Monthly Archives: June 2016

Property Listings in My Diary

By Bette Pesetsky


1. On our street

A ranch-style red brick house is typical of structures on the street. Purchased by C. Chester in 2003 this property was later described by him (personal communication) as put together by people whose previous training must have been in the construction of cardboard cartons. C. Chester’s wife Amelia called her husband a dirty sot and threw a tantrum in the developer’s office. She wanted the house, she screamed. Her husband loved her legs, her breasts, her butt, and although conscious of the fact that in time these physical features would alter, bought her the house.

2. Whose house are you?

A small, gray-blue clapboard house, built by Charles K. Luxor (1956) for his widowed mother Sonya who lived on the premises until her death five years ago. Clearly, this is the least expensive house on the street, but it has the best piece of land, a triangular lot that reduces neighbor contact. Property now owned by Clyde and Debbie Elton, noted for their white-blond hair, a hearty and athletic couple, possibly of Danish extraction. Known for his early interest in leftist politics, Clyde is now a registered Republican. A newspaper photograph of Clyde circa 1972 with raised fist and mouth open was published in the Los Angeles Times. This framed clipping hangs in the downstairs hall.

3. The rich are different

One-story brick house owned by an elderly couple either named Simmons or Simon. They keep to themselves and are the last of the street’s residents to have leaves raked from their lawn or snow shoveled from their driveway. They own a black BMW 740 and a citron silver Mercedes E320. They lock the house on January 1st and notify the Well-Bred Security Service and leave for Palm Springs. They return in the middle of April. In August the above procedure is repeated, and they depart for Maine, to return middle of September. Why people who own such expensive cars and are absent most of the year would buy a house on this street no one understands. There is no snob like one from the working classes.

4. Quiet 1

This shingle-covered house can be distinguished from its neighbors by a screened front patio installed three years ago by K. Comfort whose work permits remain pasted in the kitchen window. This is typical of owners Diane and Tom Kerry. Their five-year-old Toyota Camry still bears on its left side window the dealer’s listing of purchase price of $34,640 FOB. The Kerrys have two daughters, Mary Lee and Eileen, and a stepson, Wesley. Tom, a stocky man with early male pattern baldness, is fond of mentioning that in college he was a track star. Wife Diane rarely mentions anything. She is known for her silences.


Bette Pesetsky is the author of two story collections: ‘Stories Up to a Point’ and ‘Confessions of a Bad Girl.’ Her recent stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Oblong, Chicago Literati, Veritas Review, Helen: A Literary Magazine, Litro, The Moth, Sleet and Thrice Fiction.

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Slammer Squash: Back to the Source

By Ron Singer


Dr. Jerome J. Ayler
Director, Facilities & Programs
N.Y. State Department of Corrections
Building # 13 ½
27220 Washington Street
Albany NY 12224

(cc. Dr. Thomas Paine, Director of Federal Prisons)

 

Dear Dr. Ayler,

I am writing to propose an innovative and mutually beneficial use of prison yard space. The benefits to the DOC would be revenue enhancement and prisoner rehabilitation. The benefits to my two-dozen associates and myself would be a new venue for our favorite game – squash.

You are perhaps unaware that, even as the number of squash players in New York City and other metropolitan areas continues to trend upward, facilities are fast disappearing. In an era of rising rents, by converting squash courts to exercise-machine rooms, health clubs are able to exponentially enhance their cash flow.

This is why we have decided to approach the DOC. If you could see your way toward doing a minimal conversion of a prison yard in a facility near N.Y. City (e.g. Bedford Hills, Taconic, or Sing Sing), and then leasing said yard to us, we would be willing to “join” the prison, as if it were a health club. The financial details could be worked out, but generally speaking, the going rate per individual member runs to about $2,400 p.a., or a total of about $60,000. We would offer to share conversion costs.

What about inmate recreation time? There are two possible solutions. We could restrict our play to hours when prisoners are not using the yard, or work out an arrangement by which we would teach them the game. In that case, our membership fees could, perhaps, be adjusted.

As to our suitability for coaching, several of us have extensive experience. Furthermore, two in our group already know their way around the prison system, having done “time” (albeit in a federal facility). As they can attest, there are currently no squash courts in U.S. prisons, so that, during their incarceration, they were reduced to playing tennis. (To address this need, I am cc.-ing my proposal to Dr. Paine.)

“What goes around comes around.” Let me remind you that squash was invented three centuries ago in the Fleet, an English debtors’ prison. Then, as now, the high walls provided a ready-made court. (Not to mention the continuing connection between debt and incarceration.) Conversely, the game has long been associated with wealth and prestige, an association that may recommend it to your wards.

There are numerous other sources of appeal. Many squash professionals have nicknames similar to those of prisoners. For instance, two recent women champions were dubbed “Pink Panther” and “Duracell Bunny.” Among male champions have been “The Wolf,” “Hammer of Thor,” “German Tree Chopper,” “Marksman,” “Dark Prince,” and “Predator.”

