Category Archives: Fiction

Fiction Piece: “Going to Pot”, Featuring Image: “Sunflower”

GOING TO POT

     Not many trees grew in the town where I grew up.  My family lived on a barrier island off the coast of South Jersey.  If you dug in the ground to any depth, you quickly hit salt water. But that didn’t stop residents from planting flowers.

     My grandmother loved to plant petunias, marigolds, and geraniums in her large front-yard garden.  I didn’t share her floral passion. To my nose, the marigolds and geraniums had a foul odor. Though I did like the orange color of the marigolds, I hated the red color of the geraniums.  And although I was glad the petunias had no smell whatsoever, the way they collapsed on themselves at the slightest provocation made me angry. I can forgive them for not being able to withstand a garden hose, but even the slightest rain shower was too much for them.

     Nevertheless, I did like my grandmother, a spunky diminutive woman dressed in black who came across the ocean when she was a little girl.  Near the turn of the century, she came with her family from Naples, Italy. She wasn’t the best cook, but she made sure I had a daily meal.  To this day, her acidic tomato sauce still lingers in the back of my throat.

     During a string of my preteen years, I helped my grandmother tend her garden.  We both were on our knees in the spring, getting muddy while planting and watering.  In the summer, my grandmother picked off the plants’ dead leaves and blossoms that were past their prime.  She left the weeding to me. I told her, “I can’t tell the weeds from the flowers. Why can’t they just all grow together?”

     My grandmother wasn’t swayed from her conviction.  She said, “Just keep pulling!” A small white statue of the Virgin Mary stood in the center of the garden.  I prayed to the Virgin for inspiration to know what to say to my grandmother, so she would grant me permission to escape the hot blazing sun.  Mother Mary failed me.

     One time, I saw my grandmother viciously attacking a geranium plant.  She was shaking the plant and pruning it down to its stem. I asked her why she was destroying the poor defenseless thing.  She spat out, “I don’t want it to go to pot.” I had no idea what that meant, so I asked her to explain. She said, “If the plant makes seeds, it’ll stop flowering.”  I felt forlorn that the plant would never get the chance to reach full maturity.

     My grandmother didn’t want me to grow up.  My grandfather was much older than my grandmother.  I was the youngest grandchild, and she didn’t want to be abandoned.    She didn’t like the life she led as a fishmonger’s wife. My grandmother bribed me with outlandish promises, such as, “I’m gonna leave the house to you when I die.”

     I told her, “I don’t want the house, and I don’t want you to die.”

     In the fall, I helped my grandfather dig up the geranium plants.  So that the plants wouldn’t freeze come winter, we put them in clay pots and stored them in his oversized garage.  My grandfather talked nonstop about how the Old Country was so much better than this country.

     As soon as I turned eighteen, I fled my stifling hometown to a place 3000 miles away, where there are lots of trees and lots of gardens populated with flowers that I never saw grow on the East Coast.

     After hearing from a cousin of mine about my grandmother’s demise, I waited to hear whether a free house was waiting for me.  This aching desire to return to the place I couldn’t wait to get away from came to me one day quite unexpectedly. As it turned out, I wasn’t even mentioned in the will.

     But that was a while ago.  Now, surrounded by eucalyptus, cedar, and fir trees in a big garden known as Golden Gate Park, I watch the skies while from a clay bong I smoke away my homesickness.  Fairies dance in the fog with me. Though homeless, I’m content enough. For unlike my grandmother’s flowers, I’ve discovered the joys of going to pot.

Written By: James Daniel

About the Author: James Daniel has spent the fall semester of 2019 attending Cynthia Slates’ “Creative Non-Fiction” class at City College of San Francisco. James is currently working on a novel called “Straddling the Centuries,” which tells about his near-death experience that occurred near the turn of the century.

Sunflower_Visual Art_Linocut

Visual Art Titled “Sunflower” By: Steven Salinas

About the Artist: Steven is a young and coming artist exploring various mediums including photography, film, and printmaking. His work explores nostalgia, its interaction with each of our presents, and how that interaction can be used to wield a sense of identity.

Fiction Piece: “The Flesh of the Father”, Featuring Image: “The Sunset”

Flesh of the Father

     “Oh, thank you. Is my breath bad?” my Father Ari asked. “No, it’s just the thing I do when I am having one,” said my Uncle Zeb. I watched the transaction as if it was in slow motion. My father, a devout vegan, accepted not any Altoid but an Altoid from the red-bordered tin box!

     As we stood in Beth Chaim Synagogue, immediate family on one side, friends on the other, I looked around to see if my Mother Melissa had witnessed the ultimate sin. Nope. She was focused straight and center on my Cousin Elba. I scanned across another bench, in the most modest houses of assembly and both my brother and sister were flipping through a mini-Torah. “No look, that’s the right one,” Jerone stated. “No it’s not. I will show you,” Ziva stated. “Shhh. Not now you two,” my mother responded with one sideways finger at her lips.

    I watched as my Cousin Elba and her new husband Rakel smashed the wine goblet and the largest family members of the relative hierarchy, carried them down the aisle, out to the reception room. It wasn’t long before everyone was seated and eating. I was seated to the left of my Father. I know Mom had filled out the green-bordered meal cards for Elba’s special day, ensuring we all received “proper” dishes. Exactly the way it has been since I can remember up until now.

     For the rest of the night I watched my father like a hawk. He was a field mouse and I hadn’t eaten in days. I scanned his every movement. I even followed him twice to the men’s room. I watched as he ate the vegan-prepared meal. I kept thinking there would be some sort of a facial expression or a sign, letting me know he was no longer one of us. But nothing. Instead, he exclaimed with his typical gastronomic response, “These plum-roasted green beans are superb,” and with his last bite, “Oh, those carnivores have nothing on us!” For the first time while listening to my Father, contempt filled me up. I was tempted at least four or five times to say something but I always remembered Mom’s Rules of Veganism. In this case, Rule #4, “Don’t Make A Scene.” We flew home the next day. 

     My Mom and Dad were vegan before they met. Mom began in high school at the Athenia School for the Gifted. She was drama. She was debate. She stood for change. Dad’s dad was a farmer and raised soy. Zayde drank a lot and wasn’t a good farmer. Money concerns were prevalent and his family mainly ate soy, vegetables and nuts. Dad just got used to being meatless.

     After the wedding, I never missed a family meal or a family restaurant outing. I found myself watching my Father eat every Vegan-strictive mouthful. I couldn’t help but watch every spoonful of veggie soup. Every fork full of roasted Brussel sprouts. Every slice of flourless, sugar-free carob cake.  It wasn’t a guarantee of his faith but it left me somewhat satisfied.

     “Kids, you’ll thank us when you’re older,” my Mom would exclaim as she passed around another round of roasted peppercorn tofu, her favorite. You could hear The Smiths playing in the living room.

And the flesh you so fancifully fry

Is not succulent, tasty or kind

It’s death for no reason

And death for no reason is murder

     When my parents married, we were told, they decided their children weren’t only going to be raised Jewish but we would eat “nothing with a face”. We also weren’t allowed to consume any eggs, dairy or sugary products. It was a Portland Public Television and private Hebrew school only household. Talk about the chosen!

