Monthly Archives: August 2014

Normalize

   

by Paul Handley

 

Itchi read Narcissus and Goldmund while riding the train. A blue pant leg with black piping strode into his downward view.

‘Can you keep that close?’ Itchi looked up to see a transit officer indicating Itchi’s messenger bag on the seat across from him.

‘Of course,’ but Itchi reached for it with a gesture of disgust at the interruption.

‘Don’t shoot the messenger,’ said the man in uniform with bluff good humor. After he moved on, Itchi aimed a handgun composed of his forefinger and thumb at the receding figure of authority. He laid down the hammer of his thumb while making a clicking sound in the right cheek that could have served as either a shot or urging his mount to move. Both were cowboy moves. A fraction later he raised his forefinger to indicate the recoil. Itchi thought briefly about blowing smoke off the end of the barrel but concluded a bit of restraint would be cooler.

‘I love Hesse ( HE s uh),’ said a feminine voice from the seat to his right. Itchi had noticed a person sleeping there earlier with a top hat pulled over eyes that he had assumed were male. Now the topper was raised, revealing feminine features composed of thinly shaped eyebrows and long lashes with snake bit piercing; one below each corner of her lower lip.

‘Is that how you say it? I thought it was Hess. You don’t hear his name much in conversation.’

‘It’s German.’

‘Have we just Americanized it?’

‘This is America, we drive on the right side and speak English. Don’t you just want to punch someone in the face who orders a kra-sawn instead of a croissant?’

‘I could do it. I over-pronounce Mexican food. En-chee-LAAH-dahz.’ They both laughed.

Itchi had never seen her before but it was hard for him to imagine her without the hat. Whereas at one time he had excellent recall of faces, now they all tended to blur. Trains arrived every 14 minutes so Itchi rarely saw passengers twice. Additionally, he commuted back and forth to work by a pastiche of buses, carpool, bike and train; whatever was most convenient depending upon weather or his schedule.

‘They’ve already won,’ said the young woman, who Itchi had privately named Topper.

‘What?’

‘They have already won,’ said Topper indicating the door through which Itchi’s security guard had vanished.

‘It’s not a contest. He has a job to do.’ Itchi shrugged.

‘We all have a job to do, don’t we?’ said Topper.

‘You’re right. He’s just doing what he has to do, but I still hate people telling me what to do. It’s like being back in high school,’ said Itchi.

‘Oh, so do I,’ said Topper.

‘If you’re security everyone resents you,’ said Itchi.

‘But isn’t there a point where everyone should hate you? It’s not like there aren’t any limits.’

‘I didn’t say hate,’ said Itchi.

‘What if I said I’m in Al-Qaeda?’ said Topper.

‘I’d be concerned.’

‘But you shouldn’t be. It should mean nothing to you. It’s just a name. I’m probably joking. I don’t think Al-Q even exists anymore. What are the odds that you have a bomb in that bag? There are millions of us traveling all over the country. Every time a bag is found it’s in the news. Do you remember the last piece of luggage that had an incendiary device?’

‘It’s been a while,’ said Itchi.

‘If I had odds like that…’ Topper stopped and looked up to her right to ruminate, ‘Think of all the things that have much higher odds that nobody acts on. Why is that? Do you ever think about that? Prison overcrowding, global warming, we know they are happening, but we don’t do anything about it. Not really.’

‘Follow the money?’ Itchi guessed.

‘Probably, but I can’t stop people with that kind of power. All I want is to be left alone. And if you tell me you have to give up some freedom to get it I’ll have to punch you,’ said Topper.

‘You’re very punchy,’ Itchi replied. Topper jerked her head back twice as if taking jabs, elevating her hat to mid-forehead. She was pulling the brim back down as Itchi laughed and she joined in.

‘So, this is an issue for you, huh?’ asked Itchi.

‘Why isn’t it for you? Why isn’t it for everyone?’

Itchi affected a hippie voice, ‘Because we’re all stuck in our zombie-like existence that involves watching TV four hours a day while stuffing ourselves with bacon-wrapped maple doughnuts, man.’

‘You’re mocking me, but that’s part of the truth. You’re afraid to say it,’ said Topper.

‘What?’ asked Itchi.

‘You know.’

‘Al-Q,’ said Itchi.

