Niveous Volume 1
Table of Contents Poetry
Megan Mealor: Dogtrot
Pg 6 Pg 7 Pg 8 Pg 9 Pg 10 Pg 11 Pg 12
“Something About Murals” Topeka Artists
Pg 17 Pg 21 Pg 24 Pg 27
Lisa Mase: Speeding Nate Maxson: Dream-Theory Reiterated Gregory Kimbrell: Programming  Barry Silesky: Spring Taunja Thomson: La Mort
Tiger In A Trance
Rae Dox Kim - In The Trinity Baptist Church Bear Kosik - Jaundice Ptarmigan Matthew Kuns - “Aw he’s so sweet” Mark Spano - Vitia in My Gaze
Ruth Dena Ticktin - Brave Brief Journeys Miriam Kulick - The Time I Wore That Dress
Pg 35 Pg 38
“Untitled” by Ira Joel Haber “Untitled” by Ira Joel Haber “Untitled” by Ira Joel Haber
Pg 13 Pg 33 Pg 45
Online Content 1. Videography “3 Memoires: A Review” by Elise Glassman
2. Podcasting “Sunflower Sutras”
Book Excerpts “Ten Stories to Manhood” by Jonathan Maniscalco
Enter in to see your graphic design printed on a T-shirt!
Ryan Thompson & Tara Bartley
To view videos and podcasts, as well as runners up, go to NiveousMag.com.
Copyright ÂŠ 2018 by Niveous Magazine All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a magazine review. The magazine as itself must stay whole in publicaton unless used by Niveous Magazine. Printed in the United States of America First Printing, 2018 First edition www.NiveousMag.com
Poetry Lisa Mase - Born in Northern Italy to an American mother and an Italian father, she found poetry at a
young age to help understand the nature of bi-cultural identity. From Dante Alighieri to Eugenio Montale, from Lucretius to Catullus, she was raised on a broad spectrum of Italian and Latin poetry. As a teenager, she moved to the United States and found the lyrics of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen as well as the mystic poetry of Hafiz and Rumi. She now has the privilege of studying with Vermont writers such as Major Jackson and New Mexico writers such as Martin Prechtel. She finds inspiration in her daughter’s hazel eyes, the bounty of vegetables that spring from her homestead gardens, and the medicinal herbal extracts she prepares to keep her family healthy.
Nate Maxson - Nate Maxson is a writer and performance artist. He lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Gregory Kimbrell - Gregory Kimbrell is the author of The Primitive Observatory (Southern Illinois
University Press, 2016) - winner of the 2014 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Manticore—Hybrid Writing from Hybrid Identities, Alcyone, The Disappointed Housewife, Mirror Dance, Whatever Our Souls, Parentheses, Blackbird, and other publications. He is the events and programs coordinator for Virginia Commonwealth University Libraries. More of his writing, including his magnetic sci-fi/horror haiku, can be found at gregorykimbrell.com.
Barry Silesky - Poet, biographer, and editor, Barry Silesky was born in 1949 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
He earned a BA from Northwestern and an MA from the University of Illinois-Chicago. His books of poetry include The New Tenants (1992), Greatest Hits, 1980–2000, and The Disease: Poems (2006). He has also published a book of micro-fiction, One Thing That Can Save Us (1994). He is a noted biographer, and his biographies include Ferlinghetti: The Artist in His Time (1990) and John Gardner: Literary Outlaw (2004).
Taunja Thomson - Taunja Thomson’s poetry has most recently appeared in These Fragile Lilacs and Black
Fox Literary Magazine. Three of her poems have been nominated for Pushcart Awards: “Seahorse and Moon” (2005), “I Walked Out in January” (2016), and “Strum and Lull” (2018). She has co-authored a chapbook of ekphrastic poetry titled “Frame and Mount the Sky,” published in 2017, and her chapbook Strum and Lull placed as a semi-finalist in Golden Walkman’s chapbook competition (2017), as well as her chapbook The Profusion, publishing in 2019. She has a writer’s page at https://www.facebook.com/TaunjaThomsonWriter.
Megan Denese Mealor - A two-time Pushcart Prize nominee, Megan Denese Mealor has been featured
widely in numerous journals, most recently Really System, The Opiate, Harbinger Asylum, Fowl Feathered Review, Firefly, and Maudlin House. Her debut poetry collection, Bipolar Lexicon, is forthcoming in October 2018 from Unsolicited Press. She lives in Jacksonville, Florida with her partner, son, and two cats. 5
Speeding By Lisa Mase Like a priest hidden in his confessional, he waits. Stunned out of my morning reverie, I see the blue lights flashing and I know they are for me. I pull over. “I have you going 32 in a 25”, he says. Forgive me Father for I have sinned, sinned because I let out the clutch so gravity could carry me downhill, summer wind sweet in my hair; sinned because I glanced at hostas in purple bloom beside a yellow Victorian; sinned because I sang along with the radio as Bob Dylan earnestly made the case for Medger Evers. “I apologize”, I reply, handing over the requisite documents. As I wait for my verdict, I don;t dare open the library book I just picked up, go through the pile of mail in the passenger seat, or, God forbid, jot down a poem. I wait, penitent. After what seems like a century, he approaches my car window. “I’m going to give you a warning this time ma’am”. When did I become a ma’am? It must be atonement for my sins. “Thank you”. I drive away, wishing I had not thanked him.
Dream-Theory Reiterated By Nate Maxson So here’s my theory rearing its head again An excuse for déjà vu Like Godzilla rising out of the water to smash Tokyo Ad infinitum A moebius strip of post-war anxiety Or T.S. Eliot’s mask of an English accent reciting “deliver us from evil” I can’t get out from beneath This wreckaged bulk of paranoia The moment the big light finally bites me I will sit up in a small hour on a bed in a motel room In an unknown city On the balcony I’ll be able to hear distant traffic And see faint light rippling on the cold swimming pool down below And who’s to say I haven’t again and again? And all of that which comes before Apparent wakefulness Will be forgotten Like a child growing Slow but not oblivious Into the legend of their own darkening prayer
Programming  By Gregory Kimbrell His face is the pit into which falls the plea. Nothing emerges. In his chest cavity, a nothingness resides. That nothingness, without weight, without even dimension, unfolds. Nothingness cannot be killed, for killing negates. Beneath his fingers, wet with fresh blood, a stain grows into the shape of his own likeness, a replica nothingness on the floor. Murder lust adheres to the wound. Parasitized flesh, the ripe fruit of crime, hangs down before the face of the victim. The teeth that bite it weaken. The weak will not survive.
Spring By Barry Silesky Someone who actually came told me it’s snowing again, not that I expected anything much better despite the turn of the calendar announcing spring is coming. But the outside sky is lead and warm is an idea left in the cob webs I call memory on a good day. In the meantime, I keep practicing my death as if there were a way to be ready. The books I’ve always read tempt me with the answer I keep trying to believe; when what I’d rather do is watch a baseball game while a novel with a plot and design I haven’t imagined calls me better than dinner in the world I always wanted to walk through, complete with the God I stopped believing that everyone else does.
La Mort (All Passions) By Taunja Thomson A caravan of hearses rides the jack knife curves between peaks. Streams run down from between mountain shoulder blades, luminous snakes licked by moonlight. Moss and clay long ago alit, then settled on ridges to provide a garb of green and crimson. From the outside the hearses’ windows are covered in rosewood curtains or perhaps they are carved each drape each fold having felt the knife weaving it into existence. On the road the double golden lines are meaningless— the riders in the hearses have already crossed over and know neither left nor right pavement nor grass. The stars overhead follow no curves no streams no ridges— they pulse and stutter hurling light in every direction. Their brightness has blinded them to birth and to the steady pace of hearses below. And the caravan riders? They are hidden to all— each other and even themselves even to those left behind somewhere in the fogged-over present or muddled past. The curtains are closed on the once-bright episodes of jack knife electrical impulses we call thinking love memory. All passions follow heavy wheels fall in line, take this caravan to the ends of oblivion.
Tiger in a Trance By Taunja Thomson Outside: the sly day plucks pores open in May hare rummages in dew amid damp chirps of sparrows raising a loamy psalm owlâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s aria sags with dawn a triad of terns baptizes themselves in foam and brine. Inside: Eris sneers at sleepers in the apse laughs at lost causes: putting a tiger in a trance sewing buds shut halting the salty swell of need. Old women with bird hands plant themselves on pews to watch the genesis of sun through pieces of window-ghosts of martyrs and gales of an angry god, stale and holy. Within the heavy book: magic not process explains seamless stars winding snakes; meanwhile a comet with ends like eyelet blazes its copper and cardinal tail licking the void.