     Since the wedding, I relived all the times standing with my compadres at the local creamy. Always waiting to be last, so no one could hear my order. “Yes, I’ll have two-scoops of the dairy-free, sugar-free taro root, please.” I always followed the rules. I was “Team Vegan-Lacto-Ovo-No Sugar” all the way!

     I found myself going through his pant and coat pockets whenever I had an alone moment, usually a Saturday afternoon when they had gone to the park with Jerone and Ziva. I was hoping for some sign. But I always came up empty handed. The best I could do were a few empty sugar-free Jolly Rancher wrappers. If Father had left the faith it didn’t show. So far, the Incident of the Altoid was a one-off.

     We’d always get invited to outdoor functions with all of the other soccer-mom-dads. Mom would always assemble our “relief pack”. Usually, homemade ginger beer, veggie sticks, hummus, a 3-bean salad and Linda McCartney’s Field Sausage with golden potatoes.  Dad always brought our unsullied Hibachi with separate utensils for barbecuing and consumption.

     At these functions, positioning was everything. Downwind of the BBQ pits was forbidden. Once the carcasses hit the grill, we’d position ourselves with the The Klein Family, usually at 12 o’clock. They didn’t eat pork or anything cooked next to it. I’d keep an eye on Father to see if he’d be coaxed out of the pocket but no chance. He’d use the homemade ginger beer to draw a family friend over to the “safe side” for a frank discussion about politics or the upcoming Fall Oregon Hiking Schedule. Artisanal anything is a human magnet in the Willamette Valley.

   That June, I turned 17 and college brochures and Oregon summers allowed me to be sometimes slightly distracted about my Father’s spring-time indiscretion but never quite forgotten. There was wind surfing on the Hood River with my girlfriend Shiva and kissing after dark at the Bonneville Dam. The roses began to bloom and their aroma wafted through every memory. I started night soccer in mid-September. We got to play at the “good” fields, just past the Pearl District heading towards Powell’s Books.

     One Wednesday night, after practice, with Mom at her book club and Dad at his iron-working class, Shiva and I were crisscrossing through all of the local artist’s lofts, ending up on Lovejoy Street. It was always fashionable and lively with hip brands, indie boutiques, reclaimed warehouse spaces, artisan coffee shops, contemporary art, photography and glass works. Afterward we could hang near the wading fountain. The Portland weather was perfect for the first time in months. Everyone in shorts and not an umbrella in sight.

     Shiva said, “Hey, isn’t that your dad?” She pointed toward a new shi-shi restaurant, The Pearl Tavern. I spotted my Father standing outside with two of his artisan buddies. I looked at Shiva and exclaimed, “Hey wait, meat! That’s a steakhouse!”

     My Father and his company walked into the restaurant and were quickly seated in the front window. My knees buckled for a brief moment. I took a deep breath and took a wider stance. I insisted Shiva go home and I would see her tomorrow at school. She was concerned but I watched her disappear into the Indian Summer evening.

    For the next thirty minutes, I was awash in a myriad of emotions. Anger would trump confusion. Resentment would overtake confusion. This wasn’t the Garden Grove or Shangra-La’s. These eateries were safe zones for many of us. No temptation to be seen. But the tavern! Vegan blasphemy!

    Just after 9:30pm, standing behind the cover of two huge ficus trees, I witnessed something that would change my life forever. I saw my Father cutting into a ribeye steak. I saw him smiling and taking bites. Some small, some larger. He seemed so peaceful and at ease. He was laughing and washing down his bovine with a tall heady brew, as if he had done it a thousand times before.

    After my Father had said goodbye to his friends and began walking down the street. I confronted him just past Jamison Square. “Father, can I talk to you!” I said. “Wow, Asher where did you come from? What are you doing here?” I clenched my teeth and said, “I saw everything! How could you!” My dad grabbed me and hugged me for a very long time. I could smell the gristle on him.

    For the next two hours, sitting outside our house in our 2009 Prius, my father and I discussed everything from deception (white lies versus a big lie) to Altoids (Red vs. Green). “It started with a beef broth soup by accident a few years ago. These days, it’s a once a month with the guys. The showering, flossing and brushing afterward is imperative. I think your Mom knows but hasn’t said a word” he said with a bit of apprehension.

     Dad still towed the Vegan-line, “Asher, the manufacturing of raising cattle and chickens is still a poor food source because it destroys the land, pollutes the rivers and its all-out torture. And in the end, a total blood-bath slaughter.”

     While talking to him, I remembered all of the PETA-inspired videos we all watched as a family, when I was just a pre-teen. The “crippled chicken” campaign hobbling against McDonald’s stating, “Your UnHappy Meal is Ready!” or the “Furry” farm animals wishing everyone a “Happy Veggie New Year!”

     “But then why?” I exclaimed. He responded, “Asher, I am imperfect”.  He continued, “Asher you’ll be leaving us soon and heading to college. You’ll be a man. You’ll be making your own decisions. Your mother and I have set the table. You will get to choose.”

     I remember Mom’s “Rules” once again. Rule #6 “When Someone Is Discussing Their Healthy Eating, Never Pounce.” I guess this pertained, even to my own father.

     A few nights later, at dinner, Mom passed around her latest peanut sauce, green bean concoction. Jerone and Ziva were talking to their posse of imaginary friends. Sitar music was lofting in from the living room. I cleared my throat and started slow and took a deep breath. “Mom”. She looked over at me with a smile. “You know one day, maybe not tomorrow, or even next month but soon, I may want to have regular ice cream.” Involuntarily, my eyes squinted and my upper lip and nose moved closer to my eyes. “Maybe even a store-bought candy bar.”  I exhaled the rest of the air in my lungs. I took a short breath and continued as I glanced over to my dad, “But I will never eat meat.” She gave me a half-smile but as her gaze shifted to my dad, it disappeared. Rule #10-Don’t Argue About Diet.    

Written By: Vincent Calvarese

About the Author: As a writer and visual artist, he found his wings amongst his heroes of Eureka Valley. Using the San Francisco Bay Area as his canvas, he highlights themes of restorative justice in The Final Visit, familial pain in The Flesh of the Father, gun violence in Three Cloves of Garlic, the pharmaceutical crisis in The Clipboard and the gentrifying 7×7 plain in The Slanted Winds Down Guerrero Street. He is a past General and Poetry Editor for Forum Magazine.

The Sunset_Visual Arts_Photography

Visual Art Piece “The Sunset” By: Nia Bankova 

About the Artist: Nia, a SoCal native who recently moved to the Bay Area for college, took photography all throughout high school, with a concentration in portraiture, but started doing more landscapes as she settled into San Francisco. Nowadays, you can find her with her nose in a book, and scribbling poems.

Fiction Piece: “Shortcut”, Featuring Image: “Foggy Hill”

Shortcut

Carol looked up at the man walking beside her. “You know, you really don’t have to escort me back to my grandmother’s house,” she said. “It’s just a 

two mile stroll along an open road. All I needed was to borrow a flashlight.”

The man kept his eyes trained ahead. “Apparently Betty thought otherwise,” he said curtly.

