|Aldrich, Janet M.
|Allan, T. N.
|Allen, M. G.
|Ammonds, Phillip J.
|Augustyn, P. K.
|Aymar, E. A.
|Baumgartner, Jessica Marie
|Bernardara, Will Jr.
|Bohem, Charlie Keys and Les
|Boyd, A. V.
|Brown, R. Thomas
|Butler, Simon Hardy
|Cameron, W. B.
|Campbell, J. J.
|Campbell, Jack Jr.
|Cooper, Malcolm Graham
|Cosby, S. A.
|Crouch & Woods
|Danoski, Joseph V.
|Davis, Michael D.
|de Bruler, Connor
|De France, Steve
|De La Garza, Lela Marie
|Deming, Ruth Z.
|De Neve, M. A.
|Dennehy, John W.
|Di Chellis, Peter
|Dick, Paul "Deadeye"
|Drake, Lena Judith
|Dromey, John H.
|Dubal, Paul Michael
|Dunham, T. Fox
|Dunn, Robin Wyatt
|Fisher, Miles Ryan
|Flanagan, Daniel N.
|Flanagan, Ryan Quinn
|Funk, Matthew C.
|Gardner, Cheryl Ann
|Garvey, Kevin Z.
|Goddard, L. B.
|Greenberg, K.J. Hannah
|Gurney, Kenneth P.
|Hanson, Christopher Kenneth
|Hayes, A. J.
|Hayes, Peter W. J.
|Hockey, Matthew J.
|Hogan, Andrew J.
|Hoy, J. L.
|Huffman, A. J.
|Huguenin, Timothy G.
|Huskey, Jason L.
|Irascible, Dr. I. M.
|Jaggers, J. David
|Jones, D. S.
|Jones, Erin J.
|Kaplan, Barry Jay
|Kevlock, Mark Joseph
|King, Michelle Ann
|Krafft, E. K.
|Lacks, Lee Todd
|La Rosa, F. Michael
|Lerner, Steven M
|Lewis, Cynthia Ruth
|Liskey, Tom Darin
|Lopez, Aurelio Rico III
|Lucas, Gregory E.
|McFarlane, Adam Beau
|Mooney, Christopher P.
|Morgan, Bill W.
|Moss, David Harry
|Muslim, Kristine Ong
|Neuda, M. C.
|Ogurek, Douglas J.
|Perez, Juan M.
|Perez, Robert Aguon
|Powers, M. P.
|Purfield, M. E.
|Quinlan, Joseph R.
|reutter, g emil
|Richey, John Lunar
|Robinson, John D.
|Rodgers, K. M.
|Sayles, Betty J.
|Schraeder, E. F.
|Seymour, J. E.
|Shaikh, Aftab Yusuf
|Sheagren, Gerald E.
|Shirey, D. L.
|Simmler, T. Maxim
|Sinisi, J. J.
|Small, Alan Edward
|Smith, Brian J.
|Snethen, Daniel G.
|Solender, Michael J.
|Stanton, Henry G.
|Stewart, Michael S.
|Stryker, Joseph H.
|Swartz, Justin A.
|Taylor, J. M.
|Thompson, John L.
|Valent, Raymond A.
|Waldman, Dr. Mel
|Weil, Lester L.
|White, Judy Friedman
|Art by Steve Cartwright
No Effect on Me
by Willie Smith
In the early sixties my fave actor
is Rip Torn. I can barely bring his face to mind. Know almost nothing about him. Just seen him on TV. But I love the name:
Rip Torn – a toughie who suffers; whose soul the world has shredded to bits, and still he perseveres – acting
in drama after drama.
I especially like Torn in that THRILLER
episode where he slurs at the top of his lungs – thrashing in a canopied bed in an upstairs chamber of the haunted house
– “Barbiturates have no effect on me!” before the drug finally overwhelms him and he later awakens only
to be literally scared to death.
I’m thinking of Torn this afternoon,
shortly after my parents have gone for a Sunday drive, leaving me alone, and I am ripping off my clothes in preparation for
strutting around the house nude. A guaranteed three hours of unmolested perversion.
I leave the clothes in a heap. Pants
on top of shoes and socks. Underwear and shirt piled over pants. Step around into the bathroom. Stand on the toilet seat.
Lean over into the medicine-chest mirror above the sink. Admire in-the-flesh me.
Adequate body – slim, trim,
at fifteen still maybe another inch to grow; penis almond-tan, gray-pink tipped and healthy. Hop down. Parade into the living
room, bare feet luxuriating in buff wall-to-wall shag.
Climb onto the couch. Gaze out the
picture window down at the sidewalk looped around our suburban hillside court.
There she is. Every Sunday afternoon
about this time. Don’t know her name, about my age, brunette, nice-enough looking. They just moved in last month. She
doesn’t see me up here. Holds her head down trudging uphill. The part in her page-boy white as the dotted line on a
box of chocolates saying “open here.”
I wobble off the couch. Pad over the
shag past the bookcase, sparsely populated with The World Book Encyclopedia, boxed National Geo’s and Reader’s
Digest Condensed Books. Pivot left. Hustle down the stairs, through the entrance foyer, into the rec room.
Draw up in front of the draped window.
Count to, breathing heavily, catching my breath, five. Yank open drapes.
