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Archive for August, 2008

The refrigerator stopped working last weekend. My food went bad. The appliance is new. Our landlord delivered the icebox just over a year ago, surely it is still under warranty.

This morning there is no milk for my coffee, I regret that Lenox ever replaced the old refrigerator. There was nothing wrong with it; only the electrical cord that plugged into the wall was bad. It was severed– nothing that a piece of black electrical tape couldn’t fix. I cut the cord with a pair of scissors in a heightened state of panic years ago, when I was psychotic. The old Kenmore functioned for years despite the splice of wires. In my delusion mind, there were demons inside that big white box, so I grabbed a pair of scissors and cut the source of power. After re-taping what I had ruined while mad, the refrigerator went on to keep things cool for five more years until eventually, Lenox bought me a new one. There was nothing wrong with the old refrigerator. It did the job and kept things cool even though it leaked and ruined the wooden floor beneath. It still would be working and I would have milk this morning if only Lenox let it stay.

Shawn left a suicide note inside the old freezer. That’s why I cut the cord. I was so upset when I discovered what was written next to two unfilled ice trays. I found his forget-me-not weeks after he was gone; when I was alone in the house in tears needing a glass of ice-water, wishing that somehow I could stop crying. We were not sure if he killed himself. Doctors told me about a surplus of Tylenol that was pumped from his stomach. Was it suicide or was he trying to curb a headache? The note in the freezer filled in the blanks.

I was glad when Lenox wheeled that heavy food coffin out of here and brought in a new, shinny rectangle box to match a contemporary, square gas stove. He probably paid $200 a piece for the furnishings, but they were new at the time and somehow, having a new kitchen helped me to put my lover to rest in ceremonies drenched in sweet spices and thick stews.

There were so many bad memories still stuck to the side of my head caused by the note that I found plastered to the chilling door of the freezer. All I could do to recover from my shock was cook and try to get back to the rhythm of life.

With the old refrigerator gone, I still thought about the note that was written with individual magnetized words that came from a kit made for poets for use on refrigerators and other metal devices. On the outside of that old icebox when Shawn was still here, sentences crafted by hungry passers by drafted the most tasty of thoughts through an unassembled set of refrigerator poetry magnets. Shawn bought the sticky words at a Barnes and Noble bookstore while shopping for How-To books for black and white photographers. He took the time to put together a poem for the inside of the freezer door too– one that was far more poetic and deep than the garbled assortment of words scattered over the old refrigerator door like an infestation of roaches– the English language gone array in need of a few fingers and creative minds to readjust magnets in the form of coherency.

He peeled the magnet words one at a time from the front of the door and hid them inside, near the ice, perhaps knowing that when he was gone that I would find what he had written to me from beyond—

[BURN] [IN] [HELL]

Poetic justice was served and I was frozen!

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Cold War Boy Pussy

I remember the Cold War with Russia. I was in the Army in the late Eighties and Early Nineties. The frigid war with shady drafts was how I served my country. Now that Russia is back on the scene, I feel like an honorable U.S. Veteran. Perhaps now that Russia has invaded again and made the news, I will be eligible for VA benefits.

For decades, I have been reminded by my government that because I did not serve in the military during war-time that I have absolutely no benefits following my honorable discharge after four years of service. I thought at Eighteen, as I was serving in a Cold War with Russia, that when I grew old, as a veteran, that those who did not serve their country, those who have made “honest livings” would remember me in my old age and help to take care of me for all that I did for them, during that chilly, silent war.

“The Army takes care of its own,” they promised when I raised my hand at sixteen while entering under the “Delayed Entry Program.” When I got old, I wasn’t supposed to worry. I never asked the military for much over the years. I’ve always had decent health benefits through un-serving corporate bosses.

 

All I ever asked the VA for was dental work. I wanted VA benefits so that I could receive shiny teeth as a civilian at 40. They told me, in a sense, to shut my mouth. The VA informed me that I didn’t serve during wartime so my teeth would have to suffer like B-52’s dropping bombs from the decaying recess of my nasty mouth and pen…

I had a gun in my hand and a uniform wrapped seductively around my twenty-eight inch mid-section and six- foot frame when I was just Eighteen; fighting an imaginary war with Russia, just like the one in Iraq; only this time, the boys and girls are shooting guns and not playing war, like we did with Russia.

At the age of eighteen, long before these grey hairs graced the sides of my head like that of Anderson Cooper, the newsman, I was a 31 Charlie– “Single Radio Teletype Operator” for the U.S. Army in Germany. Many of my old friends were in college. I believed blindly that my friends from high school would take care of me, as a government, when we got older.

Many enjoyed the rewards of Freedom and Capitalism in college and in their jobs following such experiences of higher-learning. Thank heavens I met Gilly in the Army. Yes, Gilly, the real love of my life. Memories of him serve as fillings in these rotted teeth.

I regret that he was ever re-stationed stateside. We could have lived civil, pleasant lives as ‘domestic partners’ or ‘husband and husband’ one day if only he had re-enlisted for me.

Gilly was my Army friend and really butch. The thuggish Black man from Detroit was more bi-sexual than gay– screwing German fraulines on the side of me. The competition made my time with him more enjoyable. There were moments with him when I forgot that I was a man serving my country.

I saluted that boy, like a string of bullets being fed through the top of a M-Sixty rifle. There were war-risks every time we locked lips in this straight and free society, as service men. We took them, like an oath to serve this great and free nation.

How could we both, as young black and white boys, still in our late teens, resist the lure of making- out together with the temptations of handsome uniforms covering our firm bodies? In the Army we were all dressed in green. There was no black and white, only the ‘Stars and Stripes’.

We were both so young and beautiful and strong at the time. Our love could have cost us our military careers but we had sex every time granted the opportunity, even in the barracks showers.

Gilly told me that shooting into me was worth the risks and he would take a dishonorable discharge just for the opportunity to shoot inside me again. When we made love he screamed :–

 

“That’s some good boy pussy!”

He blew my mind. I never thought of such a thing. I cried into a pillow under my green, wool Army blanket, not caring even if my fellow soldiers could hear us.

Gilly was in the infantry. His job was not easy like mine– in the line of communications. I was heartbroken when I learned after leaving the Army that Gilly died from AIDS. Not even good VA benefits could have helped, I realized at the time….