Dogtrot By Megan Denese Mealor When I was an ear-splitting eight, we dwelled in the ruins of a belated dogtrot that reeked of rose wine and blistered acrylic carpets, its embossed wallpaper shedding Maiden Pinks, bonesets, blue Japanese roses. Gabled ironstone chimneys sputtered spruce and blackthorn, corralled cherry stairwell leading up to flyblown lofts. Circumscribed front and rear porches secured sheds steeped in hickory handles, moisture meters, citrus-honed chisels. The pine-shingled rooftop hosted a molded copper eagle that elapsed and evolved in the bobbish downslope. A liberal corridor lined the family equator, divorcing my fatherâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s horseshoe kitchen from my motherâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s tiger oak secretary, his earshot from her eyeline, ever those iambic intervals between them.
“Untitled” By Ira Joel Haber
Fiction Rae Dox Kime - I am a sophomore at Ruth Asawa School of the Arts in San Francisco, California,
where I attend the Creative Writing discipline. I am fifteen years old, and have been published in several small online literary journals and my program’s journal, Umlaüt.
Bear Kosik - Kosik is the author of three novels and a nonfiction work on the state of democracy in the
USA. His short stories, poetry, and essays have been published by Third Flatiron Press, River & South Review, Calliope, Silver Streams, Weasel Press, and others. Bear also writes plays, five of which have been produced in Manhattan.
Matthew Kun - Matthew Kuns is simply the guy next door. If that guy next door was a sad, strange,
twenty-something who wrote young-adult fiction. He splits his time between Memphis, Tennessee, and Carbondale, Illinois. His home town, as far as he’s concerned, (birth certificate be damned) is Germantown Tennessee, about a fifteen minute walk from Memphis. Matt’s a young writer with a head on his shoulders! (It’s not a terrifically good head, but hey, he hasn’t lost it yet).
Mark Spano - Mark Spano is now working on a limited theatrical release for his feature documen-
tary entitled Sicily: Land of Love and Strife. This film will premiere in Spano’s hometown Kansas City, Missouri, April 2018. The film will also be screened in Hamilton, Ontario and Buffalo, New York in late June. He is also out and about promoting his recent novel Midland Club published by Thunderfoot Press. Midland Club has received two awards and significant critical acclaim. In January, he adapted Midland Club for the screen at an artist’s residency Seaside, Florida. He is presently putting together a development team for the film of Midland Club. He is hoping to see his book Kidding the Moon published in 2018.
In the Trinity Baptist Church By Rae Dox Kim Precious and Whitman Graves were married in the Trinity Baptist Church in June of 1994. Since then, no one’s gone in. Some good people of Guss, Texas thought to burn it down, saying it was cursed by the Devil, but there’s nothing but bats in there, as there always has been. They live up high in the rafters, their wings wrapped like the dark, leathery petals of furled flowers. Kids, and rancid drunks, used to go in to kill them with bottles and Christmas air rifles, but the place is really a hellhole these days, and even the drunks don’t care to go in. The pews and the floor are buried under small hills of bat shit, and the cockroaches go swimming for fallen bats. Some nights, the moth-eaten curtains and darkness blur the scene, and the bat shit sitting in the pews looks like the worshipful congregation with their heads bowed, and the swooping bats look like graceful freed doves. Whitman left town three years ago, and by all accounts remarried soon after. The townspeople say their marriage was cursed from the first fateful hour. And perhaps they were right. After all, the services were barely forty-five minutes into swing when the gates of hell opened, and from somewhere deep beneath the dais, a bat flew out like a dead lily tossed out of a truck, right at the bride. Everyone’s mother and father shouted, and Pastor Moynihan covered his head with his red book of sermons. All the while the organ played, as it was playing from a tape. Precious Reynolds screamed and screamed, and only when she crumpled to the feet of the pastor did he realize she had been bitten, in the soft flesh of her cheek, and that blood was dripping into the bridal bouquet. “Holy Christ,” he said, but did not move. He didn’t know whether he ought to touch her. “Someone call the police,” he roared, and no one did. The church hummed with shock. The Pastor Moynihan met my mother for private Bible study that I knew was romance and tending to their shared moonshine distillery in the barn. I’d give my father, stagnant in the heat of the T.V., some pretense to go out—watching for the goslings at the empty horse pond—and walk around and around the barn, like I was looping my mother and Moynihan together with string, listening to the voices get giddier and windier with corn alcohol. Once, my father had clawed the pastor with a jagged limb of the distillery, which he had broken against the wall. All three of them were blind with drink; it would surprise me if Moynihan felt anything at all. Moynihan sometimes hacked something into a hanky my mother had embroidered for him, right in the middle of a sermon. I sometimes hated him, but you couldn’t have guessed from the way I treated him. I was all smiles at Sunday school, all grins greeting him when he walked out of the house through the side door. I thought, I think, that an affair was very glamorous, even in a barn, and being an accessory to one even more so. The pastor said it was a miracle that Precious agreed to be married because her life had so far been devoted to the miracle of GOD. I shared her green salads on the bleachers our sophomore year. Precious’s skin was fluorescent in the sun, and she sucked her long canines to get spinach out. She showed me her diary, which I expected to hide boys’ names squirrelled away, but the instead, there was only GOD, her weird and weepy musings. “GOD is so good,” she whispered, her voice tamped by the blinding sunlight, “Sometimes 15
it makes me want to cry.” At her neck glinted a silver crucifix; her nails were short and immaculately clean. Hannie Reynolds was her Christian name, and I thought it wasn’t much of one. A small girl, dwarfed further by her jade-green eyes, she combed pearly fingers through her hair that fell like gold pouring hot over her shoulders. Her lips, two garnet shards, moved in constant prayer; in this brilliance was she Precious. Behind the lips hid curving, ochre sabers—one rough-edged where she had once tried to file it down, and she folded her hair over two huge ears—not unlike a bat’s. The high school boys threw blows over who could take her out, but she would not, and once when she did, I’ve heard, she brought a slender Bible and scribbled in it all the way to Corne’s Drive-In, nodding pleasantly at Whitman’s small talk. Whitman wasn’t awed by the miracle. Two years older, he had been waiting for her since he had learnt how to spell “Precious.” When she agreed to go out with him, his brutal jaw took on a reptilian smugness, one that might guard a fortune of rubies and diamonds. I was the one who convinced her to go with him. I was the one who remembered that Whitman and I had danced in the gym to Elvis, four-fourteen on my thin watch face that slung over his shoulder, burned into my mind. I think about the blood in her white cheeks when the bat bit her, weeping down to the high neckline of her modest gown. I think about that blood and how it was the most frightening thing of all—that she was so, so white that it cancelled out the human crimson inside her. I had expected watery silver to leak from the wound. Even then, the wellthumbed cover of her Bible was pressed under her bodice. The congregation stood up in the pews, craning their field-freckled necks at the trembling body of Precious Reynolds. Drool was pooling at the corners of her mouth, and her breaths were short. Whitman stood moving the rings from hand to pocket like an idiot. Moynihan checked her pulse. “Fucking Christ,” I heard him say, “I don’t know what… Loyd,” he nodded his head at a man in the second pew, “Call the police. There’s a phone in my office.” “Buh pashtor,” slurred Loyd Coit, who had had his tongue cut from throat to tip in a bar brawl, “Whah’ff she wakesh up?” “She’s not going to wake up, asshole, go call the police. Jesus! What happened to ya’ll, fucking cat got your tongues?” We were silent. “Tat washn’t funny,” growled Loyd Coit, and ambled into the office. “Shut up! And someone turn off that fucking organ music!” Moynihan shouted. He was from Houston; he had urgency. Perhaps that’s why my mother liked him. Natives of Guss, Texas were saturated in high school football stardom and a little sadness that the wheat all around the town seemed to bring, in its sweeping shine. I started to run after Loyd Coit. It had to be me who the news cameras called, and I knew Loyd would say something stupid. My mother grabbed my wrist and hissed, “Where the hell are you going?” I wriggled out of her grasp like a child. Her lipstick had stained the fine lines around her lips, and her nose was pinched. On a ridiculous straw hat, the real flowers which she had sewn on for the occasion were now wilting and browned in the heat. I felt pretty and warm in my indifference to her. I ran after Loyd, the congregation staring. “I’m her best friend,” I lied bravely, and took the phone out of his hammy hand. A couple of weeks later, we all understood that she probably wasn’t coming back to church, and no cameras had come. I went to bring a casserole to the Reynolds. They lived in a shuttered colonial on the empty outskirts, the uniform white of Guss visible from their front 16
