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Shattering the Silence: Trayvon Martin and Race in America Page Nineteen

ROAD NOTES The Fabulous Irony of American Patriotism Jeff Costello Page One

Library Boxes, Bypassing the System, and a Hope for the Future Trevor D. Richardson Page Twenty-Three

STUCK ON REPEAT Cops, Trayvon Martin, and the Need for Change Arthur Brand Page Three

PEARLS FOR SWINE Halfway Kirby Light Page Twenty-Seven

A Story Without A Narrator S.E. SEVER Page Five

Stonewalled Soul Jim Blanchet Page Thirty-One

Law Enforcement Professionals Blake Fitzgerald Page Eleven

POETRY J.P. Herrera Page Thirty-Nine

A Cluster of Flies: Conversations with Writers Kirby Light Interviews Christ Luna Page Thirteen

HOUR OF THE WOLF Part One Kirby Light

Don’t Worry, They’re Happy Jeff Shaffer Page Seventeen

THE CRITIC’S CRITIC Tyler Fisk Talkin’ Why You Hated Pacific Rim Page Fifty-Five

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The Fabulous Irony of American Patriotism

Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all others because you were born in it -- G.B. Shaw “Patriotism is as fierce as a fever, pitiless as the grave, blind as a stone, and irrational as a headless hen.” -- Ambrose Bierce “Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind.” -- Albert Einstein “Patriot: the person who can holler the loudest without knowing what he is hollering about.” -- Mark Twain “Patriotism is the virtue of the vicious.” -- Oscar Wilde “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.” -- Samuel Johnson “In Dr. Johnson’s famous dictionary patriotism is defined as the last resort of a scoundrel. With all due respect to an enlightened but inferior lexicographer I beg to submit that it is the first.” --Ambrose Bierce “It is lamentable, that to be a good patriot one must become the enemy of the rest of mankind.” -- Voltaire “Kill for Peace.” -- The Fugs If the British had nuclear bombs in 1776, would we be eating hot dogs, drinking beer, setting off firecrackers and waving the stars and stripes today? Just wondering. Front page of the Denver Post: a picture of fireworks going off in front of the capitol building with the headline, “Celebrating.” And I think, celebrating what? Our independence from England, remember? The colonies throwing off the occupying oppressor. Oh, isn’t it rich, as Stephen Sondheim wrote in Send in the Clowns... Imagine, the very idea. We worship in the past, ideas that are criminal today. Because we are the oppressor 1


now but our innate goodness and exceptionalism are without question. (Just ask those great patriots, W Bush and Sarah Palin.) Surely this is how the British saw things in 1776. They were merely looking after their interests here, weren’t they? And these days... oh the interests, the many and far-flung “interests” of the USA. And all those bad people, where our interests lie... the nerve of them to question our motivations. Which boil down to, we want all your good stuff and we don’t mind killing you to prove it. One hears much about rape within the military. Pundits wring their hands and wonder, what’s the matter? Why are male soldiers abusing female soldiers? It isn’t obvious? One need only look at recruitment advertising, which promises young men they’ll be glorious heroes, vanquishing all those bad people everywhere. The feelings of entitlement that go with this sort of thing are natural for the young,dumb and full of, okay, patriotic urges. If you’re entitled to kill, you’re certainly entitled to sexual gratification. Maybe the military should get off its high moral horse and have squads of patriotic prostitutes, hard core professionals, on duty at all times. As a school kid in the 50’s, for whatever reason, I didn’t buy the Pledge of Allegiance although I hadn’t the vocabulary to explain why. Now I would say, “How Nazi is that?” Pretty much, I think. Same with the Lord’s Prayer. Remember that? I would mumble, “Howard be thy name...” We opened the school day with nationalistic and Christian propaganda. I suppose it must have worked with a lot of kids, because we see results now and things don’t seem to have turned out all that well.

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Can things change?

Cops, Trayvon Martin,

I sometimes wonder if true change is dependent on the death of a generation. A lot of the old, dangerous ideas that have crippled this country are being slowly bred out. Racism, nationalism, religious conservatism, they are all ever so slowly falling by the wayside. And that is a good thing. However, we aren’t as advanced as we think we are. There have been many instances of excessive racial violence in the past that have made people think, “This is it, this is the one that will finally effect change.” But it doesn’t. First of all, the statistics are there, racial violence is almost always un-reported or underreported in the news. It is the side effect of 200 plus years of racial repression. Everyone is scared to talk about it because they don’t want to cause a scene. Better to sweep it under the rug and forget about it. We have been doing this for generations and, for some reason, we think this is the one that is going to make us stop. Trayvon Martin, according to some, got shot for being a black kid with a hood on. Others are saying that he was belligerent and should have backed off when Zimmerman started to threaten him. As if to say, the kid had it coming. Nevermind the fact that a man with a gun was acosting an unarmed teenager. And nevermind the fact that even if he was acting like a total punk that still doesn’t excuse shooting him. The truth is, a kid got racially profiled and shot. The semantics of the case notwithstanding, it has become a major talking point and people rallied around it in a way we haven’t seen in a long time. But before Trayvon Martin it was Rodney King. Twenty years ago the name Rodney King was on everyone’s lips. The injustice was palpable. The absurd behavior of the law enforcement officials was undeniable. And again, the arguments were the same. Somehow it was King’s fault. He must have provoked them. He must have had a weapon. We should look at his criminal record. Well, police are under a lot of strain, let’s see what the courts decide.

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and the Need for Change The point is, everyone thought that case would be the catalyst for change, for new discussions, for starting a long overdue dialogue about racism, not only in America, but in law enforcement and the judicial system. Except it didn’t. Nothing changed. Cops are still racist, violent, and often power drunk. Now history is repeating itself. The wannabe cop, George Zimmerman, walked. The kid is dead. People are already forgetting. And the discussion is basically closed. It just is what it is. The arguments recycle. The kid shouldn’t have provoked him. He must have looked like he had a gun. We should look at his record. Clearly the black kid had some fault in this, what was he doing in that neighborhood with his hood up? I say the same thing to both cases. It doesn’t matter if the person in question is a drug-addled pimp or a convicted pedophile or a known public vandal, the police should never beat a man to mercilessly and wannabe heroes should never shoot unarmed civilians. The fact is, law enforcement officials should be held to a higher standard, there should be a morality clause in the contract of their employment, this kind of irresponsibility should be a fireable offense, not just a criminal offense that is taken to the courts. If NFL ball players can be fired or heavily fined for getting in trouble with the law, inappropriate drinking, or even infidelity, shouldn’t there be some hefty consequences for misbehaving policemen? These are the arbiters of our law, the guardians of our democracy, and supposedly shining examples of justice in our communities. These are role models for children. And yet, somehow, the endless hordes of corrupt, racist, violent men filling our news stations has become commonplace, even expected. We are numb to the aggression of our judicial system and the callus inflexibility of the law where it effects real people on the ground. We are stuck. Trayvon Martin was a reminder, but, unfortunately, not a catalyst for anything. At least not yet. And so I find myself thinking, once more, that the only true hope for change is the death of corrupt tradition and the men and women that live to support it. Old age and the future, come soon.

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the location can burden your characters.” “Yes, of course it can, if you use the wrong location. How convincing would it be to have two dentists having a chat in a cockpit? I mean, I wouldn’t wanna be on that plane.” “But you’d still wonder what the heck two dentists could be talking about in a cockpit, no?” “Err. Maybe . . . Let me get this call.” “Go ahead.” “Hello, Ted speaking . . . Yeah, it’s Roland’s desk . . . Oh, yes, I’ll pass you over to him.” “Who’s that?” “It’s the Boss. He wants you.” “Hi, Boss . . . Yes, sure . . . Why? . . . Hmm . . . I understand . . . Okay, Boss, I’m coming right now.” “What’s up?” “I don’t know, Ted. The Boss wants me in his room immediately.” “Uh-oh!” “Hey, Roland. Can you give me a hand with this?” “Good God, Eva! You shouldn’t be lifting that box by yourself. Wait, hold on, let me grab it from this side.” “Thanks, Roland. I thought I could carry it to the lift, but since the operation even lifting a shoebox has been a big deal. I hope I didn’t interrupt your conversation with Ted.” “Don’t worry, I’ll catch up with him later. Let me tell you, though: this bloody thing isn’t a shoebox. What do you have in it? Another ‘missing’ celebrity you interviewed?” “You heard the news too, I see. I can’t believe how fast gossip travels in this company. I’m supposed to be settling on my desk today and everyone already knows what I ate for breakfast this morning.” “Well, Eva, as we say here: the world gets smaller when you start working for SM World Corporation. Which floor, by the way?” “Hang on, I’ll press it. Which floor are you going to?” “Seven.” “Seriously? Monday morning, first thing?” “Yes, exactly. I must be in deep trouble. I think I can predict what’s it about, but you never know. Life is full of surprises.” “Tell me about it. I had my breakfast at the police station this morning, because of this missing guy. The man simply vanished a week after I interviewed him. Can you believe it? I mean, if I were to kidnap the guy and bury him in my back yard, I wouldn’t publish a full-page interview of him the week before, would I? Like a murderer placing an ad about his victim. I’m not that stupid, you know.” “Quite the opposite. You may be intelligent enough to do it, so it moves you down the list of suspects. Like Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct. I’d have to be pretty stupid to write a book about killing and then kill the man the way I described in my book. That’s what she said.” “You’re funny, aren’t you, Roland? Anyway. Here we go. Seventh floor.” 6