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Charlie Apple Seed

Uncle Barry and my dad, Barry constructed a roofless tree house in an apple tree next to our brown shingled farm house. Living on an orchard was sweet. The tree platform was large enough to hold my brother Bill and me and our cousin, Brian at the same time. Dad put an old mattress on the ground under the tree just in case we fell. I was the first to jump, just to see if it was safe.

The apple tree on which our little playhouse was built was never pruned by the keeper of the orchard, our grandmother, Meme. The apples were a little sour, and nothing like the red delicious fruits that grew elsewhere on the farm. Meme explained that our daddies, the Barrys, ruined her favorite tree by hammering nails into the trunk and branches, so she decided to no longer harvest the apples that grew on the ceiling and walls of our tree house. Meme said we should never trust two drunken men with nothing to do but climb trees.

I was sitting in that tree house, counting all of Meme’s trees lined up in rows in the distance, when I was first introduced to my imaginary childhood friend, Cassie. She was hidden behind a big branch covered with lots of little white flowers when I first heard her voice. I remember my exact age at the time– four. Bill was in kindergarten that Spring morning in 1972. I was all alone on that big farm with its seemingly endless orchard. A plane was flying over. Planes always flew over that ridge we lived on. The sound of aircraft was a lonely sound. The planes always made me cry. Cassie said I shouldn’t cry because it was just a plane and some day, I would fly in one.

Unlike most people who had imaginary friends as kids only to abandon them after growing up, I never forgot Cassie who came out of an apple tree. It was only after my mother ordered that I stop talking to her that I grew out of her. Like an old pair of shoes that feet no longer squeeze into, she was always in my closet. She was too good to throw away and just sat in the recesses of my mind collecting dust, perhaps to serve as a hand-me-down to a little brother who had yet to come along.

Cassie’s form of communication was not via vocal chord vibrations that ring the drums in our ears. Her’s were whispers of flowers, bees and sunshine. I asked Cassie things when the planes flew over, when I got sad. At first, I whispered my questions to her, but by five, I understood that there was no need to whisper to her. She could hear my thoughts and she answered me right inside my head, as if she were a little gnat – those little bugs that sometimes flew my ears and mouth while sitting in that sweet apple tree.

I went to bed with bubble gum in my mouth one evening. It was too delicious and still had flavor to simply put on my night stand. By morning, long, thick strands of brownish-red hair were tangled in a rat’s nest that not even Cassie could get out for me. I didn’t want Mom and Dad to know. They always warned me not to go to bed with gum in my mouth. Bill tried to help when Cassie couldn’t. We hid next to the refrigerator. Bill was using a spoon to try and scoop out the glob of spider egg infested Bubble Yum, but he was hurting my head.

“Ouch, stop it, Bill!”

“What are you doing back there?” Dad asked.

“Nofin’”, I smirked, quickly hiding a Josie and the Pussy Cats spoon behind my back.

“He got gum in his hair,” Bill told.”

“Oh my gawd,” Mom shrieked.

Dad and Bill laughed after Mom made me turn around.

Cassie was nowhere around, even when I used my mind to try and contact her. I whispered behind the refrigerator as they laughed at the back of my head.

“Who are you talking to?” Mom asked.

“Cassie.”

“You’re getting too old to keep talking to her. I told you to ignore her,” Mom explained while wondering if she should use a pair of scissors.

“Go see your Meme,” Dad ordered while having his coffee at the kitchen table.

As Meme’s hair clippers buzzed I whispered to Cassie and told her to stay away from me because I knew it was her that pulled the gum out of my mouth as I slept. Strands of hair, longer than ears of corn fell to the floor in Meme’s trailer. I decided never to talk to Cassie again.

My head felt funny. All the hair was gone. “Now, go show your mom,” Meme ordered while sweeping up the huge pile of hair. “I’ve always wanted to cut your hair like this anyway. You are so cute!”

I thought for sure Mom would be mad when I returned to the house. She always loved my hair and rolled it in her fingers, like yarn, when she held me before I went to bed at night.

“You are so damned cute,” Mom remarked. “Now get out of my hair and go outside and play in your tree house and stop talking to Cassie.”

Another plane flew over. I looked up and again felt sad.

“You’re still my best friend,” I whispered.

Cassie smiled through an apple blossom before whispering– “You’re so damned cute!”

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The moment Kirk invited me to spend the night at his house, my life changed. Spending time pretending to want to marry Penny one day was a waste of everyone’s childhood years. I had to set Penny free and break up the gang.

I would have given away my wheat-cent collection for the opportunity to sleep over at Kirk’s house and to look for Mars in a telescope that he got one Christmas. Penny knew, being a girl, that she couldn’t stay at a boy’s house. After she heard Kirk invite just me over, she jumped from the school swings and landed like a stallion dressed in Cinderella’s gown. Penny loved horses and Kirk had plenty.

The silver swing from which she had just swung rattled as it twisted into a ball, nearly hitting the legs of Tammy Cornelious who was just coasting on hers. Penny wiped awaythe wrinkles from the same dress she wore in Third Grade, and galloped towards the sea-saws. Her cheeks drooped in a sad,sad way, I was sure. She trotted towards the marry-go-round. In the distance, a cylinder spun to the momentum of spool-like little legs, wrapping a thread of first and second graders towards a ball of centrifuge where Rhonda Garlock served as a Snow White to the dwarves. She appearing as a giant Twinky, in the distance . Penny turned to see Kirk balancing with me on the sea-saws before turning her pig-tailed head to us to drift off into an endless cycle of sunsets.

Girls had slumber parties, boys just stayed at each other’s house. Penny had to understand the birds and the bees. It wasn’t our fault.

Never in a million years would I be allowed to stay over at Kirk’s. I knew that. Mom hated him. If my Mom ever met Kirk in person, she would have known that he was not the one who stole my radio wrist-watch from my desk. For all I knew, it could have been Penny who took the watch. I told Mom everything Kirk did in class. That was a big mistake. I should have kept my trap shut, but I couldn’t help it. Mom was making deer steak and mashed potatoes for dinner and at the same time gave me a spelling quiz on words that would be on a test at school that Friday. That was when I accidently told her about how Kirk acted in class–

“You know what Alison Fox did in class today, Mom?”