Of signal relevance to my proposal is the game’s aggressiveness, sometimes compared to the behavior of real-estate operatives. (Three of our players, myself included, are brokers, including one – not me – with prison experience.) In both squash and real estate, location is everything. Squash proficiency requires domination of the center of the court, known as the “T.” (To assert such control might also be compared to being a “Wolf” in the yard.) Squash teaches maximum strategic aggressiveness within a set of strict, but bendable, rules, an essential virtue in capitalist society.

An important measure of squash fitness is the ability to “run the diagonal,” i.e. to traverse the court at the longest distance. I would respectfully suggest that a large proportion of your wards spend most of their lives running “diagonals.” Furthermore, since many prisoners are inveterate boasters, they might easily master the “boast,” a tricky shot off two walls. Other concepts and terms that would resonate are “killer drop shot” and “slam” (as in “slammer”).

Squash offers several basic emotional and physical benefits to the prison population. Known to elevate endorphins, the game is a major morale booster. At 600 calories per hour, it is also an outstanding fat burner. Or consider the problem of inmate violence. Even if this outlet for aggressive energy did not turn out to reduce the incidence of violence, injuries might reduce the capacity. For instance, tennis and golf elbow, which result from incorrect swings, are bound to weaken shiv thrusts. Regarding substance abuse, it could not but be salutary were convicts/players to switch from the cornucopia of currently popular, dangerous drugs to less harmful ones like power shakes.

Let me anticipate two or three possible objections to this proposal. Rather than reduce violence, might not squash, in fact, exacerbate it, especially between prisoners of different races and ethnic groups? To avoid this outcome, I would suggest a system of segregation. “Nativist” prisoners (often overweight), such as members of the AB (Aryan Brotherhood), could be directed to the American game, with its small court and bouncy ball; and inmates of color, to the international version (large court, dead ball).

What about the danger of “civilians’” sharing an enclosed space with violent offenders? Squash-ers already do that – with each other! Finally, you may argue, to discourage recidivism, prisons are meant to be punitive. Ha! Ask any squash player about the agonies we undergo during a single game! As we say, “No pain, no gain.” So …

UP WITH SLAMMER SQUASH!

Hoping to hear from you soon, I remain,

Respectfully yours,

Roberto “FDS” (Feather Drop Shot) Khan

 

Satire by Ron Singer (www.ronsinger.net) has previously appeared in numerous publications, including The Brooklyn Rail, defenestration, diagram, Evergreen Review, Fiction Week Literary Review, The Higgs-Weldon, The Journal of Microliterature, Mad Hatter’s Review, The Story Shack, and Word Riot. His eighth book, Uhuru Revisited: Interviews with Pro-Democracy Leaders (Africa World Press/Red Sea Press, 2015), is available in about a hundred libraries across the U.S., and beyond.

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Miss Guide

By Amalia Gladhart

 

Marta can’t stand foreigners, not after those three years she lived in Portland, but she has the best English in town and speaks German, too, nearly unaccented, along with a few words of Greek. People weren’t unkind – they barely noticed her. She talks to her former roommate every week. But she got tired of it, of them. Loud voices, waving arms; earnest, stupid certainty. So much food. And now they’re here, flocks of them, since the songbird colony was discovered. Not discovered – everyone here knew about it. Announced. In the birding news, first; later in the glossy travel guides.

Birders are quiet, thank goodness, but they want their tours first thing in the morning. Bright and early, on the dot, daypacks and water bottles and sensible shoes. Still, she has her evenings free; she’s saving money. They’ll pay whatever you ask up front; she’s not living on tips.

She’s living on explanations, and while her language skills are good (they’re excellent; it’s hard not to boast) she knows next to nothing about birds. She’s making it up when they ask how many chicks in a clutch and do they mate for life and how far is the migration and how long do they live? There’s usually someone in the group who’s swallowed the field guide and is eager to provide particulars. Marta fills in any blanks, recites what she remembers from the last round. But filling in one of those blanks got her where she is now, at the edge of a waterfall (at the edge of a cliff; she won’t think about that) with a ten-year-old and his bird-crazy mother. Because she said yes, of course, when asked if swallows ever flew through the falls, did they rest behind the lacy curtain of water. Yes, of course there’s an overlook.

Maybe it’s the effect of reeling off so many facts and figures, even if half of them are false, but she’s starting to admire these little birds. Terrified, alert, a scant wingspan from the precipice, she holds her breath, feels her face turn blue, dizzy with vicarious flight. Six or seven swallows swoop and weave, their flourishes nearly balletic. Marta likes the idea so much, aerial ballet, she uses it aloud on the guests. The others wait below, sharing out their healthy snacks and triumphantly discovered local sweets.

And then, at last, they get what they came for. Not swallows in the falls. Something better. A flash of yellow, bright as sunrise, so quick Marta thinks she missed it, dreamed it, until the bird perches on an overhanging branch to sing. It’s an aria, intricate and warbled, one she’s never heard, or maybe she never listened long enough. Feathers groomed to velvet, the yellow pure and brilliant and uninterrupted, like the song. Only the beak is black, the feet. The rush of falling water offers orchestral accompaniment.