it makes me want to cry.” At her neck glinted a silver crucifix; her nails were short and immaculately clean. Hannie Reynolds was her Christian name, and I thought it wasn’t much of one. A small girl, dwarfed further by her jade-green eyes, she combed pearly fingers through her hair that fell like gold pouring hot over her shoulders. Her lips, two garnet shards, moved in constant prayer; in this brilliance was she Precious. Behind the lips hid curving, ochre sabers—one rough-edged where she had once tried to file it down, and she folded her hair over two huge ears—not unlike a bat’s. The high school boys threw blows over who could take her out, but she would not, and once when she did, I’ve heard, she brought a slender Bible and scribbled in it all the way to Corne’s Drive-In, nodding pleasantly at Whitman’s small talk. Whitman wasn’t awed by the miracle. Two years older, he had been waiting for her since he had learnt how to spell “Precious.” When she agreed to go out with him, his brutal jaw took on a reptilian smugness, one that might guard a fortune of rubies and diamonds. I was the one who convinced her to go with him. I was the one who remembered that Whitman and I had danced in the gym to Elvis, four-fourteen on my thin watch face that slung over his shoulder, burned into my mind. I think about the blood in her white cheeks when the bat bit her, weeping down to the high neckline of her modest gown. I think about that blood and how it was the most frightening thing of all—that she was so, so white that it cancelled out the human crimson inside her. I had expected watery silver to leak from the wound. Even then, the wellthumbed cover of her Bible was pressed under her bodice. The congregation stood up in the pews, craning their field-freckled necks at the trembling body of Precious Reynolds. Drool was pooling at the corners of her mouth, and her breaths were short. Whitman stood moving the rings from hand to pocket like an idiot. Moynihan checked her pulse. “Fucking Christ,” I heard him say, “I don’t know what… Loyd,” he nodded his head at a man in the second pew, “Call the police. There’s a phone in my office.” “Buh pashtor,” slurred Loyd Coit, who had had his tongue cut from throat to tip in a bar brawl, “Whah’ff she wakesh up?” “She’s not going to wake up, asshole, go call the police. Jesus! What happened to ya’ll, fucking cat got your tongues?” We were silent. “Tat washn’t funny,” growled Loyd Coit, and ambled into the office. “Shut up! And someone turn off that fucking organ music!” Moynihan shouted. He was from Houston; he had urgency. Perhaps that’s why my mother liked him. Natives of Guss, Texas were saturated in high school football stardom and a little sadness that the wheat all around the town seemed to bring, in its sweeping shine. I started to run after Loyd Coit. It had to be me who the news cameras called, and I knew Loyd would say something stupid. My mother grabbed my wrist and hissed, “Where the hell are you going?” I wriggled out of her grasp like a child. Her lipstick had stained the fine lines around her lips, and her nose was pinched. On a ridiculous straw hat, the real flowers which she had sewn on for the occasion were now wilting and browned in the heat. I felt pretty and warm in my indifference to her. I ran after Loyd, the congregation staring. “I’m her best friend,” I lied bravely, and took the phone out of his hammy hand. A couple of weeks later, we all understood that she probably wasn’t coming back to church, and no cameras had come. I went to bring a casserole to the Reynolds. They lived in a shuttered colonial on the empty outskirts, the uniform white of Guss visible from their front 17
yard. While I was washing my hands in the little rosy bathroom, I heard her mother tell my mother, “Pearl, she screams so bad, I can’t even go in there anymore...Whitman surely doesn’t…” I didn’t hear any screaming. “Is she—er—biting people?” asked my mother, ever tactless. Mrs. Reynolds choked on a sob and my mother said, “There, there.” “The first week they wouldn’t let me touch her… I had to stand at least—at least five feet away and just watch her…” I walked down the hall, to the closed door at the end. It was the same room I remembered foggily; Bible study books in the shelf, pink braided rug faded but clean, a cross-stitch rendering of “When I lay me down to sleep” hung on the wall. I looked all around through a crack in the door, afraid of what lay in the bed. The head was rolling from side to side, the fine hairs at the temple plastered down in sweaty strands. I could hear wordless muttering and panting. The head turned and the eyes locked on me, their old brightness dulled by a red film. I stared. “Precious?” I whispered, stepping back from the door. “It’s me, Julie. Do you recognize me?” The teeth gnashed and the knees thrashed under the sheets. From those bulging eyes slipped two hot tears. The neck bent to bite at the hand, and I saw that it was already pocked with teeth marks. She started up a scream—more of a moaning, the sound hollow and toneless. It got louder and louder, and eventually her mother’s running footsteps appeared in the hall, with my mother in pursuit. “Hannie!” Mrs. Reynolds cried, running into the room. She wept, extended her hands to her daughter and then quickly drew them back as Precious bit the air desperately. Then, with a gasp, Precious collapsed onto the pillow, murmuring. “Hannie! Hannie!” her mother screamed. Hannie, her Christian name, as if Christ had not already forsaken her. A week after that, my mother and I and the congregation stood around a little table of club sandwiches in the Trinity Baptist Church, watched by the alluring eyes of the dearly deceased in her wedding pictures. I chewed, feeling the lapping tongue of the heat, even with a few fans playing in the corner. The casket was open—what I remember now most of all is the smell of curdling rot. And even then, there were small, dark, deliberate shapes in the rafters, and the sounds of many papery wings.
Jaundice Ptarmigan By Bear Kosik What ever happened to the drum machine replaced by Pete de Freitas? Some might say this is an ambiguous question. Frankly, no one knows if there was only one drum machine used by the band before the Trinidadian rhythmist took over. Sadly, the drummer died in a motorcycle crash not too many years later. Mister de Freitas’ contributions to the band’s best work are, at least, forever available, as long as forever means as long as there are means to play back the recordings. Who knows how long that will be? Ian McCulloch and Will Sergeant most likely do not know, even though they have an interest in the recordings being available at least as long as they are alive to benefit from the royalties. And who knows how long that will be? On the other hand, McCulloch and Sergeant, being the original members of the band, ought to know if there had been more than one drum machine and where it/they went. However, those gents have never been clear on these points. Then again, when were they ever clear on any point? Perhaps there was some clarity about their agreement to choose the band’s name. After all, it stood out among the stupid names suggested to them as just as stupid as any other name for a band. And yes, ‘stupid’ is their word. That is exactly what makes this factoid clear. Anything else about the early days of Echo and the Bunnymen is foggy or hazy depending on what is obscuring the view. To be fair, they likely have never been confronted with either issue by anyone with any stature. The Queen is rumoured to have inquired, but she’s five-two tops. Not that Buck House would reveal any information gleaned from Her Majesty’s less well known pursuits, such as her research into Merseyside neo-retro-post-punk rock bands. If she hadn’t once mentioned she found Pretty in Pink’s soundtrack so endearing, even this hint of royal treasure would not exist. And so, the mystery continues. One must be clever and insightful when dealing with such engrossing trivialities. That was something engrained in the mind of Jaundice Ptarmigan when she took the position. While that sounds as though carpentry was involved, it wasn’t. Nor is it involved in the more common ‘ingrained’, which magically appeared in use, like so many English words, toward the end of the first Elizabethan Era. Engrained though it was, Jaundice Ptarmigan had no sooner said, ‘As certainly as Semolina Pilchard climbed up the Eiffel Tower, that has been my name since birth’, when she was lectured on the necessity of thinking outside the box, sphere, and pyramid if she had any hope of completing the tasks assigned to her. She had never been good with three- 19