He’s not making any effort to be gracious about this, Carol thought. She couldn’t even remember his name. She had met Betty, his wife, for the first 

time at the party, some distant cousin God only knows how many times removed. What possessed me to fly out to this reunion? she thought, not for the 

first time.

“What are you suppose to be protecting me from?” she asked. “Bears or something?”

“There aren’t any bears in Iowa,” the man said. He didn’t add, you moron, but it was clearly implied in his voice. They took a few steps in silence.  

“Well, there is Crazy Billy,” he added thoughtfully.

“Who’s Crazy Billy?”

“Some guy, Bill Phillips, who use to live around here a few years ago. Had a wife and two kids. He seemed normal enough.” The man paused. “Well, that is, unless you looked into his eyes. Closely. Then you got a feeling that something just wasn’t right about him.” 

Carol could tell that the man was expecting a response from her. “What happened to him?” she asked. 

The man shrugged. “One night he upped and murdered his family. Just slit their throats with a hunting knife, one by one. Neatly laid out their bodies 

on the living room floor and took off. Never got caught.” He was clearly relishing this story. “Some folks say he still lives in these parts, wandering through 

the cornfields at night, doing crazy shit.” The man paused. “Last year, the teenage son of a local family disappeared. Folks said he just upped and ran 

away to some city.” The man sighed. “He was a wild kid, all right. But I personally think he just ran into Crazy Billy in some cornfield late at night. And now 

he’s fertilizer.” The man stopped and turned his flashlight along the right side of the road. Its beam revealed a row of corn stalks. “Speaking of cornfields,” 

he said. “If we cut through this one it’ll knock half a mile off the walk to your grandmother’s.”

“Aren’t you afraid we’ll get our throats slit by Crazy Billy?” Carol asked. She had meant to sound flippant but she could hear the tension in her voice.

The man shrugged. “There are lots of cornfields around here. I think the odds of Crazy Billy being in this particular one are pretty slim.”

He’s talking like he really believes there is a Crazy Billy, Carol thought. She looked dubiously at the row of cornstalks caught in the flashlight’s beam. 

It seemed impenetrable, or at least a tight squeeze. “I’d rather stay on the road,” she said.

“Look,” the man said impatiently.  “If we stick to the road I won’t get back home until after midnight. We’re taking the shortcut.” He walked to the side 

 

of the road, pushed the stalks aside and plunged in, without looking back. Carol had no choice but to follow. Her feelings towards him ratcheted up from 

vague dislike to active antipathy.

It was late summer and the cornstalks were so high that they blotted out most of the night sky. The man had his flashlight trained on the ground 

ahead of them, leaving Carol to stumble in near total darkness behind him. There was no sound except for the rustling of the dry stalks as she pushed 

them aside, and their brittle, papery leaves slid against her face and bare arms.

“Have you ever read anything by Stephen King?” the man asked suddenly, throwing the question over his shoulder.

Carol impatiently pushed a clump of corn leaves away from her face. They had a  sandpapery roughness that was rubbing her bare skin raw. “No,” 

she said irritably. “I don’t like horror fiction.”

The man seemed unfazed by this admission. “He wrote a short story once, called ‘Children of the Corn’”. The man stopped and looked towards 

Carol. He turned the flashlight’s beam on her, making her squint. “It was about this married couple traveling out somewhere in some farming area. Their 

car breaks down and they’re barely able to limp along to this tiny town in the middle of nowhere.” The man turned away and resumed pushing his way 

through the corn stalks. “Only something was very weird about this town,” he continued. “It was empty except for a handful of teenagers and children. 

There wasn’t an adult around. ” He stopped talking.

He wants me to urge him on, Carol thought sullenly. To hell with him.

When it was clear she wasn’t going to say anything, the man continued talking. “Anyway, this guy goes nosing around, leaving his wife behind in the 

car. He wanders into this church and scans the place. There’s a life-size crucifix mounted behind the altar, only this time the dying Jesus has corn stalks 

jammed down his open mouth and empty eye sockets.” Another long pause as they pushed through more dry stalks.

Carol’s uneasiness was ripening to a sharp concern. For the first time, she realized how utterly alone and vulnerable she was. I don’t know anything 

about this man, she thought. Not even his name. Her belligerence melted away, replaced by a growing fear. “So what happened next?” she asked meekly.

“Well, this guy totally freaks, of course,” the man continued. “All he’s thinking is that he and his wife had to get out of there, no matter how and NOW. 

He runs out of the church and back to his car. Only his wife isn’t in the car. ‘WHERE IS MY WIFE?!’, he screams.” Carol flinched as the man’s voice rose 

to a shout. 

“Are we close to my grandmother’s house?” she asked, her voice tremulous. She could feel her eyes filling with tears.

“One of the kids points to the cornfield,” the man continued, ignoring Carol’s question. “And says, ‘She ran into the cornfield’.” So the guy frantically 

runs into the cornfield too, looking for his wife. He spends hours running up and down the rows, searching and calling out her name. Finally, when it’s just 

 

getting dark, he sees a figure in the distance. And runs up, and what do you think he sees?” He turns and shines his light again on Carol.

“I don’t know,” she said, crying. “Are we close to my grandmother’s house?”

“He sees his wife,” the man said, his voice triumphant. “Crucified on a cross, with corn stalks stuffed down her open mouth and empty eye sockets. 

Just like the crucified Jesus in the church!”

“That’s a horrible story!” Carol sobbed. “Why did you tell it? I don’t even know your name.”

“It’s William,” the man said in a low even voice. “William Phillips. But you can call me Billy. Hell, go ahead and call me Crazy Billy if you like. I don’t 

mind.” He held the flashlight under his chin, making his face look monstrous.

“Is that suppose to be funny?” she cried, her shoulders shaking.

“Do you want to see my driver’s license?” Billy asked. He took a few steps forward and pushed the corn in front of him aside. There was open space 

ahead, and a cool evening breeze wafted through the corn stalks. “Your grandmother’s house is straight ahead,” he said, his voice cold.

Carol pushed past him and ran towards the house. She gave one quick glance behind her, worrying that Billy might be chasing her. But he was just 

standing at the edge of the cornfield, watching. She wasn’t sure in the dim light, but it looked like he was grinning.

The house was dark, except for the porch light, which meant that her grandmother had gone to bed. Carol raced up the steps to her room. The walls were thin, and she buried her face in a pillow so that she wouldn’t wake her grandmother up with her sobs.

Written By: Clint Seiter

About the Author: Clint Seiter, a longtime inhabitant of San Francisco, is now retired and loving every minute of it. He has been a prolific writer, with seven anthologies of his stories published under his former pen name Bob Vickery. He is also an avid gardener, a passionate reader and a perpetual student.

Contact: Kharmanci@gmail.com
Contact: Kharmanci@gmail.com

 

Visual Art “Foggy Hill” By: Kerim Harmanci

About the Artist: Kerim Harmanci – raised in PA and NY – is a San Francisco photographer and student at City College, currently taking darkroom and lighting classes as well as peer mentoring and doing aerial drone photography on his days off.

Fiction Piece:”Let The Past Remind Us” Featuring Image: “Night to Remember”

Let the Past Remind Us

Written By: Jeff Kaliss

About the Author: Jeff Kaliss has been studying creative writing and music at City College following the completion of an MFA in creative writing at San Francisco State University. At City, he’s appeared in Forum in various genres, read at Lit Night, and hosted the Poetry for the People Podcast.

