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We are currently experiencing a transition in staff.
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On the way home from work on a Tuesday I realize that if I don’t want to I don’t have to turn right on Bleecker like I’ve been doing on my way home from work for the past three years and so I turn left instead and I try to think of something profound because this is a moment and I’m taking control of my life or something but the best I can think of is that this must be what it feels like for a dog who’s lived on a lawn with an invisible electric fence for three years and then one Tuesday after work his owner says whatever and turns the electric fence off and now he can just walk away. And then I remember all of my neighbors who used to have dogs that just hung out on their lawns their whole lives, and once in a while the kids would come out and play with them, and the rest of the time they were just lying there and when you’d walk by they’d give you this look like they’d be totally okay with it if you just dragged them to the edge of the lawn, to the perimeter of the invisible electric fence and pulled them a little bit more right into it and let it slowly shock them to death rather than leave them there to sit on the lawn and occasionally play with bored children until they die.
And now I’m lost and I think I’m in the West Village but I can’t tell, but it’s mostly warm out so I keep walking, and I see this girl wearing a yellow poncho and now I’m following her. She has nice legs and she looks like she reads used books for fun and would name her cat after a political figure except with some sort of cat pun, like David Catmeron or Meowmoud Abbas. I keep walking and then she turns around a yard in front of me and says are you following me? I say yes and then she grimaces before running in between cars and crossing the street and yells something but I can’t tell what she said. I will realize seven hours later after I’ve played it back enough times that she was saying fine, walk faster then.
But I don’t know that when I’m still on my way home from work and I think that maybe I slipped through the invisible electric fence at the corner of Bleecker and Sullivan and I’m just supposed to keep walking so now I’m alone and I do.
Profile: Zachery Morris
Harry Tompkins and the Art of Forgiveness
by Donal Mahoney
Harry Tompkins hadn’t been to church for many years. He still believed in God but going to church didn’t interest him. Then on a warm Saturday afternoon in August, he met Jayne, a lovely woman, at a company picnic. He liked Jayne a great deal and he thought he might improve his chances with her if he accepted her invitation to go to church on Sunday morning. Jayne had a way about her that Harry liked. Besides she looked like a woman who would bear good children.
“What time should I pick you up?” he asked her. She told him 9:30 would be fine. “That will give us plenty of time to get to the ten o’clock Mass.”
The priest’s sermon, it turned out, was about the importance of forgiveness and that was a topic Harry knew something about. He had not made a lot of enemies in life but the ones he had made, he cherished even if their infractions had occurred decades ago. Forgiving them would never enter his mind. Enemies are enemies, Harry thought, but he could understand where the priest was coming from.
Harry had spent many years of a considerable education in Catholic schools. And one of the basic mottoes in those schools was to forgive your enemies as you would want Jesus to forgive you. He didn’t want to be disrespectful to the Son of God but Jesus had grown up in Nazareth, after all, which was quite a bit different than Harry’s neighborhood in Chicago back in the 1950s. In Harry’s youth, fights were not a daily occurrence but a week seldom went by without at least one good fight occurring. Fights were always fair back then because to fight dirty was the lowest thing someone could do. You would be branded for life as a dirty fighter. If you couldn’t get the job done with your fists, then don’t fight is the way Harry looked at it.
Chief among Harry’s enemies from the old neighborhood were Elmer and John. They were two boys, older than Harry by a couple of years. Decades ago they beat the Hades out of him in an alley in Chicago. Harry at that time was in the 8th grade and he was going home from school when he got jumped. The nun had been happy with Harry that day, even if that was a rare occurrence, because he had won the all-school 8th grade spelling bee, no small feat in a class where verbal skills outdistanced math skills. Besides, it was usually a girl who won the spelling bees. But Harry could always spell. He’d look at a word once and it was memorized. This time he won because he could spell “ukulele” and Barbara O’Brien, “Miss Goody Two Shoes,” couldn’t even come close and had to settle for second.
His enemies Elmer and John were high school sophomores the day they pounded Harry, who though big for his age was still only an 8th grader. Elmer and John were small for sophomores but the two of them together were more than Harry at the time could handle. It was a beating Harry never forgot, perhaps because he had won all the other fights he had ever had in grammar school and would have later on in high school. Besides, it sure wasn’t easy explaining to his parents that night how he had managed to get a black eye and split lip coming home from school.