dimensional geometry anyway. But she was well-suited for delving into matters both gray and slippery, such as the location of a drum machine or machines made redundant by a Caribbean émigré. Thankfully, there had been only one of the latter as far as anyone would admit. It had all started when Miss Ptarmigan discovered at an early age that the shape and the sound of the term ‘wiki’ did more to her central nervous system than a passionate kiss or the equivalent sort of experience for a twelve year old. Fortunately, at twelve she could wiki to her heart’s content without the need for waiting to find out what a passionate kiss did to her central nervous system. The only problem was that she hadn’t yet had enough experience with much of anything by the age of twelve. There was little she could wiki about. One day, she discovered that wasn’t quite true. While she still had a way to go when it came to citations, Jaundice found she could contribute after all. She noticed a dearth of input by tweens on many topics. The blogosphere was overrun by socially-challenged teens, young adults, and even not-so-young adults. These people were old enough to know how to make up stuff that sounded so plausible it could sucker skeptics and give gullible readers firm ground to stand on. Some paragons of aptitude tests did what they could to keep records clean, but there is only so much time in a day, about twenty-four hours, actually. There wasn’t a lot of young innocence about the Internet. Jaundice Ptarmigan felt she could do something about that. To her surprise and delight, her exuberant insertions of information into existing content proved to be accurate enough and candid enough and engaging enough to warrant being left alone when others trod through the same e-turf she had. Mindful that success can go to one’s head, Jaundice avoided any direct polling of users as to the usefulness of her input to their lives. She preferred nothing go to her head at that time of her life except whatever was physiologically necessary to remain mindful. After all, she still had to get through puberty. However, the enchantment of building wikis became such an engrossing part of her daily routine, before she knew it she had that first, passionate kiss, lost her virginity with a very nervous lad, and completed the mandatory lesbian encounter, all before graduating from college. Not that any of that really could have interfered with her quest to become the sparkling gem of the wiki world. It had been helpful to have the checklist though. Now, Ms. Ptarmigan had come of age. She was ready to take on the world by settling down with a job that required resourcefulness in its fullest measure at a four-by-five-foot cubicle of her own design because she was working from home. Jaundice Ptarmigan was going to find out things she didn’t know and never cared knowing until she knew them in exchange for genuine American dollars in the form of a biweekly paycheck. Yes, she was going to be paid to cleanse the Internet of ambiguous statements and abstruse questions. One of her first duties was to explore the issues surrounding words like biweekly that can mean every other or two within one period of time. Off the bat she fully understood why twice in one period of time might better be called semi-whenever. However, she couldn’t help but notice that the prefix ‘semi’ was more often used to denote ‘partly’, as in semiretired, semicolon, or semisweet, rather than ‘twice’. That led to outliers such as seminary, then semi hairy, which, if one does the research, leads to repercussions a young lady generally does not want to invite into her life. Before long, Jaundice was deeply down the rabbit 20
hole of Internet research that has prompted so many women to decide they would much rather have babies, even outside the confines of a duly contracted marriage, than do this for a living. However, Jaundice had persistence and diligence in equal measure, thereby making her doubly qualified to continue on for many long years as a wiki-ista. What gave her the greatest sense of accomplishment was not the activity of finding the answer. So many times the answer wasnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t riveting enough to have bothered asking the question. No, a successful search was not enough. Jaundice Ptarmigan must also place all of her findings, no matter how far they had strayed from the intended goal, in the most appropriate spots. There they could sit waiting for the next person who wanted to know something somewhat related to whatever someone else had wanted to know that prompted her to find out what the first person wanted to know. Not that she knew who the first person was, which would have been helpful in closing the circle as they say. Of course, people who say such things want to believe that space-time loops back on itself and makes the infinite a circular thing with a hole that people who are good at three-dimensional geometry call a torus. Not being one of those people, Ms. Ptarmigan preferred the unbelievably difficult view of infinity as something that stretches away and away and away with no end to the aways physically, but all too frequently understood (or so it is claimed) mathematically and philosophically. Of course, mathematics and philosophy are the same. Only one requires study to be taken seriously. The other will never be taken seriously no matter how much one studies. Fortunately, Jaundice Ptarmigan had found a happy middle ground that in no way, shape, or form resembled the hole of a torus aka donut-shaped object. Today that middle ground held a drum machine or drum machines of murky provenance and murkier existence that was/were definitely not, repeat not, the Echo of Echo and the Bunnymen. The rabbit hole beckoned. Without a second thought, in she slid. The result, as ought to be remembered, may be viewed if one loops back to the beginning, and so on. God Save the Queen!
“Awww he’s so sweet” By Matthew Kuns “Awww he’s so sweet. I bet you use him to get chicks.” Is what I’ve been told by women All my life but, When I was 15 I was in love. Petite, brunette, short, a self-appointed southern belle And because she said was religious, we couldn’t fuck. I wanted her so badly it drove me insane Beating love out of myself every night. Middle of the day in the summer I snuck her over to my house My mother was at work and I was hoping to get laid. Finally. I ran to my room stripping my clothes in anticipation. I was an idiot. She went to the bathroom in the hallway. She called to me, her voice scared, and frail. When I got to the hall my brother’s head was next to hers. He was sniffing her hair and face. It was his new quirk I could hear his labored breathing, As he ran his nose up and down her face. Lavender with a hint of honey, The perfume I loved. I grabbed him by his shirt And slammed him into the wall, knocking down a family photo. She didn’t run away, but god I wish she had. I hit him. I hit him again. And again. I hit him until it was no longer about her. It was about the divorce, The parents that couldn’t be in the same house— I hit my autistic brother until he cried out In actual goddamed words, for once: 22
“Stop hitting me, Brock!” Because I wasn’t Brock, I hit him again. Taking the lavender scent with her, She left quickly. Never to return to my home. I was alone, in the damp apartment with my brother. With nothing but the sound of air-conditioning Droning in the background, Failing against the Memphis humidity and sweltering heat. I’ll end up there forever one day, with him alone With a child who can’t tell the difference Between smelling Or making love. And I never can forget it. “Anabelle, My Imaginary Daughter” Because autism doesn’t affect your face, Anabelle is heartbreakingly beautiful at 17. She has my great grey-green eyes and the long dark hair and pale skin of her mother who left us. Everyone tells me, “She’s so shockingly beautiful. It’s a shame she came out like that.” She wears poofy frilly dresses, smothered in scarlet flowers. The older she gets, the more they make her look like a porcelain doll. And people ask me, “Why do you make her wear that, it’s so odd?” I can’t say: poor autistic Anabelle is afraid of pants even though I wear them every day, or that thick fabrics feel icky and heavy on her skin so that it’s either this or nothing at all and what would you say about it then? Every birthday with Anabelle is the same. People from her special needs class, with wheel chairs or cleft palates, cerebral palsy and down syndrome, are invited and they all come because Anabelle is the hit of the class, and the teachers tell me that it’s because of how kind she is. They say nothing about how she’s so pretty 23
Or how when she enters the room all the boys applaud and holler like frat boys. And that I’m appalled at the testosterone of my fellow men. The cake is angel food with no icing because even that is heavy in her mouth and the only drinks are carbonated, a light tide on her tongue as they tingle and fizz. We parents feel it in our hearts as the party winds down. We watch joy and passion pass, between people who can’t possibly understand the ephemerality of it all. At the end of the party we go to the home where Anabelle, one day, is going to live. An immense brick building with blue green blinds. She plays with Uncle Josh and I make sure he doesn’t get too close. In some imaginings, Anabelle’s mother is Josh’s nurse and she ignores us, in others, the nurse is male and hits on my daughter, complimenting her dress, And telling me he’d like to buy her one. I love my daughter, so she never will exist. I’ll never have to watch her mother, walk out defiantly with her head held high blaming me for the autism, like my father did before her. I’ll never have to look at her Woodcock-Johnson test scores and them all be 0.1. like her Uncle. Meaning that my daughter will never be above the age of three. I’ll never have to watch her say, as her dark hair catches the moonlight and her nose crumples in annoyance, “say bye Uncle Josh!” In a high-pitched eerie echo.