‘Told you, but that’s a start,’ said Topper.

‘Why Al-Q?’ asked Itchi.

‘Sounds less threatening.’

‘Are you taking ownership of terrorism, like queer for gay people?’ asked Itchi.

‘No, we are the fake Al-Q. We want to sow the seeds of a blasé attitude. Blaséism. That’s our creed. We want people to believe Al-Qaeda is everywhere and then we’d become so accustomed to the bullshit of nothing happening that we’d get back to normal.’

‘That is the stupidest idea I have ever heard in my life,’ said Itchi.

‘I think so too, but it’s a plan. Nobody else is doing anything. We all just accept the security state as the new normal,’ said Topper.

‘I’m already inured and desensitized from this conversation. It must be working. I can’t believe you are going to prison for pretending to be Al-Qaeda,’ said Itchi. Just then two female transit officers accompanying the original officer, who Itchi had dry-fired his finger at, shoved aside the sliding door separating the cabs and roughly arrested Topper. Her topper had been knocked off and she looked defiant and scared.

‘She told me she’s Al-Qaeda,’ Itchi informed them.

 

Paul Handley’s work has appeared in Hobart, Metazen, Gone Lawn, Monkeybicycle, Pulp Diction III, Apt, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency and is forthcoming in Gargoyle Magazine.

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That Long Hallway

    

by Kayla Pongrac

 

So I’m walking down my high school hallway asking my classmates to sign my yearbook when Adam stops me between my locker and the classroom in which we learn about past and present wars and he says, ‘Hey, what about me?’ so I quickly pull a pen from my back pocket and watch him scribble a note that reads, SHINE ON YOU CRAZY DIAMOND. –ADAM and I am confused because first of all, I am not a diamond and second of all I don’t identify as crazy, but I shrug my shoulders and keep working my way down the hallway, stopping everyone who may have something kind to dust on these pages, maybe a few good words to share about how they wish me good luck in college and beyond and even though we’ll never see each other again after we graduate I hope that you’ll get to travel the world and drink exotic teas and successfully grow orchids in your living room and never doubt yourself because one day many years from now, you’ll be sitting in the passenger seat of your dad’s truck and a Pink Floyd song will play from his speakers and all of a sudden you’ll remember that maybe you had the potential to shine on, that perhaps the diamond to which Adam was referring is still spinning like a top on your bathroom sink where you have spent many mornings noticing little drops of blood fall and mix with white dollops of shaving cream, creating a light pink shade that somehow – and you’re not quite sure how – reminds you of that long hallway. 

 

Kayla Pongrac is an avid writer, reader, tea drinker, and vinyl record spinner. When she’s not writing creatively, she’s writing professionally – for two newspapers and a few magazines in her hometown of Johnstown, PA. To read more of Kayla’s work, visit www.kaylapongrac.com or follow her on Twitter @KP_the_Promisee.

 

 

 

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Dinner Menu

by Dorian Maffei

                                                                                Appetizers

Heated Eggplant Dip

You have never raised your voice at me1……………………………………………..……………………………….$4

Crispy Rye Crackers with Asiago Crust

I can tell you want to though2…………………………………………………………………………………………….$2

Tossed Garden Salad with Squash

You put your head in your hands when I start to cry3……………………………….……………………………..$7

Assortment of Artisan Cheeses

We both wonder how this will sort itself out4………………………………………………………………………..$7

With a Side of Cracked-Pepper Chips

Add one shattered plate5……………………………………………………..……………………………………………$3

 

                                                                              Main Courses

Salted Codfish in a Bed of Watercress

And now I’m really crying6………………………………………………………….…………………………………….$16

Cioppino

I don’t even remember what we are fighting about anymore7…………………………………………………$21

Triple-Fried Filet of Sole

Fighting about the same thing never helps8…………………………………………………………………………$17

Tender Pork Loin Braised in a Lemon-Lime Vinaigrette

You don’t touch me at all9…………………………………………………………………………………………………$21

Beer Battered Fish and Chips

Am I really like broken batteries to you?10……………………………………………………………………………$15

 

 

Desserts

Apple Turnover Dressed in a Blue Cheese Crumble

You feel bad you said that to me11…………………………………….………………………………………………..$8

Flan Paired with a Mango BBQ Sauce

I want to cry again and I don’t know why12……………………………………………………………………………$8

 

 

1 But instead, when you’re angry, you use your jaw to clamp your teeth together until you have a headache. You are doing it right now. I can see the muscles in your neck clenching and I have to look away.

