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Oceanside – Jeff Kaliss

Mom will call for me before she goes.

Josh kept repeating what he could fit in his mind while his mother lay in an assisted living center 450 miles to the south, where hospice care was now assisting her dying.

It was the hospice nurse who called Josh’s home office in San Francisco on a Sunday in January. “I think you should come down here if you want to be with your mother.”

Josh packed for a week, Mom should live at least that long. His wife Sally kissed Josh goodbye after dropping him at the crowded, fog-challenged airport. He hadn’t cried yet, but there he almost did.

The plane descended into the balmy smog-lit winter tropicalia of Long Beach. What a contrast to venerable gray Brooklyn, where Mom had grown up in a noisy expansive rowhouse, with ten siblings and half-siblings who sweltered and shivered together through all those early 20th Century summers and winters. What a change for Mom from the crisp clean coast of Maine, to which she and Dad had escaped sixty years ago to raise Josh and his two brothers. After Dad died and Mom had grown older and lonely, she’d let herself relocate to the Good Samaritan Assisted Living Center in Oceanside, California.

It was an ironic placement for an ethnically Jewish woman who’d learned to label all religion as the opiate of the masses, but she was summoned there by Esther, the youngest of her half-sisters, who’d long ago relocated to Oceanside from Queens with her husband Abe.

Josh picked up an airport rent-a-car, switched on the air conditioning and the Long Beach jazz station, and headed south. The freeway flirted with views of the Pacific, all along the way to San Diego County, where Mom was now at least near another ocean. Josh had grown up loving his seaside strolls with her, on Maine’s Atlantic coast. Unlike the land, and the people who’d built their lives on it, the sea never changed, it was maybe eternal, a place you could always go to, no matter what.

At the end of the 90-minute drive, Josh parked, signed the log at the Good Samaritan, and nodded to the grand piano in the lounge, a gift from a benefactor. Mom had made her own since arriving, offering up impromptu concerts for one and all till as recently as a week ago. Her captive audience would miss her fearless virtuosity.

Walking into Mom’s room, number 146, Josh also entered his memory of the bedroom at 7 Atlantic Avenue, some fifty years earlier. Mom had always seemed regal in that private place back then, particularly in the early morning after Dad had gone off to work at the Laboratory, leaving her undistracted, except by Josh. Was he her favorite son? She’d worn a quilted robe, her already graying hair streaming down her back. She’d always have something to say.

Now she was silent beneath the covers, her head and pillows slightly elevated, her eyes waiting for something to watch. Josh waved to Juanita, the hospice nurse, who was sitting beside the bed, glad for his arrival. He drew close enough to see the sparkle in his mother’s gray eyes, and then leaned in to kiss her brow. She reached up towards him, speaking very softly.

“Hello, darling.”

“Hi, Mom. I’ll be here for a few days.”

“Good, darling. Juanita has been keeping me company.”

“I know. I brought you some music.”

Josh pulled a cd album of Schumann’s Papillions from his shoulder bag and put it on Mom’s portable player. He smiled to see her extend her arms along the top of the institutional comforter and begin moving her swollen fingers to the music. She seemed happily both awake and asleep, like the drifting figures in the 19th Century music.

Rachel dozed herself back to livelier times.

Joshie is a toddler sitting beside the piano bench, smiling up at her, listening attentively, but watching his mother too, watching and wanting. Wanting to dream Schumann’s pretty dream with her. Rachel plays back to Brooklyn, where her own mother, Beth, and the mother of her eldest half-siblings, also named Beth, sit in the living room of the rowhouse, as Rachel performs Papillions for them and for several of their many children, several of who are also Rachel’s piano students. Two mothers, living and listening under the same roof.

“Ahhhhh,” the Beths murmur to each other in Yiddish, “Rachela should be playing for big money at Carnegie Hall. She should.”

The evening lingered outside the windows of the Good Samaritan. Inside room 146, not much was said, the lights were switched on, and it came time for dinnertime. Josh bid his mother and Juanita good evening, and drove to his Aunt Esther’s handsome home, in a well-kept development up against the scrub and cacti.

Inside and warmly greeted, avorites, Joshie,” and she helped him settle into the spare room before serving up a delicious supper. Josh put the soundtrack from Kiss Me Kate on his aunt’s cd player. Esther has always loved musicals.