A creative historian digging into my past, after I’ve been dug under, may claim that jukeboxes had been my places of worship. 

But they’d probably have to dig up a real jukebox, too. The kind which had rocked my world. Those marvels actually looked like illuminated cathedrals, with their foundations grounded on the floor, resonating the rumbles of the earth from far below, their tops rounded like the shoulders of the everlasting arms. They’re mostly not around anymore, replaced by computerized boxes attached to the stucco, demanding too much money to assail you with the latest thumping auto-tuned artifice. 

Back in the Fifties, in Maine, when and where I was a roly-poly toddler, my teenage babysitter, Sookie Coffin (she was the daughter of the family doctor, Silas Coffin), would take me to Harris’s Soda Fountain and seat me on top of the jukebox, and have me sing along with the beginning of rock ‘n’ roll, to amuse her high school friends. Later, when the family would stop at the Brookside Restaurant in Ellsworth, the county seat, I’d borrow a dime from Mom and reach up to  put it in the jukebox there to play the Weavers’ recording of “Goodnight Irene”. The Weavers were being investigated by the House Unamerican Activites Committee, so they counted as politically correct to Mom and Dad. 

Near Boston University, in Kenmore Square, I could take my girlfriend for grilled cheese sandwiches and punch up the Beatles’ latest jukebox hit, which was probably “Paperback Writer”, which I should have realized I wanted to be one of. Instead, I studied to be a scientist, like Dad, and followed that girl out to Southern California, where it seemed that all girls wore tight tee-shirts and cutoffs and hung out at diners in malls, sharing trips to the jukebox and 

breathy adulations of Jim Morrison and Van Morrison (no relation). 

That girl’s parents and my parents wanted us married, and we got married, but as part of the deal I relocated us to San Francisco, where it was really happening, man. We got divorced a few years later. It took me a while to get back into dating and jukeboxes, but I did. It took me a longer while to find a woman I wanted to think, on my own, about spending the rest of my life with, and she sure had to be someone who liked the songs I picked. I found her, we found places to live near nice bars with nice jukeboxes, and we had a couple of kids, who learned to like out songs too. (And yeah, a few of their own.) 

And now that those kids are off to college on that other side of the country, I’m spending more time at my local bar, which, appropriately for me, is called Memories. Everybody, from the local college kids to the retirees, and, of course, particularly the latter, knows how the bar got its name, and kept it. It’s sort of where the past can sit beside the present and not worry about the future outside the swinging door. That’s why I’ve become a regular. 

Particularly when the antique jukebox is working. It hadn’t been or a while, until they ordered replacement parts from Germany and found some old geezer artisan who was able to get it going again. 

Don, the bartender/owner, had been talking up the resurrection of the Wurlitzer for a number of weeks, and planned it as a big Friday Happy Hour event. Don was pouring rounds while we listened to one of the mix cd’s he’d put together to fill in for the ailing jukebox. 

There was Little Feat’s “Willin’”, from about 1970, when most of us were still on our first marriage. Old Mike and Mildred were slapping down a loud game of dominoes. I think he was losing, she was winning and singing along: “‘Give me weed, whites, and wine —‘. You know who did the best version of this is?,” she asked her husband, and then answered herself: “Linda Ronstadt!”

“Of what?”, said Mike. You couldn’t tell whether he’d already had too many Anchor Steams or whether he was just avoiding conversation.  

“Of this song! But I just cried when I found out that Linda has that disease.” 

“Yeah,” said, Mike, “we all get old and sick.” 

The mood needed to change, and fortunately there was a song on the cd to do it. Phyllis, hanging out with her bosom drinking buddy Betsy, started singing along with it: “‘Don’t bogart that joint, my friend.’” 

“You old pothead!”, Betty laughed, and slapped her on the back. That’s alright, be an old pothead!” As if on cue, a batch of  State College kids wandered in on their way to the back patio, probably to smoke whatever they were calling it these days. 

Another round of drinks began to blur the line between old and new, almost distracting the crowd from the still-dark old jukebox, waiting patiently against the wall. Mildred and Mike totaled their domino points. She was still winning. But Don the bartender was losing his patience. He cleared his bass-baritone throat audibly, grabbed the tv controls and shut off the ball game and the hockey game, stepped out from behind the bar, with all eyes following him, and plugged in the jukebox, which lit up like the neon cathedral I’d known it to be. On second thought, Don left everybody waiting while he slipped out the back to retrieve the cannabis kids. He wanted everybody inside, at attention, present and accounted for. 

There was a hush. Don slid a buck from the bar till into the jukebox, and punched up Crosby, Stills & Nash’s “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”. Whatever color the oldsters’ eyes were, they got misty, as soon as they heard that acoustic guitar intro. The stoned kids just stood there mesmerized. And that’s when it started to happen. 

You could almost watch it: the music oozing out of the jukebox and into the nervous systems of everyone within earshot. And the lyrics, written in 1969, were coming out as conversation, nigh on fifty years later. And it seemed like no matter who you were or where you were, you could hear, and feel, what everyone else was saying.

Mike, rugged and gray-bearded, turned to Mildred, whose blue eyes were still bright behind her grammy spectacles. “It’s getting to the point where I’m no fun anymore,” he confessed, sounding like he was speaking but singing. He continued, “I am sorry. Sometimes, sweetie, it hurts so badly I must cry out loud. I am lonely.” We knew Mike was a quiet, inner sort of guy, but this sounded pretty profound.

Mildred leaned over and hugged Mike, which is just what we wanted to happen, watching them. “I am yours, you are mine, you are what you are,” she murmured musically. But she added, “You make it hard.” 

John the plumber was the next to pick it up, at the other end of the bar, next to his Irish wife Colleen. They were taking their daily break from their brood, all red-headed kids, like their mom. “Remember what we’ve said and done and felt about each other,” John rattled off. “Babe have mercy.” 

“Don’t let the past remind us of what we are not now,” Colleen responded. “I am not dreaming.” Though by that point, as another acoustic guitar riff streamed through the amber of the whiskey bottles, we were all sharing some kind of dream, somehow made of everything sweet and sad we’d ever tasted and felt. 

One of the State College kids, who might have been a glimmer in his grandma’s eye when that song came out, wiped his eyes with one skinny hand, and placed the other gently on the shoulder of a lovely young woman he must have come in with. “Tearing yourself away from me now, you are free. And I am crying,” he told her, in a young man’s breathy teary tenor. “This does not mean I don’t love you — I do. That’s forever, yes, and for always.” 

The drinking buddies, Phyllis and Betsy, swiveled on their stools to share a loyal hug and lead the rest of us, Don included, in the refrain: “I am yours, you are mine, you are what you are; you make it hard.” 

“Something inside is telling me that I’ve got your secret.” That was Don speaking, directly to me. “Are you still listening?” (Sure, Don, I thought to myself. When Don talks, we all listen.) “Fear is the lock, and laughter the key to your heart. And I love you.” You expect wisdom from bartenders. You hope for affection, but you don’t usually hear it.  You don’t expect to be brought an exotic cocktail, without ordering one. But that’s what I got. I didn’t know what it was, but I gulped it down. 