“Hey, no hard feelings?” “Never. I gave up my feelings when I started journalism . . . Hi, Suzi. Here is the box you wanted. Thanks to Roland, I was able to bring it up. I’m still not able to carry anything because of the operation.” “Sorry to hear that, honey. I could have sent someone down; you didn’t need it to bring it yourself.” “It’s okay. I just wanted it off the table, so I can settle down at my new desk.” “I understand, sweetheart. Oh, Roland, do you mind leaving it over there in the corner? . . . How are you feeling, darling? I heard about this morning. Is everything all right?” “Oh, well. I’m sure you’ve already know every detail, Suzi. Nothing is fresh news in this company. I bet my testimony will be on everyone’s table in an hour.” “Hey, Suzi, I put the box on the chair, is that okay?” “Yes, dear. It’s absolutely fine. Thank you.” “By the way, Eva. I’d be interested in reading your testimony when it’s out.” “Very funny, Roland. Very funny.” “No worries. Is the Boss available?” “Yes, he’s waiting for you, darling.” “Well, I’ll leave you girls to gossip. Eva has a lot to tell. Just pretend that you’re hearing it all for the first time, Suzi. Oh, one final thing, if I don’t come out in one piece, book me an interview with Eva. She’ll sort out the rest. A little mumbo jumbo, a bit of abracadabra, and I’ll simply disappear.” “Get lost, Roland!” “Ahem. Good morning, Boss.” “It’s not a very ‘good’ morning, Roland.” “Yes, I doubted that.” “Listen, Roland. I am a very understanding man. I know you’ve had a very troublesome year. All the court cases with your ex-wife, what was her name?” “Melinda.” “Yes, yes, Melinda. Do you know how much she cost the Corporation?” “I’m not sure abou—” “That’s the point, Roland, you’re not sure about the amount. You may not even give a damn about it. And I’m not only talking about the financial damage, but also the damage to the reputation of SM World Corporation and its employees. She played it really hard by filing an additional libel case and dragging the Corporation into it.” “But, you know, Boss, that story had nothing to do with her. How could it ever have invaded her privacy? The main character is a nineteen-year-old Chinese girl, who was born in India, adopted by a Canadian family, and married a peculiar Russian businessman double her age. Melinda and I have two years between us, neither of us is adopted, and we don’t have connections with any of those countries.” “Yes, yes, I know. But tell that to your ex-wife. The lawyer says if she identifies herself as a character in your 7


story and argues that the way she’s been described is defamatory, she can sue for libel. But she doesn’t stand much chance apparently. Nevertheless, it’s another lawsuit; it costs money . . . Your father is a very good friend of mine, Roland. I respect him a lot. That’s why I personally acted on your case. You know how it works in this line of business. Companies always put the onus on their writers to deal with libel. But I convinced the board to back you up. You’re one of our best assets, at the end of the day.” “I understand, Boss. And I’m very appreciative of your support. You have me for the rest of my life, you know that.” “Yes, yes. I know that. But the issue is . . . I’m not sure if I want to have you for the rest of your life, Roland.” “I don’t understand. This lawsuit isn’t exactly coming at us out of the blue. Why do you say—?” “That’s the problem: it is fresh news, or even breaking news, this time. What was her name?” “Melinda.” “Yes. Melinda. That ex-wife of yours is now blackmailing us by threatening to leak some letters she confiscated from your study.” “What letters?” “About the personal matter I asked you to take care of, Roland. Do you remember?” “Oh, God.” “Do you realize what happens if they’re disclosed? Let me tell you this much, Roland, whatever happens to my marriage would happen to you in person. If my marriage breaks into pieces, I’ll make sure you also break into pieces. Even your father won’t be able to save you then.” “There must be a way around it.” “There are many ways, Roland, but the problem is, I can’t drag the Corporation into this. That wife of yours, Belinda—” “Melinda, Boss.” “Yes, yes, Melinda. She’s taken our biggest weapon and turned it on us. I can’t explain any of this to the Board.” “No. She might have turned our own weapon against us, but we’re still holding it in our hand. I know what we can do.” “What?” “We can publish the letters ourselves.” “Have you lost your mind, boy? That wife of yours has finally driven you insane.” “No, Boss. I haven’t lost my mind. You know the Hyacinth Letter written by Oscar Wild to ‘Bosie’, Alfred Douglas . . . You see, when Wilde was blackmailed by a rent boy about the love letter he’d written to Alfred Douglas, he got the letters published himself. He is quite like a narcissus - so white and gold... he lies like a hyacinth on the sofa and I worship him. That’s how Wilde described Bosie, at a time when sexual acts between men were illegal under English law. Just like Eva’s case . . . I mean . . . Basic Instinct, the movie. Sharon Stone’s character killed the guy exactly the way she described in her published book. I’d have to be pretty stupid to write a book about killing and then kill the man the way I described in my book. We’ll just apply the same logic, Boss.” “Hmm. Continue, I’m listening.” “We don’t need the letters. She can have them. I have it all in my head anyway. I’ll write a story out of them. 8


A correspondence between two people. Then we’ll publish it and stir it up really well. We need chaos, controversy: a veritable shitstorm. Lots of people talking but nobody listening. We can even arrange for a few people to sue us for libel; they can all claim to be the director in the story and they will all open a court case, complaining that their privacy has been deeply invaded.” “Go on, Roland. Continue.” “Before Melinda can figure out what the heck is happening, the story would be exhausted. Dead. No one would know who to believe anymore. Even if she ran around naked with the letters in her hand, no one would pay her attention.” “Suzi, connect me to . . . what was his name? Our in-house lawyer. Yes, yes, Mr Nees . . . Mr Nees, you know the situation we discussed this morning, about one of our employees . . . Yes, yes, that’s it. Now, I want to know what would happen if several people filed a claim for libel about the same character in the same story? . . . Uh huh . . . Yes, yes . . . Yes, exactly . . . I thought so . . . Okay, thank you!” “Well, Boss?” “Well. Sorry to throw him your case as an example but I couldn’t have asked him otherwise.” “No problem.” “Okay, Roland. Get back to your desk and show me what you can do. I’ll make up my mind once I have your article in hand. From now on, every word you type will require my approval.” “Thank you, Boss. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to clean up the mess caused by my personal circumstances.” “It’s okay, Roland. Nothing to thank me for. Just do your job, and do it well.” “Oh, by the way, I had this idea about writing a dialogue without a narrator. A speech between two people without the writer’s voice. Pure dialogue. What would you think if I try implementing it in this project? I could arrange the letters like a dialogue between two people. “ “With no narrative at all?” “Not a line.” “Hmm. It would never work. Just do it the ordinary way.” pp

S.E. SEVER is a fiction writer. She has four degrees, all in different fields, varying from Archaeology to Brain Sciences, and Media to Business. She has a blog on creative writing, the Write Club, where she shares tips on writing and publishes discussions with other writers. Her website includes her poetry, articles and short stories. For more information visit: http://sesever.com

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This month I chatted with Poet Laureate and host of Ghost Town Open mic host Christopher Luna to talk about writing, publishing, and the craft of crafting.

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Kirby: So tell us a bit about your poetry career, give our readers a greater sense of who Christopher Luna is?

Luna: I am a native New Yorker who attended the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics in Boulder, CO because it was founded by my primary inspiration as a poet, Allen Ginsberg. I admire Ginsberg as a writer and a public figure who fought for human rights, gay rights, peace, consciousness expansion, and compassion. Ginsberg was also a tireless promoter of poetry and poets who helped many of his friends find an audience. I was in my mid-twenties when I went out there, and it changed my life. My first visit was to attend “Beat and Other Rebel Angels,” a week-long tribute to Ginsberg that was a part of the Summer Writing program in 1994. I spent a week hanging around and learning from many of the people whose lives and work had inspired me: Anne Waldman, Diane DiPrima, Amiri Baraka, Ed Sanders, Gary Snyder, Gregory Corso, David Dellinger, and Ginsberg himself. That week was mindblowing enough to change everything, but I later applied to the MFA program and graduated in 1999. I knew that I wanted to do community work, but hadn’t organized much before I moved to the Pacific Northwest in late 2001. In 2003 I found myself in Vancouver, WA. I had a hard time adjusting to the culture out here. I have a hard time with the passive aggressive nonsense that passes for communication, and had to put up with mistreatment and unprofessional behavior from the journalism community that would get you fired on the East Coast. (If you want to know more about how I ended up in the PNW, read the introduction to the Ghost Town Poetry anthology, which I co-edited with my Printed Matter Vancouver partner Toni Partington: http://www.amazon.com/books/dp/1461075114) Fortunately, I found the Portland poetry scene to be friendly and supportive. I did some of my earliest readings in the region at the old Red and the Black Café and through the Spare Room Collective. I also attended a fantastic weekly Sunday night reading called the Subterranean Beat Revival. Walt Curtis also asked me to call in to Talking Earth, the Monday night poetry radio program on KBOO that he hosts with Barbara La Morticella. When I first got to Vancouver, it did not seem like much was happening. I met a few poets at the Vancouver and Washougal libraries, and there was a small group that met at So many Books, the bookstore that would later become Cover to Cover. I wanted to create an open mic reading as a way to find and build community, but also because I was bored. A friend from the library suggested that I try Ice Cream Renaissance, located in the heart of town on Main Street. We drew a large crowd right away, and participation hasn’t dwindled since I founded the series in November 2004. In fact, we have continued to grow. Today we regularly draw 40-50 people each month. But in 2004, there wasn’t anything like it in town. In 2007 we moved the series to Cover to Cover Books, owned by Mel Sanders. Later I convinced my life partner, Toni Partington, to share the hosting duties with me. We founded Printed Matter Vancouver (www.printedmattervancouver.com), a small press and editing service for Northwest writers that has published two books so far: Ghost Town Poetry (2011), an anthology of poems from the first six years of the popular open mic poetry reading series, and Serenity in the Brutal Garden (2012), the debut collection by Vancouver poet Jenney Pauer. In January of this year we celebrated our sixth anniversary with the bookstore. Owner Mel Sanders is a fiction writer who demonstrates her support for local writers by surrounding her front counter with books by Northwest writers. She also stays open four hours past closing time once a month for the Ghost Town Poetry Open Mic. Mel is very flexible and understanding. I don’t believe in restricting people, so we often have a list of 20-25 readers, and the reading can stretch to three hours. 14


Today Vancouver’s art and literary scenes are thriving. The biggest difference, however, is that it really feels like a community. The artists and writers know each other, look out for opportunities for each other, and collaborate on a regular basis.