“So how did your mother look to you, Joshala? I’ve been up to see her every day, you know, sometimes twice since she got the congestive heart failure diagnosis, did she look okay to you?” Esther the concerned little sister.

“Well, she didn’t have much to say, but I brought her some music, some of the music she taught me when I was a kid.”

“Good, she would have liked that, it’s important to her that you’re here with her now. Whether or not she shows it. And she never saw enough of you, but even if she had, she wouldn’t have been able to tell you that she wanted to see you more. That’s just the way Rachel is.”

Nephew and aunt went off to bed early, glad to be keeping each other company under the same roof with the same mission, but glad to have some relief from that mission for a few moments.

In Josh’s dream he’s in a house like one of the ones the rich folks owned back on the Island in Maine, right along the Shore Path. Mom is there, but no one else. They wander together, from her regal bedroom to the kitchen where she often overcooked the pot roast to the living room where her Steinway always stood waiting for her. But she doesn’t sit to play there. She stays standing, waiting and wistful. Josh knows it’s his role to make Mommy laugh, no one else is there to. But his efforts are gagged, he only mumbles. Mom isn’t laughing. There isn’t time enough.

Josh pulls himself awake, then wonders if he should have stayed in that dream house with his mother. But there’s a shower and a smiley breakfast of bagels and lox and orange juice with his aunt waiting.

His aunt smiling beside him, Josh drove to Good Samaritan through a sunny suburban Monday morning. Dad would have called this kind of community ‘bourgeois’. Dad had labeled Josh ‘bourgeois’ once, in a stupid argument at the dinner table over how much time his son was putting in on extracurricular activities at the high school, when he should be studying. Josh called himself a liberal, a champion of the rights of women and minorities. While Esther chatted with her bedridden sister in Room 146, Josh followed hospice nurse Juanita down the hall to the cafeteria for coffee.

“It’s good that you have come to her at this time,” Juanita said. “You are so important to your mother.”

“I was surprised she made me her executor,” he said.

“I am not surprised,” Juanita responded, “but that is really not what I mean. She is not talking much now, no, but she has told me about this special thing she feels with her second son, with you, Joshua. Sometimes it sounds like it is a music thing, sometimes it sounds like it is a love thing, I don’t know. But it is there. So, I prayed for Rachel, your mother, last night, Joshua. The doctor has said she will not be with us long. Her heart, it is not reliable any more, it is weak, and it is skipping beats. I prayed for her comfort. And the doctor, he is feeding her morphine through those tubes, to help her breathing. I prayed for you too, Joshua.”

“Muchas gracias, Juanita.”

Back in the room, which the Southern California sunlight was also visiting, Josh put the Bach Two-Part Inventions on the cd player. Rachel’s heart begged to borrow the strength of the beats, and the warmth from her son’s hand, as he sat on the bed beaming at her. All that and the morphine drip lulled her into a dreamy sleep.

It’s a smokey Brooklyn morning, and Rachel is holding hands with Harry, that intense boy with the dark hair from a few blocks away. She’s a normal school student, dancing in the auditorium with him. They’d met at the Young People’s Communist League, where she couldn’t really tell how much Harry might be falling in love with her and how much he might already be in love with Karl Marx. Ha-ha. And he’s so smart, this Harry, he studies science at City College. Science and scientific socialism, Harry tells her, will make the world right. It’s all too exciting. The shouting about the Manifesto and the coming Workers Revolution in America, a cure for cancer, the big band music, it all makes Rachel’s young heart beat better than it ever has. This is the way to go out into the world. They’ll elope, her family doesn’t have to know about it, they don’t much care for Harry. “He’s just too serious,” both Beths say, “and a communist? What are the communists doing with our people back in Russia?” “You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Rachel responds, tears in her eyes. She’ll get her stuff and sneak away with Harry, when the family isn’t looking. “But what about the piano? What about the lessons I’m giving my little brother? “ “Don’t worry about your brother, Harry replies. He’ll become a bourgeois pharmacist just like his father. He’ll be just fine.”

“Aunt Esther? I think Mom is dreaming.”