And found myself sitting at a kitchen table I thought I’d forgotten, with Don’s words (or were they Stephen Stills’?) now coming out of an old transistor radio, in the original three-part harmony of Crosby, Stills, and Nash. There was Jo, as she had been, that California girl who’d become my first wife, and we were in our little rented apartment, in 1969. “I was yours, you were mine,” she was saying, the lyrics in the wrong tense. “You will always be what you are,” she went on. “You’ve made it hard.” 

And I knew, because I had known, that she’d be leaving me. And that my words would be locked up by fear. I’d been scared not to marry her, though we’d been much, much too young. And then I’d been scared that I didn’t really love her. I didn’t know how to love her. Most of all, I was scared that love was something I’d only hear about in songs, but would never know how to do. 

Jo walked out of the kitchen, and everything in the kitchen walked out with her, except the chair I was sitting on. The light was cold, and there was a cold chorus, which somehow sounded like every woman I’d ever tried to love, and ever would. 

“Friday evening,” they intoned. “Sunday in the afternoon. What’ve you got to lose?” I don’t know. I just don’t know. 

“Tuesday morning,” they began again. “Please be gone, I’m tired of you. What’ve you got to lose?” I wish I were gone, ladies. I’m tired of myself. 

I felt possessed by a grieving devil, and I wondered what that would sound like, and where it might take me. “Can I tell it like it is?”, I begged of nobody, and heard nothing. “Help me, I’m suffering! Listen to me, baby!” Was I the baby? “It’s my heart that’s suffering, it’s dying,” and I so wanted to be born again, to be rid of wrong ways. “And that’s what I’ve got to lose.” 

That seemed to sound some kind of rightness. I felt myself rising above all the rented residences, all the yearning years, to a time and place where I could see and sing forever: “I’ve got an answer,” I told myself, “I’m going to fly away! What have I got to lose?” 

I could even see my mother, the first woman in my life, whenever and wherever she was now. “Will you come see me,” I invited her, “Thursdays and Saturdays? What have you got to lose?” 

Flying with me was the sweet strumming of a guitar, taking on the wings of a harp. The instrument and I swooped and found ourselves back in the Memories bar, where my daughter Melanie, as was her wont, was dancing for the denizens, who encouraged her with, “Chestnut brown canary, ruby-throated sparrow, sing a song, don’t be long, thrill me to the marrow.” 

Don seemed pleased, but not surprised, to see me back. I wondered what I could tell him and the others about my journey. “Voices of the angels,” I started, “ring around the moonlight, asking me said, she so free, how can you catch the sparrow?” And I laughed. And Don knew I’d found my heart. And that was when my Lily came to join the chorus, and to share the delight in our daughter. 

“Lacy lilting lyric, losing love lamenting,” I addressed her, reveling in the alliteration with Lily. “Change my life,” I told her, “make it right; be my lady!” 

Some guys from Melanie’s favorite taco truck had followed her into the bar, and they began a perky Mexican chant, which, since it involved no actual Spanish, was taken up quickly by everyone else. “Doo doo doo doo doo, doo doo, de-doo doo doo,” they vocalized, “doo doo doo doo doo, doo doo, de-doo.” Then one of them, I think his name was Gabriel, began a perky rap over the chant. Melanie, who’d been fulfilling her college language requirement, seemed to pick up on it: “Que linda la traiga Cuba, la reina de la Mar Caribe, cielo sol no tiene sangreahi, y que triste que no puedo vaya, o va, o va”. 

And so it went. And after the last doo doo doo, everyone — Mildred and Mike, John and Colleen, and the college couple included — seemed in love with love, and ready to toast it with another round. “You know what?”, Don boomed rhetorically. “Stephan Stills, who wrote that damn song, and Judy Collins, the ex-girlfriend he wrote it for, are getting back together and going out on tour! Not bad, after fifty years apart!” 

I tried to get Don’s attention, to order more margaritas for Lily and Melanie and me, but he was on his way to the jukebox again. I wondered where we’d end up this time. 

 

Visual Art “Night to Remember” By: Jhon Terrado

Night to Remember_Visual Arts_Photography

Fiction Piece “Rikki” Featuring Image “Couer d’Alene”

Rikki

Written By: Jeff Kaliss

About the Author: Jeff Kaliss has been studying creative writing and music at City College following the completion of an MFA in creative writing at San Francisco State University. At City, he’s appeared in Forum in various genres, read at Lit Night, and hosted the Poetry for the People Podcast.

         Through the overheated night, Lucius had dreamed of unquiet clamorous parades down the garish main streets of sub-tropical foreign countries, where the shouts and the signs were in a language he’d never know, and the naked bodies he followed, the bodies flanking him and pushing him from behind, were the bodies of every girl and woman he’d ever touched, and had wanted to touch. What were they protesting? Why could they all never reach a climax? 

            Lucius found himself dragged into morning excited but unsatisfied. It was Labor Day, a day off from the daily commute alongside perfumed sad-eyed girls in buttoned outfits he’d imagine unbuttoning. And there’d be no holiday company with any of the temporary girlfriends who’d gone past the point of staving off their own loneliness with movies and dinners out and new sex, until it had, all too soon, become old sex. 

            Lucius got in his car and drove dully in the direction of the ocean. He wished he could drive back into his dreams. He pushed a Best of Cream cd into the cushioned slit, and the thrumming pulse of “Sunshine of Your Love” began filling the Honda and his heart. Then he ran his right index finger along the back of his ear, then positioned the finger under his nostrils. Ah, there it was, that olfactory funk which always made him think back past the dreary work years to Rikki, his early girlfriend with the boyish name and the lithe, gently rounded androgynous body. This was her smell, that special smell of that place he went to and she’d loved having him go to, the isthmus between her vagina and her anus. He could stay there forever. She could want him to stay there forever. 

            He’d reached the beach, but Lucius didn’t know where to go, between now and Tuesday. So he took off his shoes, left them in the car, walked down to the tide, and waded in. The water surged and whispered, it splashed over his hand, he licked his hand, and it was salty, like sweat. It would always be Rikki. 

Visual Art By: Meredith Brown

Coeur d'Alene_Visual Arts_Photography

Fiction Piece:”Unicorn”; Featuring Image: “Rainbow of Our Escape”

Unicorn 

Written By: Jenia Bernstein

About the Author: My name is Jenia Bernstein. Born and raised in Uzbekistan, I came to the United States as a refugee in 1991. I was nineteen years old and did not speak a word of English. I now live in San Francisco with my husband and two teenage children and run a business. Lately I am finding time to try new things. I grew up reading Russian classics but over the years I have spent in US I fell in love with the English language so I have decided to take a writing class at CCSF. The piece I have submitted titled “Unicorn” is one of my first short stories.

They stayed at Fort Tiracol Heritage, ten kilometers away from the little beach town of Arambol, Goa. Tiracol Heritage was a former 17th century fortress, converted into a luxury hotel where each room had a view of the Arabian sea and a monumental poster bed decorated with gold embroidered canopy, all of this for the exuberant cost of a Motel 6 room. In this grand place, they played out their sexual fantasies evoked by visiting numerous museum forts during their past three weeks in India. Instead of battles and politics, tour guides mostly focused on luxurious lifestyles of kings with their multiple wives and mistresses. The couple found their play scenarios challenging to reconcile. Rushi fantasized about being a king who was choosing one of his wives for the night. Jemma imagined being a queen who was picking a lover from one of her young servants. They seemed to always agree on the ending. 