“I pay the nuns at St. Nick’s good tuition,” his father had said, “to make sure you grow up right.” He wanted to go down to the school and discuss the matter with the nuns but Harry somehow talked him out of it. He explained that the kids who beat him up didn’t go to St. Nick’s. In fact, Harry said, they looked like Lutherans. His father said to tell him if Harry ever saw the boys again.
Two years later, when Harry was a sophomore in high school, Elmer and John were seniors at a different high school. Harry was now 6’1″ and about 180lbs. He’d been lifting weights on a regular basis, hoping to gain weight for the football team. Elmer and John, on the other hand, were still relative runts, perhaps 5’6″ or 5’7″ and maybe 140lbs at best. Harry hadn’t seen either one of the boys since his throttling. But he had always remembered the beating and he assured himself that if he ever had a chance to make things right, he would do so.
It so happened that around that time Harry met a nice girl at a school dance and it turned out that meeting her led to renewing old acquaintances with Elmer. The girl’s name was Margaret Mary and she lived in a wealthy neighborhood. She invited him to a graduation party that her parents had arranged. She didn’t know that Harry was only a sophomore.
Harry decided to go to the party because he liked the girl despite her living in a fancy neighborhood, one that he had visited only once before when his high school basketball team had defeated the team from Margaret Mary’s school. Besides, Harry remembered that Margaret Mary had said her parents had hired a caterer to provide the food. That sure beat hot dogs—the main fare at any party in his neighborhood.
There were a lot of kids at the party that Saturday night and they were all from different neighborhoods. At first, Harry saw no one he knew, certainly no one from his blue-collar neighborhood, which was just as well because with him in a suit and tie he would have had to take a lot of razzing if any of his friends spotted him. Later in the evening, however, Elmer walked in, still short and skinny but decked out in a nice seersucker suit.
Harry recognized Elmer immediately but Elmer did not recognize him. When Elmer decided to go outside to have a cigarette, Harry followed him. He let Elmer take a few drags before he walked up and asked Elmer how life was treating him now that graduation was near.
“You going to college, Elmer?”
Elmer still didn’t recognize Harry. It was no wonder, then, that he never saw the uppercut coming. Down went Elmer with Harry on top of him. Many punches later, one of Elmer’s teeth lay on the sidewalk and he was gushing blood from his left eye. The other kids heard the ruckus and came poring out of the party but Harry, by that time, had taken off. Elmer had gotten his, Harry figured. There was no need to hang around and complicate matters.
Besides, Harry figured the cops would be scouring the neighborhood looking for a kid that fit his description so he spent the five bucks his mother had given him to take a cab home. He had never told Margaret Mary his real name, just that his nickname was “Skip.” She wouldn’t have been able to tell the cops where to find him. And he didn’t think Elmer would remember who he was.
And so that was one reason why in church that Sunday with the lovely Jayne—at least thirty years after pummeling Elmer—Harry found the priest’s sermon on forgiveness resonating. At age 46, he had acquired a couple of college degrees, had held a good job for many years, but had never met a woman he wanted to marry. It wasn’t that he hadn’t met some lovely women over the years. He had met a number of them and enjoyed them all but found them disposable.
“Most women are like Kleenex,” he’d once told a friend who had inquired why he had never married. But Jayne seemed different. He thought right way she’d make a good wife.
So Harry listened to the sermon and even prayed a little. He remembered all the words to the Lord’s Prayer. Having been raised Catholic, he knew when to kneel, stand and sit which can be confusing to someone not Catholic attending a Mass. He also thought his prayerfulness might impress Jayne, who was obviously a very spiritual person. But he didn’t join her in going up the aisle for Holy Communion because he had been living in mortal sin for years and as a Catholic he knew he should not receive Holy Communion in the state of mortal sin. He might be a sinner, Harry thought, but he wasn’t about to commit a sacrilege to impress Jayne. A few rules even Harry wouldn’t break.
After Mass, Harry and Jayne went to a nice restaurant for brunch. She took the opportunity to ask him how he liked the Mass and the sermon—or as she called it, “the homily.”
Harry said he liked the Mass in that it brought back memories of his younger years in Catholic schools but the sermon, he said, had upset him a little.
“Why,” Jayne asked.
Harry then told her in great detail the whole story about Elmer and John beating him up when he was in grammar school. He also told her how he had managed two years later to pay Elmer back with a good thrashing at an otherwise nice party.
That’s when Jayne asked him if thumping Elmer wasn’t enough. Couldn’t he now forgive Elmer and John for beating him up?