They don’t sing near their nests, Marta whispers. The bird shifts its weight to one foot. They do that to rest, Marta says. Even asleep, they lock onto a perch.

The ten-year-old is perfectly still. His mother pulls out her notebook. Highland canary, Marta says, easy as breathing. Now it doesn’t matter what the bird is called.

– Amalia Gladhart is the author of Detours (Burnside Review Press) and translator of Trafalgar (by Angélica Gorodischer) and The Potbellied Virgin and Beyond the Islands (both by Alicia Yánez Cossío). Her poetry and short fiction have appeared in Eleven Eleven, Necessary Fiction, Literal Latté, Cloudbank, Bellingham Review, Stone Canoe, and elsewhere. She lives in Oregon and blogs at amaliagladhart.com.

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You Want to Know Where I Got My Sculpture of a Man, with a Chainsaw, Carving a Man with a Chainsaw?

By John Paul Carillo

 

Karl ruined his business. He had been doing well, really well, with the owls, and the bears, and the bearded tree-men, the occasional nymph—stuff that, you know, people normally carve with two-stroke 3.75 hp gasoline driven chainsaws. But then one day, about a year ago, Karl began to fail to keep abreast of the competition, and started carving the same chainsaw sculpture again and again: A man, with a chainsaw, carving a man with a chainsaw. Karl now only carves sculptures of Karl, with a chainsaw, carving a smaller sculpture of Karl with a chainsaw. His lot is full of them, “Karls Carving Karls” (and maybe a nymph or two he wasn’t able to sell before his metamorphosis into a lunatic). I know all this because I’m the only one (beside his wife) who’s ever bought one, one of the “Karls Carving Karls,” and I’ve been positioning myself to return it ever since! I’ve got it in the backyard now, “Untitled #7 (Karl Carving Karl),” and still the neighbors give me funny looks.

Okay, okay! So I am sleeping with his wife! Okay, sue me! What would you do?! The man is obsessed!!

The other day, in bed with M, I said, “What do I do? The neighbors—they gawk.” “Move it into the backyard,” she said calmly as she pinched her left nipple. “I did that already!” I screamed. “The neighbors, they still come. On stilts. They look over the fence. They throw rocks.” “Oh, Lewis,” said M, “make love to me again.” But she didn’t mean it. She just wanted me to shut my trap about “Untitled #7 (Karl Carving Karl).”

Anyway, a few days later, during lunch break (I’m an insurance salesman by day, bingo champion by night) I went down to Karl’s lot, where he was working on another sculpture, I don’t have to tell you. I kept my distance, while indicating for him to cool it with the whirling blades, ready to run if he decided instead, you know, to come running at me and lop my head off. But no, the man—and he’s got this classic look to him, with the red mustache, and always the blue and green flannel shirt—is oblivious. “Karl,” I said, as he let the machine die down, “another?” “Trying to get it right this time.” “But, Karl, they’re all the same,” and I indicated as such by pointing out all the “Karls Carving Karls” in his lot with a wave of my hand. There were nearly a hundred, just like the one I had in my backyard. Karl shook his head at me, mouthed the word “pathetic,” and, as he started his Husqvarna, I took several cautious steps backwards.

About an hour later—he’d been deep into his composition when I’d arrived—he turned the chainsaw off again, flipped his goggles to the top of his head, and stared me right in the eyes. Then he looked down, into the sculpture, where I was meant to look. I looked. My eyes opened wide: I couldn’t believe what he was showing me; I couldn’t believe what I was seeing—and I don’t know how he’d done it … He’d gotten the wooden “chainsaw blades”—the wooden representation of the chains themselves—to move, in a vaguely ovular fashion. They were spinning around and around, making a woodpecker sound—defying logic, gravity, and even proper decorum.

I tried a complaint. “The one you sold me doesn’t do that,” I whined. “Trying,” he said, “to get it right. Just trying, Lewis,” he said, and he spit a wad of tobacco onto his own boot, “to get it right,” and he looked me deep into the eyes again. I couldn’t stand it, and turned my head away.

I stopped sleeping with Karl’s wife, stayed out of his business in general, and never doubted the man’s artistic obsessions again.

And, I went home with another statue.

We keep this one in the living room.

 

– John Paul Carillo is a graduate of The Writing Seminars at The Johns Hopkins University. He has recently completed a comic novel, Bad Adjunct, and is currently working on his next novel, Real American People. An excerpt from Bad Adjunct, “America Is Not the Future,” has been published at Vol 1. Brooklyn, and his story “Little Hellhounds” was translated into French and published by 13E Note Editions of Paris. He currently teaches screenwriting at UMBC, and plays in the groups Joy on Fire and Three Red Crowns with his partner and saxophonist Anna Meadors. www.jpcarillo.com.

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