The motion catches her eye. A single
pane of glass plus fifteen feet of sunshine separate my greedy pupils from the surprise in her own.
This is a play. We are young adults.
Innocent, curious, intelligent. Not far removed from either child or adult. Inhabiting a warp in between, where a certain
magic holds sway, driving reality down the road with a well-tuned dream engine.
Play like I don’t see her. It’s
a lovely day, I’m perfectly relaxed, quietly savoring the moment. I often walk around nude. Easier way to live life.
Clothing such an unnecessary encumbrance, especially in such nice weather. No skin off my ass if other people want to try
it, too. Say, for instance, if the girl next door were nonchalantly to disrobe, invite herself in; I’d be delighted
to show her how cool it is to walk around the house not wearing a stitch.
All houses on the court, in the whole
development, in fact, have the same floor plan. Ambling around my house nude just the same as ambling around her house nude.
This all perfectly natural. Maybe once we start talking we’ll find we have a lot in common. Maybe she… slowly
I start touching myself… not looking down… not even really thinking about it… maybe she too, on these boring
Sunday afternoons, occasionally is not entirely averse to touching whatever it is…
She breaks off eye contact. Her face,
naturally pale, turns death white, creases with a frown. She hurries off.
Craning my head around to the left
I glimpse her run up to her front door. Give one last grimace back at my sun-spanked window. Disappear inside.
This is not good. A tiny voice argues
everything is OK. She just stepped inside to leave her pocketbook on her own rec room hide-a-bed. She’ll be right back
out, maybe already without her shoes and socks, knocking on my door and I may as well go over there and get ready to welcome
her in. But… I, no…, KNOW this is BAD.
I’m moving toward the foyer,
getting ready not to open the door, but to climb the stairs back to the safety of my bedroom, when I spot her father –
a burly day-sleeper who is rumored to drive truck for Coca-Cola – emerge from her house. Head up the sidewalk toward
our rec room window, his daughter not two steps behind, she scowling, he disturbed, waking up…
I dash upstairs. Leap back into my
clothes. Forget the socks, the underpants. Toss the rumpled socks in the closet. Hide the fruit-of-the-loom’s…
where?... wadded under a pillow.
The dream machine burns oil. Belches
black suicide clouds. Bucks. Stalls. Self-jumpstarts.
I hustle through the living room –
keeping my head down – as if anyone could see me up here on the second floor of our splitlevel. Turn through the dining
area. Burst into the kitchen. Yank out a drawer. Fumble through utensils till I snatch a steak knife. Point the four-inch
serrated blade at my navel.
I’ll jab right through the shirt
and undershirt. They’ll find me fully clothed. The slut imagined I was naked. She made the whole thing up. I was in
my room reading a book completely clothed, when I heard a commotion out front and when I looked down and saw everybody glaring
up hatefully, I decided to kill myself. It’s all that slut’s fault. If it weren’t for her overactive adolescent
imagination… hormones driving her insane…
Remember I’m not wearing underpants.
No socks, not so bad. But if they discover no underpants on the suicide…
Hunch over. Hustle back to my bedroom.
Start to remember where I stashed the fruit-of-the-loom’s, then realize knife still in fist. Drop knife. Slap myself
in the face – stupid!
Crawl back out to the couch. Worm
up onto a cushion. Peek over the sill down at Mr. Teamster and his daughter, both with arms folded over stomachs, she in disgust,
he skeptically. All four eyes riveted on the window below. Not a thought of glancing up at the living room window.
I wait them out. Terrified any minute
Mom and Dad will pull up. Or her dad will dash inside to call the cops. I pray to Rip Torn some force of nature will shred
me to pieces, remove my existence from the universe.
What was I doing? What made me think
my stringy nude body topped with plain face would enchant? What black magic made me act as if my vile flesh could cause such
white magic as…
Mr. T. shrugs. Looks around at our
front lawn, at the street, down below at the busy street perpendicular to the bottom of the court. Says something to his daughter.
Wanders back toward their house, head down. She sneers one last time at the window downstairs. Follows him with obvious disappointment
back to the identical house next door.
Rip Torn, horrified in the haunted
house, has just died of a heart attack. I’m still alive, heart pounding in ears, cold blood squirting through garbed
body. I myself, when the cocky little voice inside finally disintegrates, am horrified (unfortunately not dead) to understand
that I ALONE am the slut. The deviate, the pervert, the sex killer.
Crawl back to the bedroom. Pick up
the knife. Return, still crawling, the blade to the kitchen drawer.
When Mom and Dad, about an hour later,
pull up in the drive, come inside, turn on the TV downstairs, I’m on the bed in my room consumed with algebra. I’m
the best math student in the whole class. I’m memorizing, for extra credit, each and every step of the derivation of
the quadratic equation.
Rip Torn’s corpse giggles every
ten seconds or so. All else inside the mind dead quiet.
For days, weeks, maybe a couple months,
I live in fear Mr. Coca Cola will after all demand to talk to my parents, or the police. Or Miss Offended will confront me
(she attends Catholic School, our paths rarely cross (she and her family move less than a year later to an undisclosed locale
(we never talked to them, they never talked to any neighbors), another year after that and I leave home for college on the
other end of the continental United States, where I settle down to live)). Every one of those days, weeks, months, now it’s
been years, Rip giggles without warning, sometimes more than once a day. He’d like to remind me never again to dance
naked before an unwilling, uninvited, utterly UNINTERESTED audience.