Harry said that maybe, just maybe, he could forgive Elmer at some point in his life but not now, even though it was 30 years later. Besides he still hadn’t found John. He had even thought about hiring a private detective to get his address. Harry didn’t care what city John lived in because that’s why they have planes and trains. And as he told Jayne over their last cup of coffee, when he did find John he would beat the hell out of him, worse than he had beaten Elmer at that party.
“I’ll bounce his filthy skull off the concrete,” Harry told Jayne, wiping the corners of his mouth with his napkin, “if the opportunity presents itself. And I’m pretty sure that some day it will. What goes around comes around. Even Hitler found that out.”
He wouldn’t kill John, Harry assured Jayne, when she finally came back from the lady’s room. “But if possible I’ll leave the schmuck laying there in a puddle of blood, wishing he were dead.”
Schmuck was a Yiddish word, of course, and he wasn’t sure if Jayne knew what it meant. It would be just as well if she didn’t. Harry seldom used the word but if he started to get riled up about something, it sometimes fell out of his mouth.
If he got the chance to meet John again and settle matters, Harry told Jayne, then afterward it might be time to talk about forgiving him and Elmer but he’d have to give it some thought. He didn’t like to make commitments if he wasn’t sure he could keep them. Then Harry drove Jayne home and told her he’d like to see her again. Jayne smiled but didn’t really say anything except good-bye when she got out of the car.
As time went on, Harry never saw Jayne again even though he continued to call her for several months. She was never at home, it seemed, or maybe she was a hard sleeper.
Finally Harry quit calling her and started going out again with different women.
“The flavor of the month,” as he told another friend.
He never found another woman like Jayne but as Harry liked to say, “any port in a storm.”
Profile: Donal Mahoney
A couple of weeks ago some of my friends came over to my house to watch the new short film by me. The friends included three of my male friends, a girl that I’m interested in, and a girl that I barely know that I invited simply because inviting only one girl would’ve been awkward and suspicious for the girl I’m interested in.
The showing of my new short film was held in the living room, but since it was the first time the girl I’m interested in had visited my home, I decided to show her my bedroom.
On top of the desk sat my laptop, turned on. The girl instantly noticed the wallpaper on the desktop of my laptop. The wallpaper was a production still from the movie “Greenberg”, featuring the stars Ben Stiller and Greta Gerwig. “Greenberg” is my favorite movie of all time. The girl asked me what movie my wallpaper was taken from. I said the movie was called “Greenberg” and it starred Ben Stiller and that she probably wouldn’t like it and that she probably shouldn’t watch it. She said she was interested anyway. We went back to the living room.
It was a carefully constructed psychological trick on my part. Obviously, I wanted her to watch my favorite movie of all time a lot. I had left the laptop on on purpose.
Back in the living room we finished watching the new short film of mine. After that, the girl “accidentally” noticed the carefully placed beforehand by me DVD of the movie “Greenberg”. She asked me if she could borrow it, in typical-for-her infantile, over-the-top manner. (Although the girl I’m interested in studies at university, she still looks like she’s at least three years younger than she is, and acts like she’s at least five years younger than she is. I do not say she is stupid. For example, her sense of humour seems darkly ironic; or maybe I am just imagining it.) I said that she couldn’t borrow it, because she probably wouldn’t return it and I occasionally liked to re-watch this movie. In reality, I bought the disc specifically to lend to her, as normally I pirate all the movies I watch. Besides, I had watched the movie “Greenberg” three times already and didn’t have any plans to watch it for the fourth time. She asked for the DVD once again, even in a more annoyingly infantile tone. I agreed to lend her the DVD, under the conditions that she would watch it as soon as possible and that she would return it as soon as she watched it.
A week later I called her on her mobile phone. I invited her over to my house to watch my new short film. She said that she’d already watched my short film the week before. I said that it was a newer short film. She said that unfortunately she already had other plans. She also said that she had dyed her hair a new colour. I asked her what colour it was. She said she couldn’t describe the colour properly and that I should see her new picture on facebook instead. I said I’d rather see it in person. She laughed and said that we should definitely meet soon.