Kirby:

Do you find the Portland writing community to be different from other places?

Luna:

Each area has its regional differences, but Portland, like any other city, is filled with transplants from around the nation. I have found the Portland writing community to be very friendly and supportive. I have never had trouble finding venues to present my work or to book visiting writers. I have been fortunate to receive guidance and support from friends including Sage Cohen, Brittany Baldwin, Dan Raphael, Paulann Petersen, David Abel, Chris Cottrell, Melissa Sillitoe, and Doug Marx.

Kirby:

I’m sure some of our readers aren’t quite certain what a Poet Laureate is, what does being Clark Counties Poet Laureate entail?

Luna:

In my opinion, a laureate is an ambassador for poetry. Fortunately, when I received this honor I had already spent a decade in this role. Poetry needs ambassadorship, because many people carry around misconceptions based on the fact that poetry is marginalized by the culture. The potential to love poetry has also been ruined by administrators and teachers who have self-censored and presented only the safest, most boring poetry to students in an attempt to preemptively placate a small number of ignorant and uptight anti-intellectual parents and religious types in their communities. This is one of the reasons that I love the open mic format. Everyone from non-writers who would like to recite a favorite poem to students to Award-winning poets participate side-by-side. Simply experiencing what happens in a room full of people who have come together to hear poetry helps newcomers to understand that poetry is relevant to their lives, and can be fun. To be honest, over the years, I have become less and less concerned about how many of the poems read might be considered “good.” First of all, such a label is quite subjective. Secondly, hosting the series has made me realize that everyone needs to be heard, and providing a forum for expression is a public service that goes beyond the question of quality. On the other hand, we have attracted some of the best poets out there because we have created a friendly and supportive atmosphere that honors the individual. All poets want to read for an attentive and eager audience, and that is what they get at the Ghost Town readings. As Poet Laureate I will visit schools, libraries, and businesses around the county, as needed. I am available to speak at special events, to lead workshops, or to help others set up a writing group or class. I have also been reading my poetry with musicians since 1992, so I hope to continue to do that wherever possible. What form it takes will depend quite a bit on what Clark County’s residents decide. I believe that poets are messengers, but they do not exist in a vacuum. I very much admire Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s notion of the poet as engaged citizen. So my goal is to serve the community to the best of my ability. I have a great passion for poetry, and love sharing this with others. I am also trying to initiate a Poets in the Schools Program for Clark County. If I can lay the groundwork for such a program before my term ends in December 2014, I will feel as if I have really accomplished something.

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Kirby: How do you think the digital revolution has changed the writing industry and poetry, do you think it has yielded more positive effects than negative?

Luna: The main advantage of these changes is that they have made it much easier for a writer to connect

with her audience. I know that there has been a lot of panicked discourse, but I don’t think that books are going to go away entirely. Just think about the regular resurgence of vinyl record collecting. I am part of an effort to use social media and crowdsourcing to connect small presses with a larger audience. Crowd the Book (www.crowdthebook.com)is a service that sends its subscribers a new book of poetry or prose every month, and gives authors and publishers a way to connect with new readers.

Kirby: With the invention of the Ebook has come much controversy in the literary community, do you think the ebook could help or hurt the craft of poetry?

Luna: I don’t see how it can hurt. I think it will lead to more readers for some poets. Personally, I do not

enjoy reading poetry on a screen, but I support anything that helps writers connect with an audience.

Kirby: People seem to read less and less these days, having little time for such a thing, do you think that poetry has lost it’s importance and meaning over the last few decades?

Luna: No. In fact, I think that open mics, hip hop, poetry slams, Def Poetry Jam, and spoken word artists like Saul Williams continue to make poetry exciting for people.

Kirby: And lastly, why did you want to be a poet? Luna: I have known that I was a writer since I was eleven. I began by imitating my two all-time favorite

novelists: Stephen King and John Irving. I devoted my life to poetry after reading Allen Ginsberg’s collected poems and Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass one summer while I was in college. I was feeling a bit lost after having been kicked out of film school, and encountering the work of these two men really lit a fire under me. I began a study of the art of poetry that has never ceased to sustain and thrill me. pp

Christopher Luna is the Poet Laureate of Clark County, WA where he works as a poet, artist, editor, publisher, and teacher. He is the host of Ghost Town Poetry, a popular open mic poetry series at Cover to Cover Books in Vancouver, WA. Luna is co-founder, with Toni Partington, of Printed Matter Vancouver, a small press that also provides editing and coaching services to writers. He is also the editor of "The Work," a monthly poetry newsletter created to inform poets about events in Portland, OR and Vancouver, WA. Christopher Luna's collage art is available through Angst Gallery in Vancouver, WA.

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Jeffrey Shaffer has been writing humor and commentary for more than 25 years. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, Detroit Free Press Magazine and The BARK. From 1998 until 2008 he wrote a twice-monthly column for the Op-Ed page of the Christian Science Monitor. Because his work ranges across a wide variety of topics and includes both fiction and non-fiction, trying to place him into a particular category is nearly impossible. In 1997, when his second humor collection was published (It Came With The House, Catbird Press) one of the stories was selected for publication in CLAIMS, a trade magazine for the insurance industry, while another story was picked for the 11th edition of The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. One critic has referred to his humor as “The Twilight Zone meets Winesburg, Ohio.” Shaffer is a currently a regular contributor to The Huffington Post. He lives in Portland, Oregon

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Shattering the Silence

Trayvon Martin and Race in America Brian Parham

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It’s been 24-hours since the George Zimmerman verdict was announced. And during that time, my feelings have oscillated between shock, despair, and rage. As my blood simmered red hot, I leaned on the teachings and the lives of my heroes: Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. But try as I might to live up to their noble examples, the rage and the despair kept creeping back. And so I tightened my knuckles and raced ahead. I wrote and re-wrote the introductory sentence half a dozen times. The second paragraph, twice that. Eight hours in, I realized this is the most problematic assignment I’ve ever tackled, and I freely admit I don’t have all the answers but I can speak honestly and openly. This is the single hardest article I’ve ever written, and I believe that speaks to the greater issue of race in America because we don’t talk about race in America. We do our best to steer away from racial issues because it’s impolite conversation. So we don’t talk about a criminal justice system that has more blacks in prison than South Africa did during the height of the Apartheid. We don’t talk about a society where one in three black men can expect to serve prison time during the course of his life, nor do we discuss the fact that we live in a country where blacks and other minorities face stiffer penalties for the same crimes committed than whites do. We don’t talk about the shameful wealth gap between blacks and whites, which is an astonishing $236,500. We don’t discuss black unemployment, which is nearly double that of whites. And we certainly never mention the long history of racist social institutions. After all, we’d end up talking about a country with over four centuries of legalized slavery, a country only 50-years removed from Jim Crow. No, talking about race in America is impolite. In fact, it’s down right difficult. So we do our best, both white and black Americans alike, to cower behind a veil of silence. But the Trayvon Martin case changed all that. The murder of this young black teenager was a case so obvious and egregious, it couldn’t be ignored. The injustice was so palpable; it shattered our collective silence and demanded a full of chorus of outrage. In a collective crescendo, Martin’s murder demanded of us that we make use of our voice and shout for justice. By now, everyone is familiar with the details of the case. George Zimmerman phoned the Sanford Police Department from the front seat of his SUV to report Martin’s “suspicious behavior.” 21


Zimmerman told the dispatcher on the phone, “This guy looks like he’s up to no good, or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around, looking about” and “looking at all the houses.” After pursuing Martin in his SUV, Zimmerman exited the vehicle armed with a black Kel-Tec PF-9 9mm semi-automatic pistol and an altercation ensued. In the end, Martin was shot dead with a bullet through his heart. And so those Americans of courage and conscience quietly awaited a guilty verdict and some semblance of justice for the parents of Martin. But instead, the criminal justice system did what it has mostly always done for minorities in America: it failed to deliver justice. And so we’re left wallowing in the aftermath. But this young man, armed with a hoodie and a bag of skittles, who had the courage to “stand his ground” to a grown man nearly twice his age and fifty-pounds heavier, did what no one else in America could do: he shattered the silence. And now it’s up time for the rest of us to rise up, come together, and display the same level of courage as this slain teenager. It’s time to do the impolite thing. It’s time tackle the race problem in America. pp

Brian Parham is a wordsmith and story weaver. His work has been featured in Subtopian Magazine and Pointed Circle. He’s also a staff writer for The Bridge. He believes in the transformative power of the written word, and its amazing capacity to sway, to heal, to give voice and to inspire both those who wield and those who read it. Residing in Portland, OR, with his wife, Brian is currently pursuing a certification in literature and creative writing from Portland Community College and furiously working on his memoire entitled, “My Life as a Young American Outlaw.” He’s also a professional musician and gigging blues/ jazz guitarist.