               This afternoon they drove to Arambol and signed up for Ayurvedic massages by the beach. The appointment was in the afternoon so they decided to go for a swim. Multiple sanitation concerns would arise anywhere in the world from being on this beach but this was India where cows, pigs and street dogs enjoyed wading the water in perfect harmony with human tourists.  While the couple were in the water, a young woman floated up from the waves like a mermaid and started a conversation. They must have seemed like safe people to talk to, a mixed Indian-European couple speaking English, obviously foreigners on vacation. The woman was alone and craved company. Droves of young men – consequences of female infanticide – were all around and she – no doubt – spent a lot of energy deterring unwanted attention. A woman traveling alone in India is rare, especially an Indian woman. She was wearing a sporty swimsuit and did not have a t-shirt over it as did all other women on the beach. Some of them were going into the water in full sari. Rushi chatted with her for awhile, told her they were waiting for massages and shared their dinner plans. She was from Calcutta and staying in Arambol for a one week vacation. Today was her last full day in Goa. 

  At 4pm the couple went back to the massage shed and had themselves four hand massages. Jemma’s  body felt like butter but Rushi was all perky. “Let’s go eat! What was that place called?” The restaurant was right on the beach and live music was promised. It had only two walls, the beach and the street sides were exposed. There was a stage with a mural for backdrop and a dance floor in the depth of the restaurant. They got icy cold beers with tiny drops forming on green glass and ordered dinner: kingfish – deep fried to a crispy skin, coconut vegetable curry, rice – infused with spices, pistachio kulfi for dessert. 

Rushi waved to someone. Jemma turned and saw her walking through the door, their mermaid. She came looking for them and was now on her way to join them at the table. The mermaid had a lovely angelic face, dark brown eyes and smooth olive skin. She was petite, about the same height as Jemma and similarly built but also reminded Jemma of the goddesses from bas reliefs decorating Hindu temples. Maybe it was her narrow wrists and the tightness of skin on her shoulders, or the contrast of her small waist and full hips. She had had dinner already but would like to have a drink with them. 

They danced and the young woman watched and took pictures at their request. She told them she was a family psychologist and twenty seven years old. They discussed how psychology is stigmatized in conservative cultures. She assumed they were married. They went with it to avoid launching a storm of involuntary psychoanalysis on her last day of vacation. Her name was Radikha. She showed them a gesture from a popular Bollywood movie that would somehow help them remember her name. Neither of them had watched the movie. 

“Do you want to ask her?” Rushi whispered in Jemma’s  ear as they stood up to dance to a catchy tune. 

“We can try but I think she will run away,” Jemma laughed. The song ended and they got back to the table. Musicians started to pack away instruments. 

“Would you join us for a walk on the beach?” Jemma asked. She would.

They walked and then sat on the sand to watch the sunset, the two women on either side of Rushi. He suddenly switched places with the mermaid so she was now in the middle. 

“Would you like to be our unicorn?” he asked.

“What is a unicorn?”

“No one knows if they really exist but everybody wants one. A unicorn is a woman who comes to play with a couple.” He locked a gaze with her as he did with Jemma three years ago in California when they first met and she still could not get enough of this intense eye contact. Jemma could tell this was not what Radhika expected to hear. She momentarily pulled back, shocked, but composed herself and stayed. She turned to Jemma with an incredulous glare, silently questioning if Jemma was on board with this proposal or if it was a joke.

               “I was a unicorn once and it was the most sensual experience of my life,” Jemma said to her. It was true. Too bad it did not last. Tripod is a flimsy construction. They got divorced. It was not her fault. 

“We are staying at Fort Tiracol hotel, the room is lovely and you can come with us. We will bring you back here. Or we could come to your place if you prefer,”  Rushi said. 

“Let me think about it for a moment,” She replied after a pause. “I did not know I would ever consider anything like this but here I am, thinking hard.” She looked at each of them again. Jemma could tell Radhika liked him. He looked younger, more her age, even though in reality he had just turned forty, only four years Jemma’s  junior. Men choosing to be free from responsibility age slower than the rest of us, Jemma theorized. She remembered thinking he was no more than 26 at the time they met. 

“You cannot come to my place, I am renting a room from a family. We are in India, you guys. This kind of stuff does not happen,” She laughed. “And I have some reservations, I don’t even know where to start…” She seemed more hesitant again and Rushi sensed the moment slipping. 

“We can just rent a room here on the beach. I saw rooms for rent sign across from the restaurant. And you don’t even have to participate. You can just watch us. Come on, let’s have some fun,” He got up. She got up too, reassured of safety, curious and sweet, and happy to defy the norms of her culture in the biggest way yet. Running back to the street to rent the room, holding hands like children, they passed dozens of young men, all of them oblivious to the presence of a unicorn, creature of their wildest dreams. 

Well past midnight, the couple drove back to the fort. The road, so lively earlier, was now deserted, with packs of skinny dogs roaming in search of food. Radhika, thought Jemma, my tender magical animal, I will forever remember you. I am sure you will too, although I understand why you did not want to stay in touch.

“How was it for you?” Jemma shifted gears, still struggling with the stick shift on the left side.

“I did not care for her that much,” Rushi said. “It did not do anything for me.”

“Liar. You did not care for her, right. Just in the same way you did not care for sleeping with my friend, when I asked you to leave her alone. So which is it? Are you trying to hurt me on purpose or protect my feelings when there is no need? Decide already.”

“If you were with me it would all be different.”

“I am with you now. What else do you want? Even if I was single, I would not spend more time with you than I do now. And you are still a free man,” she said.

“I don’t want freedom. I want to belong.”

“Then you should have stayed with your possessive wife. You just don’t want what you have.”

Visual Art Piece By: Matt Luedke

About the Artist: Matt Luedke is a former editor of Forum. He loves to use words and art to pursue the magic of the Bay Area.

Rainbow of our Escape_Visual Arts_Photography

Fiction Piece “Little Bundle” Featuring Art Piece “NF3”

Little Bundle

Written By: Anna Walters

About the Author: Anna spends most of her days trying to get more people to ride bikes. She enjoys moshing, sarcastic quips, Bruce Springsteen, and ice cream. Piece of advice: Don’t share a pint of Ben & Jerry’s with Anna — she’ll mine it for all the delicious chocolatey bits.

Alex’s best friend is about to have a baby. A boy! This friend has all the blue things. Spit up rags the color of mist. Periwinkle elephants on comically small socks. One recent afternoon, she unfurled blue ribbons binding blue boxes. Inside were more blue things. Alex is loathe to participate in this blue orgy with all its damaging expectations — this absurd “boys will be boys will be blue.” It’s possible this could be why their phone conversations have waned. That and the having-a-baby-thing. Alex finds lately she is reaching across a gulf. She wants to clasp this friend’s hand and go for a walk, but Alex can’t even make out a face. Alex bleats, whips out her fingers and tries to lasso her back. But her friend is gone in blue baby boy land.