“Well, she is starting to smile, Joshala. I’ll bet she’s dreaming about you. So I’ll get a taxi back home, you call me if anything, okay? And you and me, we’ll have dinner, okay?”

“Okay, Mom looks pretty happy right now, it’s probably music in her dreams.”

Rachel dreams an adolescent Josh onto the piano bench beside her, on Atlantic Avenue. “We’ll play through the four-hand transcription of Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony, the Pastorale.” “But Mom, I’m supposed to be getting with some of the kids from school, we’re putting together a talent show at the Casino.” “Tell them to start without you, Josh. You won’t have your mother forever, but you will have Beethoven forever And you need to practice.” “I can’t tell them something like that.” “Tell them something else then.” “Okay.” “Good, you play the primo part, you’ll be the melody, I’ll be the secondo, supporting you.” “But Mom, you’re so much louder than me.” “I’ll try not to be, and you try too, Josh. Try not to get in the way of all the brooks and rainstorms and rainbows that Beethoven put there, let them shine and be heard. There’s even a dance, your friends should appreciate that.” “Does Dad ever appreciate this kind of stuff, Mom?” “Well, your father is his own man, he does play some clarinet.” “He never was the one who wanted to have kids, was he? It was you, wasn’t it, who wanted us.” “We shouldn’t be talking about that. But I suppose he never really felt he needed children. And me, I knew I did. And I’m not sorry about that. I came from a big family, and I wanted a family of my own.” “I will too, Mom, some day.” And you’ll want to play piano for them, so let’s play right now. For us, for you and me. And for them.”

Rachel woke to the ring of Josh’s cell phone. She felt happy, his hands were beside hers on the covers. His ringtone was the sound of seagulls, it reminded them both of Maine and of the ocean. The call was from Mitchell Bros., one of the mortuaries Josh had contacted on recommendation from Good Samaritan. They did cremations, and that’s what Rachel wanted, just as her husband had. Josh had to drive over now to make the arrangements, maybe he could can get a little lunch along the way.

His mother started to speak, more than she had so far during this visit. Josh thought about calling the place back, and cancelling the appointment. Why make arrangements, why should he be leaving her now, why would she be leaving?

“Go and do what you should do, Joshie. I’m happy that you’re here, you know? How is your wife? How are my grandchildren? Are they making music?”

“They are, Mom, whenever we can get them to stay put. They’ll want to come back down and visit you during school break, they’ll want to hear you playing that grand piano for them again. They don’t get enough classical music in schools these days. And they’re so proud to have a grandmother who’s a virtuoso.”

“I could have been that, Joshala, but I had to support your father, you know. I know. And I had to be a mother.”

“You still are, Mom. And you gave us all a lot of music. I’ll go do this, and we’ll listen to some more of your favorite stuff this afternoon when I get back.”

“Alright, darling. Kiss me. I’ll probably be sleeping.”

Josh waved goodbye to Juanita, who looked like he felt, about to cry, but not yet.

On the way to the mortuary, he picked up a taco to go. It was warm and spicy, but it settled cold into his gut, where it remained as he parked and walked past the stucco columns into Mitchell’s, which looked like some Southern California office of the Department of Death. Josh had no appetite for the magazines in the waiting room, with their glossy posed covers. He was wide awake, but he felt like he was back in his little kid’s dream, abandoned on Main Street, with a long wait and nowhere to go and no why about being there.

At the Good Samaritan, in room 146, Rachel took a sip of orange juice, looked long into Juanita’s teary eyes, and then settled into her pillow. She’d agreed to this whole hospice thing, but she really didn’t understand it, she didn’t want to think about it, or about what the doctors were saying to her about her body. Harry could have figured it all out, he was the scientist. But neither Harry nor Karl Marx would have had much to say about death. Or memories, or music.

“Your son is such a good boy,” Juanita said, even though she knew that Rachel was falling back asleep, and that Josh was in his sixties. “And your son brought you such nice music. I think I will put this one back on the player.

It was Schumann’s Papillions again. Juanita had never heard of it before Josh’s visit, but she was already humming along with its pastel swoopings.