“No, and I don’t wanna know. Spell ‘education’,” Mom ordered as she rolled red chunks of meat in a bowl of flour, while holding my spelling book with her clean hand. Grease was already melting in the electric skillet. I knew I need to spell everything right if ever there was a chance she would say yes when I asked her if I could stay over at Kirk’s for the weekend. Dinner was a few minutes away and Mom didn’t have the time to sit all night with me, trying to get me to spell everything perfectly.

“Ed, you cat she on,” I mumbled.

“What did you just say?” Mom asked.

“This is my secret way of remembering letters,” I explained as a big pot filled which chucks of potatoes started to boil over.

“E-D-U-C-A-T-I-O-N.”

“Good. ‘Edify’.

“That ain’t no word,” I protested.

Mom waved her spoon at me before dipping it in a saucepan of stewed tomatoes.

 

I was not going to marry Penny Chillcoat when I grew up. Mom was making me mad. Although Penny told me that if and when I ever asked her to marry her that she would say ‘yes’ in a heartbeat, I had no interest in a life with her. I wanted to be the one cooking and giving spelling tests to the kids.

Penny had been a close friend of mine since the age of seven. We put on puppet shows for our second grade class together. We skipped recesses just to make puppet stages to re-enact, through popsicle sticks, characters like Snow White.

A record player spun and a voice of a man read the words from our reading books. After recess while our classmates were cooling down from kick-ball, Penny twiddled all eleven of her fingers for the class as I ran the record player and lowered stage backdrops that were drawn on construction paper.

Our imaginations went wild, so did the students who watched our little shows. Stages were made from large cardboard boxes. It was nice of Mrs. Beck to inspire Penny and me to put on puppet shows for the class, as a creative outlet. We had both been held back a year and now found ourselves too smart for kids a year younger than we were. Mrs. Beck went as far as to leave us unsupervised during recess. Mrs. Beck’s husband, Mr. Beck, the principal, found us cutting cardboard boxes with extended legs of scissors one Thursday afternoon when everyone else, including Mrs. Beck, was out at recesses. He asked why we weren’t outside–

“Why are you in here?”

“We’re making a puppet show. We put it on every Friday. You should come watch it,” I offered, sounding as much like a sixth grader as possible while closing the legs of Mrs. Beck’s good scissors.

“Who said you could be here and not out at recess?”

“Mrs. Beck,” Penny replied, almost as if she were using her voice to make a puppet come to life. I was terrified. Mr. Beck didn’t appreciate being ventriloquisted.

Before we were caught being not where we were supposed to have been with the rest of the class, and the after recess puppet presentations came to an end, I suggested to Penny that she make a tiny puppet for her extra sixth finger. Our conversations in that empty classroom were intense. All Penny wanted was a lot of kids. I promised them to her if she agreed to put on the Three Pigs instead of Peter Pan.

Penny broke down when I suggested she make a puppet for her little finger for the part of the ‘big bad wolf’. The silence of the empty classroom echoed with sobs of pure agony. Penny told me then it was not an extra finger, but something called a wart, but a doctor was going to freeze it off her.

“How do they do that?” I asked.

“Real big ice-cubes,” Penny explained.

She was a liar. I didn’t like her any longer and would never marry her. I was glad I had Kirk as a back-up best friend in the fourth grade. I was getting tired of Penny. I wanted to be the Mom when I grew up.

“Alison Fox showed her privates to Kirk in class today,” I mumbled to Mom right after I had spelled ‘fundamental’ perfectly.

“She did what?”

“She pulled out her pants like this and he looked down.”

“Did you?” Mom asked.

“Nope.”

She cracked me with the tomatoed spoon, even though I certainly did not look down Alison’s blue, polyester pants. I was busy reading.

Sitting with Kirk on the sea-saw during recess made me almost want to throw-up. My stomach was tickling when he asked me over. I knew my mom wouldn’t let me spend the night at Kirk’s place, though. And now, Kirk no longer sat in front of me in class. I was losing him.

Mr. Holovakia hung up posters in the classroom on the bulletin board next to Kirk’s new seat. The images reminded the class of important historical figures. Kirk now had to sit in the back row of all fourth and fifth grade students, next to a poster of a black guy. Kirk didn’t know that he was last in class yet. He was still out sick. It was Wednesday. We had art on Wednesday. Kirk loved that class and he was still out sick. What could have happened to him? His granddaddy would never let him take off more than a day. Kirk told me that when he stayed home sick from school, his pap’s made him split wood all day long. Even when he had the chicken pox, Kirk had to chop wood. I knew just how my best friend felt. He would much rather have been at school with teachers like Mr. Holovakia who seemed not to care that we shot spit-wads all day, instead of studying.

I sensed, as I spun my head around while sitting at my new desk, that most of my peers, with the exception of two twins sitting in front of me, were all sucking their teeth in envy. I noticed Kirk’s empty desk at the back of the room and decided that I was too young for love anyway. Kirk was going to hate me now too.

As I faced the blackboard, I monitored classroom activity out of the corner of my eye. I sat very still with a glazed stare focused on the teacher. Mr. Holovakia handed thick stacks of paper to the class. On the top of each stapled booklet there was a listing of all fifty states with corresponding capitol.

If and when Kirk ever came back to school, he would likely flunk this test. I’m sure he would find the time to lay at least one spit-ball between the eyes of the Black man on the poster that Holovakia put up with his stapler, next to Kirk’s newly assigned seat.

I wouldn’t be behind him anymore to watch him act-out in class. At least shooting a spit wad at Holovakia’s poster might make Kirk happy for a while on upcoming hot days when he could no longer capture slightly freshened manure wind from a nearby window, like me.

I hoped the welts on his back were healing. I was no longer behind him to tell him how sorry I was for him. All he could do was shoot spit wads at a ….(can’t say it. It’s a bad word. Mom would have hit me with her spoon)… but still, Kirk was angry on the inside and never meant to offend the poster or the Black civil rights leader– just our teacher– Mr. Holovakia– who assigned him to the last seat in the class.