Maybe they can go for a twilight walk some day, but not now. 

Alex’s baby is much different.

Her baby? Well, she says “her” but it’s really his: The Maker’s. After all, he made it. She just subbed in here and there. He lightened the yarn. He mixed the dye. For Alex’s bit, she stirred the fibers in the big vat. She rinsed it. Watched it bleed the color of a blue raspberry snow cone. Alien blue hues. She stained her hands as her blue shed its excess ink. 

The first mark it ever left on Alex’s skin.

Alex had to leave before the rinsing was done, so The Maker did the spinning and the twisting. Meanwhile, Alex busied herself in her city, away from her baby and its Maker. She couldn’t wait to see them both again, and didn’t care that her little bundle was turning out deeper and darker than expected, as The Maker told Alex over a spotty connection one night. It was her blue baby, one that she helped make with him. And whatever it grew up to be would be perfect.

The Maker said he needed Alex to help. Little baby blue needed to shed his excess fuzz, so one morning in her kitchen Alex began a day of infinite sparkles. She slugged black coffee and slowly tugged each coil back and forth across the open flame on the stove top. My, isn’t he is growing and changing so fast! Alex thought to herself. She looked at the delicate thread of unicorn woven into the strand in her hands, a sly bit of metal that could shock any flesh it touched. Alex smiled dreamily — conductive! She held a handful up to her nose — MMMmmmm jute!

While Alex did these things, her head plowed through the upcoming scenarios: I can’t wait for my bundle to be baptized in my body juices! I can’t wait for it all to run through The Maker’s hands! I can’t wait for him to weave it all around me. I can’t wait to have it hug me while I’m weightless!

The burner flame licked up any errant bits of fuzz. Shuffling one coil through her fingers, she found a tiny rough patch. A burr !? Alex’s heart skipped a beat in panic. It was strange for her to think that something she was so connected to — something she labored over and had grown to love well before it was christened or even born ! — could somehow betray her someday. It could break. She could fall. It could hurt Alex. Or worse. She marked the piece with tape for further inspection. 

“That?” The Maker later asked when Alex showed him the marred bit. “Pfft.” He pulled out the piece of fuzz with his thumb and forefinger.

The first night The Maker laid blue trails all over Alex’s body. The trails cut into her skin until it bled. The second mark. Under the lights and under the ring in the dungeon, blue snow fell softly. The coils were shedding. After it was done, and Alex was safely returned to the floor in a heap, her body was flecked by blue. 

One night on Skype with The Maker, Alex learned of her blue bundle’s twin — a twilight jute kit, still just a gleam in The Maker’s eye, that he’d promised to a friend. “Sorry, I don’t mean to say ‘my’ rope,” Alex fumbled, “it’s clearly ‘yours’… or our rope? No certainly yours …. I’m sorry.”

The Maker just laughed. “Our rope? Oh god.” To him, it was a bunch of fiber. It may as well be celery or kale. The good stuff to keep you regular.
But to Alex, it was lil’ bundle of joy. And pain. Her rope. Her baby.

 

 

NF3_Visual Arts_Drawing

Visual Art Piece By: Rosa Adams

About the Artist: A Connecticut Yankee transplant who moved to San Francisco in 2012. Rosa is a cartoonist, illustrator, writer, and photographer. She has an Associate degree in Visual Communication, and is now currently studying animation. She still lives in San Francisco, loves to travel, and hate going to hospitals.

Fiction Piece “The Final Visit”; Featuring Visual Art Submission “Old Souls”

The Final Visit

Written By: Vincent Calvarese

About the Author: 

As a writer and visual artist, he found his wings amongst his heroes of Eureka Valley. Using the San Francisco Bay Area as his canvas, he highlights themes of restorative justice in The Final Visit, familial pain in The Flesh of the Father, gun violence in Three Cloves of Garlic, the pharmaceutical crisis in The Clipboard and the gentrifying 7×7 plain in The Slanted Winds Down Guerrero Street. He is a past General and Poetry Editor for Forum Magazine.

Chapter One

I am looking up. At first, I am unaware of my positioning. Am I laying down? Or am I standing up? All I can see is blue. Maybe a ceiling. Suddenly it opens like a mouth about to grab onto a spoonful of morning cereal, and I see the kitchen from my childhood. I begin to hear the Eagles “Take It To The Limit”. Dad used to listen to it after he had a few beers. He knew the words, All Alone at the end of the evening, And the bright lights have faded to blue. Dad is bouncing me on his knee as he takes a swig of his favorite 40oz. of Olympia. I can feel his muscular leg between my legs. “Daddy, is this what it’s like to ride a real horse?” I look up at his face. I can see the small grey hairs in his goatee. His lips begin to move but he’s not saying anything. His image slowly disappears and I am now standing alone in front of a glass window. It spans at least ten feet in each direction. He’s suddenly on the other side. His body is in the sign of the cross. He’s dressed all in white. I reach out and place my hand on the glass. It’s hot to the touch. I pull my hand away quickly. Abruptly, a drape drops and I hear the sound of an emergency room privacy curtain quickly closed, when something has become very serious. It’s pitch black. I take a deep breath and I hold it. I continue to hold my breath. I begin to feel the pressure in my face as it begins to redden. I want the curtain to open. I reach out for it but my hand goes limp. I begin to feel faint. I exhale and begin coughing uncontrollably. I awaken. The morning had arrived.

I’m looking up at the ceiling. There are a few cracks intersecting towards my open unscreened window.  It’s framing a very blue sky. “Fuck! It’s a sunny day,” I say. I begin to sing, I was thinking ‘bout a woman who might have loved me, I never knew. You know I’ve always been a dreamer. The tears begin. I couldn’t stop them. I breathed deeply through my nostrils and slowly exhaled through my mouth. I turned on my side, lifted up my legs, sat upright and put my feet on the floor next to my crumpled-up “mom” jeans and balled up elastic beige-colored socks covered in little red hearts. I thought, I really need to do laundry. “Damn, I wish it was a grey, rainy day”. I thought it would be more appropriate for the last visit. I reached for a rubber band on the nightstand, stood up, fashioned a pony-tail as I walked toward the bathroom, which I am sure needed a good scrubbing. 

The shower water seemed to take extra long to warm. I ran my hand through the cold water a few times. Each time I could feel my nipples react and harden. I still don’t know why that happens but I’ve decided I like it.

I remember the first time I bathed without my father. I was probably six years old. We had a child-like yet very adult discussion, actually more like an argument about my abilities to not damage the bathroom floor and flood the apartment units below. He had witnessed my toy ship flotilla creation a year before in the bathroom sink. Niagara Falls had relocated to 1031 E. 14th Street, there were no survivors. See, none of my little girlfriends still bathed with their fathers but then again, they all had mothers at home. Tisha and Claudia had started making fun of me about it. The “discussion” ended with him sitting on the toilet seat giving me scrubbing instructions through the shower curtain. After a few more Dad and Daughter original instructional YouTube-like videos, Dad left me to my own hygiene; abet hair and teeth.