A man in a suit and tie with a preternaturally anesthetizing voice flipped Josh through the pages of a big book with pictures of pseudo-Greek urns and lists of services above four-figure total charges. Mom would never have known what to do with this kind of thing. Dad would have, but of course he would have judged it impossibly ‘bourgeois’. Josh made a choice, signed the papers, wrote a check, and headed back to his rent-a-car, still suspended out of place and time.

Rachel’s voyage in room 146 is serenaded by the gossamer loveliness of Schumann’s pianistic fantasy, written early in his short life, and by old Juanita’s alto hum. Rachel flutters with the butterflies. They fly beyond the science of socialism, beyond the science of medicine, beyond the fond bonds of family, far beyond the gardens of memory, even beyond the primal pulse of the heart which had long ago become hers and hers alone, inside the womb of her mother. This heart, not now needing any body, stills and stops itself after the last of the ageless chords.

When the seagulls rang on his ride back to the Good Samaritan, Josh was afraid he knew what it meant. Juanita told him the news, and after he’d gotten there, she sat with him by the piano in the lounge while his mother’s body was prepared for transport to the mortuary.

“It is often like this,” she told him. “Our loved ones will not go while their loved ones are beside them. They will wait for them to be away, and then they take their own leave.”

“Was she okay?,” Josh sighed.

“I think so. She was listening to your music.”

Josh was almost ready to call Aunt Esther when he saw his mother wheeled motionless to the lobby, awaiting the imminent arrival of the van. That’s when his tears came to him. He wanted to water her face with them, as if that would give life to her, or at least grow something of hers that he could take with him. Juanita was there to warm him with a grandmother’s hug.

Next summer in Maine, there were tears again, this time with a glint of joy and the taste of salt spray, as Josh stood on the granite outcrops flanking his hometown, just where Mom had told him to go, beyond the Shore Path. He opened the urn and tipped it, and as the tide slowly surged, in and out, Mom’s ashes waltzed away in the wind and out across their ocean.

Jeff Kaliss
With this semester, Jeff Kaliss has published fiction, poetry, non-fiction, and playscripts in Forum magazine and blogs. Jeff holds an MFA in Creative Writing from SFSU, and is a longtime entertainment journalist and author. He reads at open mics, showcases poetry with jazz, and hosts a CCSF poetry podcast.

Creative Building CCSF
Photography
Eunbin Lee

Eunbin Lee
I’m Eunbin Lee from South Korea. Studying digital photography at CCSF as an international student. Currently living in Nob Hill in SF, trying to take more photos of my neighborhood and around me.

Asking For Directions – Francesca Bavaro

“What are you doing?” Martin asked. He was a portly man with a bad combover, half-hidden behind an oversized city map.

His wife Dee waved him away, as if she was swatting away a bee or fly or some other pest she didn’t care for. She was short in stature, neither fat nor thin, but oddly shaped like a chemistry flask.

“Panhandling for bus fare. What’s it look like I’m doing? Excuse me do you know where–”

“Dee, stop, we look like tourists.”

“Oh you’re one to talk with that ridiculous looking thing.”

Martin grunted, wrestling with the map as he struggled to stretch it wider.

“Besides, we certainly aren’t from here, that’s for sure. Look at these people.”

They were coming off of a short set of steps onto a pathway in Bryant Park. A sea of grass was surrounded by a moat of slated concrete and gravel that crackled beneath the other pedestrians’ shoes. The pathway was littered with flimsy, forest green tables and chairs, occupied here and there with couples drinking overpriced coffees and families eating home made sandwiches. A troupe of street performers banged on bongo drums alongside men who danced fiercely for a semi-circle of easily captivated tourists, eager to soak up a less-than-authentic, real New York experience. A pair of college-aged women sunbathed topless on the grass, alongside other groups of young people grazing in the unseasonably warm March weather.

“Doesn’t mean we’ve got to look as naive as the lemmings,” he said, gesturing to the tourists engaged by the amateur street performers.

“Well what should we do Martin? Just pretend we know everything and hope our destination appears before us like friggin’ Narnia?”

“Relax! I know my way around well enough. Came here everyday for twenty-five yea–”

“And never once,” she interrupted, “deviated from the rigid routine of going from the train to the office, and then back again.”

“I sure do remember doing so, and you, bitterly complaining whenever I had a social engagement.”