Just when she was about to say bye, I asked her if she’d watched the movie yet. It was an extremely carefully timed move on my part, since I didn’t want to sound obnoxious. I think I succeeded and sounded pretty casual and spontaneous. She said that she had watched it, but unfortunately she couldn’t say she liked it and that the movie was not everybody’s cup of tea. I tried to sound self-ironical by saying that in my experience, the phrase “couldn’t say I like it” usually meant “absolutely hated it” and the phrase “not everybody’s cup of tea” meant “total shit”. I asked her if that was the case, because if it was, I’d definitely be cool with it, as the movie is not very popular to begin with and I’m quite used to people not liking it. She said that the movie left a bad aftertaste in her mouth, but she definitely didn’t hate it. She asked me what I liked about it. For some reason she caught me off guard. I didn’t think she would ask me that. I couldn’t think of anything better to say than that the movie “Greenberg” was a very important generational statement; before starting to name drop the people who did cameos in it, like Zosia Mamet and Mark Duplass and Juno Temple and Dave Franco (the brother of James Franco), and also James Murphy who did the soundtrack. I went as far as saying that she probably didn’t even know who Zosia Mamet was.
As if that would be a fair reason why one couldn’t get the movie.
What an obnoxious person I am.
She said that she didn’t even know who Greta Gerwig was before she saw this movie. “Exactly,” I said. She said, “Well, we should probably discuss the movie when we meet, okay?” I agreed and said bye. She said bye, and I ended the call.
I am yet to hear from her again.
I am in a foreign city. I went to the foreign city with a male friend of mine and his several friends to see a concert of a band. I hate the band in question, that’s not the reason I went, but everyone seems to think it is.
We are in this terrible sushi place. I am extremely bored, to the point of that I am no longer worried about not annoying people.
I announce to my friend’s boring friends that I’m now gonna tell this great anecdote. They are not interested even at this point, before I’ve even started. Instead, the girls are messing with their cell phones, and the boys just look bored, but still don’t seem to be interested in anything besides being bored.
I try to grab attention of this one girl who doesn’t have a pair in the group. “You listen,” I say. She listens.
I tell the story of the “Greenberg” DVD, almost word-for-word as presented above. I get around a quarter in before she finally completely loses any attention and starts to talk to another guy. My friend quietly tells me to stop my stupid and boring anecdote because I’m freaking out his friends.
I do not stop telling the anecdote because at this point it’s a matter of honour for me. I tell the anecdote till the end but nobody listens to me, or maybe they just pretend not to listen to me.
Later that day me and my friend are in a fast food restaurant meeting up with a female friend of ours, whom we both know since we were kids and who studies to become an actress. Her sister is there also.
We’ve caught up and now there’s an awkward pause. I propose to tell a great anecdote. My friend tells her that I already told that uninteresting anecdote earlier that day, and that it was a complete disaster.
She smiles and says that’s she’s very interested in hearing anything I say.
I proceed to tell the story of the “Greenberg” DVD. The anecdote is a huge success with her. She laughs at all the funny parts, including my great impression of the girl asking for the DVD. I feel like she’s the only person in the world that understands me.
We make a long eye contact. I look away. I look at her again, only to find out she’s still looking at me. She laughs slightly.
I suspect she has a secret crush on me, just like I have a secret crush on her.
Profile: Thor Løve
“Congratulations,” I thought, “Everyone likes you for who you are.”
I woke up with a large stye in my eye.
At the hospital, a woman talked to me for fifteen minutes about her sick aunt.
She said, “It feels like she’s getting worse everyday. It’s so difficult.”
“Imagine how she must feel,” I said.
In the doctor’s room, the nurse asked me if my dick was in good health.
“I wish I was taller,” I thought.
Later, I hugged you for a very, very long time.
“What do you think of my facial hair?” I asked, “I haven’t shaved in a week.”
“Peach fuzz,” you said.
“Do I look manly?”
You laughed, “It’s gross. And facial hair doesn’t make you a man.”
Outside, you looked at my eye and asked what was wrong with it.
“Side effect from just liking you so much,” I said.
You looked at me and said, “Okay.”
I imagined how you would look with shorter hair.
You said something about your ex-boyfriend.
I wondered if fighting him would impress you.
I woke up the next day with the stye gone.
You were sleeping next to me.
I said, “I have something to tell you.”
You opened your eyes.
“I don’t want this to ruin our friendship, but I want to be honest with you.”
“Okay,” you said.
“I like you a lot, but I want to be more than friends. Because I think you’re cute.”
“And I want to go out with you,” I said.
“I don’t know if I can handle a relationship right now,” you said.
“It will be hard but I think it will work out. I want you to go on a date with me.”
“Okay,” she said, “but lets take things slow.”
“We can go to a movie,” I said.