“Our class will be putting on a play this Spring. I wrote the play,” Mr. Holovakia explained to the class while handing the large stacks of paper back each row. “Students in other schools where I taught put this play on. It went over well. The cast is small. Anyone interested in participating must score at least a B on an upcoming test on state capitols. This test will demonstrate your ability to memorize lines. Only those who are able to memorize well will join the cast of characters…”

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Kirk was out from school on Tuesday too. I was worried. Was he really sick? What could have happened to him to be out for two whole days? Parents in Three Springs never let their kids take off two days of school in a row, unless, early morning belly ache attacks are really serious illnesses. A thermometer held under warm trickling water in the bathroom sink works well to convince parents that a stay home from school is warranted, but there are times when kids really get sick and I had a feeling something horrible had come over Kirk Talbot and he wasn’t just faking it.

Did he have the mumps? Kirk had the chicken pox already, when he was in third grade with Mr. Kaufmann as his teacher. Kirk took off two weeks that January and got homework assignments picked-up in a pick-up truck by Kirk’s grandfather, Joel. Mr. Kauffman told Joel to have Kirk read just this and that– whatever he could get through.

Kirk told me his medical history one day, out at recess when we were balancing on the sea-saw together. We were exactly the same weight– seventy-six. We could hover, without pushing off from a paved playground beneath our Chuck Taylor tennis shoes. We were like magicians. Our two skinny asses sat like indians; feet crossed under knees covered in plaid pants. We hung in mid-air, like clothes pinned to a line; just staring into eyes, remaining steady at the other end of a long board with metal handles.

“Did you get the chicken pox yet?” Kirk asked, hardly moving his lips, in fear that it may upset our balance. He was wearing a checkered blue, red and yellow pair of plaid pants. He could balance like a chicken when it sleeps at night. He was just waiting for me to make the first move on the ‘teet-or-taught her’!

“Yep. Just like you, Kirk,” I replied. “I got chicken pox in the third grade, too. I was in Mrs. Book’s, class that year, I didn’t know you then,” I explained to my friend as cotton- like clouds spun above us, appearing like the Muppets in a movie.

He sometimes winked after I answered his hardest questions about me. Like Miss Piggy, I appreciated the sincere interest and giggled tenderly as we continued to balance together.

I knew what the sudden flutters of Kirks bashful eyes on the other side of that splintered oak beam meant. His piercing hazel balls were covered with lashes similar to crow’s feet. The black threads hung over Kirks’ scorned eyes, in a most heart- wrenching flutter. I was helpless as a young, gay child with Kirk as my best friend.

Kirk asked me if he thought my mom would let me stay over at his place. I quickly uncrossed my legs, causing the sea-saw to unbalance, sending Kirk tumbling in his good school clothes.

He rolled into a metal swing-set that seated at least fifteen. Penny Chillcoat swung on the last chair and chains, next to us on the sea-saw. She flung herself hard with eyes fluttering at the patterened cotton balls in the heavens. Her anger was seen. A frown crossed her pudgy nose and heavy eyebrows. Here face bent like wet bales of hay in August as she watched me toy with Kirk– the other guy who might marry her some day. Penny’s dirty-blonde pony tails flew in the wind like spaghetti as she kicked her legs hard, propelling herself like a human NASA rocket. She appeared to want to jump at us when I tossed Kirk like a meatball from the balancing act that had remained in mid-air on the playground for well over twenty minutes.

“I’ll ask, Kirk, but my mom don’t like you.” I said loud enough for Penny to hear on the school swing set. Kirk got up and checked his clothes to be sure he didn’t get any holes in them from the rumble I had just caused on the hard, grade-school playground.

“Mom said you get me into trouble all the time and that I’m smarter than you, and that I have to start getting better grades or I’m gonna get whipped just like you are all the time, Kirk.”

“Everybody says that about me, Charlie. Everybody just hits me all the time. You’s the only one that h’aint hittin’ me all the time. I wish you could make them stop. I like you sittin’ behind me, Charlie. I know you ain’t gonna whip me like my Pap’s does, no matter what. You should have been a girl,” Kirk threatened.

“I know, Kirk.” I replied, feeling bad for taunting him as I was. “I can’t believe you get hit like that. I get hit too, but I never bleed like you do. Stop being bad all the time, Kirk. Try to be good sometimes, like I am. I know how you feel, though. You sit in front of me. I should know that you are not bad like everyone thinks you are.”

“So, tell your mom you want to stay at my place so we can use my telescope at night.”

“Alright. I’ll ask her tonight. Tell me something, Kirk– did you steal my radio wrist- watch from my desk? That’s the only reason Mom’s mad. If you give it back, I bet I can come over.”

“Nope,” Kirk replied, winking at me again from his side of the sea-saw. I hated him for being so coy, but his game of ‘balance’ challenged me, academically. Kirk was so smart in so many ways. How can a little kid be so bad all the time and know he’s being so bad, yet torments all the grown-ups all the time, even me, without fear of a good whippin’?

Kirk’s newly assigned desk was positioned at the back of the room now, sticking out like a sore thumb in a last ‘dumb’ row of hands. No longer would I be behind him. His new desk was next to a bulletin board. No longer would Kirk look out the window with me, wondering if it was going to snow at night so that we could have off school and go sled riding. I would miss sitting beside him, that was for sure, but it was early Spring and the attention I was getting from everyone else made letting him go easy. Like Penny Chillcoat once was to me, the Yingling Twins made it seem possible again that one day, I would marry a woman and not be one.

Fifth grade guys, many of which, were bad like Kirk, were sitting all around me and the Yingling twins now! There was so much to be learned before the school year ended.

My new seat in third place shocked the class. I was still in fourth grade. How could Mr. Holovika sit me in some sort of school racing system in front of all of them, even the fifth graders, especially when I flunked the second grade?

There wasn’t one fifth grader in the top five of the class. Fourth graders sat in the first five seats.

Suddenly, in a moment of youthful genius, I realized that someday, I wold have both a husband and a wife. I was so smart. I could take care of Kirk too, even if he was dumb.

My mother, at a PTA meeting, scolded my teacher. My very teacher. She must have said something that scared him to death, like she used to do to my poor old Dad when he drank.

I don’t know what happened exactly at the PTA meeting when Mom wore her gold, hooped earrings. The facts were: I came to school on Monday after that meeting of teachers and parents only to be moved away from Kirk Talbot, my alphabetized, best friend in grade school, and ranked at the top of the class.