“Oh sure you did, because when I think New York party animal, I think Martin out on the town, describing the evening as a social engagement. That’s why the Empire State Building is in the wrong place according to your map from 1986. Would you put that thing away already?”

He cleared his throat, “Just because this map is old doesn’t mean it’s not good.”

“The old map doesn’t bother me. The old man, on the other hand, too stingy to up the data plan a few bucks a month for an $800 phone does,” she shouted, waving her iPhone high in the air, like she was showing it off. “What do you know! Google Maps. Still…Not…Loading.”

“Do me a favor. Just stop. Just for today. And put your phone away for Christ’s sake. The bongo drummers could take off a week if they get their hands on that thing.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” she rolled her eyes. “It’s New York. My phone costs about the same as three cups of coffee.”

“Fine, but don’t complain to me when they–when your phone is pilfered–Whoa.”

A greasy-haired teenage boy on a skateboard weaved his way between them.

“Sorry dudes!” he offered. He moved swiftly, and was long gone before they could respond.
Dee looked at the boy longingly, and started sobbing. Hard. Her shoulders moved up and down with each weep, and she hid her face within her hands. She seemed to get smaller as her body shook, like she was melting.

“Dee, it’s okay… You’re right. I’m sorry,” he came closer to her, and his hand hovered awkwardly above her moving shoulders. “I overreacted. Here I’ll put away the map. Let’s just compartmentalize until after we see him, okay?”

“It’s not that. What if- what if he won’t see us?” she stuttered, wiping her face, spreading her mascara everywhere.

“He asked us to come.” Martin pulled a handkerchief out of his breast pocket. “Here, you look like you just got out of a coal mine.”

“What-oh, thanks. But Martin, he asked us to come last time and changed his mind. Oh and we got lost then too. I don’t know about this, I’m starting to feel nauseous. Maybe we should go back,” she said, taking a step in the direction of Grand Central.

“What are you feeling nauseous about?”

“One doesn’t feel nauseous about something, Martin,” she quipped.

“The lady doth protest too much, me thinks.”

“Can you just not today?”

“What?”

“Not be so goddamn pedantic, throwing around Shakespeare quotes!”

He chuckled, shaking his head.

A breeze ruffled the leaves on the park’s few trees. It wafted the stench of a man affected by homelessness, pushing a shopping cart full of trash–all his possessions. Policemen on horses examined the man, but seemed to regard him little to not at all. They trotted on.

The couple moved over a bit to let him pass, covering their noses.

“Why don’t we sit for a moment?” Martin suggested.

Dee nodded, trailing behind Martin like a shadow. He pulled out a seat for her first, dusting it off with his sleeve, regretting the loss of his handkerchief. It seemed that the trees had begun releasing pollen early this year, along with the premature warm weather. His once white sleeve now looked like it was covered in some sort of algae. He made a face similar to a toddler being confronted by a taxing piece of broccoli.

“We got lucky with the weather, not a bad day to be lost in New York, eh?” His eyes tried to find Dee’s, but she wasn’t looking at him. Her head was turned slightly, towards the direction of the dancers. Her eyes moved back and forth, like she was reading. One of the dancers, was doing something that Martin considered more along the lines of Olympian gymnastics than any sort of dancing he was acquainted with.

“It’s amazing a human being could move that way without cracking their head,” he commented, shaking his head.

“How can you be so cavalier?” she responded, still not making eye contact.

“How else would you like me to be?” he said, straightening up in his place, like a small child trying to stand taller to get a seat on a roller coaster they just didn’t measure up for.

“Damnit Martin.” She shook her head, finally focusing on him, tears welling in her eyes once again. “For so long, me and you both. We– we were so ignorant to what was going on, right under our roof!”

Her right arm was resting on the table. Martin reached out, cupping her hand within both of his.

“Dee, we’ve been over this. You’ve got to stop beating yourself up.”

“We could’ve done more!” she said, yanking her hand out of his.

“Dee, it’s okay. Calm down, you’re upsetting yourself.”

“Don’t do that– accuse me, I’m not doing anything. The situation is upsetting. Reality is upsetting. Our son–” she trailed off, looking away, this time down at the ground.