“Then we can get dinner,” I said.
“Then we can go back home and I’ll, I don’t know, fuck your brains out, I guess.”
You said, “I love you.”
I remembered that time when I asked you to tie my shoe for me and you did.
I thought that was funny.
Later that day, we formed a suicide pact
“Okay, what is that?”
“We need to kill ourselves together,” I said, “It’ll be romantic.”
“Okay, I guess we can do that.”
“I want to hug you,” I said.
“Then hug me.”
“No,” I said, “I change my mind.”
I didn’t hug you.
We haven’t spoken since August.
I ate a sandwich alone at Subway and felt just fine.
“I have this many friends,” I thought and stared at my hand.
Today, I cut myself shaving and it didn’t stop bleeding until 4PM.
Outside, It was partly cloudy.
“Things I like. . .” I thought without finishing the sentence.
Profile: Theo Thimo
This is going to be a happy story.
So I won’t talk about that time you accidentally sent me to the emergency room when I was just two-years old because you didn’t know I was allergic to peanut butter.
And I won’t talk about the time you forgot to pick me up after soccer practice when I was seven and I was stuck in the rain all by myself for what felt like forever.
And I won’t talk about the time when I wanted to be a cowboy with a big gun for Halloween and instead you dressed me up as a giant teddy bear and all the other boys from school made fun of me.
And I won’t talk about the time when you forced me to wear your old sweatshirts from the eighties, the ones with the random animals on them, to school because the washing machine broke and I didn’t have any clean clothes.
And I won’t talk about the time that you bought me a bicycle as my big Christmas present even though you knew I didn’t know how to ride one and was terrified of even trying again despite being older now.
And I won’t talk about the time when I brought my girlfriend home and you were so drunk that you were mumbling ideas about where I should take her for a date while playing solitaire on the kitchen table by yourself.
And I won’t talk about the time that you found my stash of porn magazines and forced me to sit down and talk about it with you in a serious manner. It was awkward and the loudest parts seemed to be the moments of silence when I was trying to come up with a response to you saying that the pictures were sinful.
And the happy part of the story is that it’s over and I don’t have to talk about all those times anymore.
Profile: Patrick Trotti
Every day at lunch Jihyun would help Justin with his Ramyeon/ Justin always got Jajangmyun ramyeon/ he would eat at a lunch at a small table with four Korean women holding metal chopsticks in their right hand and a large spoon in their left hand/ Justin could never tell when his ramyeon was done/ he had to ask Jihyun/ she would look at his ramyeon and say, “little more” – Then Justin would say, “I’m so hungry” – Jihyun would giggle
After a few minutes, Jihyun would tell him it was time/ Justin would go to the bathroom and dump out the water/ go back to the lunch table and pour in the brown seasoning packet/ and eat his ramyeon
Jihyun always ate a packed lunch/ she ate a lot of dried sardines, to Justin the sardines looked old and sad/ she would eat rice and with an over easy egg cooked in the morning/ Jihyun was very helpful to Justin, she was his neighborhood, she had taken him to the library once to show him where it was, she showed him where the best restaurants were in the area, they once ate chicken together at work/ Jihyun was super nice, she seemed to have no sense of self, whatever Mr. Park wanted, she did without question, whatever her parents wanted she did without question/ she was 28 and still followed her curfew perfectly.
She always held the door open for Justin
Justin would daydream about Jihyun, about her tall skinny body, she was five foot seven, with a cute body, her skin was pale white, which Justin didn’t like but he thought if she came back to America with him he could convince her to get a tan/ Justin knew she was a virgin, he wondered how her vagina felt, he deeply pondered the feeling of her vagina, a virgin vagina, jesus,
Justin saw them living in Ohio, they owned a house, working on a mortgage, Justin had a good job, he didn’t specify in his imagination what the job was, but he had one. Justin would get Jihyun a job at the Red Lobster where he used to work/ there was a South Korean woman already working there, they could be friends, they could talk about kimchi or something, drink soju eat ramyeon together, yeah, that sounded great.
Jihyun would cook Justin food every day, Justin would teach her to cook cheeseburgers and spaghetti, she would do it happily, probably even feel sincere about the cooking of American food. She would clean the house, nothing would be filthy, everything would be nice and clean. Jihyun would get pregnant with his babies, these babies would be mixed and awesome looking. Justin would marry a foreign woman, which would make him cool in some circles.