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23


Library Boxes, Bypassing the System, and a Hope for the Future by

trevor d. richardson 24


Have you seen these little boxes in front of people’s homes? They almost look like a window if you ripped it off of a house and stuck it on the fence. A lot of the time they’re right next to the mail box and, if you didn’t already know, you’d probably be like, “Hey, what?” They’re libraries. That’s right, this is a new trend that I am very impressed with, home libraries, free to the public, no card, no money, no late fees, no registration – nothing. You just open the window, look at the books, take what you want, and either bring it back later or put it in someone else’s library. It’s totally the honor system, but even if someone took the whole collection and ran, there wouldn’t be a police report filed. The books are for you, so you can’t steal them. I was getting a lift to work the other day from a coworker and she points one out and says, “Have you seen these yet?” I, of course, didn’t even know what she was pointing at, that’s kind of her way. My brain goes, “Bird, house, mailbox, new car, dead squirrel, cloud, tree…” really fast like that, trying to figure out what she’s indicating. Then I see the little box and it’s filled with books of various sizes and colors. The inside of the box is painted white, the outside was a soft green, and it had a door on the front with four panes of glass divided into quadrants like a farmhouse window. She says, “Yeah, it’s a library.” My coworker explains that it was a trend that started up in Seattle and has migrated down Portland way, like so many other things, not all of them so pleasant. I was inspired and began looking into it some more. I found out that basically everything I had been told was true, which is awesome. Upon digging further, I found a group in Portland called Urban Librarians Unite that has even gone so far as to organize drop boxes for books in these bright orange containers a lot like what you can get the free paper out of in most American cities. http://urbanlibrariansunite.org/2013/02/08/the-mini-libraries/ I have said before and will say it again, people are best in times of crisis because the trauma of the situation forces us to see one another as people again, rather than obstacles, nuisances, or irritants. This case is no different. The Urban Librarians free library boxes were a response to Hurricane Sandy. In the wake of the disaster, when people had lost everything, and not only had very little to do during recovery, but had very little hope, these all-weather boxes appeared, holding a hundred or so books, offering free reading materials to the public. No one expected that they be returned, but if they were, they would just go right back into the box for the next guy. So what makes this so special? Why am I writing about it for this month’s study in Utopia? Simple. I like books. I like the idea of books helping people when they’re down. But more than any of that, I like the fact that this idea sprang from the wreckage of a hurricane and stuck around after. How much of our aid, support, and disaster relief goes away after the first week or two? This, however, had staying power. Not only did this become a thing, but the people running the thing wound up with so many books they had to stop accepting donations. People kept doing it and, on top of that, it caught on. Now, I’m not necessarily saying that this is all one movement. It would be amazing if it was, but there are dif25


ferences between what’s going down in New York and what we have on the west coast. What I am saying is that we are looking at this really amazing grassroots movement where people, often out of their own homes and sometimes out of local businesses, are bypassing the institution of book trading and are simply sharing it with the world out of the goodness of their heart. The message of Subtopian’s look at Utopia has always been one of simplicity. A progressive return to the past, as I like to say. Things are often overly regulated, either for profit, security, politics or all of the above. We create organizations, agencies, institutions, and an almost endless infrastructure of trades, checks and balances, and registration that we forget how easy it is to share knowledge and entertainment between friends. You just say, “I liked this, check it out,” and you hand them the book or DVD or whatever it may be. It’s like the Microsoft vs. Sony console wars in recent news. Microsoft’s XBox was attempting to kill the used games industry by making it so that a game disc would only play on the first console it was loaded into, making it so that you can’t let a friend borrow it, you can’t trade it, and so on. This was to ensure that they would sell more and make more money, but it had the unexpected repercussion of alienating their followers. They explained a very technical process of how it all would work and what it would mean for the future of trading games, stuff like that. Then Sony comes along and says, “Here’s what you have to do to trade our games.” And they show a guy handing a game to a friend. That’s it. This is what I’m talking about. This is my vision of Utopia in a nutshell. Things are needlessly complex, you should be able to just have a business if you want to sell stuff, you should be able to just get a book if you want a book, or maybe even just be a person without all the incessant numbers attributed to ourselves. You see my point. Here is a great example of people recognizing the value of words and bypassing money and “the system” altogether, just for the sake of the books that they love. All you need to get involved in this is a box in front of your house and some books. You don’t need approval or licensin, you don’t need a Net 30 account or a 501C3 or whatever it’s called. You don’t need to apply or ask permission or register or do anything other than donate your collection to your community. Buckminster Fuller said that you don’t change the system by fighting against the current model, you change it by building a better model that makes the old one obsolete. When I look at these instances of regular people simply bypassing all the clunky infrastructure and simply opening up to each other, helping one another, I see the glimmer of a better model. This gives me hope. So much of what we value is a byproduct of an overcrowded system of tracking, whether we’re tracking sales, inventory, people, trends, or population, the world is a noisy mess. Ideas like this make it a little quieter. pp

Trevor Richardson is the founder of The Subtopian and the author of American Bastards and the upcoming Dystopia Boy from Montag Press. He has dedicated his career and his life to making art a more accessible and viable option for people that view it as a way of life and a way of sustaining it. He encourages people to get involved with Subtopian, to reach out, share ideas, and help make this project their own.

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Halfway They have taken the covers off of her and she lays naked in the bed. People stand around, waiting and moving and watching. Someone says something but I miss it. All eyes are on the woman in the bed. Someone pushes a button on the defibrillator and in a monotone male voice it says, “charging.”

We’re driving down I-5. I’m in the passenger’s seat, leaning over.

“I don’t want anyone to see,” she says.

“Your windows are tinted, no one will see,” I say. “No.”

“It needs to be harder and faster, Danielle,” someone says. Danielle continues the compressions, using her whole body to make the woman’s chest move.

“Come on.” I slide my hand between her legs.

She sighs. “Fine.”

I unbutton and unzip her pants and slide my hand into them, letting my fingers play around. She shifts the car up a gear. I look at her and see a smile touch one corner of her lips. She shakes her head.

I take two gloves from the cupboard and put them on.

------

“Okay, that’s enough,” she says after a minute and pushes me away.

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I sit back in my seat and put both my fingers in my mouth.

“Oh, that’s disgusting.”

“Resume compressions.”

The defibrillator says “charging” in the monotone voice. On the thirteenth compression I give, the woman’s ribs break.

The defibrillator says “ready” in that intelligible monotone. Ruthie says “clear” loud enough for the whole room to hear. Danielle stops giving compressions and steps away from the bed, as does the RT and her student. Ruthie pushes the red button on the defibrillator. The woman’s body jolts. “Check for a pulse,” the doctor says.

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In the dark I lay on my back, an ashtray on my chest. I exhale smoke and it floats up. She sits next to me, cross legged, wearing only a tank top, her hair wild, hanging off to one side of her head.

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Blue light from the little light on her radio falls on us from atop the armoire. It casts her in a dream like blue and to be honest that’s what she is, there in the dark, just a dream.

I watch her dress in the morning, putting on her boots and jeans and that purple shirt that’s made to fall off of one shoulder. Now she’s doing her make up, looking at herself in the small mirror above her sink.

She flicks her cigarette ashes into the ivory colored ash tray on my chest. “It’s different with you,” She says.

I step up behind her and put my arms around her. I hug her and look at her in the mirror.

I shrug my shoulder and take a drag off my cigarette. “How’s that?”

She stops brushing on the makeup. “What?”

She hesitates a moment. “I don’t know,” she says and takes a drag from the cigarette and exhales.

I smile. “Nothing,” I say and reach my hand down and place it behind and underneath. She closes her eyes and a small noise of pleasure passes her lips. She shakes her head and places her hands on the sink, still holding her make up and she let’s me rub for a moment. Then she opens her eyes.

The smoke twists up into the blue light, showing the long beams and how they slide out and across.

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“Stop, stop, stop,” she says and turns and shoos me away. “If we keep going down this path I’m going to be late for work.”

I step up to the bed, put my right hand over the top of my left, lacing the fingers together. I place my left palm on the center of the woman’s chest.

“Probably crashed the car.”

------

“No pulse.”

“Let Kirby do it,” someone says, I think, perhaps, it was Dena.

I look over at her. “What would you have done if you had come?”

Sweat runs down my face as I bob up and down, arms jolting, forcing the woman’s chest to compress.

“I know,” I say, “I know.”

On the other side of the bed the RT student squeezes the ambu bag. The ET tube, the breathing tube, coming out of the woman’s mouth and to the ambu bag fills with blood, turning the clear plastic candy apple red, and each time the RT student squeezes the bag blood is sucked farther and farther into the tube.

------

People movie in, someone places a finger on the woman’s neck and someone else searches for the artery in her thigh.

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the button on the defibrillator and the woman’s body jolts in bed.

My time is up and so I step away from the woman. Someone else steps over and resumes compressions.