But since he’s a corpse, all he can do is giggle. All I can
do is hope and pray that, once I myself become a corpse, the giggling stops.
|Art by Steve Cartwright © 2015
WHAT I’LL NEVER BE
By Willie Smith
Early one Saturday afternoon in the early sixties,
when I am eleven and Kennedy is turning out to be a pretty good President after all, I
sprawl on my bed reading a book about Mars. I am trying to form an opinion as to whether
the canals are real or just hallucinations; first seen almost a hundred years ago by Schiaparelli,
an uncle of the famous dress designer, whom I never heard of, but that’s what the
Some subsequent observers reported seeing canals, some didn’t; all admitted
whatever they were, they lay at the extreme limit of even the world’s largest telescopes.
At that, the canal network can be glimpsed only by trained professionals on nights of superb
Dad, preceded by an invisible cloud of booze-breath, staggers into the room. Demands
to know what I am doing.
“Reading a book,” I say, not looking up.
He slurs he can see that. Orders me to put
the book down, come downstairs with him and have a look at what I did.
Mom is gone for the weekend – up in Philly
visiting Aunt Frances. Meaning Dad can drink more, earlier and less secretly than otherwise.
This can be good, because, under such circumstances, he notices much less. This can be
bad, because when he DOES notice something…
I swing off the bed. Follow him out of the room,
across the hall, through the door to the basement. He nearly falls twice, each time at
the last moment catching himself with both hands on the bannister. He leads me over to
the far end of his workbench, where I keep my chemistry set.
“Look at that!”
I kneel where he points. A mess of broken glass. Several large shards, two dozen
smaller ones; maybe a few specks of glass powder. My eyes are still accustoming to the
dim light in the spacious basement of the new construction Dad’s government
functionary salary bought the mortgage on and moved the family into less than a
“Look what you did – clean that up!”
Mechanically I pick a large shard, then another,
then a third off the cement floor. Pile them – not knowing where else to put them
– in my left palm. On the fourth shard cut my finger, while thinking, “Why
can’t I remember breaking this… must be the beaker… Dad calls it a beaker…
it’s actually an Erlenmeyer flask… WAS an Erlenmeyer…”
“You’ll never be a chemist – you’re
too SLOPPY! Here…” He hands me an empty bag that still holds the shape of a
bottle… “Put the glass in this…. You’ll NEVER be a chemist.”
He’s right. I’m sloppy. Kind of on the
lazy side, too. But did I break…?
No, upstairs all day cruising delicious facts about
the red planet. Nobody draws the canals exactly the same way twice, although Percival Lowell
convinced himself of the location of a few that he showed more or less consistently on
several of his done-at-the-eyepiece drawings.
I dump the shards into the bag. I could still be
a THEORETICAL chemist…
around for something to scoop up the finer breakage. Up on the workbench spot a dustpan…
“YOU didn’t do this!” He is chuckling.
“You know who broke the beaker?”
Oh. Of course. I drop the bag. Stand up, sticking
my only-slightly-cut finger in my pocket – to get it out of sight. The fewer further
topics of conversation the better.
“I broke it!” He belches, rocks on his
heels, staggers, nearly falls over backwards. “Now why don’t you… don’t
you stick… stick your nose back in that book!”
Hurry upstairs to my room. Crawl back onto the bed. Pick up the facedown hardback.
I likely won’t be an astronomer, either. Just want to collect the facts. Marvel
over their implications. Keep up with developments. Learn the names of all the stars.
I remember the hand
still cramped in the pocket of my jeans. Pull it out. Hold the finger up to my
stopped. Just a couple drops, really. I pat it dry on my T-shirt, gliding eyes
back into the argument as to whether anybody has ever REALLY seen any canals
crisscrossing the fourth rock from the sun. People so often so easily convince themselves
of something that just isn’t there.
By Willie Smith
I’m down in the
basement playing imaginary baseball. Dick Donovan coaxes
Roy Sievers into grounding back to the mound. This should
end the game.
Donovan fields the yellow
ball bounced off the cinderblock wall. Turns to throw to the first baseman
stood beside the staircase.
My knee fails to follow Donovan’s pivot. Since sliding into home last week,
in a losing effort against Hybla Valley Drugs, it’s been swollen.
The leg hangs limp. Cap floated over to one side.
I drop the tennis
ball, drop the glove. Stumble over to the stairs, right hand holding the cap so
it won’t float anywhere else. Pull myself up the stairs, yelling for Mom to
call the doctor, I think my leg or something broke.
The doctor says to bring me in right away. Mom calls Dad. Twenty minutes later Dad
speeds home from work, drives us to the clinic.
The doctor shoves the cap more or less back into
place. Explains, wrapping on a wet cast, the patella is a sesamoid. Meaning it is not attached
to any other bone. Just held in place by ligaments. Water on the knee and sudden pressure
in the wrong direction can cause the patella to dislocate – slide over onto one side
of where the femur and the tibia join. Felt like my whole leg was coming apart at the seams,
Wincing, unsure if the physical pain of the pop-back-into-place is easier than the
anguish of imagining all this inner slipping around, I nod, mumble, “Seems like it’ll
squirt right back out!”