Justin would bring Jihyun to his parents’ house, Jihyun would love his parents, because she is Korean and likes things involving family. Everything would be great, he needed an old fashioned love, marrying Jihyun would be like traveling back in time, like he was getting into a time machine and marrying a woman from the 50s, he could become his father, and normal.
He wouldn’t be able to have intellectual conversations about anything with Jihyun, but maybe his sister was right, love isn’t about intellectual conversations but about protection and sharing shit like that.
Then it would occur to him that a 28-year-old virgin was pretty weird, that she might be suffering from a severe mental problem, that sex with her might be really awkward/ she must have extreme intimacy issues if she has never even had a one-night-stand, that she wouldn’t even have taken the chance to do it just once, she must feel inadequate or something, explains the Japanese racism thing he thought/ explains the whole teaching of little kids, she feels inferior and scared of adults, especially adult men. Justin wondered what her dad did to cause such a fear, he had assumptions, but the data was inconclusive, eventually he would stop thinking about Jijyun and think about what he was going to eat for dinner.
Sometimes Jihyun would daydream about marrying Justin, dream of him taking her to America/ but the only outlets of information she had concerning America were Gossip Girl and Sex and the City. She had no idea what kind of life Justin lived in America it had never occurred to her to ask him about his personal life there, she was not allowed to ask her father questions, the idea of having a personal emotional relationship with a male did not even occur to her.
She imagined living in New York City with Justin, she didn’t work. She spent her days taking care of the house; Justin would work and provide her with money to go shopping. She would wear fantastic outfits like the characters on Gossip Girl and Sex and the City. She would have such nice outfits, she would be like those Gangnam girls that had nice outfits, she wouldn’t have to shop in the Sinheung underground mall anymore, she hated those clothes, she wanted to go to Gangnam and shop. But if she lived in New York City she could shop there and be really cool.
She thought about how clean she would keep the apartment, how she would cook meals for Justin, and he would be so happy. She would pack him a lunch of work and he would be excited every day at lunch to see what she made him. She felt excited about cooking lunches and packing them for a man.
Sometime she would think about sex with Justin, she had never had sex though: the images her mind created all came from Japanese movies that played on cable at night/ she had seen a Japanese movie where the woman had no shirt on, and the man was tightly holding her, she assumed that was sex. She didn’t want to have Japanese sex though, because she hated the Japanese, she hoped it would be American sex. But she had no idea how Americans had sex, sometimes she had sexual thoughts about Nate Archibold from Gossip Girl. She didn’t think Justin was as good-looking as Nate Archibold, but he was handsome, he had blue eyes.
But Justin had a girlfriend, an American girlfriend, American girls are sluts, they have sex, Jihyun knew she couldn’t compete with that, it made her hate American women. When everyone went out to dinner, all the teachers, Justin and his girlfriend Jihyun never directly asked Maddie a question or brought attention to herself. Her theory on social interaction with an adult was, be quiet, be polite, till it is over.
Jihyun would do her make up every morning, hoping she looked normal.
Profile: Noah Cicero
while your toes are darting back and forth
under a cloud of words
my thumb prints feel motionless
because everything is still
until the moment that it isn’t
I am a picture and a face to you
hanging on a wall and wanting
the sea to extend through me
like it were some grand notion
which I don’t know how to capture
the flint sounds of a belt and water towers
and an earthquake underneath
and I don’t know how to be a living thing
it’s just something I am
I feel like I have to function in some way
but precisely which way is unknown
I am a bunch of scraps of paper all balled up
and thrown out of my mouth and toward you
like an attempt to create something in me
that you thought was beautiful
even for just a moment
Profile: Scott Krave
“Damn the vernal equinox! Full speed ahead!” is all that Cootie Murphy would ever say when he sat on the last stool at the end of the bar in The Stag & Doe Inn. He wouldn’t say it very often, only when provoked by someone or stirred by thoughts known only to him. Mostly he would simply sit at the bar in silence, staring straight ahead, tapping his fingers now and then, and sipping his Guinness.
Cootie had held the rights to the last stool for more than 50 years, ever since he returned from Korea in 1953 after two years spent in conflict. Some people thought he suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome, although they didn’t call it that back then. Others thought he was nuts before he went to Korea and had simply come back a little nuttier. Both sides would find their opinions confirmed on nights when the moon was full and Cootie would throw his head back and howl like a wolf. Regular customers were used to it by now and they’d sometimes join in. The bartender would only say, “It’s best to leave Cootie alone.”