We all stand very quiet and watch the monitor but nothing happens to the little green line that moves across it.

------

“Is anyone opposed to calling it?” the doctor asks and looks around the room. No one says anything. “Call it.”

“You have beautiful lines,” I say. “Come here, stand in front of the mirror.” I take her hand and she stands up and steps in front of the large mirror she has set against the wall. She’s wearing very short shorts and a tank top. It’s what she wears to bed.

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“You’re not taking my clothes off,” she says to my reflection. She says it with a smirk.

I sigh, smile, and roll my eyes. “Okay.”

And her smirk becomes a smile.

I’m behind her, in the dark, in the soft blue light from the radio. Sweat runs down my face, down my chest, drips off the end of my nose and falls onto her ass, then rolls down her back. Her face is in the dog’s bed. I see her grab a handful of the dog’s toys and bring them to her face. A stifled moan follows.

I stand behind her and pull the shorts down a little. She reaches to stop me. “Its okay. I’m just showing you something.”

A nurse says the time and that’s it.

I grab onto her hips, digging my fingers into her softer flesh. I thrust harder.

She lowers her hands.

“See this line here,” I run a finger along her hip. “This is a good line. It’s a feminine line.”

“That feels so fucking good,” she says.

------

I show her herself in the mirror. I pull her tank top up in the mirror, just below her breasts and show her her hips, show her how the lines of her chest slope down into her hip. I pull up the legs on the shorts to where she can get a glimpse of her legs, her very tanned nice legs, which become her knees her calves and ankles and delicate feet. And soon she turns to the side and I get her shorts down enough to show her the curve of her back and how it becomes the curve of her ass and when she turns she lets one of those delicate feet float on its toes, only twisting at the hip to see what I wish to show her.

I drag the steel cart into the room and close the curtain behind me then remove the top from the cart, placing it against the wall. Susan and I proceed to clean up and tag the corpse. I get a syringe from the cabinet and take out the catheter, throwing it in the trash. Susan removes the IVs and takes the ET tube out of the woman’s throat, blood drips down her face and onto the sheets. I get a wipe and clean the blood off the woman’s cheek. We put a blue paper gown on her and then roll her to the side to put the bag underneath her. She has shit the bed in her last moments. While I hold the woman on her side Susan cleans it up, dropping the soiled chux into the trash.

We make love there on the floor. Afterwards, as we sit, I feel her finger find my hip. “You have some nice lines yourself,” she says.

We place the white body bag under her and roll her into it. I tie the tag on the toe before we zip her up. I notice on the tag that she’s thirtyseven. She looks much older, but then again I’ve only seen her dead or almost dead. Granted though, aren’t we all almost dead?

------

“Clear,” the nurse says and everyone moves away from the bed. The nurse pushes

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Her skin is beginning to marbleize, turning


blue and grey. Susan and I take opposite sides of the bed and we pull the bag onto the silver and steel cart. I don’t hold the head and it makes a loud kurplunking sound as it limply hits the steel. We put the top back on the cart and throw a sheet over it. From here it’s just a short walk to the elevator, a few seconds of downward travel to the hallway that leads to the morgue, where I will place her, and she will sit in the dark and wait.

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Ages ago now it seems, we stand in the employee garden at work, on the third floor and it’s night and we both are looking out over the street and the parking lot and the lights that are down there, making the roadways all orange. I’m leaning over the rail, hunched over. You put your arms around me and rest your head on my back. I can smell your hair in the breeze. I can still sometimes smell your hair in the breeze, today, these days, which are now and no longer then. You once said you loved being my muse, sitting on my bed, way back, before all of the other things happened, you know. You ask me, now, why I need to write about these things. So that they are not forgot as they should not be. As they should not be. So I do not forget and so that they can live forever. So you can live forever. I wake up alone now, have been for awhile. Tired of such things, tired of sameness. Every one’s life is coming together but I can hardly string together a sentence these days. My fingers remember and know exactly what life is. It’s the feeling of your skin and the smell of your hair. And most of all, it’s that old riddle about the forest.

You know the riddle don’t you?

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Jim Blanchet is a writer of fiction, satire and creative non-fiction living in Philadelphia, PA. After graduating from Tulane University in New Orleans, Jim received a commission as a Naval Officer and served on Active Duty until 2012. Jim’s military experience and atypical path to writing grant him a unique perspective, which he gladly shares through his work. He is a Contributing Editor at The Philadelphia Review of Books and appears in numerous other fiction and non-fiction publications.

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J.P. Herrera

writer’s block

Maybe if I rip my face off the words will come more easily And, then maybe I’ll get published by one of those obscure journals such as Lesbian Breast Milk Quarterly or Gauche Sock Puppet Press I honestly thought I had a chance at LBQ

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backseat boredom The woman sauntered on her way to her car; in the middle of the work day. She was wearing a thin, aqua top that looked like a whipped nurse’s uniform. She had fair hair, but there were shy streaks of oncoming age. If she was over 30, then she was wearing it well I didn’t see much of her eyes. They were imprisoned behind faux-aviators All I could see was this woman clawing into her car and tossing things in the back because they weren’t what she wanted presently What drew me was the passion. It infected me. And it will consume me. The world is a sexually-transmitted disease and we’re all bunch of naked dicks

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To the sea The cars were massive and abundant all across the PCH. Whenever a lane opened, they would jump on it with cannibalistic voracity Balcony beach views. Well-fed pelvises hamming it up on motorcycles All the while, people are making bad impressions of locusts Locusts are every couple of years People are every year The traffic lets up for a little while and I am suddenly overcome with a queer yearning I wonder what my boyfriend’s cry sounds like. We get to the beach Grateful for a parking space The place is packed. For all the talk about an obesity epidemic, there aren’t many fat people at the beach 41


Burn every page

Bad poetry is like cancer. You can ignore it all you want, But it doesn’t need your permission to grow. And grow. And grow. And, then one day Robert Frost and his roads not taken are waking you in the face And your English teacher accuses you of being a know-nothing

J.P. Herrera is the monster hiding underneath your bed.But instead of jumping out to scare you, he reaches out through the ether, starting up an ancient machine deep within him that screams for love and understanding. Recently, life’s been good to him. So good, that he thanks every bad day he’s ever had for delivering him.

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I bought the gun two months before and since bringing it home I spent several nights sitting in my apartment, drinking and watching television, holding it in my left hand, thinking over the prospect of eating the business end and splattering my brains on the wall. The gun was an old Ruger I got at a pawn shop. It was a revolver and reminded me of the guns they used in the cowboy movies I watched on the wooden black and white box set my parents had and kept until they were both placed in the ground. How it stayed working I don’t know but I do know that they never got a color TV because of a lack of funds. Anyway, after filling out the paperwork at the pawn shop and a week long wait I picked up the gun and took it home. Along the way I stopped and purchased a single box of .44 caliber bullets. When I got back to my apartment I loaded in a single round and it has stayed there ever since. Where was I? Right, here we are: I was thinking about eating the business end of the gun. I thought about it a lot every night after I got off work and went back to my apartment. I wondered a lot about it, if it would hurt, if I’d see that tunnel of light that’s so popular amongst people who have had near death experiences, I wondered if it would just be quick, like blinking, so fast you don’t even notice it until you think about it afterward. The thought of heaven and hell did come into my mind at some point. I knew I wouldn’t be going to heaven, that was certain, and although I was afraid of possibly going to hell that didn’t scare me as much as the prospect of becoming a ghost. Becoming a ghost would have been just as bad as staying alive, reasoning that I’d still be here. I was hoping for the nothing answer, just a blank black nothing, or a blank white nothing, either would have worked. I also thought a lot about time, about my life. Nearing thirty and having nothing is not a very good way to live, especially when it’s accompanied by the brightening revelation that although your future when you were young seemed to hold promise, that really it was a fluke, you’re nothing special and the life that lays before you is one that will likely continue along the given path, continuous failure despite your efforts to change. I wondered where all my friends had gone and where she had gone and where the women had gone, there had seemed to be a lot around when I was young, 43


younger, but they all drifted away. And then I thought about Sandy. The gun weighed maybe a couple of pounds and a few times I tried spinning it like they did in the westerns but I was too drunk and afraid I’d shoot my balls off, so I stopped that. I placed the barrel of the gun in my mouth a couple of times and once pulled the hammer back, but I didn’t do it, obviously, but I came close. Or at least I think I did and looking back I find it funny how concerned I was about my balls being blown off and yet I was closing in on punching out. And then one night my phone rang and It was Jake. “Hey there sugar lumps,” he said. “I’m getting outta jail this month.” And for a brief, infinitesimal moment that has now stretched out to my fortieth year of life, I let a silence pass and then said hello. Before I continue I must stop here. I need to make something abundantly clear. This is not a story where the main characters are sympathetic. Despite whatever it was that brought us to do as we have done in no way justify the actions we would eventually take and I would hope no one would find it in themselves to try to emulate them, or at least that’s how I feel. Don’t expect this to be a plea for understanding, as it is not. It is merely a confession, nothing more and nothing less. My real name is Arnold Brock. James Johnson, as I would later and currently be known is just the name I took after all of this. And yes, I live, so I apologize if you find that to ruin the ending of the story. But it’s not really about destinations, is it? Jake Dillon, the last friend I had in my previous life, went to jail on a statutory rape charge of a fifteen year old girl. He spent a year and a half in jail and then got out. You may ask yourself how I could justify being friends with a man who sleeps with fifteen year old girls and to be honest I don’t really know. Maybe it was his reasons for doing the things he did, which were often stated as questions. “How is it rape if it’s consensual?” He’d ask. “How can I go to jail when she’s sleeping with two other men that are also as old as I am?” After all is said and done, despite his “tastes” he was a decent friend for much of the time that I knew him, even though looking back I never really knew him all that well. I only learned enough about him to see him as a whole person in the few months leading up to his death. And yes, he dies at the end of this story. I apologize again if this ruins the ending for you. All in all, when every thing is said and done, this is what is left. No sympathy please. I don’t expect you to feel any and genuinely hope you don’t. The only thing I have to say in defense, really just more for the record than anything else, is that it was Jacob Dillon who suggested that we kill all those people.