“Even if we did more. Checked in more. Really pressed the question of things like how was your day today, all of the experts, the doctors agree, it’s not something people can easily know.”

“Jimmy seemed to think that better parents would have known.”

“Even if we were the world’s best parents, whatever that means, we couldn’t have known.”

“How do you know?”

“I don’t. You can never know what if, so why torture yourself?”

“So it doesn’t happen again.”

“It won’t.”

“You don’t know that!”

A family speaking in a language neither of them recognized stared at them as they walked by. The two groups did their best to avoid eye contact once they noticed each other.

Martin sighed, “It wasn’t a fair thing for Jimmy to write all that in the letter, to plant that idea that we were at fault. You have to forgive yourself even if the day never comes where he does.”

“You sound like Dr. Moskowitz.”

“Hey that Jew has had a few good points every now and then. And he better. If there’s any couple who single handedly bankrolled his second vacation home.”

“Shush!” she whispered, loudly, looking from left to right. “We’re in the city, there are so many of them here.”

“Oh come on, I didn’t mean anything by it. I like the doc. Honest!”

“Like bypassers would know that.” She shook her head.

“No one’s listening to us.” He frowned, and then began projecting, loudly, like a teenager playing the penis shouting game, “I am being serious! I really do like him!”

“Shhhh, okay, stop. You win,” she laughed, throwing her head back.

Martin seemed pleased with himself.

Dee said, “Please, you’ve never liked a doctor, ever. Our entire lives, it was easier to get Jimmy to mow the lawn then to get you in for your annual.” Her face fell and she sighed. “I don’t know if I’m ready for this.”

He smiled, and lifted her chin up with two fingers. “I’m not either, if I’m being completely honest.”

“And you’ve never admitted something like that,” she said, grasping his hand.

“What?”

“That you’re afraid.”

“I’m not afraid,” he insisted, leaning back in his place.

“Okay,” she snorted.

“I’m not, I’m just not sure I’m ready.”

“I think we should decide,” she announced, rising from her spot. Martin followed.

“Well, no, I think we should go, I’m just not sure if I’m ready, ready. You know, psychologically.” He searched his pockets for his old map.

“No, no, no, I get that. We’re on the same page. I meant if we’re ever going to get there, we should probably decide if we’re going to ask for directions.”

“I suppose you’re right.”

“Ha!”

“Hey–” he trailed off.

A man in a three piece suit holding a briefcase walked by. Dee got his attention with a quick wave.

“Excuse me sir, do you know which way’s Bellevue Hospital?”

Francesca Bavaro
Francesca enjoys reading and writing poetry and short fiction. In her spare time she enjoys hiking, walking dogs, and frolicking in the grassy knolls of Golden Gate Park. She is terrified of birds.

Dorine Loso House
Photography
Kimiko Satterfield

The Ambivalent Protaganist

by Casey Baker

Recently, Huffington Post published an article (link:http://www.huffingtonpost.com/claire-fallon/great-male-protagonists-w_b_4044741.html) naming a few male protagonists from famous novels that no one would really wish to befriend if they existed in the real world. While the piece is an interesting, rather pro-feminist examination of generally brutish male characters, it leaves out an entire gender and examination therein.

Which led me to consider, of all of the characters I’ve met in the great Imagi-sphere that is the act of reading, which ones have I encountered who were both entirely compelling and also incredibly off-putting? Here are my top five.

1. Esther Greenwood, The Bell Jar – While Sylvia Plath’s semi-autobiographical novel is a strong examination of the stilted social mores of women during a specific time in history and the effects of those mores that still holds great weight today, Esther is someone I would never want to simply ‘hang out’ with. This isn’t to say she is an uninteresting protagonist, rather the opposite – as the old adage goes, “Misery loves company” and Esther’s way of thinking is so relatable to anyone who has lived under the oppressive, patriarchal hetero-normative society that still informs our culture today. A day with Esther would involve venting together, crying to let it all go, and then feeling miserable for the rest of the day. The novel is enough catharsis.