By the time I was 10-years-old, Dad’s appearances at morning showers were almost non-existent. Living in the Bay Area was becoming more and more challenging financially. Of course, at that age I thought we were rich. Flat screens in more than one room in the house, Pop Tarts at every meal (if I wanted them) and a maid. Of course, later in life I realized we didn’t have an actual maid. They were women my father had met “out-in-the-field”, brought home, fucked regularly and who didn’t mind taking care of me when Dad’s jobs took him further away from home.

Lucinda was my favorite. She had beautiful red hair, she smiled all the time, always wore bright colored long-sleeve shirts (even in summer), and her eyes twinkled. I know now she was a heroin addict but her imagination was expansive and she could always distract me when he hadn’t come home in months. I am always amazed at the ability of any drug addict to manipulate any situation, at any time with a few simple sentences. “Your Dad? Oh, he called three times when you were at school! He’ll be home….soon. He loves you dearly and can’t wait to kiss your beautiful face. How about we go watch Friends and I’ll make Mac’n Cheese?” Rachel, Ross, Monica, Phoebe, Chandler, Joey and melted cheese. Yes, I loved Lucinda most.

Sometimes when Dad would finally come home, he was always wearing the same clothes he left with, as if only a morning and afternoon had passed. Sometimes when he came home, he’d be wearing really nice clothes and have a bunch of expensive jewelry for me. Gold chains, silver bracelets, pearl earrings and even diamond rings. Nothing ever matched and the rings never fit.

Dad and I had started living in Alameda County. First in Oakland, then El Cerrito and then finally El Sobrante. Alma was his newest and she was the strictest, at least with me. I had to be in bed by 8:30pm. If I forgot to brush my teeth, take out the garbage or leave just one dirty dish in the sink, I would be punished. Sometimes I’d be hit with a wooden spoon. When I hid the wooden spoon, Alma would spank me really hard with her braided belt. After a while, I found it easier to obey her demands and stop hiding utensils.

However, Alma did have a positive influence on me. She taught me about the power in the stars, the earth and the flowers. She told me stories about the radiance of sunrays and their relationship with the waning and waxing of the moonbeams. I learned to see the universe in the eyes of my first German Shepard puppy and the ultimate joy in the laughter and smiles of the young children running around our local playground. She always said, “Always look for the happiness in everything.”

Alma did have one ultimate rule. I wasn’t allowed to ever answer the telephone. However, one night, Alma was showering and the telephone rang. I let it ring. Then it stopped. A few minutes passed and it began again. The phone and I danced a few times and I finally picked it up. I said, “Hello?” No answer. I cleared my throat and said a little louder, “Hello?” Finally, a voice said, “HELLO, YOU HAVE RECEIVED A TELEPHONE CALL FROM A PRISONER IN THE ALAMEDA COUNTY JAIL SYSTEM. PLEASE PUSH THE NUMBER ONE TO ACCEPT.” I quickly hung up the phone. We didn’t know any prisoners, and after that call, I was afraid to pick up the phone ever again.

Visual Art Piece Photographed by Nadine Peralta

Old Souls_Visual Arts_Photography

Queer Writing+AIDS Crisis Call For Submissions

 

 

Between Certain Death and a Possible Future:
Queer Writing on Growing up with the AIDS Crisis
CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS

Hi all! Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore is looking to collect stories that narrate the queer experience in association with the AIDS crisis! Below is a description of the project, as well as guidelines, and Mattilda’s personal background. CHECK IT OUT!

Every queer person lives with the trauma of AIDS, and this plays out intergenerationally. Usually we hear about two generations—the first, coming of age in the era of gay liberation, and then watching entire circles of friends die of a mysterious illness as the government did nothing to intervene. And now we hear about a current generation growing up in an era offering effective treatment and prevention, and unable to comprehend the magnitude of the loss. We are told that these two generations cannot possibly understand one another, and thus remain alienated from both the past and the future. But there is another generation between these two—one growing up in the midst of the epidemic, haunted by the specter of certain death. A generation growing up with AIDS suffusing desire, internalizing the trauma as part of becoming queer. And these are the personal stories I’d like to collect in this book—accounts that overlap with the more commonly portrayed generations, and offer a bridge between.

By telling this specific generational story in all its complications, how do we explore the trauma the AIDS crisis continues to enact, and imagine a way out? How do race, class, gender, sexuality, age, ability, religion, ethnicity, indigeneity, rural/urban experience, regional/national origin, Global South/Global North perspective, HIV status, and access to treatment and prevention (over time and in shifting contexts) shape personal experience? What is excluded from the glorified myth of progress that now reigns?

How does the impact of growing up with the AIDS crisis continue to affect those left out of the white picket fence version of respectability promoted by dominant “LGBTQ” institutions? How does this apply to sex work, migration, public sex, cruising spaces and apps, abuse and survival, incarceration, reproductive health, homelessness, activism, drug use and addiction, subcultural striving, gay bar culture, HIV criminalization, and hierarchies within gay/queer/trans cultures?

Any generational frame offers only a partial truth, and I’m especially interested in the gaps between accepted narratives and lived experience. As a generation coming of age both with and without the internet, how has technology changed our lives, for better and worse? How does stigma against HIV-positive people continue today, and does the rhetoric around “undetectability” further exclusion rather than ending it? Who is dying of AIDS now, in spite of “AIDS Is Over” rhetoric? Has the energy around PrEP shifted the focus of public health campaigns away from demanding a cure for HIV? How could a meaningful intergenerational conversation about HIV/AIDS take place? What would communal care actually look like?

I’m interested in your most intimate stories, and your most personal fears—what you’re afraid to say is what I want to hear.

About the Editor: Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore (mattildabernsteinsycamore.com) is the author of three novels and a memoir, and the editor of five nonfiction anthologies. Her memoir, The End of San Francisco, won a Lambda Literary Award, and her widely hailed anthologies include Why Are Faggots So Afraid of Faggots?, That’s Revolting!, and Nobody Passes. Her latest novel, Sketchtasy (one of NPR’s Best Books of 2018), is about this generation between certain death and a possible future.

Guidelines: Please submit nonfiction personal essays of up to 5000 words, as Word attachments (no PDFs, please), to nobodypasses@gmail.com. Contributors will be paid for their work, and will receive copies of the book. Feel free to contact me with any queries. The deadline for submissions is March 1, 2020, but the sooner the better!

“How pitiful then, that it had no idea about the devastation happening to its own species.” (Sean Taro Nishi)

Rachel Forrest pineinforest
Pine in Forest by Rachel Forrest
Rachel Forrest is a a painter based in San Jose. Her work can be found on her website.

Save the Sloths

by Sean Taro Nishi

The thing about non-profits is: the people who work there are always beautiful. It’s as if they’re giving back for their God-given gifts, paying it forward if you will.

Paying it forward is what made me seek out the Save the Sloths Foundation. A dead relative left me a huge sum of money with one request: that I donate at least part of it to a charitable organization of my choice.

So I looked through some brochures and saw one with a picture of a beautiful tall woman holding a baby sloth in her arms. The tagline said “Be a boss, save a sloth.” I was attracted to her immediately.

Another thing about beautiful people: they’re good for advertising.

Continue reading “How pitiful then, that it had no idea about the devastation happening to its own species.” (Sean Taro Nishi)