For the week after the phone call I spent much of my time doing the same as I had done every night since I had bought the gun, drink and contemplate. A sad cliché, but there it is. Then one night, a Thursday if I recall, my phone rang yet again and again it had been Jake. “I’m in town,” he said and from there we talked for maybe all of ten minutes, nothing really special just setting up plans to meet the following Saturday. At the end of the conversation I said “welcome back to the world,” to which he replied, “yeah, it’s great being back in Portland, the city where having a drug addiction and a therapist is fashionable.” No mirth had been in his voice when he said this, which was strange, and being drunk and not knowing how to respond I simply chuckled and said, “Yeah, I suppose it’s like that.” He didn’t respond. “I guess I’ll see you Saturday,” I said. A brief moment of silence was there and then, “yeah, man. Take care.” After hanging up the phone I sat and thought over the conversation. Jake had never really 44


been the happiest person in the world, sometimes, most often when he was with close friends, or at least as close as friends could come to him, he would get in these depressed introspective moods, sometimes dulling out slow words about a philosophy book he had read, but there had always been a bit of humor and I’d say a child like immaturity to the way he talked, most of the time he’d just tell humorous stories about things he had done and it was always difficult to get him to shut up. However the conversation we had just had was different. He seemed more to the point, giving me his address and telling me a little about where he had been staying. No funny stories were told and there had even been a slight hint of cynicism in his voice, which is something he had never really had before. I thought about this for a while but soon I chocked it up to my drunkenness. After that I put the Ruger on the coffee table and rolled a joint. As I licked the paper and spread it flat against itself I remembered that Sandy couldn’t roll joints. When we were together I rolled them. “I love the way you lick the paper,” she had said once. “It seems like you really enjoy it.” I lit up and smoked the joint, putting it out halfway through. I fell asleep in front of the TV and dreamt of horses running underneath a full moon, all of the landscape and night awash in a luminescent blue.

The county had set Jake up at a halfway house in Southeast Portland on eleventh street just a little off of Sandy Blvd. I didn’t like driving down Sandy for the obvious association it made in my head. The place where Jake had been staying was a plain white building with two stories, stairs leading down to the sidewalk, and hedges out front. It was wedged between another house and a brick building. Two people stood in the doorway of the brick building, dressed too heavily for summer, in jackets that had holes and stuffing poking out and stained pants and rotten shoes. A shopping cart sat just to their left, containing filled trash bags. One of them, the man, handed the other something, and the other, a women, turned into the door way, away from the street, bringing the something and her hands to her face. I didn’t sit, parked on the street for long. Jake descended the stairs of the house minutes after I arrived. He walked differently I noticed. He usually walked like he had springs in his heels, bobbing along like a carefree child. But when I saw him coming down those stairs he seemed to move a little slower and seemed to hunch. I thought it strange but other than a cursory observation I didn’t think much more on it. Aside from that, he appeared completely the same, six-one, slim, and although he was about to turn thirty-one he didn’t look any older than twenty or, if you just glanced at him, eighteen. This probably contributed to his philandering with minors. He smiled when he saw me, opening my passenger door and plopping into the seat. “Hey,” he said and then the smile dropped from his lips. “Jesus, you look totally shit faced.” “I am,” I said, offering my flask to him. “Want some?” Jake glanced from the flask to me and back again. He shrugged. “What the hell?” And he took a swig. It was, in one way or another, a boy’s night out. First it began at Groundcontrol where we had a couple of beers and played some of the arcade machines, mostly Marvel vs Capcom 2. I was very 45


saddened by the fact that they had replaced several of the arcade machines with tables. The tables were lighted underneath, like panel lights turned upside down and even though they fit the overall feel of the place, I missed Sunset Riders. We challenged two girls to a game of Pump It Up, betting them drinks but they turned us down. We sat momentarily at an empty table and officially got to catching up. He told me a little about jail, his parole officer, and the process of registering as a sex offender. I told him about work and my mother finally dying. I got the feeling he had been holding back parts of his stories and to be completely honest, I was also holding back. After Groundcontrol we went by Barracuda. The line to get in stretched the block and not really wanting to wait we decided to head up the street to the Fez. We stepped through the front door and flashed our IDs. The bouncer took both and closely examined Jake’s. “This isn’t fake, is it?” the bouncer asked, eyeballing him sideways. “It’s not,” Jake replied, deadpan, which was strange for him and which caused an uneasy feeling to grow in my stomach.

The bouncer handed us back our IDs and stamped our hands, leaving an ink dolphin on our skin. We climbed the stairs, music growing louder as we went, a girl with pink hair and leather boots up to her thighs, complete with black tank top and mini-skirt passed us. “Hello, “ Jake said to her and smiled but she didn’t turn to look or give any acknowledgement in anyway. We continued up the spiraling stairs and through the short hallway. People lined up at the bar as well as crowded the dance floor, the DJ up on the platform, lights spiraling around him, some industrial pop junk booming out of the speakers, deafening us upon entering. “I’ll grab a couple of drinks,” Jake yelled, which I had to lean into to hear. “What do you want?” “Bring me two shots of jack and two beers,” I yelled. He leaned away from me and stared blankly, wrinkling his nose and appearing as if thinking. “Why don’t you get the drinks and I’ll grab a table.” I nodded and got into the line at the bar. I was drunk, so it went by fast. I got the drinks and found Jake sitting at a table off in a far corner. A single lit candle sat at the center of the table. I sat down and from where I sat I could look out the window and down onto the street and the Portland night, which set in as orange street lights and the drunken mumblings of strangers meeting. I passed Jake his beer, gingerly, while setting my two beers down and my two shots down (the shots carried in my left hand and the beers held in my right, bottle necks laced between my fingers). “Jesus,” Jake said. “That’s some skill,” and he smiled like he was making a joke to himself. I shrugged my shoulders and said nothing. Luckily the table was far enough from the dance floor that we only had to speak at a few octaves above inappropriately loud. “So, how are the guys?” Jake asked. I took a drink of my beer before answering. “I don’t really know. I lost touch with a lot of them. I know that Dale went off to college in Seattle. Jeff got married. He lives out in Ridgefield now. H e married that Dina girl. Do you remember her?” Jake smiled and nodded. “Yeah, I remember her.” 46


I noticed this and thought to ask but decided I really didn’t want to know the reason for the smirk. “Well, they got hitched and he got a job at some computer place. I haven’t seen or heard from him in a really long time.” “What about Kyle?” I looked over at the dance floor and all the people dancing there. I tried to think of a way to answer that question with some compassion or something. It was the type of response that to this day I have never really learned how to give, you know, like when you have really bad news to give and although you don’t like the news, you sort of relish the fact that you get to be the first to tell someone. I tried to think of a way of telling Jake without seeming to enjoy the act of telling, even though I probably didn’t seem to enjoy it at all. I sighed. “Kyle shot himself.” Jake raised his eyebrows, giving no other gesture to illustrate his surprise. “What do you mean?” “He got deeper in with the heroin, about half a year ago he ended up sitting in front of a Walgreens for five hours, at the end of which he shot himself in the head with a gun he had.” Jake nodded. “Damn, that’s a bummer.” I nodded. “Yup, crazy shit.” “Did you go to his funeral?” “I didn’t find out until a month after it happened.” “That’s a shame.” “Yeah, it is.” And it was in this small exchange, looking back, that I can see where the cloth had been thinned enough in our beings to have done what we did, the first real sign of withdrawal of emotion, or at least the first one I can remember. Our good friend Kyle dead by his own hand and all we had to say were a few sentences that didn’t really mean much, not really a good epitaph for a guy we had spent so many hours with. But then again I could be wrong. What are you suppose to say when you hear that an estrange friend has died? Were we supposed to fall onto the ground in tears? “How has the music biz been treating you?” Jake asked after a silence. I shrugged. “It’s slowed.” “Is that why you’re drinking the way you are?” I looked at him for a moment thinking of what to say. “I just drink.” After another moment of silence I slid a shot and my other beer across the table to him. “Come on, you’re out of jail now and you need to catch up to me.” Jake shrugged. We took up the shots, toasted to dead friends, and then really started drinking. It began, the real start to the evening, and after the booze flowed freely it felt more like the old days, the wild days, the days before this chapter. Our conversations ran the gamut and brought in the strangers we met on the street and in the bars, an easy going affair that tasted like rum. We tried to pick up chicks and insulted people just to amuse ourselves. At some point I vomited on the sidewalk near a couple of homeless people sleeping in the doorway of a building. “Don’t eat that,” I shouted to them. “I’m coming back for it. It’s mine.” We stumbled from bar to bar, much of the conversation long since gone from my memories. I felt like I had just graduated high school again and had gotten out on my own, feeling that wonderful feeling of being free, before the reality of things set in and people stated coming at me with their expectations. At some point we got kicked out of the Crown Room, Jake having said something abrasive to a girl, that I didn’t hear or at least don’t remember, either way whatever he said caught the attention of a guy and he responded with, “don’t you think that was a bit rude.” To which I replied, “oh great, here come the Boy Scout heroics.” Jake took me by the arm and dragged me away as the guy stood up from his stool. The bouncer impeded our escape, stopping us, catching us in his hands, he told us we needed to leave. 47