Vitia in My Gaze By Mark Spano The giant clock looming above me is a multi-faced gold moon suspended in the canopy of an illustrated sky over Grand Central Station. I am waiting for Vitaly. It had been more than thirty years. We had not spoken or heard from one another in that time. You can find anyone on the internet. So many of our crowd dead now. AIDS took the greatest number of them, but cancer, heart disease, drugs, alcohol and even more bizarre shenanigans all did their parts. I met Vitaly on a summer day in 1971. I was in the backyard of a mutual friend. I was waiting tables to make money to go back to school. I don’t know why I accepted the invitation. I was young and did not think about what I might expect at the home of my friend Tommy Greengrass. Tommy was a golden boy athlete and Princeton grad. He was a husky, robust kid with straight blond hair that fell into his face. The world had handed him everything. Family money, looks, brains, athletic ability and an genuine and abundant love of nearly everyone he met. I met Tommy in a ditch earlier that spring in West Virginia. Fr. McPhee, from my prep school now at Georgetown, managed to convince Tommy and I to come volunteer at a farm he had outside of DC in the Blue Ridge. He was creating some kind of retreat center. I used the flight to DC to check out Georgetown as a possible place to transfer. When I arrived at Fr. McPhee’s farm, I met a guy in a ditch, covered in mud who turned out to be Tommy Greengrass. Fr. McPhee had taught me high school economics and met Tommy at a Missouri leadership forum. Fr. Mack, S.J. could sell ice cubes to Eskimos and convinced Tommy, a Methodist to spend two weeks volunteering at his West Virginia Jesuit retreat. Fr. Mack knew I was interested in Georgetown, and he figured I’d be a soft touch. He was right. Only after a couple of hours in the mud did Tommy and I discover that we lived and worked in the same town a thousand miles away. Meeting Tommy was as unlikely as meeting Vitaly, but the young take such things for granted. Tommy and I overlapped in West Virginia by about ten days. We were fast friends. In almost no other set of circumstances would our universes have intersected. We had a hometown in common, but little else. Some of the other volunteers from Georgetown or DC drove out for a day or overnight, but Tommy and I were the default management team for the time we were there simply by virtue of the fact we were sleeping there. Tommy was the work assignment supervisor and I was the food and accommodations supervisor. Fr. Mack loved these ad hoc group dynamics. Every move the wily Jesuit made was some kind of social experiment or another that eventually netted him the outcome he was seeking. Tommy and I having proclaimed ourselves managers of the retreat project also chose and shared what passed for the best room in the pitifully dilapidated farmhouse. 25
With the ending of the light of day over the shaded West Virginia holler, the early spring night became damp, chilly and almost raw. I was in charge of the wood stove. After dark, the fire, stoked and blazing, warmed at least some of the leaky, clambered farmhouse. There was an outdoor shower made from greenhouse plastic and a staple gun. The shower head was a punctured beer can attached to a garden hose hanging over the top of the plastic. When Tommy returned from his shower, he announced to me “Showering out there is a religious experience. I’m not an especially religious person,” he continued as he wiped clean his glistening naked body by the firelight of the wood stove. His naked body was flawlessly beautiful, muscled and more than amply hung. He hadn’t a clue what he had. He was a straight guy with more male beauty than one person deserved and had no notion of the meaning or value of that particular one of his gifts. After my return from West Virginia or really Washington DC, I called Tommy, just to say hello. He had been back nearly a week. He asked what I was doing. Some guys were coming by his place so wouldn’t I join them to drink beer and grill some steaks? So I find myself in the backyard of a Kansas City, Missouri home owned by a twenty-four-year-old man. (I am three years younger than Tommy and most of his pals.) There is a wide and peculiar distance between the lives of those young people out of school and pursuing careers and those still in school and uncertain about their futures. That distance was even more exaggerated by differences in wealth. I had thought I experienced something of a social class gap while attending Jesuit Prep, but it was just a warmup for the wealth gap between Tommy’s set and my own blue-collar background. It was a ninety degree Missouri summer day in Tommy’s backyard. The house and yard were jammed with stropping guys, shirtless and in rugby shorts or cut-offs. They were all of Tommy’s ilk. Because of my prep school crowd, I was more or less accustomed to hanging out with straight guys. Most of my prep school pals were straight, but they were different. They were more eggheaded than this crowd. At Jesuit Prep, we are all smart geeks. These guys were all Adonises. They were beautiful and seemed fearless. The world was their oyster. They were of prosperity and success. They expected nothing less for themselves. My prep school pals even in their late teens were bookish and more cautious than Tommy’s crowd. We viewed life as more of a struggle. We were Catholic kids. We were told life would be hard, and at least in that incidence were told right. Our lives were hard. Few of us were handed great wealth or even could imagine a trust fund. For my high school classmates going into the family business, if there was one, was likely much more challenging than going to get a job from total strangers. In this crowd of Tommy’s friends, young men full of beer on a summer Saturday, there was noise and roughhousing. A group was playing Risk. They battled over the game of battle like it was a television wrestling match. Each play was full of threats and body slams. My 26
Jesuit Prep crowd had no notion of this kind of interaction. I drank a lot back then mostly as an anesthetic for having no regular sex life, and at this house full of nearly naked athletes, I was pouring Miller High Lifes from the clear glass bottle down my gullet one after another. Later, a tall guy walked into the yard arriving much after the rest of us. He was broad-shouldered with light brown curly hair and nearly transparent blue eyes. This new presence with his high Slavic cheekbones, almond-shaped eyes was calmer, more focused than the other participants in the general rabble. “Zaharov, you made it,” one fellow yelled. “Hey, Vitaly,” another said slapping his back. The taller of them greeted the yells and back slapping of his comrades with a nod. A slight nod at that. Not so much as a smile. This man was markedly different from the others. The others were young, robust and, yes, sexy. Incredibly sexy. But, this man, this Vitaly, as they called him, stood apart.He moved through the group in near silence. Surrounded by all of the raucousness and tussling of the others, this man was genial, welcoming but somehow apart from the fray. The other guys were by comparison light-weights. By every measure, it was undeniable that this man, this Vitaly was considerable. When it was nearing time to eat, I helped Tommy grill steaks and put out food for the crowd. It was better that I keep busy in this maelstrom of testosterone. “Hey, little brother,” Tommy commanded, “go put on some music.” Night was near.It was beginning to feel almost cool in the backyard. I went in to turn on the radio. I chose a classical station. I must have been very drunk. I chose the music for myself not the others. Another of the crowd who sometime later Vitaly reported had called me a “flame job” commandeered the stereo and found acceptable rock music for the restless pride of cubs in the backyard. I sat under a tree eating at the furthest and shadiest part of the yard. I was alone, mentally absent in my late day drunkenness. “ I am Vitaly Zaharov,” I heard a staccato baritone abruptly announce. I looked up from my plate to find the taller, blue-eyed man standing over me thrusting his open hand in my direction. His massive hand wrapped completely around my own. I looked directly into his face. At close range, his crystal blue eyes held a sadness. “I am Sam,” I said, “Sam Trapani.” Vitaly lowered himself to the ground alongside me. As his legs and the trunk of his body extended out in front of him I realized that this man was a gargantuan human form.He also was wearing no underwear. His thick package was dressed right down his thigh. I 27
tried desperately to ignore what I considered to be the sexual equivalent to a thunderclap. “Is your family from there?” he asked me. “Where?” I didn’t know what he was talking about. “Trapani?” “No,” I said laughing once I understood his question, “but near there. Palermo.” “Have you been to Palermo?” he asked. “No, but I want to go.” “You should go. It’s beautiful.” “First I have to pay for school. Then, I can think about travel.” “What are you studying?” “We are here and it is now. Further than that, all human knowledge is moonshine,” I said at some attempt at being whimsical. “If you can quote Mencken, maybe you don’t need any more education.” “Sometimes, I feel that way, too, ” I said dazzled that this giant man knew who H.L. Mencken was. “Oh,” he said nodding knowingly, “you are different from most of Tommy’s minions. These boys can go anywhere they want, whenever they want.” “I guess then, I am different,” I said, “I’m not as rich as the rest of these guys. My family helps with my education, but they cannot do it all.” “I see,” he nodded with a gravity of expression that seemed inappropriate to what I considered the commonplace fact that I had to work to help pay for my education. We continued eating. He looked at me intently and broke the silence saying, “I am from Ukraine.” “I figured from your name, you had an Eastern Europe heritage,” I replied. “Were you born there?” “Yes,” he said with another of his overly serious nods. “You don’t have any accent,” I said thinking that though he didn’t have an accent, he did 28
have in his speech the halting rhythms of Russians and Ukrainians I had met. “I grew up in the suburbs here. I went to high school with Tommy and the rest of these bruisers.” “You, though,” I said to him almost imitating his serious nod “are not a bruiser like the rest of these guys, are you?” “I am not. You are right.” And, for the first time since he had arrived, I saw him smile. His teeth were big and enameled white as Chic-o-lets. For that very instant his light blue eyes lost their sadness and had one slight sparkle that was reminiscent of the sun’s glint off snow at some higher altitude an impression more reminiscent of the tundra than a late summer Kansas City evening. From that point, we remained in the spot in the backyard till three a.m., leaving only to pee out in the dark of the yard or retrieve more beer from a tub nearer the house. We talked of writers, politics and Angela Davis who had taught him at UCLA. Somewhere in campus violence of the time, he walked away from a football scholarship and the possibility of a professional career. He had seen Ronald Reagan up close as a governor. He could not stay in California. He had seen Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point and knew California was not the place for him it was unreal. He had heard Jean Genet speak. “Genet is an amazing writer,” I said. “He told us we lived in a fishbowl not in the sea.” “Genet sees everything as some sort of masquerade,” I said. “Do you believe that?” Vitaly asked. “I do to some degree,” I replied. “You are gay, aren’t you?” “Yes, I am,” I replied. “What type of masquerade is this event here in Tommy’s yard?” he queried me. “These guys are masquerading in their own flesh.” “You like the costumes?” “Very much.” “Why can’t they be just who they are?” he asked. 29
“There flesh is too elusive. It masks who and what they are.” “Your flesh does not mask who and what you are?” “No it doesn’t, but I’m not exactly certain why.” “It is something we will both think about until we meet again. Can you drive home?” “I believe I can,” I said.