2 It’s obvious. You tell me to stop being difficult. I’m offended.

3 I say FUCK and you are pacing around the apartment. Goddamnit. Goddamnit. Goddamnit. Your voice drifts down the hall and I know you’re in the living room. I wait a minute before following you and I find you on our salmon-colored couch staring at the magazine you’ve just thrown. I can tell you threw it because the pages are ruffled and it’s laying face down on the floor in an uncomfortable position.

4 We also both know that it will. But right now it’s not sorted out and it sucks.

5 The one I painted for you at Doodlebug for our first Christmas. I remember when you smiled and hugged me when you opened it. We joked at how overpriced Doodlebug is. I admitted it had cost $15 dollars to paint and we both cracked up. Now, you say sorry for breaking the plate. I say I’m sorry too. But I don’t really mean it because I say it in a tone that says otherwise.

6 I’m crying a lot. I leave the living room and go into the bathroom of our apartment to rinse my face with cold water. I think about how my face is puffing up from crying so much so I gently massage the cold water over my eyelids.

7 So I go back into the living room where you are still sitting on the couch. And you say:

8 It’s true. Fighting about the same things over and over again never helps. It’s true. We’ve had this fight before. Just as I feel our rage melting, I try to explain my side again. I watch as your neck muscles tense and your lips bunch up in anger. You take a deep breath and it bothers me. You make me feel like I’m crazy. And the worst part about it is

9 It makes me really sad. I bring this up. That it’s all I want at this point. Just hug me and we can stop fighting. Show me some affection, please. You’re still angry and you tell me I’m like broken batteries.

10 No.

11 You begin to get up off the couch and I turn away because I’m hurt. We are both exhausted. You wrap me in your arms and say sorry and it sounds sincere this time.

12 I’m happy we stopped fighting, but I’m not satisfied either. I ask you if you want to go out to dinner because I don’t feel like cooking. I go reapply my makeup to hide my red swollen eyes. We barely talk in the car ride over and when we do it’s in whispers. When we are seated they bring us menus. You reach for my hand across the table and I try to take my mind off everything.

 

– Dorian Maffei is currently an undergraduate at UC Santa Cruz studying creative writing. She’s a reader, writer, and most importantly, a cat aficionado. Her latest project in progress is a collection of short stories with a recurring theme of flowers. Follow her on Twitter at @DorianMaffei. 

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ILF(™)

 

by Ron Singer

 

With the advent of chip implants, it seemed only nanoseconds before cell phones skiddooed, BlackBerries bombed, and so on. We all continued to walk around apparently talking to ourselves, but now that we were stripped of mechanical pretext, it became even harder to identify the truly delusional. You really had to watch your back.

One thing led to another, which led to a speech by the Mayor of —-, a.k.a. Cheerleader-in-Chief, a.k.a. Pom-Pom Boy, (fill in name).

‘I’m sure,’ he began, ‘that you have all heard the damaging expression, “—- is the a** h**e of the world.” ‘ Part of the problem is that we, ourselves, are notorious for the use of such language. Well, it’s time to do something about it. I hereby decree an exciting new program that will end our reign as obscenity capital of the world.

‘Starting on (fill in date), all citizens old enough to curse will be required to undergo a mandatory, complimentary, painless and completely safe implant of a new chip, already under development, known as the Impolite Language Filter, or ILF ™. And best of all, perhaps, where will every single ILF be manufactured? Of course! Hooray!’

Despite rumors that he had accepted a six-figure sweetener from ILF, Inc., the mayor’s audacious plan was quickly rubber-stamped by the quiescent City Council, lulled beyond even their usual torpor by the boss’s blandishments about ‘homeland decency,’ ‘civic pride,’ and the rest of the usual sh*t. Had the councilors also been sweetened? Again, rumor.

The triumph of ILF was trumpeted by the tabloids.

 

The Gazette: HIZZONER TO PROLES: ‘WATCH YOUR FUC*ING LANGUAGE.’

The Star: ‘OKAY, BOYS, TIME TO CUT THE CRAP!’