After that we decided to wander over to Poseidon. We strolled in and took a spot in a booth in a dark corner, facing the main stage. A girl with pale skin and tattoos danced around the pole, black lights behind her, with mirrors at the back of the stage. Jake flagged down a waitress and ordered us two drinks. “Before you go,” he said. “I’m looking for Gilda. She still work here?” The waitress looked down at him and shook her head. “I’m an old friend trying to get in touch. Would Rochelle be here tonight? She knows me and Gilda.” “Yeah, she’s here. I’ll get her. Hold on,” the waitress said and walked off. We watched the dancer on the main stage. She spun around the pole and twisted in ways that made my body hurt just by seeing. Loud music played and when the girl finished the Dj announced the next dancer, the name forgotten in my drunken haze, both the one that I had that night and the one that I have now, writing this. A different woman came back to us with our drinks. Jake smiled when she arrived and she smiled back and placed our drink on the table, then she sat down next to Jake. The music was too loud for me to hear what they talked about, but they sat close and talked right into each other’s ears, Jake putting his arm up over the seat behind her, and affectively around her shoulders. At some point he pointed toward me. She waved. I waved back. This woman, the one I assumed was Rochelle, wrote something on a napkin and handed it to Jake. Muted goodbyes were said and the woman left the table. Jake leaned toward me. “Drink your drink,” he shouted over the music, “and then let’s go outside.” Outside I lit a cigarette and leaned against the wall of Poseidon. “Let me borrow your phone real quick,” Jake said. I fished it out of my pocket and handed it to him. He looked at the napkin and punched numbers into my phone. He held it to his ear and after just a few moments he smiled and said hello. The conversation that took place happened rather quickly, just Jake saying hello, catching up a little bit, Jake relaying a summary of being in jail and then getting out of jail, followed by a silence of what I assumed had been the person on the other end of the phone telling him something. “Well,” Jake said finally, “I have a friend here and we were thinking about coming over. I was wondering how much it would be for the both of us.” Another pause while the person on the other end of the phone talked. “No, not a group job, one after the other. What do you think we are, a couple of queers?”

I haven’t much to say about visiting Gilda. Jake drove my car into North Portland to see her, stating that, “if you got pulled over drunk you’d have a whole lot of trouble you don’t need.” “But you’re as drunk as I am,” I replied. “Not quite and if I get pulled over I just go back to jail. Not much of a loss.” We screwed Gilda, as Jake had said we would, one after the other. She had a clean apartment, regular, and she was a good looking broad, medium height with blonde hair and blue eyes. I had never been to a prostitute before and I always imagined they all had tired eyes despite their outward appearances but hers seemed awake and very smart. “He’s really drunk,” she said after letting us in. “Yeah, he’s had an exciting night.” A little more conversation passed, nothing worth noting, and then Gilda lead me to the bedroom. “This way big guy,” she said taking me by the hand. And in the dark of her room we 48


screwed. Not much to say, sex, hands, legs, limbs, deep breathes followed by a release of sorts. I dressed and went back into the living room and plopped down on the couch. Gilda stood in the doorway in a red robe, wrapping her hair into a pony tail as Jake stood from the lounge chair and walked over toward her. “Will he be alright waiting in here?” she asked turning and walking down the hall, Jake following. “Yeah, he’ll be fine. He may be big and menacing looking but he’s a puppy dog. You can trust him. I do.” “Well, that’s not saying much, now is it?” Sitting on the couch I began sobering up, but just slightly, enough to stay awake at least. I could hear Jake and Gilda through the wall, their little sex noises and the sounds of the bed springs. Jake took longer than I did I noticed, but then again it had been months since I had slept with a woman, although that could just be me and my unconscious protecting my ego. Muffled and soft mumblings came through the walls after the bed springs stopped squeaking, I leaned in to listen but could only make out a word or two and before long Gilda left the bedroom and went into the bathroom. Moments later the toilet flushed and she returned to the bedroom. “Were you just in my closet?” I heard her ask. “No,” Jake said, “I was just looking for my shoe.”

Jake fished two one hundred dollar bills out of his wallet and handed them to Gilda. “There goes the last of my money,” he said. Gilda took the money and placed them in the pocket of her robe. “And just where does a newly released felon get this much money from?” Jake shrugged, putting his wallet back in his pocket. “I just did some stuff, under the table stuff, you know, nothing major.” “That sounds rather ominous and shady.” Jake nodded. “I suppose it does.” Jake again drove my car, taking us along the now empty roads of the city, bars, lights, buildings passing in the empty dark, only the homeless and the last night owls wandering the streets around us. The car shifted gears slowly upwards, dropping back down for only the two red lights we hit until we turned onto the Morrison Bridge. Passing through the many halos of street lights the city seemed a quiet and foreboding tomb, buildings reaching up from the orange lights, like orange glowing mist, resembling monuments built to the stars, or maybe the dead. A city is always different when it sleeps and sometimes at night, late at night, you can feel very much like you own the city, when you’re alone, by yourself, or with only a close friend. I suppose that’s how I felt as we cruised along the freeway. I pressed my forehead against the passenger window, which was warm from the night air. When we crossed the I-5 Bridge back into Vancouver and turned onto I-14 I thought I might have fallen asleep somewhere along the way, but I honestly couldn’t tell. Eventually we arrived back along 49


Mill Plain, then McGillivray, then at the Aspen Ridge apartments, where Jake parked my car in the empty spot in front of my apartment. “Won’t you get in trouble for not going back to the half-way house?” I asked. Jake shook his head. “Not really.” He undid his seat belt. “Well, probably, but I don’t care. It’ll take a few times before they send me back to jail.

I stepped out onto the balcony, stepping over empty beer cans and around the cider block that held up my overflowing ashtray and I sat down on the love seat next to Jake. I handed him his beer. The bare bulb of the balcony light cast a harsh white glow around us and made me feel as though the balcony, and vicariously us, were suspended in a wide reaching dark, occasionally spotted by the street lights along the road which my apartment over looked. “It seems like whatever the light doesn’t touch doesn’t exist,” Jake said, looking down 136th street. “I was kind of thinking the same thing.” I took a sip of my beer. “You seem like you’ve changed quite a bit since the last time I saw you.” Jake looked over at me. “Yeah, I suppose I have.” “You don’t seem as upbeat as you once were.” Jake shrugged. “What actually happened to you when you were in Jail?” “I told you already.” I nodded and took a drink. “I got the feeling that you didn’t get along as well as you said you did.” Jake sat a few moments and I could tell he was thinking. I didn’t say anything, just took a drink and waited. “It didn’t go as well as I said.” I smirked. “Did they rape you? They raped you didn’t they, past you around like a joint?” Jake shook his head. “No nothing like that. I got beat up a couple of times though. They don’t treat sex offenders real well in prison.” “What happened?” “Well, when I went in I told people, the other inmates, I was there for selling drugs. It went fine for a while. I had a cell mate named Manny and he was an alright dude, in there for assault, but most of the time he was pretty calm. Most of the time.” Jake took a long swig of beer and when he did I decided to take out a couple of cigarettes. I handed him one and my lighter. He lit his and I lit mine. Exhaling a long plume of smoke he continued. “Then about a month in someone found out what I had done. I don’t’ know how. I think it might have been one of the guards who told them. Anyway, one day a guy came up to me and said they didn’t like having me there. I nodded my head and turned to walk away when he cold cocked me, chipped one of my back teeth.” Jake took a long slow draw off of his cigarette and exhaled. “I got sent to the infirmary for a day and when I came back Manny had found out that I was really in there for statutory. He seemed more angry that I lied to him than anything else. But that night he ended up beating the hell out of me. I screamed for help and the guards came, but they just stood at the front of the cell watching the whole thing. ‘this is what you get for what you did,’ one of them said. Richard Sonny was his name. They let Manny beat on me for about fifteen minutes.” “Did you tell anyone that the guards let that happen?” Jake took a drink of his beer. “I did, but no one cared.” “What happened after that?” “Well, Manny broke my left pinky and ring finger. He also did this.” Jake reached up into his mouth and between his index finger and thumb grasped his two front teeth. He pulled them out, 50


turned toward me and smiled, letting me see the space where his real teeth had been. He set the teeth on the arm of the love seat. “After that they sent me to the infirmary for a while. I had lots of bruises and my eye swelled shut, once I was healed enough they moved me into what the guards called the granola ward.” “Granola ward?” “Yeah, it’s where they put all the flakes and nuts.” Jake took a drink of his beer and draw from his cigarette. “It was like a giant long house with bunk beds, just one big room where every one lived. We had easy access to books and board games. I don’t remember a whole lot of the finer details of being there. They ended up putting me on a whole mess of drugs, sedatives and anti-depressants and several other things. I had to meet with a psychiatrist once a week. He said I was bi-polar. I just thought that sometimes I felt bad was all, but,” and Jake shrugged, leaving the thought unfinished. “Around the last two months of my sentence I stopped taking the meds. I hid them in my mattress. They never found them. In the time before I got out my head cleared and this, well, is just how I am now.”