“Don’t worry, son,” he pats the finished cast. “This comes
off in three weeks and you’ll be back in the lineup good as new. Meantime keep ice
on the plaster; that’ll reduce the swelling and dull whatever pain – pain all
in your mind anyway; the fluid prevented bruising; cap slipped back in slick as poop through
a tin horn.” Doc Harrelson was a Navy surgeon in Korea and is known for his colorful
I load myself into
the backseat. My left foot, just as Dad slams the passenger-side door, finds
the floorboards. Head cramped against armrest. Cast stretched out to opposite
armrest. Tires whine as we spiral up from the underground lot at twice the recommended
speed of 10 mph.
his sunglasses, under his sweaty nose, Dad sits tightlipped concentrating on the wheel,
on paying the one-buck parking fee, on darting into traffic at the first opening.
The Buick is kicking itself into power-shift, merging
us neatly, if somewhat precariously, into the pre-rushhour scramble, when I detect alcohol
stink. He probably sneaked a nip from the glove on the way to pick us up, another while
he lagged behind to lock up while Mom hurried me, as best I could hurry, on into the clinic.
Under better circumstances this would signify a state of awareness making Dad a
better driver. Just one nip shy, however, of brazening out of the trenches and into
the direct fire of alcoholic lunacy.
Sober, Dad is just another guy. One or two drinks, he is Everyman at Everyman’s
best; above three, he warps into a fiend with the mind of a bug, the heart of a sociopath,
the soul of an ice-cube pitched into a blast furnace.
These are not better circumstances. Some other scent,
that, like the liquor-breath, the now-lit Chesterfield strives but fails to mask. An ozone-whiff
of anxiety. I know it is coming off the parents up front; but feel nonetheless responsible
as backseat paranoid; the observer skewing the experiment in a direction his own anxiety
is probably creating. I feel guilty, stupid, scared, bored; already beneath the
cast the skin itches.
the evening in bed worrying about the icepack sliding off and soaking the sheets. Mom worries
about not putting enough cubes in the pack. I am further worrying about how can
I get to sleep in a cold wet bed and how will I know if the cap pops out again,
and if it does, does that mean the cap – jammed under the cast – will stick to
one side and I’ll never be able to walk again?
I’m worrying about what it means to my fantasy
baseball that Donovan never throws the ball to first and so while everyone is worried about
the position of Dick Donovan’s patella, does Roy Sievers simply circle the bases
and now the Senator’s will need to go into extra innings tied at two-all?
“SON OF A BITCH!”
“Bill – keep your voice down!” Mom hisses in the dark.
“I’ll keep my VOICE down when you LISTEN!”
From the deep space of sleep, I am sucked into the
airlock of hearing words I understand but not understanding where I am. The airlock opens
and I glide motionlessly into on-my-back-in-bed. I blink at the pitch black ceiling I know
is there but can’t see.
“I’M NOT COMING HOME TOMORROW!”
Mom hisses something unintelligible.
“YOU WON’T GET A DIME! I’m leaving…
I’M NOT COMING HOME TOMORROW!”
“You won’t even give your own son a ride
when his leg is broken…”
“THAT’S NOT IT!” A wall gets
punched. My closed bedroom door jiggles in the frame. “JUST WATER ON THE KNEE! You
keep taking me away from work for emergencies that don’t exist… you know I
hate my boss… don’t have a high school diploma for a job that requires college
and that sonofabitch is looking for any excuse… YOU WON’T GET A DIME! GODDAMNIT,
NOT ONE DIME!”
Mom mumbles a
sentence containing OFFICE. That word designating the building where money is
gathered, where total attention is required, where souls are burned like sparklers
made of dried shit. Where a sort of high school from hell plays out forever and for
“Of course I don’t
drink at the office. Nobody drinks there. We have one to help us work and then
there’s lunch and we often have a few to keep it… nobody is going to listen to
your BULLSHIT about my… your imagining about my… NOT ONE DIME!”
A chair gets kicked. He has apparently wandered out
into the dining room. I picture Mom following, wringing her veiny hands, her five-foot,
98-pound frame already hunched at barely forty-five; she doesn’t have a high school
diploma, either; or a job; or a drinking or a smoking habit; all she does is clean, cook,
worry, worry about worrying and worry about not cleaning enough or cooking incorrectly.
“SON OF A BITCH!” Glass breaks. Maybe a drinking glass thrown across
the room into the kitchen sink.
Perfectly still I lie. Dad, and other adult males, call me “son.” Am
I the Son of a Bitch? Is all this my fault? Is Dad going to bust in and kick my ass, dislocate
my other knee, jump up and down on my balls? Is he leaving Mom because I am… I do…
If I persist in not moving a muscle they will ignore me, forget about me, and if
the thought of me in here in the dark does cross a parental mind, they will dismiss the
boy as sound asleep, hardly worth an ass-kick, a patella dislocation, a scrotum smash.
Stiller than still I lie. Maybe they found out about the jerking off. Baseball isn’t
the only imaginary game I play.
Couple months ago they screamed and hissed all night, Mom insisting I go to the
doctor for a “problem” that sounded like maybe, from what intent listening
in the dark could gather, was the fluid I was leaving behind in my underpants and on the
“SON OF A BITCH!” Dad
screamed that night, breaking something ceramic. “I work all day in a goddamn
office and come home to this BULLSHIT?”