Mom got her way. I couldn’t believe it. And now, the entire class had to suffer through a smart-dumb game of musical academic chairs, and there I was, one of the so-called, smart kids in class, winning at Mr. Holovika’s new grading system– the AG++.

I liked sitting beside the Yingling twins. So did my mom. She said they were very cute, but that I should not marry the red-headed one, Tonya. My mom said she didn’t want any ‘grand-boys’ with red hair.

“What about girls?”

“Oh yes, red-headed girls, like Tonya are pretty, but you stay away from her ‘cause I don’t want no grandson with red hair. A girl with red hair is pretty. I would love to have a little granddaughter with red hair, but a boy with red hair is the devil. I could never love him,” Mom explained. “Only God decides if it’s going to be a girl or a boy, and just look at all the boys I got! Thank God none of you came out with red hair like on your daddy’s side of the family.”

In the 40 years of this life, I have never had relations with a red head…

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Snotty nosed Kirk Talbot sat in front of me in Mr. Holovakia’s alphabetized fourth and fifth grade classes at Spring Farm’s Elementary School. Kirk was in the fourth grade of the split-class with me. We refused to study while our classmates in the higher grade followed direction of the greasy-haired teacher. When Holovakia turned his instruction to the Fifth Grade side of the class, our sinister selves emerged.

Near the window in the last row, names T-Z were like cows to pasture. Mike Zimmerman hated reading as much as Kirk and me, but was fierce when it came to creating spit-ball shooting contraptions from everyday ink pens. Kirk and Mike were in constant battles of saliva soaked balls of paper. Despite a true, inner desire to learn to finally read and not flunk like I did in second grade, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to jab holes into tight- fitting, bell bottom slacks that Kirk bent over in while aiming for the space between Mike’s lost-looking Mennonite eyes.

Kirk’s hair was like mine– Mick Jaggerish, falling in one big bang of brunette bronze into cunning eyes that peer like that of lizards aiming for a fly with a long, split tongue.

When Kirk abruptly turned in Linda Blair fashion to face towards the blackboard when Mr. Holovakia looked our way, he appeared, in my childish eyes, like Dorothy Hamill.

My mother made a formal complaint to the school principal regarding Kirk and the ineffectiveness of split fourth and fifth grade classes. Mom wanted me moved away from him. After a radio wrist-watch that my grandmother Meme gave to me the Christmas of 1975 went missing, my mother was outraged.

“I told you not to take it to school. What do you mean you lost it?”

“I don’t know, Mom. I was sure that I put it in my desk before recess, but after we came in from playing kick- ball, it was gone. Maybe Mr. Holovakia took it thinking we ain’t supposed to have radio wrist-watches at school.”

“I bet it was that litter bastard, Kirk Talbot, wasn’t it? I want you to not talk to that boy. He’s bad seed.”

“I can’t help it, Mom. Kirk sits in front of me.”

“Well, I’m going to this PTA meeting tonight,” Mom threatened while applying heavy make-up from a round, mirror and pad- filled cylinder. Mom was like a white Lt. Uhura from Star Trek when she was pissed.

“I want that watch back and that lousy teacher you have is going to pull it from Kirk Talbot’s filthy little hands.”

I was terrified. I didn’t want to move away from Kirk in class. I had a crush on him, but Mom was on the war path. My Mom always got what she wanted from men because she is very pretty.

Kirk was absent from school on Monday following what likely had been a heated Friday night PTA meeting at Springs Farms Elementary School. I was happy Kirk was out sick. The coast was clear. With his big head full of uncombed hair out of the way, I had unobstructed spit-wad aim at my cousin, Steve Smith, who sat in front of Kirk in class. Steve rarely toyed with improvised school weapons like cafeteria milk straws converted into deadly blow-guns. His game of goofing off was more advanced.

Kids in the fourth grade with names starting S-Z were sheer geniuses when it came to inventing ways of rebelling against our teacher and a school with rules that were far too stringent. It was easy to fool around without getting caught in our row of chairs next to large windows that overlooked corn fields and rolling hills in every direction. We were like privileged snobs sitting in the orchestra section of a theater. We, the lower- lettered names, sat like kings and queens of parliament, in seats of prestige and intelligence. All I could do as a little child trying to obtain a decent education was hold up spectacles and watch all that was happening around me in what was later deemed ‘the goof-off row’. It was so much fun. Life was rich and there was so much to be learned.

We studied hard to out- do each other with mischievous tricks that we pulled from sleeveless t-shirts. Instead of primitive spit-wad shooting, my cousin Steve spoke in a near-perfect Donald Duck dialect by puffing air into his cheeks; squeezing oxygen through the opening of his mouth, using his vocal chords to project Walt Disney into young, learned minds. Mr. Hololvakia was busy writing instructions with chalk on a blackboard. He didn’t know that quiet, brown-eyed Steve was the one who could create the sound of the cartoon character in near perfect pitch.

“Go to heaven and take a U- turn,” Steven, squawked like Donald Duck. He projected a hysterical avian voice across the room like a ventriloquist. His aim was the back of a plaid green jacket worn by Mr. Holovakia. The smelly wool coat hid a ‘ring-around-the-collar’ stained dress-shirt, but the thick wool garment was no defense to the hysteria Steve’s duck accent had on the students. Even on the most humid of school days, Holovika wore that smelly jacket in class. In a rare twist of fashion, our teacher took off his coat and tossed it to the floor.

“Kirk Talbot, Mr. Holovakia shouted without turning from creating Roman Numerals on the blackboard. He paused in writing in white for one moment while adjusting thick, black-rimmed glasses that caressed his face like pop-bottles over thirsty, cavity-filled mouths before ripping off his coat like an animal.

“If that is you making that Donald Duck sound, I assure you that you will be at the principal’s office by mid-afternoon.”

 

Kirk could not defend the accusation of making funny voices, nor do anything to get back at Steve with Holovakia fuming at the front of the classroom. After the mysterious voice of Donald Duck faded, when the class had finished giggling, and Holovika returned to his numbering, Kirk nailed my cousin with a ‘greenie’ spit-wad on the back of his head. Steve wore hair spray on his helmet-like, feathered hairstyle. The soggy pieces of paper bounced off, as if Steve had Wonder Woman’s bracelets as barrettes in his hair.