 

As for the storied Herald, they predictably resorted to condescending pontifical waffle. ‘Score another one for Mayor (Name), who never ceases to amaze. And who can say, maybe he’s right this time, when he argues that the benefits to moral tone which, let’s face it, is a key element of our fair city’s quality of life, may outweigh any possible infringement of First Amendment rights.’

Initial reactions on the street were also predictable. There were thousands of shouts, adequately summed up as, ‘Fuc* that sh*t!’ But the mayor pushed ahead, and soon obscenity scofflaws, harried and outnumbered, were driven to pursue their unreconstructed colloquies in the dark corners of bars, toilet stalls, etc. – in short, in all the usual private, insalubrious places.

Understandably, many —-ers expressed fears that their counterparts from other cities would take advantage.’Every fuc*in’ dic*head,’ commented a chippy (but unchipped) young Graeco-Irish-American construction worker (also Jewish and Latino), as he ate lunch on a job site, ‘from fuc*in’ —-, fuc*in’ —-, and fuc*in’ —-will be laughin’ their fuc*in’ heads off. What the fuc*!’ And he added the generic, ‘Fuc* that sh*t.’

‘What kind of jack sh*t this supposed to be?’ echoed a normally law-abiding middle-aged African-American postal worker, as she was getting her hair permed at a local emporium. She, too, added the generic malediction.

‘Fuc*in’ Pom Pom Boy finally shot his wad out the kazoo,’ suggested an unchipped pale male hipster with multiple piercings.

‘He must be fuc*in’ brain-dead,’ added his girl friend. ‘He’s been suckin’ the municipal bong too long.’

In fact, ‘Brain Dead’ became the mayoral sobriquet of choice. And ‘chipped’ replaced the myriad of terms for mental incompetence, including, especially, ‘cracked’.

Months passed. In the fancier neighborhoods, only trace memories remained, supplemented by ingenious new euphemisms that seemed to sprout up like erect penises.

‘The diaper prices are so flooping high,’ commented one pram pusher to another as they charged up the Avenue.

‘Tell me,’ replied her counterpart. ‘Gosh darn, isn’t inflation the poo!’

‘Tomorrow, the nation,’ quipped the jovial mayor, ‘the day after tomorrow, the world. Imagine what the Martians will say.’

‘Beep beep,’ the Martians said. But that’s what they always said. (And not ‘bleep bleep’.)

Silk-stocking types thought the outrage among the plebs was a scream.

‘They would,’ riposted an unchipped Transit Authority pensioner in a bar. ‘Those fuc*ing hoity-toity a** h**es!’

A celebrated Cultural Anthropology Professor at —- College cleaned up on the law by whipping up a spicy lecture in which he outlined ‘the movement from ritual, to myth and dirty joke, to … nothing.’ Once word got out that the lecture included the ‘f-word,’ his classroom was SRO, although, in fact, he only uttered the word (forty-seven times) in order to deconstruct it.

After a year of bland misery, the people took things into their own hands. A cottage industry sprang up in which abortionist types in dingy basements across the city removed the chips the same way they had been implanted, through the ear. The fee was nominal; the motto, ‘pro fuc*ing bono.’

‘Free, at last!’ was the most common post-operative expression of relief – often without even an expletive. When half the population of —- had undergone the procedure, and, coincidentally, when Election Day was fast approaching, Mayor (Name) finally gave in.

‘The Vox Populi has spoken,’ he gracefully admitted. ‘And what the fuc*,’ quipped the good sport, ‘you win some, you lose some. Just like, ahem, elections?’

A few days after the predictable results were in, a new bill repealed the old, and, predictably, there followed a perfect sh*t storm of obscenity. Things, that is, returned to fuc*ing normal.

 

Satire by Ron Singer (www.ronsinger.net) has appeared in many publications (The Brooklyn Rail, diagram, Evergreen Review, Mad Hatter’s Review, Word Riot, etc.), and he has published several books. In 2010-11, he made three trips to Africa for Uhuru Revisited: Interviews with Pro-Democracy Leaders (forthcoming). His serial thriller, Geistmann, and his serial farce, The Parents We Deserve, are both available at jukepopserials.com. His work has twice been nominated for Pushcart Prizes.

 

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