That was a good twenty-five drunken nights ago. Not
a mention of my “problem” since; but, although time heals all wounds, time
never heals a single crime.
“NOT ONE MORE DROP OF ALCOHOL IN THIS HOUSE!”
Gee… Mom is yelling. This is unheard of…
A shuddering CRASH! resounds from out in the living room. Silence follows. Good.
Dad has collapsed. His drunker nights often end this way. Dick Donovan and I call it: Sudden
Rustling sounds of Mom removing linen from the hall closet, then covering the already-snoring
remains of Dad likely in his usual Sudden Death slot between the cocktail table
and the sofa. Sometimes before dawn he’ll manage to crawl up onto the sofa
when the springs in the master bedroom finally squeak, signifying Mom has also retired,
do I breathe easy, permit myself the luxury of carefully turning over onto one
The dog emerges from her hiding place under the kitchen
table. Click-click-click, her toenails enter the dining room, feeling in the night for
her spot on the throw-rug in front of the china closet.
Despite itches lighting campfires inside the cast,
I soon join Mom, Dad and the dog in slumber.
Three weeks later the cast comes off. I’m back
in time to play the last two innings of our final game against Johnson’s Hardware
(we lose three to two; but I don’t get to bat, so no blame there).
Knee good as new. Mom and Dad hitched as ever. No
further doctoring for me – the possible Son of a Bitch. Because, although it likely
is all my fault, I’m not yet caught; because I continue as ever to lie in the dark
|Art by Steve Cartwright © 2017
I crashed open the door. Hustled through the empty
locker room. Banged into the head. Flushed a wall of urinals – skush! skush! –
one after the other. Then turned and foot-flushed the crappers.
I spun around. Stormed through the swing door into
the smaller, inner locker room.
Found my locker. Kicked it five times with my street shoes. Spat on it. Twirled
Yanked it open.
Grabbed jock, shorts, shirt, shoes. Threw them out on the bench. Changed up.
“French America!” I
huffed, tying laces. “God French America!”
I punched shut the locker. Left the lock on the bench.
Belted my way through the head, through the underclassmen locker room, out into the hall.
Passed Coach’s office. Thought about spitting
on his window. Thought better. Not because I loved Coach more, but because my mouth was
I was late for
practice. Indoors today, because – although you’d never know it from the gym –
a torrent raged outside.
I jogged up
the ramp to the classroom section of the south wing. Loped the linoleum till I came to
the shop. Angled north past home ec. Gathered speed along restrooms, school
store, janitorial supply, till I reached the cafeteria.
Without breaking stride, I shoved open the bar-handled door.
Bright lights, noise and stale air re-awoke my headache.
I squinted. The door slammed. I jogged in place.
Coach – arms folded – stood beside the
serving line. On the opposite end, closer to me, ran the pack.
captain, in front. John, Cliff, Tom – knotted behind. Alex, Phil, Greg, Marc –
stretched back two or three tables. S.H. straggled – rounding the row over by the
go!” Coach yelled. “C’mon Alex, Phil – you can catch Cliff, Tom!
Let’s go, John!”
As he strode by, I joined Benzil.
“This is our fifth lap,” he growled,
hammering a step ahead of me. “Ten to go. C’mon, fall in, keep the pace.”
My head pulsed. My ears whined. Breath seared my
lungs. My eyes shut. Bodies elbowed past.
I forced my eyes open. Focused on Marc’s butt.
Marc had never beaten me. In disgust, I tried to step it up. Coughed. Straightened, hands
on hips, pain in side.
“Let’s go, Woodrow!” Coach hollered, spotting me, falling back
fast. “Where you been, son? Gimme five extra laps, Woodrow!”
My stomach puzzled gas. My pace dwindled further. Paralysis of the breadbasket.
I fought collapse.
S.H. wheezed at my
back. If he passed – mere froth on the tsunami of disgrace. No… S.H. stood for
Shit Head. He had a real name… No. Johnson would never pass. Cold mercury
burbled in my stomach.
doin’ OK, Woody?” Shit Head Johnson gasped at my side.
“Got a hangover.”
“First time,” I
confessed. Unthinkingly. Couldn’t think. Guts syrup, chest styrofoam, legs
the end of a row, puffed around the edge of a table that seated eight. But now its chairs
were like all the other chairs – upside down on their tables.
Skimmed my fingers along
the veneer, as we stumbled, changing direction, S.H. leading me by a toe.
Johnson’s being the
slowest on the team wasn’t half the problem. The crux of his being team butt
was how he acted.
He was a nerd. When you asked
him how his day was going, he said, “Fine, yeah.” If somebody told a joke,
Johnson didn’t get it. If it was recently out of style, Johnson wore it. If you turned
around too fast, Johnson was in your face with a question.
He didn’t talk too much, but he had a flair
for interruption. He never knew what you were talking about. His favorite topic was how
he worried you didn’t understand what he was saying.
S.H. was the kind of guy, if he was a chicken, he
would’ve been pecked to death seventeen years ago.
me,” he gasped. “Hope you don’t mind my asking… Hear tell you and
Colleen are not… getting along?”
I fisted my
way even with his frame, as our narrow-heeled shoes thudded fluorescent-lit linoleum,
and rain exploded outside.
you got drunk?”
I hawked. Came up empty – save wooden scotch taste.
