked to help catalogue the permanent collection and instead spent five weeks giggling and taking goofy-faced close-up photos with the museum’s camera and posting them to their re-
spective Facebook albums while receiving college credit. How they took long lunch breaks to wax poetic about the merits of Harry Potter and Colby College’s track and field program. To talk about the marriage potential for the “guys” they were currently “seeing.” How they prodded and mocked Bruce, who eschewed using any and all technology more advanced than the rotary-style telephone perched atop a decade’s worth of invoices on his desk. And to this point I’ll mention how Cheryl, the deputy director with a pronounced philtrum, pleaded with Bruce to let her install a computer in his office so that he could be CC’d on important all-staff emails that notified employees of when “half and half was left on the counter overnight” and when it was “CRUCIAL that EVERYONE print 1,000 pages on the Xerox BEFORE FRIDAY!” How each time the request for Bruce to join the rest of the modern world by accepting the extra Dell laptop in the supply storage closet was met with an abrupt, resounding “no” followed by his swift exit to the path around the garden where he sucked down Lucky Strikes until the pulsing earthworm veins in his forehead finally subsided. Furthermore, I’ll tell you how it was from a cloistered campus in some remote hamlet in Maine that one of the interns wrote an email to Vivian, the museum’s executive director, in which she claimed that Bruce had made inappropriate comments to her in the break room several weeks earlier, how Bruce was fired the following day, how the day after that he suffered a minor stressrelated heart attack and how, one day later, the intern gloated from her Twitter account about being responsible for Bruce’s termination. Bruce was a Vietnam veteran and a retired police officer. He lost his job because a third-year art history student told a lie. I can also tell you about Gene, the film history teacher who served champagne and Milano cookies during the class
intermission in the museum auditorium. Who was old and had trouble operating the DVD player. How I taught and re-taught him how to use it every week. How I heard his soft, low voice ask “Can you press pause?” and then a Hitchcockian profile appeared on the screen as Gene’s bulbous contour eclipsed the light of the projector. “You can’t pause this part.” “I want to pause it here, and play it from this point at the start of class.” “Well, this is the DVD menu. You can’t pause this. It just plays on a loop.” “There. That frame. Pause that frame.” “It’s the menu. I can’t pause the menu.” How, during our back-and-forth, a frown formed within the confines of Gene’s wispy, white fu manchu. And how he repeated, “I don’t want the video and music to be playing. Can you pause it?” How at this moment one of us has bad breath, but I couldn’t tell who. There was a poster for “Paris, Texas” on the wall -- the text was in Japanese. Then you’ll hear how Gene asked me to help him put on a pair of diabetic socks. “They’re like normal socks, but they help with moisture and pressure,” he told me as his heavy frame settled noisily into the upholstered theater chair. How very slow and charming he was. “Thank you, thank you,” he kept saying. How I struggled to fit the socks around his bloated feet and ankles. “My wife will kill me if I don’t wear these. Thank you, thank you.” How due to his relentless breathy gratitude, I finally determined that he was the one with bad breath. I’ll tell you how – when I wasn’t shoveling snow from the commemorative stone walkway leading up to the front entrance, or helping to pitch tents in near-hurricane force winds before the guests arrived for the annual art auction, or bubble-
wrapping massive gilded frames so that they could be muscled into the back seat of a Hyundai Kia for transport – how I savored the way the marshes looked during hours of low September light. How during those hours I’d take a swim and then jog to the parking lot of a nearby beach hotel that was closed for the season. How I imagined that the sweat running off my body was feeding into the ocean. I’ll tell you how good it felt to sweat. To survey the water and watch the silhouettes of things become increasingly dramatic against a sky as it cycled through a full spectrum of sherbet diffusion. To contemplate the boarded-up windows, the upside-down picnic tables stacked in threes against the wall of the hotel. To appreciate the sincerity of a landscape while still feeling compelled to abandon it. To absorb and submit to the mysterious need to throw one’s self into circumstances less agreeable, to always be “doing” something. To relocate for the sake of relocation. A seagull pecked at chipped green paint around the lip of a metal trash barrel. And then I ran home. I’ll tell you about the last exhibition I installed, about how it was predictably comprised of watercolors of dinghies and dunes and idealized sunsets. Or a lone Adirondack chair casting a long shadow on a meticulously manicured lawn. Or clumsy blocks of color from the artist’s abstract period during a residency in the type of secluded bohemian colony that fostered that kind of conceptual thinking. I’ll tell how I installed this show by measuring 52 inches from the floor of the gallery to the halfway point of the painting – the same method Lester, the museum’s curator, used for displaying artwork. How when he was my age Lester lived in Lacoste for several months and fell in love with a girl who agreed to rendezvous with him back in D.C., but she never boarded the plane. How he spent the entire day at Dulles playing out variations
of a scene in his head that never materialized. How, many years later, he was now content to live alone and interpret the behavior of his cats as if it were consequential human drama. I’ll recount how I finished arranging the paintings on the wall, then rearranged the light-pink-washed-sunset-over-calmwater to hang above the pale-blue-washed-sunset-over-calm-water to create contrast on the north wall. How I adjusted the angle of lights and balanced a level on the tops of frames. How I finally stood back to admire my handiwork, but was not pleased with the results. With a slight nudge from my fingertip, I suggested the edges of “North Shore II (Daybreak)” into an asymmetrical tilt. I’ll tell you how this intentional disruption of the painting’s aesthetic harmony felt more than appropriate given the overarching idiosyncrasies of its surrounding environment. I remember how Vivian once told me, acknowledging my cringe as she lowered a power drill unsteadily toward the wooden crate beneath her heel, that “it’s always easier to ask for forgiveness than it is to ask for permission.” And how moments later the anonymous donor’s gift was shiny and unscathed when she lifted it from the box lined with newspapers. How once again I stood at the gallery’s threshold and panned the room, now featuring the freshly crooked representation of a beach at sunrise. “North Shore II (Daybreak).” It was time to go. How my rear-view mirror contained the iconic bridge that serves as the only portal to and from the misunderstood island of my former demented sanctuary. The sandy shoulders of the road became cleaner and my lungs were deprived of their usual gulps of thick salty air. How somewhere near exit 14 I pulled into the “no u-turn” dirt strip connecting eastbound and westbound interstate, pointed the nose of my car in the opposite direction and idled for six minutes. How the only way to fight the impulse
to turn around was to pretend that nothing of the past year had actually occurred. Or that it had happened to someone else entirely. How this denial helped me regain momentum. How my headlights illuminated the shallow spaces in front of me, and how quickly I was leaving those very same spaces behind me and in darkness.
WNHP 8, REJECTION next.
another issue of all nonfiction memoir from NYC. featuring Raymond Luczak, Betsy Housten, Vincent McCloskey, Veronica Liu and more!
Published on Jan 24, 2014
another issue of all nonfiction memoir from NYC. featuring Raymond Luczak, Betsy Housten, Vincent McCloskey, Veronica Liu and more!