Holovika had to do something to break-up our ring of devilish fire. We were a motley crew that needed separation if anyone were to learn anything in school that year.

Report cards had just been issued a day before the PTA meeting. I assumed that Kirk probably received a few red ‘F’s’ and was now ‘sick’ from severe whippings he received from his grandfather who was raising him on a shoestring budget and an unlimited supply of hickory sticks. I doubted Kirk’s grandfather attended the PTA meeting to talk to our teacher like my mom had. Kirk showed me the welts hidden under a baseball shirt with insignia of the rock band Kiss on the back. The souvenir rock band shirt covered the bloody welts on his back perfectly.

Kirk, my childhood sweetheart, looked just like a diamond back rattlesnake with his shirt up.

 How could anyone hit a child so hard, I wondered as Gene Simmons stared me down in painted face while I tried to get an honest education. Kirk was a bad boy, but he wasn’t a snake. He must have received a bad whipping and was sick from report card blues, I assumed.
Concerned parents like mine flocked to the PTA meeting. My mom was very concerned about how I was acting in class. I thought for sure Holovika would tell her about my mischievousness. Two of her boys had already been ‘held- back’ in school once. We moved to Three Springs in the middle of a school year, two years prior. The adjustment was too much on me. I started Kindergarten at four and seemed always a little behind. Mom didn’t want me to flunk again.

Mom seemed happy in her new marriage. I watched her do her long, straight hair with a round brush and hair dryer and was so proud of how she salvaged our lives. She looked shinier than an apple on a teacher’s desk as she headed out to the school to meet with my teacher on a rather cold Friday night. I knew after Mr. Holovakia met my mom that my difficulties in school would end. Mom had a way of working with my teachers. She explained my slowness to them. She taught them how to bring me out of my shell, academically.

Spelling was hardest for me. We had weekly tests at school. Mr. Holovakia stood like a green Ronald Reagan jellybean at the front of the classroom, perched under the American flag appearing patriotic and smart. He pronounced words like Walter Cronkite. Students were required to write down the correct spelling of his words next to pre-numbered lines in school issued note pads. Words on the tests were already known. Students had time to study. They were inside of spelling books that every kid, including Kirk, Steve and me had. My mother sat with me for at least an hour every night with a wooden spoon. She cracked me on the arm each time I mixed up an A with an E or an I with a U. If I miss-spelled a word, mom ‘stirred’ me while cooking dinner.

Her new marriage gave her a glow. Living on the farm with Dad was hard on Mom. She had so very few friends then. Perhaps I was a poor speller just to get all of her attention now that she seemed happier and was making lots of new friends in town and in the school system. Nobody lived near us at our old house. And our old school, Brady Henderson Elementary, was an hour bus ride away from where we lived at the top of Stone Creek Ridge. The new school in Three Springs was better. The environment was more relaxing and entertaining. It was good to see Mom getting dressed- up again. I was sorry that I didn’t try harder in school as she headed out the door to meet my teacher. I knew I could have made all “A’s” and “B’s”, but I didn’t feel like it. I had other things on my mind. Times were changing. We all had social lives, and my life too seemed romantic with Kirk Talbot, the spit- wad master sitting next to me in class

 

I thought for sure my mother had Kirk expelled from school that Monday morning, or worse yet, she put a curse on him for ‘stealing’ my radio wrist-watch. Mom is as sweet as a rotten apple. Her temper rarely surfaced, but when it did, even grown men were terrified of her hard cider.

“I talked to your teacher about your watch,” Mom explained when she returned from the PTA meeting. “He thinks Kirk Talbot took it. He promised to contact Kirk’s guardian. Are you sure he stole it or did you give it to him?” Mom asked.

“Honest, Mom. I don’t know. I could have lost it myself. It ain’t no big deal. I could never hear anything on it anyhow.”

“Your grandmother gave you that radio watch! I ain’t never seen a fancy toy like that. You need to stop being such a girl and stand up for yourself! That watch was a gift,” Mom yelled.

I couldn’t help it. I didn’t care. I still couldn’t spell worth a damn and that watch meant nothing. My grandmother was out of my life following my parent’s divorce. I couldn’t talk to her with that watch anyway

Mr. Holovakia was in a pleasant mood at school on Monday morning with Kirk out sick. Our teacher explained a new grading system that he planned to implement. He called it his ‘AG Plus- Plus’ system. To kids like me, stronger in reading and writing than in math, Mr. Holovakia’s new grading system seemed very confusing. He promised that anyone who got everything correct on future tests would receive a green ‘AG++’ marking on their papers. Somehow, although it made absolutely no sense to me at the time, a true 100% would count twice when Mr. Holovakia figured out grades, averages and who would sit at the front of the classroom.

The only equation I understood in regards to Mr. Holovika’s new grading system was that we would have to start moving to a new desks each Monday. Our class would no longer follow rules of the alphabet and last names. Going forward, it would be publically known who was dumb and who was smart in class. Holovakia was going to line us up based on brain size. Kirk picked the right day to pretend he was sick.

I was surprised when Mr. Holovakia moved me into the third seat position, just behind the Yingling twins. What did Mom say at that PTA meeting?

The smartest kid in the class would be granted the privilege of sitting in the desk adjacent to Mr. Holovika’s desk and would be allowed to take out the chalkboard erasers outside each morning to knock off the dust. Each week, as our teacher figured out our new averages using the AG Plus- Plus system, we would have to move from desk to desk. Of course, those who were failing would be grouped together in the last row near a large bulletin board, where large posters and maps hung like centerfolds in prisons and jails.

The blue tiled floor under Kirk’s cluttered desk was covered with brown topsoil that had fallen from the tread of his black and white sneakers. I noticed all the mud as I reached inside my desk to pull out my books and pencils to move towards the front of the class.

The screeching sound of my classmate’s chair slid over tiny bits of gravel every day for an entire school year. His scratching sound would not be missed. The sound of his chair moving gave me the willies, but now, under AG++ rules, there would be silence in the seat in front of me. I was about to leave Kirk the dust. I just had to prove that I was smarter than the Yingling twins. They were clever girls, but I had common sense. The Yinglings, one blonde and one red haired, never participated in any unruly activity in the last row and were our teacher’s pets. Now I was one too– thanks to Mom.