“She dump ya?”
had zero luck with girls. He and they were like putty versus a magnet. Nil reaction. Even
his female teachers awarded C-minuses. Men instructors gave Johnson B-minus. He had
no strong suit. He was mediocrely not stupid at everything. Track was his only
sport. In three years he had never beaten anybody.
I thought deliberately of lemon, grapefruit, green blackberry…
“Know I got no business asking… wondered
if what I heard is…”
Saliva welled under my tongue. I spat on a table, grunted, pulled away from S.H.
Fixed my eyes on Marc’s blue shorts. Pumped, pistoning ache into my gut. Eating throb
was even with Cliff, when Coach yanked me out. I huffed, puffed, coughed, weaved in place.
had seen me spit on that table. What was wrong with me? I arrived fifteen minutes late
for practice. I was looking the most sorry-assed of the bunch. Now I had gone and
drooled on school property!
pack was coming around again. Benzil was four tables ahead of the tangle of John, Cliff,
Tom. Coach pulled him out. Benzil leaned over, touched his toes, breathing hard, but
“Woodrow here thinks
he’s a rich-boy. Don’t hafta work. Take him upstairs and run his ass ragged.”
Benzil huffed: “Run the halls, third floor?”
Coach patted him on the butt, muttered yep, gazing
at the far corner of the cafeteria, yelling: “C’mon Cliff – you got
Tom beat! C’mon Tom, let’s haul butt!”
The third floor was usually janitor-free this early
in the late afternoon. It had been a stormy spring. This was our fourth practice indoors.
We thought we knew the maintenance schedule.
But today we jogged up the cement stairs, banged open the bar-handled door –
to find two hillbillies waxing linoleum with machines like squat garbage cans.
“Keep to the inside,”
Benzil muttered, jogging close to the lockers.
He set a canter. I ran at his left hip. My stomach had tired of nagging, I was breathing
OK, the legs weren’t giving it much thought.
“You aren’t often late – how come?”
“Oh… I dunno.”
“You and that Colleen French still steadies?”
We passed the janitors intent on their waxing. The
machines keened, groaned, thrashed.
“She dump ya?”
I saw he was
smiling. Tight mouth in a taut face. Benzil was half Indian. His dad had been a
Philadelphia Italian in the Air Force, lost over Korea.
When I failed to answer either question, he huffed, he didn’t see why Coach
made us run indoors on account of a little water. Running in the rain would make us run
better in the sun. We’d sweat. Rain slake it off. Harden our muscles. Secret of good
Coach made us circle the cafeteria, switched on the lights. Didn’t want us to hit
tables. Coach had no guts – c’mon, would I race him around the rectangle…
maybe two hundred yards of hall?
lengthened stride, neither committed to a race. But mutually picking up the pace every
fourth or fifth step.
night burst in my mind like a firework.
Colleen met the new boyfriend in a coffee shop in McLean. He’s nineteen. Going
to college somewhere, she won’t say. I drove her home from debate.
We are parked in her
driveway. She is saying it’s over. No need to pick her up again after class.
I want to puke – nauseated by rejection. I
rev the engine. Ask her to get out, ask what for me is next?
“I dunno,” she shuts the door. “I’m
not sorry we met, it’s just…”
“Yeh.” I drove off.
even find this guy, much less slug him. No name, no address. She has fallen in love with
the unknown. This is my first dumping.
I bought a fifth of scotch, faking my age on sheer depression. Parked on the Potomac
south of Mount Vernon. Consumed most of fifth in less than half hour. Drove away randomly.
Crossed a bridge.
Wondered why not dive into the river. Made it somehow home.
holding my face in her chilly hands: where had I been? what had I had?
about a hamburger. Off to bed.
class flashed past. Caught a glimpse of an inequality still on the blackboard. I had been
doing well in math. Till meeting Colleen four months back – trading academic
interest for a feel, a taste, a tease.
said, “Guess you got your finger in. She let you do that?”
“Nah…” we slipped around a corner
where I knew his mechanical drawing class met… “yeah.”
smelled my own sweat. Acrid, sweet. Like a rotted flower. Was I OK? I kept mum, double-timed
to match his pace.
know…” he responded to my doggedness by striding faster… “my dad,
before he died, told Larry, my older brother, he should – out on a date – keep
his pecker…” he really turned it on… “in his pants.”
Common knowledge Benzil never got any. He was brown,
short, stringy, wide-nosed. I was a medium, unremarkable Anglo – once got good grades.
I sprinted after his butt.
I never got any either. Colleen, a year ahead, the
first. She seduced me. Her tongue parted my lips, her hand found the zipper; although I
remained technically virgin.
Caught Benzil and we tore together around a corner, nearly bowling over Stobbs –
the head janitor.
“You boys can’t run
up here today!” he screamed, but we were full tilt gone around the next corner
before we heard a thing.
we weren’t listening. We weren’t talking. We were breathing, our hearts beating,
arms pumping, torsos slogging, legs flying, feet airborne. We were running.
Side by side we whizzed past 305 – Spanish
go another lap,” he gritted.
He wasted energy, shooting me a half-grin. “Sure you’re up for it?”
In answer – I moved a
pace ahead. He responded immediately. We flew neck and neck around the math
class corner. Sideswiped a floor waxer.
of the newer janitors yelped. The other one kept pushing the waxer, hovering bristles over
was leading by a ball hair when we rounded the mechanical drawing corner and smashed into
Stobbs. Couldn’t be helped. We clobbered him. Knocked him on his can, trampled
his shins and shoulders. Inadvertently dislodged his dentures.