“Untitled” By Ira Joel Haber 31
Nonfiction Ruth Ticktin - As an experienced adult educator teaching English language skills and creative writing, I encourage telling our stories. As a writer, I collect stories, arrange words, and appreciate the opportunity to share with others.
Miriam Kulick - I was born in 1953, and raised in Stuyvesant Town, a middle class building project,
on the lower east side of Manhattan. I have ping-ponged living in other coastal areas: northern California, and south Florida. I have predominately been an actor and acting teacher, and have written a solo show, Open Hearts, (Off-Broadway, NYC), an evening of six short plays, Almost Tamed: Tales of Mayhem, Motion, and Malarky, (FL), and a short one-act, The Rock, produced by Pigs Do Fly, (FL).
Brave Brief Journeys By Ruth Dena Ticktin Me to myself: “Remove yourself from your rut, you– college grad with unknown next steps, confusing boyfriend scene, unclear role at the underground alternative newspaper. Don’t face the future, leave your hometown of Madison, celebrate that B.S. degree, journey, and venture.” A newspaper co-worker called me a spacey flower child, it’s the fall of ‘74, the Peace Corps rejected me: ‘not enough experience.’ I’ll show you, I dared myself. Maybe going off in a direction, say West, could cause me to emerge as directed, even confident, and mature. Friends threw me a fare-thee-well party, impressed by my gumption, or laughing at my naïveté – in that little railroad house attached to five glorified wooden shacks, our hideaway near the co-op. We danced, smoked, drank, and ate as I gathered names of friends-of-friends in the West. Ride-share to Minneapolis, visit a childhood friend, greyhound to Seattle. Navigating that big back-pack over rest stops in North Dakota and Montana, real America passes by, with towns named: cloud, lake, wolf, fish, and glacier. Smiling, now seeing them, through the windows, as once they surely looked. My friend in Seattle, oh so carefree, filled with diverse friends and activity. Bussing around town; feeling welcome until sensing I must move on. Catch a ride with a couple headed to the Bay Area, passing perfect Oregon towns and people. Yet for me, the 3rd-wheel, no fun. Ah, breathe fresh air, a slice of utopian life, high views from those hills – the Haight, bridges, a prison. San Francisco: smell fish at the wharf, observe workers in the bay, ‘I’ll return,’ I’m calling out, and traveling on. Bus south, on a mission, past San Diego, Tijuana, down the barren Baja peninsula. Buy a ticket, an overnight ferry across the bay, La Paz to Mazatlán. Spotting a group – young tourists, we share rustic meals and dorm-style cots, the exception on this commuter transport. By chance, startled by sun rising over water, along with fishing boats, we watch the end of the deep blue sea. 33
Mainland, bus south, past San Blas to Santa Cruz, a tiny spot recommended to me: ‘It’s an old authentic fishing village undiscovered, laid back, you’ll sleep, on the beach, at perfect peace.’ True … then at a loss, lost, and lonely on the barren sand – the birds and me. If I were an artist with my pallet and paint, a musician with my guitar, or a writer with notebook in hand, if I could dance free on the shore – If I were strong I’d love and grow in playa paradise. No, back on the bus with families and chickens, I head to Guadalajara. Glad to mingle in this colorful, flower-full, noisy market, safe crowds, everything-available town. Dawn hits hard, and taking stock – apparently, I’m broke, no more cash, a hole in the soul. I book an overnight train for the next Tuesday to Ciudad Juarez/El Paso. Turns out it’s Dec. 31, and there’s a raucous New Year’s Eve party lasting all 15 hours on the train. We’re strangers traveling north for work or family, sharing stories, we eat, sing, and celebrate life. I befriend an author, probably my father’s age, who wrote about his Chicano youth and culture. He talks of his migrant family, and I see the fields – the dirt floor hut with the pot on the stove. All too soon it’s a bright hot morning, our eyes bloodshot; we cross the border on foot, over a bridge, and guided invisibly, we enter Texas, a world away. Exhausted, I call my folks collect; please prepay for the flight home. Gradually I recover, re-adapt. Two years later, ready again to move away from comfort, the liberal oasis, where similar issues remained. Need changes in boyfriend and challenges in work. I get the big blue Olds, gather a friend, drive East to DC, on a southern route. Pack the trunk, wooden crates become my dresser and bookcase for the next several homes. On the way, stop in Chapel Hill/Durham/Raleigh, see a friend, and visit towns so different. Intrigued, I decide to return, and move there. First stop is looking for the Duke bulletin board. Quiet, not serene, walking in elite territory, insulated by the classics, impossible to imagine belonging to – grand brick buildings surrounding grassy quads. Finally discovering the cement, bike-filled basement with notices on all walls. Not glancing at rides, items for sale, or jobs – just the housing. I find a couple, Duke 34
grads, living in a big house with two others, and become their fifth roommate. Sweet and accommodating, the wife bakes biscuits every Sunday morning, and sews quilts. Devoted to Appalachian cultural traditions, the husband studies regional music, they invite me to play volleyball, picnic, and go to crafts fairs on the weekends. But walking outside of that house, I’m attacked by the stench of tobacco. Directly behind the house: the American tobacco factories and warehouses smoke away. It seems, not all are deserted, some still produce cigarettes, while neighbors wheeze. The odor sours me daily as I set out on and drive to work in my white uniform and shoes. A nurse aide at UNC Hospital, I’m at the bottom of the health care racket. Despite experiencing discrimination and harassment, it feels real, necessary, and tough,unlike previous community health advocacy work. Coping for nine months, I teach a weekend class, meet people, and try to ‘make the most of it.’ One of the names I’d received, a most extraordinary woman, corresponds with political prisoners. She believes it’s her mission to give hope to activists. Some she felt were wrongly accused, others punished too severely, all in need of personal support. She knits afghans, sends them with letters to the prisoners and friends who enter her circle.Convinced we’d become friends, she gives me a name to look up in DC, and I’m beyond ready. Happily, my sister will marry in DC, it’s spring, a perfect reason, season, and time to move. Finding house-sitting jobs, temping at a health clinic, not realizing this could be permanent, full of disdain for DC, where government is industry. Despite biases, I fit in, it becomes my place. Networking, friends of friends, bulletin boards, family, and brief encounters – clear the way smoothly to my path home.