2. Tyler, Shampoo Planet (Douglas Coupland) – Tyler is what Coupland labels a “Global Teen” and part of Generation Y, a generation that I unfortunately belong to simply by a matter of years. Tyler embodies everything I dislike about my generation, including a mindless adherence to consumerism that even reaches into a desire to be a corporate CEO simply because corporations control so much of the consumer media, a misplaced admiration in Reaganomics, flightiness in both life and love, and a copious amount of hair products to keep up a facade of stability and self-assuredness. By the end of the novel, Tyler finally realizes that his interests are transient and not based on anything real or sincere, but by then he has already ruined things for himself in many ways. I suppose a part of what I dislike about Tyler is that he does remind me of some elements of myself at a much younger, more naive age.

3. Clay (Bateman?), Less Than Zero (Bret Easton Ellis) – Clay is a spoiled, rich Southern California jerk. His friends are detestable, his life is by and large meaningless, and he is generally an amoral bit of driftwood, floating along a tide of drugs, sex and unhappiness. While Clay is fascinating because his life does well to satirize much of the LA culture and its excesses in a very dark series of parties and meaningless relationships, he is also someone who would casually sit across a dinner table with you, coked up and barely paying attention. A real sleezeball. It doesn’t help that his brother is possibly the one and only American Psycho, Patrick Bateman.

4.  Shannon McFarland/Daisy St. Patience/Bubba Joan/Whatever, the narrator of Invisible Monsters (Chuck Palahniuk) – After getting her face shot off, the narrator of Invisible Monsters meets the queen of train-wrecks, Brandy Alexander, and the two go on a pill-stealing, soap-operatic crime spree of epic proportions. While the narrator and her story are hilarious and continuously compelling throughout the several ridiculous plot turns of the story, she’s also incredibly psychotic and someone you wouldn’t even trust with your dying houseplant. Steer clear of this brand of crazy, despite how fabulous she seems.

5. Ms. Valerie Frizzle, The Magic Schoolbus – While the idea of shrinking into microscopic sizes and exploring the cells of the body or diving deep into the dark, black ocean with a bus submersible seem incredibly fun for any kid, the reality of the situation is that this woman is more than a little deranged, willing to put her students right into the jaws of danger just to teach them a lesson about plant chlorophyll or the inner workings of stomach acid. Ms. Frizzle is a dangerous woman with dangerous ideas.

What are your type five fiction frenemies?

Forum Magazine Presents…Fiction and Poetry from CCSF at Lit Crawl 2013.

For the first time ever, Forum Magazine will have a presence at Lit Crawl!  Our readings will take place at the Latin American Club (3286 22nd St.) from 6pm to 7pm, and feature artists from our Fall 2012 and Spring 2013 issues including Charlotte Hull, Real Lapalme, Seth Luther, Natalie Saunders, John Silverman, and Jerome Steegmans.

If you don’t already know about it, Lit Crawl is a citywide event during which venues such as art galleries, bars, bookstores, bowling alleys, cafes, community spaces, restaurants, stores, and even police stations host simultaneous live readings around the city in just over three hours.  In some cases, artists can show up to read their fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and more at these venues to live audiences from their areas.  (Hint: Look for the ‘Open Mic’ listings!)  So whether you’re an artist, a connoisseur of art, or both you can get something out of it.  Each and every event is free, though they will be accepting donations and every little bit helps! 

For more information, please follow the above link.  We hope to see you there!  

Dystopian Top 3

Hello Forum Magazine readers!  Today we’re talking about Dystopian art and stories, or, more specifically, your favorites within the Dystopian genre.  Whether we love, hate, or carry a lukewarm temperament toward it, we must admit that Dystopian art is definitely popular, right now.  We can argue the reasons for or merits of this amongst ourselves later, but for today’s discussion is about your top three Dystopian pieces (whether visual or written art).

So our question to you is: do you have three favorites that you consider the best in the genre, or even just the best representatives of it?  What do you consider the three art pieces, stories, novels, plays, what-have-you that are the first three Dystopian pieces that someone new to the genre should see?

I’ll start:

1)      The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

2)      1984 by George Orwell

3)      The Giver by Lois Lowry

The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins is a very close runner up to this list.

But enough about my favorites, what are your favorites?  Please, comment below so that everyone can see, and possibly appreciate your top three.

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day!