The bartender also said that if Cootie ever died, his stool should be buried with him. But the neighborhood mortician, Rory McCarthy, always a customer after a funeral, had said he had never seen a casket that would accommodate both a man Cootie’s size and his stool as well. He agreed, however, that he would see what could be done if Cootie ever required his services, provided the family didn’t drive the body–as they did his mother’s–to O’Brien’s, another mortuary a few blocks down the street.
McCarthy said that he knew of no law against burying Cootie upright—sitting on his stool, Guinness glass glued to his hand. That might be an option worth looking into. But it would require a customized casket of unorthodox configuration best ordered in advance. That would cost a little more, McCarthy said, but what’s money in a time of grief.
There were no signs, however, that Cootie, despite his age, was a candidate for death. In fact, he took no medications. He was simply a strange and contrary fellow with many eccentricities.
For example, it didn’t matter whether you were a regular customer who had known Cootie for decades or a first-time customer. He would respond in the same way. If someone asked him any question—did he have a match for a cigarette or did he know if the Cubs had won—his answer was always the same.
“Damn the vernal equinox! Full speed ahead!”
Regulars had no idea what he meant or why he said it. And strangers would walk away bewildered.
Sometimes, however, a stranger who had drunk too much himself would take offense at Cootie invoking the vernal equinox. Over the years, several of the strangers had threatened Cootie with a thrashing. Such a threat, of course, was like a call to prayer in Damascus for regular customers who, otherwise bored, would bow their heads and turn on their stools quietly toward the commotion. They knew that as soon as Cootie would hear a threat, he’d get off his stool and put his fists up, John L. Sullivan style, and start shadow-boxing around the stranger, flicking left jabs and then a right cross, all just inches from the stranger’s chin.
With Cootie circling him, the stranger wouldn’t know what to do. After all, Cootie might have been old but he stood 6’5,” weighed at least 300 pounds and he had fists like bear paws. He didn’t look his age and he moved and jabbed pretty well. Anyone could see that despite his years, Cootie looked capable of flattening anyone.
Even more discouraging, when Cootie was flicking jabs, was the spinning of his eyes. His face looked like a slot machine malfunctioning. And as he danced around, his tongue would emerge quickly from the corner of his mouth, much like the penis of a younger man on the first night of his honeymoon.
Cootie’s odd behavior had begun 50 years earlier shortly after his return to Chicago from Korea. He came back bearing medals galore and a Korean wife who made her own kimchi, a spicy Korean condiment consisting of pickled cabbage and a variety of spices. One regular customer once said that nothing in Chicago smelled like Cootie’s kimchi. Not even the stockyards, which back then was still in operation.
Soo Loo Park, a good wife, would prepare the condiment with great care, pack it into clay pots, and bury the pots all over their small back yard. Wherever she buried a pot, she would stick a popsicle stick bearing the date the pot had been buried. How long a pot was allowed to ferment in the ground would determine the piquancy of the final product. Cootie liked his kimchi screaming hot, the cabbage leaves as gnarled as his hands, moist and glistening with red pepper.
Oddly, Cootie liked to share his kimchi. He always brought a jar of it with him to The Stag & Doe to eat along with the hard-boiled eggs and pickled sausages that sat on the bar in big glass barrel jars. Give him a few sausages and a couple of hard-boiled eggs, followed by a fork full of kimchi, and Cootie was a happy man. He’d wash it down with glasses of Guinness from the tap, managing to get the froth all over his considerable mustache.
Everyone was welcome to sample his kimchi. They didn’t even have to ask. Regulars, of course, wouldn’t go near the stuff but strangers occasionally did. On such occasions, the regulars would always have to suppress a laugh. Just a pinch of Cootie’s kimchi would make a Mexican weaned on jalapenos scream for a fire extinguisher.
One slow evening the bartender mentioned that watching Cootie arrange his glass of Guinness, sausages, eggs and kimchi on the bar was almost like watching a defrocked priest preparing to say an aberrant Latin Mass, especially since Cootie always made the Sign of the Cross and said Grace before he ate or drank.
He had been taught these and other spiritual practices by his brother, Paddy, a monk in a monastery located not too many miles away. Paddy was said to be a very holy man but maybe not a scholar.
Nevertheless, he had done well in the monastery, over the years, adding pecans to the tops of fruitcakes the monks would bake and sell by mail. He knew how many pecans a cake required and where to place them. He was the only monk trained for this job. He had no understudy. If Paddy had a sick day, some other monk would just plop the pecans on the cakes without any sense of order.