The Time I Wore That Dress By Miriam Kulick I’m 63 years old, at my new gym in the new neighborhood my husband and I recently moved to. This gym makes me feel good. It’s a rehabilitative fitness center affiliated with a hospital. No music plays, and the majority of clients are so much older than I am, that I feel youthful and vibrant. I can do my mediocre cardio workout and look like an in-shape athlete whom they secretly envy. It also makes me feel slightly depressed. I see the ticking of the clock right in front of me - pain management, hip replacements, cardiac problems, a slow, sluggish, shuffle with a cane. My future. The other day as I was doing my mediocre workout on the elliptical, a navy blue dress I wore when I was in Junior High School came into clear focus. Wow, stretchy, rayon, very vogue in the 60’s, and on the collegiate side. I had no biceps, I wasn’t aware of their purpose then, yet I wore a three buttoned polo version t-shirt on top with tight short sleeves capped at the high upper bicep area. It gathered tightly at the waist and then tapered into a straight line until the fabric ended above my knee, (when I used to wear clothing above my knee). What was happening in my life then? Where was I headed? Who was I dressing for? It made me think of all the dresses I wore early in my life. It made me wonder: how did the fabric of my life unfold by wearing them? This is my material, the textured patterns of my past, the fibers of my story. My Regal Robe - Age 7 Mr. Unterberger was coming over for dinner. He was my older sister Rachel’s most fabulous 5th grade teacher. He was probably gay, but back then, gay meant happy, we didn’t know it had another meaning. It was such a grand occasion that my mom cooked her only compelling dish, pot roast. She worked full time, how could we blame her? “Untie,” was the most popular and well-liked teacher in our elementary school. He saturated his students with Gilbert and Sullivan, and their performance of Iolanthe even made the New York Times. I was impressed, even in my seven-year-old mind I knew he was swell. That’s why I decided to wear my regal robe, cotton, quilted, bright colors of red, yellow, green, and beige. The interior was pale yellow with an inside tie that made me feel like a cocooned caterpillar about to bloom into a butterfly. I was my own person then, carefree and spirited. My sister and I would run around our living room dancing to Peter Pan or South Pacific, white petticoats swooshing back and forth, sans dresses, kicking furiously, then quickly somersaulting, our white underpants mooning the ceiling. I usually dressed for myself, and for that one night only, for “Untie.” His students wore costumes, the robe was my costume, this was my debut! I wanted to be sure he’d cast me as the lead when he would become my 5th grade teacher. I was joyful and fearless, unabashedly prancing around to music we put on after dinner. He smiled brightly, he was amused and kind.My goal seemed attainable. After running around at a frenetic ballerina pace, I exhausted myself into a little sleeping beauty puddle, and fell asleep in my regal bathrobe, 36
right in the middle of our tiny living room where we entertained. That night while dreaming, I heard applause. A Little More Refined - Elementary School Years I’m in the 4th grade now, no Mr. Unterberger; we had Miss Weiner. It’s my annual school picture day and she’s handing back our math test right before we go down to have our pictures taken. Miss Weiner please don’t ruin today with your red disciplinarian pencil. I want to smile brightly and not force a grin, I want to look perfect. Math was never my strong subject, gym was, and English too, sometimes social studies, but never math. “Those students that failed the math test need to stay seated so we can review. Then, you’ll take a new test before you’re allowed to go to the auditorium.” “MissWeiner, are you sure we’ll have time to get our picture taken?” She glared at me looking down over her black rimmed glasses, like an angry muskrat, “I certainly hope so.” I looked up at the clock every five minutes, sweat beginning to pool under the left armpit of my new favorite dress; the one my mom bought me for picture day. It’s pink- and-white checked, quilted on top, with an extra pink squigglylined design at the neckline, and flaring out slightly on the bottom in a soft cotton fabric. Finally, I finished my math test with a soaring grade of C. Miss Weiner squinted her mousy brown eyes at me, sizing me up probably thinking I’d never amount to anything as an adult, I’d be a stooge at best. “Next time try harder or I’ll call your parents in for a conference.” “May I be dismissed?” A reluctant nod. I was in a frenzy, and making such a racket, that I didn’t even realize that I was racing down the wrong staircase. I abruptly stopped in the middle of the stairs as two older tough looking Puerto Rican girls blocked my path. They were in Class 6-8, meaning 6th grade but number 8, which was the least smartest section. Class 6-1 was the smartest group. Usually all the white kids were in 6-1, whether they deserved it or not, (social inequality at its finest). We kept to our groups, living separate lives. The white kids were generally afraid, the Puerto Rican girls mostly angry, the Puerto Rican boys usually busy grabbing our crotches or sticking hat pins into our buttocks. Except for Michael, a Puerto Rican boy who had a crush on me. I kind of liked him too, but it went nowhere. We were not Maria and Tony. I thought the girl who was wearing a brown blouse and black skirt, with the tightly pulled back black hair was going to spit on my new dress, but she just looked at me like I was a stupid little white girl who had it much easier than she. I did. In her teasing sing-song voice, “Oh, hurry on up now and get your picture taken, but you’re so ugly you’ll probably break the camera.” I wanted to tell her to stop picking on me, I never did anything to hurt you. But I was too chicken, I kept my head down instead and clutched the bannister even tighter, just in case they decided to push me down the stairs. As they grazed by me laughing, I wondered if they even had nice dresses like mine to wear on their picture day. I couldn’t help feeling sorry for them. I was last in line to go. “Next,” called out the photographer. “Where’s your permission slip?” Oh no, in my panic to be on time I left it upstairs. I couldn’t help it, I started to cry. I used my sleeve to wipe the snot from my nose, then cried even harder when I saw it left a mucousy streak on my new pink-and-white checked dress. A disaster! The photographer 37
looked at me, this grey-haired, thin, hunched over man. Taking a moment to assess my current hysteria he said, as he took out his handkerchief, “It’s alright honey, let me wipe your eyes. You don’t want to look sad in your beautiful new dress. You’ll get your permission slip to me later.” I nodded. That was the most I could do. As he sat me on the hard square block, rearranging the lighting to get it just right, I thought what a wonderful grandpa he must be. “Big smile, that’s a girl, how pretty.” I did just that, filling his lens with my missing tooth grin. Finally, I was holding court. Dressing to Impress - Pre-Teen Angst Although I still dressed for my own satisfaction and tried to maintain some of my earlier spunk and buoyancy, life was becoming a bit more complicated: THERE WERE BOYS! About five years after my pink dress picture day, the hormones kicked in, the self-consciousness erupted. Pimples, periods, peer pressure, puberty. OK, now I care what I look like: for my friends, for the boys, for my own self-esteem. Before I became a hippie donning elephant bells and peasant blouses, I eagerly followed in my older sister’s, (Rachel’s), footsteps. She set the bar, or rather the dress code: penny loafers, (Weejuns), knee high socks with pleated plaid skirts, Crazy Horse V-neck sweaters, a John Romain tweed and leather trimmed handbag with brass clasp, that we haughtily carried in our elbow creases. And finally, our hair topped with a thin satin hair ribbon, like an exclamation point at the end of a good sentence. This is when I wore my navy blue stretchy rayon dress with a thin stripped red, white, and blue hair ribbon! Finding the perfect ribbon became our mission. We took the bus uptown to B. Altman’s, a highend department store, where we pored over counters filled with rows of ribbons. Being savvy fashionistas we wondered: Should we highlight the outfit or match it exactly? The only times I shopped in this elegant massive enclave on 5th Ave and 34th St. (which is now sadly, an NYU college building), was for scoring these ribbons. Because our dad was in the Rag Trade, most of our clothes were purchased behind the scenes, in the office buildings where the manufacturers set up shop. The clothes, sewn by overworked and underpaid factory workers, were hung methodically on racks, like dutiful soldiers ready to go into full throttle combat. The foot soldiers, (probably over worked and underpaid too), were the Puerto Rican men, who dominated and clogged the garment center streets as they pushed these racks to various buildings, or, on to trucks. If you didn’t watch out you could easily be mowed down by a rack of clothes, or be accosted by a herd of men calling you lewd names accompanied by various perverted sounds, making you feel scrutinized, angrily marginalized, or weirdly complimented. I learned how to curse under my breath, run away fast, and be secretly flattered, at my ripe old age of 12- 16 years. We were determined to look good, no matter the obstcles. My Yin-Yang Period - High School High school, 11th grade. The Hard Hat Riot started in NYC’s Financial District, on May 8, 1970, near the intersection of Wall and Broad Streets, and later cascaded into City Hall. I was politically involved and active in marches. On May 8th we were protesting against the Vietnam War, Kent State shootings, and Nixon’s U.S. invasion of Cambodia, and we were pissed! I was involved but not militant, not the leader feminist I longed to be. I marched 38