I would have much rather ran my fingernails across the chalkboard than to hear the sound of Kirk sliding back in his chair, but this didn’t seem fair to my challenged friend. Kirk never sat still. He had such a bad home life. All day in the classroom, he slid back and forth, bumping the edge of my own desk with a plastic red chair, turning around occasionally to tell me about his grandfather’s cows and horses.

“I can ride bareback,” Kirk explained.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“No saddle. You just hold on to the horse’s hair.”

“That’s cool, Kirk!”

“I’m gonna own a farm with a big white house with five bedrooms when I get married,” Kirk explained to me while carefully adding more rubber cement to a big, grey rubber ball he stored in his desk and pulled out each week, following art class, to add to what he referred to as his ‘giant boogie’.

“So what? I’m going to have eight kids and all of them are going to have their own bedroom!” I promised.

“I’m going to marry Penny Chillcote,” Kirt boasted. My feelings we hurt for a moment, but then I realized that I was just a kid still, and eventually, I too would marry a woman as nice as my mom and Penny Chillcoat.

“No you h’aint,” I remarked. “Not if I marry her first.”

Penny sat four rows away from Kirk and me on the other side of the class, yet somehow, as if Penny had telepathy, she turned and smiled the moment I said those words.

“Do you like her?” Kirk asked.

“I think so,” I explained to my closest friend in class. “Did you ever see her hand with six fingers?” I asked. “Her extra pinky is so cool.” Kirk looked jealous, but I didn’t care. If he wanted Penny for himself, he could marry her and arrange to have that extra appendage removed before slipping on a ring, or perhaps, like me, Kirk would want her to keep her extra finger. Penny and me both did two years in the second grade with blue-eyed Mrs. Beck. Both our grades were good enough for passing, but because we were slow readers, Mrs. Beck talked our mothers into ‘holding us back’ at a PTA meeting. I loved Mrs. Beck. She told me all about her contact lenses for reading, and once took them out in front of me because something flew into them. She revealed bright green eyes, like mine. Mrs. Beck convinced my mother to hold me back a year. I loved her.

“I want to talk to my husband and keep him in my second grade class again next year. I like Charlie. He’s very smart. He just needs the right guidance, Mrs. Taylor, oh, I mean Mrs. Smith,” Mrs. Beck said to my Mom. My second grade teacher was married to Mr. Beck, the school principal. My Mom did everything that Mrs. Beck told her to do in regards to my education and a second year in the second grade was all that I needed to get right on track.

Mom wore a golden pair of earrings to the PTA meeting when she went to meet with Mr. Holovakia. Although my Mom only made it to tenth grade before my older brother was born, she took the education system seriously and used every thing in her power to create genius offspring. None of her kids were going to be without a high school degree like she was.

Mr. Holovakia’s eyes were big and round like my Mom’s Hula- Hoop earrings that Monday morning when Kirk was absent from school. I felt as smart as the Yingling twins as I took third-chair…

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Homelessness is a problem of the past. New York City’s recent mayors made it policy to keep the trains free of filthy street people. “Give to these charities instead” advertisements on trains advise commuters who would like to give, but cannot, because it is not only illegal to do so, but also because there are no homeless to be seen. I often wonder where they have all gone. I sponsored a writing competition in the craigslist writers form just to find out. This is the winning story, written by rytis, who will receive the $40 cash prize. Rytis’ story will grace the top spot in wire hangers for a few weeks while I take a break and run away from the comforts of my blog. I’ll see you all soon. I’m on vacation. Stay tuned and enjoy this wonderful tale…
I was running as fast as I could, feet in full windmill tilt forcing long strides, cold air sucking into my lungs trying to feed me oxygen to go faster. I was chasing the No. 12 bus in a mad sprint and only a half block away I saw the last waiting rider board. Now I was down to a quarter of a block, and the accordion doors were starting to close. Noooo! Now I was at the back bumper of the bus, but just then the brake lights went off… and the bus began to pull away from my outstretched arm tapping on the dirty advertisement for the 11’o’clock news.

In the big vertical side view mirror I could see the bus driver eyeing me. No smirk. Probably concern that I would do something stupid like grab onto the bumper for a free ride, or take down his bus number for a later complaint to the MTA. But no sympathy or empathy or desire to halt temporarily and take on one more passenger was evident in that blank look. He couldn’t hear me, but I hoped he could read my lips as I fired off round after round of precision guided f-bombs. Yeah you, you f- well, you know what I said.

The driver was evil, pure evil, I decided. Any other day he would hesitate, wait until all the boarding riders were seated, scratch his left temple a half dozen times, burp, fart, and only then pull out agonizingly slow, cutting off some tiny Cooper Mini. But on those days I would have already been aboard the bus along with everyone else after complaining that he was twenty minutes late. Today, I was half a minute late and he was inexplicably on time. Murphy be damned.

The next bus wouldn’t be for forty minutes per the schedule (and probably twenty minutes late per Murphy’s schedule), so now I had to decide whether to lose an hour of my life or find another way uptown. Should I find an alternative mode of transport, or just sit down in the bus shelter and allow my racing heart to slow, swallow my bitterness at the unkindness of one more of the human race?

 

I looked around and the rest of the rat race didn’t care. Rumbling truck engines echoed ‘loser’ in their guttural growl, but I’m guessing that was just my imagination… I think. Damn damn damn damn damn. I didn’t know whom to be madder at – myself for dillying before leaving work – or the damn bus driver who probably left behind dozens of people every day trying to get home. May he burn in hell one eternity for each stranded rider. And I was glad to provide one notch on his fare card to eternal hell.

Some Iranian taxi drivers scrutinized me like buzzards, waiting for that slight hand gesture that said I knew I was dead meat and willing to capitulate $40 for a taxi fare. Sorry towell heads. Not today. I was still bitter from that taxi ride two weeks ago when we got stuck in gridlock and the driver refused to unlock the door to let me out (didn’t know they could do that). Actually, Iranians aren’t towell heads, Sikhs wear those turbans. But right now I wasn’t in the mood for political correctness. I had had a very long day and just wanted to go home and everyone else just f-off and leave me be. Damn!