At communal prayers five times a day Paddy would pray for all the reprobates he had left behind in the old neighborhood. Cootie would give him a monthly update on their latest deeds when he’d visit him at the monastery. He would tell Paddy up front that none of the regulars had shown any improvement since his last visit. But, as Cootie would remind him, a lot of them had passed away and the future for the rest didn’t look too promising.
Each death, of course, would force Paddy to pray even harder because he felt that half the souls in Purgatory had probably come from his old neighborhood. Who knew if there’d be room in that Halfway House in the sky when it was time for Cootie and him to check in?
Cootie’s sister, on the other hand, had been quite different than her brothers. She had been a nun and was said to have been very smart. But she had died, young and unexpectedly, while teaching a third-grade English class in the parish school. She fell backwards one day, like a tree falling, and was looking up to heaven from the floor just as the bell rang. She never moved.
The parish priest arrived in minutes to give her the Last Rites but she was already dead. No one had any doubts, however, that she was already in heaven, explaining to some saint weak in punctuation the difference between the usage of a semi-colon and a colon.
No autopsy was performed. And it seemed as if the whole neighborhood took a shower and put on their best clothes to attend her funeral Mass. Even a few Southern Baptists chose to enter a Catholic Church for the first time to pay their final respects. Some of them were surprised to return home spiritually intact.
Cootie never talked about the years he had spent in Korea, the battles he had survived, the number of enemy he had killed or the event that led to the plate inserted in his head. He never explained either what he had done to earn all those medals.
And Cootie’s lack of braggadocio was appreciated because when he first came home, one of the regulars in the bar, a fellow named Stanley, a veteran of World War II, had announced to all the other customers that unlike Cootie, he had been in the “real war,” the one the United States had won.
Cootie didn’t say a word. But a half hour later, after a little small talk with Stanley, Cootie asked him to get off his stool so they could finally settle a bet made in high school as to which of them was taller. Standing face to face, Cootie indeed appeared to be taller. Then he hit Stanley with an uppercut launched from his knee. It took a bucket of water, a lot of encouragement and three sober men who had just walked in to get Stanley on his feet. Two of his teeth were never found.
After the Stanley incident, none of the regulars ever bothered Cootie again. And the bartender always told new patrons, “It’s best to leave Cootie alone.”
But occasionally a stranger, clearly out of his element, would arrive in a suit and tie or in Bermuda shorts and white bucks. Given the circumstances, it wouldn’t be long before one regular or another would engage the stranger in conversation and tell him in glowing terms about Cootie’s status as a hero of the Korean War. He had won so many medals, the stranger would be told, that he needed a suitcase to bring them home.
Often the stranger, after a sufficient amount of Guinness, would stroll down to the end of the bar and extend his hand to thank Cootie for his service. Like others before him, the stranger would learn that it was best to leave Cootie alone.
As every regular knew, Cootie had little to say about the war America hadn’t won. But if pressed to comment on the matter, he’d bounce off his stool and shout, “Damn the vernal equinox! Full speed ahead!” Everything else he said with his fists. And it was always a brief conversation.
Profile: Donal Mahoney
Dressed to the toe
So people look
Let them look
Can’t tell if they’re impressed
Hope it turns you on.
All who wonder will lust
Of impending pressure
On a house of discontent
And the dress on your habeas corpus
Let the lost eyes wander ‘til they’re caught.
To not be charged till the touch.
Seconds are not choice
But one man’s treasure
Is another man with similar tastes venture.
Capital T, Treason
Anything less wouldn’t be quite grammatical
Don’t mind my stuttering
It means you’ve tied my tongue
with the idea of yours.
Discretion be damned.
I can hold my drink,
that’s what I’m here to show.
“habeas corpus” line.
which loses depth
when you truly know .)
you drew a tiny robot.
I drew one, worse
Handed a sharpie,
left my mark on your coffee table.
And yours are clearly better
Mine born hush on a syllabus out of boredom
& transparent flirtation.
You’ll be defended in a diner
the next morning.
by a friend who wouldn’t be
if he found the page titled Her.
falling from my notebook.
This is my nocturnal admission
Before the fire station is a street sign
with your name that
precedes a second with a
misspelled music school
where another name I’d like to
have you etch out on my shoulder
A phone full of
in this less than
Norman Rockwell life
Profile: Chris Franz