We stopped. We had
Blood flooded our
stalled limbs. We panted like women giving birth. We turned around, hands on
hips, gasping, pained.
fuckers tried to kill me!” he was screaming.
I fell to my knees. Gagged. Vomited bile, snot, trachea grease. I had nothing else
to give. Hadn’t eaten since the scotch.
Guess I passed out. Never quite collapsed. Events blur. Stobbs screaming. Benzil
huffing he thought it was OK, we could run up here…
Things get fresher in the gang shower. Warm water
hydroplaning tiles. Steam, soaked chaos, jets of hot – as if hell had gone to heaven.
I was OK. My head didn’t throb. I was no more
nauseated than usual. Remembered, a little, refusing to let Benzil help me down the stairs.
I felt tired, hungry, but safe.
out of the steam. “Coach wants ya,” he said. “In his office. Soon as
again in street clothes, I stood before Coach’s desk. He held a large chaw of Beechnut
in his left cheek. His sweats drooped over his blubber. He wore his navy fatigue cap.
He leaned back in his swivel chair. Crossed his short, thick legs. Placed his
dirty Converse in the middle of the cluttered desk. Pulled up his sweatshirt,
scratched hairy flab. Said, “Woodrow, I owe you an apology.”
When I showed
incomprehension, Coach cleared his throat, tongued his chaw, spat into the waste
can next to his swivel chair. He explained he didn’t know I had been sick all day,
absent from school with an illness. Didn’t realize I had stayed home, rested up,
all so I could make practice that afternoon. Sorry he chewed me out for being late.
I nodded. I was exhausted. I felt the birth of another
“Say, Woody,” he spat
carefully into the can. “Word is you barfed up there. That right – you toss
nodded. Sure. Yeah. I had done that.
Coach chuckled, rolled his chaw to
the opposite cheek. “Yeah, that Stobbs is awful pissed off somebody puked his
precious fresh wax. Guess he’s gonna take it to Administration.”
I muttered, noticing
tobacco saliva at the corner of his mouth, “Sorry.”
He grinned, spat without looking,
hit the can. “I could give a chicken crap about that scrawny asshole’s wax.
Tell him next time I ordered you run up there.
This here team’s got priorities – ain’t that right?”
“Sure.” I wondered if he knew the meaning of the word. If I knew the meaning.
you th’ew up.” He grinned, winking chaw. “I like that. Proves you with
the program. I gotta admire fella gives his all. To me, Woodrow, if a man don’t chuck
after a race, he didn’t run that race. You hear me, son? It’s not for nothin’
they call it guts. It’s born inside.”
Now that he mentioned
it, my stomach churned.
moment passed. I stood in limbo – like a bad dream remembered inside a nightmare.
My fingers trembled. Cold sweat bathed my chest. I forgot English. I forgot where. I
forgot what. I stood rooted to the floor.
Coach frowned. Swung down his feet. Hunched forward in the chair. “What was your sickness, Woodrow?”
My eyes found the battleship gray. “I, uh, ate a bad burger. Out driving around
went to Acey last night. Must’ve, I dunno…”
“Bad hamburger, huh?” His face wrinkled,
he appeared to swallow a squirt. “You still chasin’ that split tail?”
I raised my eyes from the linoleum. Said, no, that
was gossip. She and I were through.
He grinned, stood. “That a fact? Yeah, there’ll be others. Never get
split tail outta yer life totally. I’m sorry you had to bump into Stobbs like that.
He’s nasty when he gets a burr up his butt. Don’t pay his bullshit no mind.
Go home, meat and potatoes, get to bed early. Food poisonin’ ain’t no picnic.
Believe me, had it enough myself in the Service.”
Colleen French’s panties engulfed my mind.
I had never seen them. Only felt parting elastic and rayon under skirt. My first, my very
Yes, there was scent
that lingered. Drove me to gnaw my finger. God knows I licked ample electric
odor off knuckles. Whispering her name, closing eyes, sampling the remnant on my own
Now gone. Now
He came around from
behind the desk. Clapped my butt. Told me go go home forget that split tail.
Don’t let Stobbs bother me neither. He wanted me in shape for the County relays
coming up at the end of March.
Stobbs got his way. Three days later, Administration prohibited indoor practice. It had
been brought to their attention the interior of the building was not insured against
accidents caused by running.
rest of that spring, when it hurricaned, practice was called. If we really wanted, we could
run a few laps in the weather. Everybody went home.
Except Benzil. The second time practice got rained
out, I joined him on a five mile slosh over the cinders.
When I jogged out to him on the track, he yelled
through the downpour, “Gonna keep up with me this time?”
“I’m warm, I jogged
out from the locker room.”
– twenty laps… let’s go!”
We clammed up for about two minutes. Down the first straightaway of the second lap,
Benzil finally cut the riot of the rain with, “You won’t find Coach’s
lard ass out here!”
was hurting from fresh blisters. My spikes were new. The rain was shrinking them up weird.
I didn’t feel like talking. Going into the bend to begin the fifth lap, I said,
“Nice day, think it’ll rain?”