Jake and I sat on the love seat for a while, me thinking over the story he had just related. I looked out over the small patch of McGillivray that was visible, to the Mormon Church and its parking lot there, trying hard to think of what to say. “Well,” I began, “that’s really bad, what happened to you, and it shouldn’t have been like that. But you shouldn’t have been doing what you were doing, really, or at least you should have stopped doing it a long time ago. Fucking underage girls, that’s a bit fucked up.” Jake nodded. “I suppose you’re right.” He picked his teeth up off the arm of the love seat and placed them back in his mouth. “I mean, don’t you think that maybe you might be sick or something, like, what type of person sleeps with teenage girls?” “Paul Gauguin.” “Who?” Jake shook his head. “Nothing. Nevermind.” He paused for a moment. “I just don’t understand what women my age want.” I took a drink of my beer and thought about it, letting a silence fall down between us. “I suppose I don’t either,” I said. “Is that why you’ve been drinking so much?” I sighed heavily. “I suppose it is.” And after that I told Jake the story, the whole thing, from beginning to end, everything that happened between Sandy and I and my mother dying and the rejection of my demo tape by Geno McDowell, selling my guitar and amp and quitting the band. It seemed to last for a long time during which we smoked four more cigarettes between us. 51


When I finished Jake shook his head. “Beuacoup bad shit, man. I’m sorry.” “It’s okay. I feel most bad about the Sandy thing than anything else.” “Woman can be cruel sometimes, most of the time without even knowing it.” “I think that’s all people.” Jake shrugged. “Perhaps. You’re drinking so much because you’re angry about it?” “No, I’m not angry about it.” “Maybe you are angry about it and don’t know it. Maybe that’s why you’re drinking as much as you are.” “Maybe.” “You’re repressed. You should just allow yourself to be angry.” I thought about it. “Maybe I am angry. Maybe I’m also ashamed of how angry I am. I don’t like being angry at her. I don’t like hating her.” “You hate her?” “Maybe, I don’t know.”

“I hate people.” “Yeah?” “Yeah.” A car drove by. We looked down on it as it past and a silence fell between us. I felt the lights dimming in my head and knew that in no time I would be asleep and if I didn’t get up soon and go to my room, I’d probably end up passing out where I sat. “Under what circumstances would you kill someone?” Jake asked. I sat up straighter at the asking of his question and looked over at him. It seemed slightly concerning to me, even for as drunk as I was, and I wondered what line of thought linked itself together in his head to go from ‘I hate people’ to ‘under what circumstances would you kill someone?’ But then again, I reasoned, it is a good follow up question to what we had been talking about. I thought for a moment about it. “I suppose,” I began, “to end someone’s suffering, mercy. Self-defense. Defense of another, maybe.” Jake took the last drink of his beer and set it on the wooden railing of the balcony. “Why not ‘just because?’” “What do you mean?” “Would you ever kill someone just because it was your prerogative?” “No, I wouldn’t do that.” “Why?” “For starters I’d go to jail.” “But what if you had no consequences?” 52


“It’d still be wrong.” “Why?” I shrugged. “Because human life has value.” “Does it?” “Well, yeah.” We sat silently, a wind kicked up and I heard the leaves in the trees, in the dark, rustling. It sounded like a howl. “What about you?” “I don’t know. I suppose any reason could justify it for me, I think.” “You really believe that?” “It doesn’t matter what I believe. I think if a certain emotion out weighs every thing, a man can be driven to any sort of act, whether it’s unspeakable or profound…or both. “I didn’t care about the circumstances when I asked you about killing. I asked simply to make an observation. When you set up circumstances you made three indirect statements. One,” he said sticking out his index finger, “you identified murder as a viable solution to a problem. Two,” he stuck out his middle finger, “you believe you’re capable of killing and will. And three,” he stuck out his ring finger, “you have stated that you are competent, capable, and have the right to determine who dies and who doesn’t.” I thought about it and shook my head. “I didn’t say any of that.” “You did, indirectly, simply through implication.” I scratched my head. “I’m too drunk for this conversation, Jake.” His shoulders dropped down, as if he wilted under the weight of my statement, and he just nodded his head. “If you believe these three things, then who cares what your reasons are. The outcomes the same and human life has no value. If the common bumble bee went extinct, everything on the planet would suffer for it, but humanity went extinct, everything else on the planet would flourish.” I listened, half understanding what he was saying and what he meant. I just wanted the conversation to end because with every word he made more and more sense and a knot twisted itself in my stomach. “Imagine how different your life would be,” Jake continued, “if you could have just killed all of the people who stood in your way or killed all of the people who treated you unjustly or less than a human being, people who got away with it and went unpunished.” I lowered my head and sighed. Jake looked over at me but I didn’t look back at him. “I’m just talking, man. That’s all. These were just thoughts I had, nothing more.” “Could you ever kill someone?” Jake shrugged. “I don’t know. I can rationalize it, but I suppose that’s the catch. When I talk about this I talk about it in a strictly intellectual way, sans emotion.” “Sans emotion? What does that mean?” Jake shook his head. “Nothing, man. It doesn’t mean anything.” pp

Kirby Light is a regular writer at The Subtopian. He will be presenting, one chapter at a time, his first novel, Hour of the Wolf in addition to his other contributions: “Pearls for Swine” and “A Cluster of Flies, conversations with Writers”

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Tyler Fisk Talkin’ Why You Hated Pacific Rim As with most movies, Pacific Rim was met with

monsters or even going so far as to call it stupid.

mixed opinions, many polarized at the “rave re-

What I think a lot of the professionals may have

view” and “what a turd” ends of the spectrum.

overlooked is the fanboy flourish with a side of snark. This whole movie has every blockbuster

For me, one of the funnier negative reviews had to

cliche and cheesy one liners you would expect

be from Anthony Lane of The New Yorker:

from the genre, but it’s all on the surface. Just beneath that there is this sensation of Del Toro

“It is possible to applaud Pacific Rim for the ef-

saying, “Do you get it yet?” Like he’s just making

ficacy of its business model while deploring the

fun of everything. When someone says it’s stupid,

tale that has been engendered -- long, loud, dark,

it’s like they’ve only gone halfway to the truth.

and very wet. You might as well watch the birth of

It’s stupid because these kinds of movies are stu-

an elephant.”

pid, and we’re kind of stupid for liking them, and that, in a sense, is what the whole thing is telling

Ha! Seriously. Sometimes you just have to ap-

us. It’s like this visionary director just said, “How

preciate the structure of a sentence, the wit of the

great would it be to just make the biggest block-

words, and agreement be damned. Birth of an

buster style film ever, like Transformers on crack,

elephant, that kills me.

and watch people try to figure out why I did it.” I’m not trying to say the whole thing is done ironically, but that may be the closest wording I can

Others said things about how the movie was as

mechanical as the machines it portrays fighting the come up with. Perhaps in even simpler terms, the 55


whole project is this glaring review of everything

Isn’t it a little redundant? Having a professional

Americans go to the movies for.

critic tell you the movie that has the line “Activate elbow rocket” is stupid. It’s like, yeah, duh, what

And yet, even deeper still, there is just the fun of

are they paying you for? I mean, seriously, you

it all. It’s maybe going over some people’s heads

couldn’t tell from the trailer that the thing was go-

because it is a tribute to what has become a very

ing to be kind of dumb? The point is, it was well

dated sort of action genre. It’s a nod toward those

made and it was cool.

old Japanese serials where Ultra-Man suits up to fight the knockoff Godzilla, or the Power Rangers

You can point out the bad lines or the overact-

and their Zords, or, perhaps even closer to home

ing as bad cinema, but that’s not the whole truth.

for this writer, old Dexter’s Laboratory episodes

When you’re paying homage to an era of overact-

where he has the giant robot suit in his basement

ing and cheesy lines you have to use them in the

and uses it to fight whatever giant monster the

work. I don’t know that I would say anyone acted

week had to throw at him. Dexter’s Laboratory,

poorly, they acted in a style that simply goes over

of course, was still just giving us the throwback to

the head of certain American film critics because

old television and this just brought it all up again.

they can’t allow themselves to see overacting

Joyfully, innocently, and, sure, maybe a little

as an artistic choice. It would be like watching

stupidly. Whatever, them’s the breaks. Take it or

someone play William Shatner in a biopic of his

leave it.

life saying, “Good story, but that guy was really overacting the part.”

Speaking of Dexter’s Laboratory. There are shots Get the meaning?

from this movie that look like they were taken directly from that cartoon. I vividly remember the helmet to Dexter’s robot working like an eleva-

I think, in simplest terms, all critic ego aside, the

tor that took him down to the suit, attached to the

movie is just a joyride from a talented director’s

body, and blasted up out of the ground like an

inner child. He put himself in the cockpit of the

oversized Iron Man. The means of getting the

coolest robots he could dream up and he just let

pilot into the “jaeger?” You took the helmet down

the kid direct. The movie is what so many others

to the suit and it attached to the body. Some of the like it wish they were. End of discussion. pp fights were similar too, and I could swear Dexter used that elbow rocket thing before, but maybe I’m imagining that. 56


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Nineteen  

S.E. Sever, Chris Luna, Blake Fitzgerald, Brian Parham, Jim Blanchet, Kirby Light, and much more!

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