The Bus Ride By Britannic x.o. Zane (Jul. 8th, 2007)

I sat down to wait for my bus and a Samoan woman approached me. She kept staring at me and I was getting nervous about it because she was intimidating like she could squash me like a grape. She waited till everyone around us seemed occupied with other things before she spoke to me.

“You know, in my village you would be considered a holy man because of your facial tattoos. The fact that you got facial tatts that reflect something about you makes you a wise man in my eyes.”

I smiled and thanked her for the compliment and we started talking about her tribal tattoos. The bus came and we both got on continuing the conversation. We sat down next to a black woman who looked upset about something. The black woman’s 16 year old son was yelling and goofin with his friends in the back of the bus. He came up front and started going off yelling at his mother and calling her a bitch because she would not give him five dollars. The Samoan woman got up and told him to back off.  He gave his mother a dirty look and called her a bitch again. He then went back to his friends. The mother looked frightened and embarrassed.

Continue reading The Bus Ride By Britannic x.o. Zane (Jul. 8th, 2007)

A House at the End of the Street by Jordy Lynch

Lewis Arnold had always hated his father’s name. Not his father. No other trait of his ever bothered Lewis; just his name, which in most cases is decided by forces distant to the person who is to don said name. Lewis knew this and held no grudge towards his father.

Yet if there had been anything he could have changed about his old man, it was his name. Arnold. Lewis couldn’t ever justify his dislike with a specific reason, and truth be told, he probably didn’t even have a good reason. It was like a bad taste or a rancid smell, a base reaction to something foul. Something foul sat in front of Lewis, and Lewis displayed his disgust like a mask.

Sitting across the kitchen table was Lewis’s father. His skin was drawn tight around his face, his teeth peeking through his slit of a mouth. He was wearing a black suit, a suit that looked like a good one to be buried in. A red tie and white undershirt complimented the rich darkness of the coat. Through decayed lips and teeth like gravestones, his father started singing, and from somewhere nearby a band struck up, accompanying the dead man’s vocals.

Continue reading A House at the End of the Street by Jordy Lynch

The Last Stand by Shelly Davis

Brenda looked forward into the mirror with all of her vigor and intensity. Apparently, she possessed her own personal self bias because the convoluted figure standing before was not what she thought she resembled. This past year had been the year which defined her life. She had been diagnosed with ALS and subsequently entered into the severe stages warranting complete body paralysis. The myelin isolating her axons was deteriorating with every passing second of each day and there was not a thing she could do to stop this indelible force. Even if she desired to form a plan of attack there would be not a soul willing to help her, but just a hearth to surrender her fight on.

When she was first diagnosed she strategically placed a picture of herself when she was twenty-five years old and she was in her prime on her wall so the spirit of her pat would still remain inside her even through the worst of times. Right beside her picture was her PhD in Biotechnology from Columbia University. Before the onset of her ALS she ranked among the five most successful scientists manipulating stem cells to cure neurodegenerative conditions in the U.S. She once again turned her attention toward the mirror which reflected not herself, but a victim who society had failed. She had lost her identity and ultimately herself worth in this colossal pool of wires and tubes which extended her life. They would not extend her life to the point where she could execute municipal activities, but she survived only to remain trapped in the hellish vessel of her body until the next day. She intensely eyed her voluptuous figure underneath her black satin dress which was very risqué. That Satin dress despite being overzealous beat the hell out of the flowing white spotted gown which probably could have been uncovered in a junkyard for all she knew.

Continue reading The Last Stand by Shelly Davis

Discarded, by Chaz Anderson

His right hand strums out a complicated rhythm while his left dances up and down the neck, forming complex shapes. A low hum rumbles up from his throat, a counter-melody to the throbbing voice of the guitar. Eyes closed, he sits cross-legged on the moist grass, rocking back and forth, trying to give birth to the melody rolling through him.

The instrument screams in dismay. Sorely taxed by the man, it fights the strain of the contorted chording. The pick in his hand ravages the wooden body, making it shake, bend, and fall out of tune.

When the two first met, the man had been a young boy. His lap had been much smaller, and the stroke of his fingers had been soft and clumsy. In those days the guitar had been placed carefully on a stand when not in use, frequently re-stringed, polished and buffed daily. The boy had loved the instrument, had treated it gently, with care and respect.

Continue reading Discarded, by Chaz Anderson