with my black male friend, William. Construction workers wearing hard hats and carrying large American flags, stood on top of statues, throwing cement bricks towards us while we were walking. The only distinct memory I have was seeing men in business suits laugh as mild chaos developed. Riled up and in a rage, I yelled at them: “Fuck you, what are you laughing at? What are you staring at?” Walking hand in hand with William, we were outraged, defiant, and maybe crying. Some of the “suit” guys appeared startled and stopped. All the men there represented the patriarchy, the establishment. Where were the women in suits? But I was rarely tough. The Hard Hat Riot was my yang, but I had a lot of yin in me. Like the country, I was coming apart at the seams. Within the confines of my own high school building I was self-conscious and shy, afraid to speak up. Yet, once school was out, I regained my silly, boisterous self with my trusted close friends. I relied on them to boost my morale and help guide me in my quest to ease my neuroses. These were my conflict years, my light and dark period, and I dressed accordingly. On my “power to the people” days, I wore my yang attire of jeans and tshirts, and on my subservient, follower days, I wore my yin wardrobe of sexy dresses. So, on Friday, May 8th, it was jeans and a t-shirt, but on the following Saturday, it was a dress. A white stretch, sleeveless, v-neck, elastic ribbed at the waist, (which accentuated my thin waist), rayon dress. It fell in a straight line that ended above the knee and looked great with my baby oil tan. Looking around today in the rehabilitative fitness gym, I wonder if all the older women did the same as I: tanned ourselves obsessively, with reflectors, or tanning lights, making it part of our “beauty” regimen, way before the worry of wrinkles and skin cancer. As proof, we now all sport aging brown spots, as we ratchet up the gears to shed those extra pounds pedaling towards health. Yet, I hope they were happy back then, relishing in their daring youth, feeling more yang, while wearing their occasional white yin dresses. California Dreaming - My 20s At 19, I drove cross country with my best childhood friend, Diane. We gladly escaped hectic East Coast living to go search for our purpose, 3000 miles away. California. Diane and I lived in a small rented cottage. We loved it. Our adorable humble abode was a few hundred feet down the hill from the main house where the elderly Mr. and Mrs. Mason lived. They owned this quaint enclave and took great pride in keeping the grounds raked and the fruit trees bountiful. As a kid from New York City it was hard to fathom that actual fruit one could eat, actually grew from an actual tree, which grew on the land we rented. Actually, I was dumbfounded. Within our first year of California dreaming, my parents visited us all the way from NYC for a casual Passover Seder. The dress I wore on a, “Let’s Celebrate the Israelites Freedom From Slavery Dinner,” was a full length one. This was the land of peace, love, freedom, happiness, so all the way to the floor dresses were in then. It had navy blue and beige flowers scattered all over. The sleeves had flowers, but the very top portion was made of a navy blue v-necked ribbed cotton. It had a sash that you tied into a bow in the back. Who knows 39
what the hell I wore on my feet, some sort of sandal, or perhaps I was barefoot. During that period I had a healthy mix of dressing for myself, unencumbered and with ease, while still primping for men. The cocooned closed-up caterpillar was slowly unfolding again into a large wing-spanned creature. The world was my oyster then, the pearl: My Very Short Dress. Although this dress was short in fabric, it covered a lot of territory. It carried a lot of weight. By then, I was a California resident, so community college and state schools were super cheap, an envious system by today’s standards. I was a cocktail waitress and attended college. I made plenty of money, which afforded me the time to concentrate on my studies. I segued from living with Diane to living with my boyfriend, DMA. I was happy, independent, and in a good head space to be in a relationship. However, being a cocktail waitress required this very short dress, an article of clothing that exposed more skin than I wanted to reveal. But at the Sandpiper restaurant it was the mandatory outfit - mini skirt, red calico floral print, petals of bright yellow with hints of light blue flowers, a low scoop neck with tight capped sleeves, cinched at the waist and flaring out in a ruffle-like petticoat. It zippered in the back, which made it particularly seductive. However, it was the heat from running around a smoke-filled room, rather than the heat from a hot date, that propelled us to take the damn dresses off as quickly as possible. On my feet were open-toed, orange strapped, high heeled sandals, on my legs, mandatory stockings. If you leaned over too far, you would flash your booty and somehow, management still wanted you to maintain some level of decorum. Who was I dressing for then? Myself, to make ends meet, and for the salivating men, which became a double-edged sword. I needed their money, but I disliked feeling objectified. And yet, I still wondered: If I had cleavage would I have made even better tips? Many nights after a shift of fetching and delivering, we sat on bar stools with our fellow shortskirted staff and our “happy,” very good looking manager, Joe. When the joint was closed to the public, we thoroughly and deservedly enjoyed drinking and smoking cigarettes while counting our money. This outfit was my gateway to freedom. No Dress My freedom began the day Diane and I drove cross-country. Every couple of years of California living, I shed a layer or two. At first, I wore my long flowing hippie dress. As I became more comfortable in my own skin, the fabric shortened to my cocktail dress. Then I truly became my own person and donned No Dress. That’s right, no dress, nada, none, zilch, nothing, niente. I’m talking about my first and only visit to a nudist colony. I wore clothes of some sort to get there. Minimal. Rita and I were roommates, living in a small mountain cabin, (probably a fire hazard), in the tony town of Los Gatos where I moved after I ended my relationship with DMA. I loved it there. Rita and I met at yet another restaurant, both waitressing, continuing to pay our way through college. I lived upstairs in this tiny space, just big enough to fit a bed and a small dresser. It overlooked the kitchen down below, zero privacy except for a curtain I strung up. However, it was a great space from which to lie in bed and call down to see if the coffee was ready, or to carry on a conversation without ever having to leave my makeshift bedroom. There was a sky light above my bed with fantastic views of thunder and lightning storms. The tiny main floor consisted of a kitchen and living room, with a built in sauna and shower that overlooked 40
the mountains. How glorious. Rita lived like a mole below. There was literally a trap door she would open and close to enter. Once down in her woman cave, you were in a bubble-like womb. She and I got along famously. In some ways we were polar opposites. Me, a Jew from New York City, she, a tried and true local Catholic school girl who grew up in a huge Irish family, in contrast to my modest one. I might have been her first real Jewish friend. I looked forward to her family’s gatherings, so many people, so much noise. I relished those get togethers, an orphan-like child being welcomed in. Rita had a much older friend, Dr.Tom, a quirky, yet well-respected physician. Dr. Tom and Rita had a close, platonic relationship and they were members of a local nudist colony. They were going there for months and one morning they invited me to tag along. I was tentative, but not enough to stop me. Since you had to be a member to get in we made the mature decision of hiding me on the floor, under a blanket, in the back of Rita’s tiny Volkswagen. I was smuggled goods. I honestly wish I could report any details, salacious or otherwise. In a memory fog, I might have seen a nude man and woman walk by, but it was rather misty and very early, so hardly any other nudists were bouncing around in their unbridled flesh. The three of us walked very briefly to a hot tub where we slinked our naked selves in and watched Mother Nature unfold. Once I stripped myself from worrying what my body looked like, from seeking approval from anyone but me, it was rather liberating. I didn’t need clothes. I chose to be bare, take it or leave it, small tits and pubic hair to the wind. We drove home, made our special coffee and steamed milk blend, and sat outside sipping our java while overlooking the verdant mountains. We were blessed. I was brave. Turning 30 - Dressed to Sweat My bravery led me back to New York City living, to a life changing opportunity. Turning 30 is pretty profound. I knew I wanted something large and risky to shake things up. And I found it. I was an aerobics instructor and licensed massage therapist. For a short while I lived in my friend Joanne’s studio apartment, where I slept on her orange corduroy futon. One random day Joanne spotted an ad in the Village Voice: “Wanted: experienced aerobics instructors throughout centers in Italy.” Italy? Yes, Italy, that romantic, foodies delight country we all dream of going to. I couldn’t believe I had never yet been to Europe. It was definitely on my “I Can’t Believe I’m Turning 30 and Haven’t Done.... List.” Until Now. Part of me joked about being sold into white slavery; I mean, come on, I read a blurb in the Village Voice and I’m really going to take MY life on some unknown adventure? How impulsive was I being? But I knew I had to grab it and not let it slip away. I had no attached strings. I had yearnings, and hope, and dreams, and curiosity, and stupidity. Yet, I had faith too, trusting that somewhere, somehow, this would unfold in a fun, uplifting, life-affirming way. And it did. I traveled a lot in Italy, toured the museums, the landmarks, devoured divine pasta, wine, pastries, coffee, lived like a local, met wonderful people, was treated with rev41
erence, and had my fair share of hot Italian men. It didn’t matter what I wore. They didn’t care, it was going to come off anyway. Whether I wore a tight dress, pants, or a leotard with leggings, I chose it, for myself and for those hot Italian men. But I was confident, loving, adventurous: my own woman. Finally. Today- At the Gym - Workout Outfit And now, here I am, 63, back at the gym. I’m still wearing a workout outfit, minus the leggings and the ‘80’s look. My cocooned caterpillar has, over time, expanded and contracted, even gotten lost and, at times, crushed, but it eventually made it out of its spinning chrysalis. I no longer dress to lure men, although I’ve lured a good one and have been happily married for 29 years. I won him over by wearing a pants suit. And I’ve come to realize: it doesn’t matter what I wear; a dress, slacks, or a muumuu. As long as I add the accessories.
“Untitled” By Ira Joel Haber 43