The bus shelter was one of those partial plexi-glass walled contraptions with panels on three sides and the street side open. It only had one inhabitant at this time of the evening rush hour, an elderly woman who appeared to be one of those homeless bag ladies, a small shopping cart next to her filled with all kinds of plastic bags and other paraphenalia of life on the streets. Great. She probably hadn’t bathed in weeks and would be reeking, and I would have to sit next to her. Had there been a coffee shop or a cafe nearby, I could just wait in the cusp of civilization. But around here there were nothing but cold, hard facades of banks and nameless office buildings. No creature comforts where I could hide away for my lost hour of life.

The bench was fairly long so I decided to sit at the other end, hoping no odor would waft over my way. Which way was the wind blowing? I was tired and mad and just didn’t feel like dealing with any more situations today. She was looking down at some old, worn three ring binder pages, whether reading them or interpreting them like tea leaves, I couldn’t tell. I plopped my tired butt on the aluminum seat and immediately felt the cold of the metal seep into my buns. Obviously all of the other riders had stood rather than sit near this bag lady. My ass could tell.

I looked over at her and she quickly put away the white pages into the folds of her wool coat – a scraggly, worn thing with streaks of dirt, but probably not bad at keeping most of the November chill off her bones. She gave me a furtive glance like I was spying on her so I politely looked away.

I wish I had a newspaper or something else to read. I had read all the billboards, store signs, and graffiti around here countless times before, and really was in the mood for something new. I glanced over at the old lady anew and she was back to reading her white pages again. I chuckled to myself wondering if she’d be willing to share a few pages with me. Suddenly a gust of wind kicked up and hit me full face on. Oh that was cold. I pulled up the collars of my leather jacket. Though I was warm with my lambskin, any exposed flesh definitely felt the cold wind.

Just then a light blue plastic grocery store bag blew across the street and into my chest. I grabbed at it, not wanting the filthy thing to hit my face. God knows where it had been and I didn’t want it touching the skin of my face.

I clutched it and balled it up, and was about to fling it away for the irritating thing that it was, when I noticed out of the corner of my eye that the old lady was watching me intently. It suddenly dawned on me – bag lady, bag. Match made in heaven. So I turned to her and offered up the bag with an outstretched hand.

“Caught this. Would you like it?” I asked, giving a nod toward the shopping cart filled with her assortment of white, clear, brown, blue, and many other colored bags.

She smiled. “No, no, you keep that. That be a good catch you have there. Good bag, Wal-Mart, best kind. I have plenty, you need some.”

OK. Not exactly the response I expected. And now I felt kind of awkward. Tossing the bag into the street would be kind of insulting. And I didn’t really want to keep the filthy thing. Actually, as I looked at it more closely, it really wasn’t filthy. So I balled it up some more and stuck it into my pocket.

“Let me show you,” I heard her voice say over the din of the traffic.

I looked over at her, unclear of what she was talking about. She took one of the bags from her shopping cart and with several deft moves of her gnarled hands expanded it out. “Like this, see?” she said without looking at me. First she flattened the bag with the back of her hand, removing all of the air. Then she folded it lengthwise several times into a long, narrow strip. Then she bent it in half, and began to roll it up, and finally rolled one open edge over the other to cover it up, somewhat like rolled up socks. Then she looked up at me with a wizened smile and displayed how small the bag had been compacted. I was amazed at her deftness. For such gnarly limbs she was quite limber.

I took my bag out of my jacket pocket, a huge wad the size of a softball, and stretched it out like she had shown. I imitated her moves, but of course I didn’t posses her skills. Though I too had reduced mine to the size of a golf ball, it wasn’t done as cleanly as she had, edges sticking out everywhere. I showed her my final product and she gave me a nod of approval. As I placed the resized bag into my coat pocket, I glanced over at her cart, and suddenly realized that if they all were that compactly packed, she must have thousands in there.

“Looks like you have quite a few,” I admired. She didn’t look up from her papers.

“Oh, I have a few. You can never have enough. They’re very useful you know.”

I nodded in agreement. Yes, I occasionally used them to line my waste basket next to my computer. I also put my sweaty gym clothes in them to keep them separate from the other articles in my carry bag. And they were great for dog poop scooping when taking my dog for a walk.

Her quiet sing song voice interupted my thoughts. “I use them as a liner in my hat. It completely keeps the wind out. I wrap them around my legs and they insulate me with warmth during the cold nights. I line my shoes with them, and it keeps my feet toasty in this weather. I can place three of them together, then take the long ones and tie knots to make a handle and I have a break proof shopping bag. I live in a shelter on D street, and I squeeze them into the edges around those drafty windows. They keep the cold out. I also wrap one around my coffee cup and it keeps it hot until the last drop. If the church gives me a few extra sandwiches, I wrap them and they stay cold even when in the sun. I even made a fingerless liner to put in my gloves. These bags keep me warm in winter. Without them, oh, I don’t know what I would do.”

This altered my opinion. I kept thinking of them as man made pollutants gathering in some giant cess pool in the Pacific, choking dolphins and pelicans. And if the State legislature ever passed the bill to ban them, had they considered what it would do to the bag ladies?

“I’m even sitting on three. These metal benches will seep all of the warmth out of you.”

“You’re right about that,” I answered, and decided to unball my bag and sit on it. Surprisingly, it did insulate some of the cold away.

We sat there for thirty minutes more, and surprisingly the next bus was on time. She didn’t get up, she just kept re-reading the same pieces of paper. I got up, and placed my blue bag in my pocket. I waved good-bye as I boarded the bus. She nodded back. As I went to my seat, I saw her pull out a bag from inside her coat, and place those white papers in them. I wonder if they were old love letters, placed in a bag of honor? I watched her for a long while, when I suddenly realized the bus was not moving. Now what?

Suddenly I saw from the back end of the outside of the bus a young woman come running up. Oh my god. The driver actually waited for a runner. As she climbed on, breathless, she plopped down next to me. The bus moved away and we both realized a cold draft was coming from a crack in the glass. A light went off in my head. I pulled out my blue bag, and stuffed it into the crack.

The young woman looked at me and smiled. “Well, that sure came in handy.”

“Yeah, these bags are quite amazing what they can do,” and the bus roared away.

Here is the link to Rytis’ blog….

http://4rytis.wordpress.com/

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