Toward the end of the thirty-minute five miles of striding, he gasped, “I’m
He did. The rain ate
whatever stench. As if I could smell or take time to smell – catching a cold,
concentrating on keeping up with Benzil.
out he was dead wrong about running in the rain improving your ability to run in the sun.
I just got more colds, uglier blisters and strange muscle spasms.
I kept running with him on rainouts. The opportunity for pain attracted me. I
still possessed a male hymen, though it hung by a thread. Didn’t seem likely,
with Colleen out of my life, I’d lose it soon. But by tugging, scratching and
digging in other directions, I hoped magically to rip it free.
|Art by K.J. Hannah Greenburg © 2018
by Willie Smith
In the last weeks of the summer of 1930, when my father was fifteen and just starting
the 10th Grade, his father made him drop out of school to sell apples on the
streets of Philadelphia. Grandpa was an unemployed printer, working casually as a
chauffeur. Grandpa was also an alcoholic and a ladies’ man. He liked to play
the mandolin, sang well, moved easily in his lean body and was not unhandsome.
Since my father was a
good student who came from a poor family, the City of Philadelphia offered him
a stipend to stay in school: enough to buy books, lunches, pencils, paper.
Grandpa forced my
father to turn down the stipend. “You are the eldest,” he said to my stunned
father. “You are almost a man and must now in these hard times help support the
I saw my paternal grandfather once. At my paternal grandmother’s funeral.
July of 1960. I was ten. Who is this tall ancient with my face? I wondered, as he strolled
over smiling to shake my hand, not having seen me since I was a baby. I gladhanded him
back, our smiles competing in broadness. Then my father stepped in. Bent down, told
me to go play with my cousins out in the atrium.
The next closest encounter I
had with Grandpa was one muggy Saturday afternoon in 1964 when the phone rang. Dad picked
up. Said a few words. Slammed down the receiver. Stomped into the basement to emerge thirty
minutes later drunk on the quart of vodka that lived in the toolbox under his workbench.
A memorable – commenced a few hours earlier than usual – Saturday drunken
rampage ensued. The bathroom door got broken. The dog kicked. The rec room light fixture
destroyed. A hole punched in the diningroom wall. The air filled with thunderous obscenities
and spouted threats to the tune of “I’m leaving you all!” “None
of you will ever get a dime!” “I’ll kill that goddamn dog if she gets
in my way again!” Until he collapsed naked at the foot of the livingroom couch a
few hours after midnight.
Next morning, with Dad in the bedroom snoring it off, Mom took me aside to explain
that Grandpa had called from a rented room in downtown Philly. He had said hi, then
announced he was putting on his bride, and for Dad to say hi to his new mom.
Mom (my mom) liked to provide reasons – other than alcohol – for Dad’s rages.
Often they were vague: “Your father had a headache last night;” or, “Your
father was awake last night worrying about work.” She seemed confident and even
oddly pleased to be able to offer such a specific excuse for that Saturday’s
rather extraordinary display of mayhem, cursing, insanity and wanton cruelty to
animals, children and spouse.
I don’t know much about my family. Hardly anything, in fact. But I seem to
come from a long line of failed fathers. At the age of five I swore to myself I would never
have a child. The failure stops here; precisely where the abyss begins.
The last I heard of
Grandpa was three years later, in mid-1967, when Dad took me aside early one Sunday
afternoon, when he was still Dr. Jekyll sober, and said, “I guess you heard
your paternal grandfather died last week.” No, I hadn’t; but I’d learned early
in life always to present a pokerface and never to admit to anything when
dealing with those two thinly-disguised maniacs called Mom and Dad. “Just
wanted to let you know it’s true, he’s dead. Died without a cent. Buried at the
expense of the City. He died of cirrhosis. I guess you know what that means.”
I was seventeen. I
knew what cirrhosis meant. I made a silent wish Dad himself would immediately
drop dead from cirrhosis of the anus. When my blank face said nothing, Dad frowned,
muttered, “I was too busy at the office to fly up to Philly for the funeral.”
He turned on his
heels. Creeped downstairs into the basement. Ostensibly to tinker with a
bookshelf he had hopes of someday building, using drawings from a POPULAR
MECHANICS. But, of course actually to suck on the bottle; although that day not nearly
so hard and fast as during the say-hi-to-your-new-mom phone call aftermath. Meaning he
didn’t come up swearing and screaming till nearly nine that night, and gave it up
for sleep a mere three or four hours later. No holes punched, nothing broken; the dog and
Mom threatened, but no contact worthy of report.
Not till I was fifty, in the
year 2000, six years after the death of my father, did Mom reveal to me that the identity
of her mother was unknown, both to herself and to the rest of the surviving world. The
shriveled old thing in a nursing home I foggily recall meeting once at the age of three,
was Mom’s stepmother. Shortly thereafter that old thing died, and I have no memory
of the funeral. Did we go?
The stepmother was a polio victim, bedridden most of her life. Soon after she married
my maternal grandfather, he announced it was time to make a baby. The stepmother informed
Gramps (Mom taught me to call her father “Gramps,” to distinguish him from
Dad’s father “Grandpa”) she was too disabled to bear a child. Gramps,
of Pennsylvania Dutch stock, who had ended his formal education in the 4th Grade,
when he ran away from the farm to seek his fortune down in Philly in the early
1890s, quietly went out and got somebody else pregnant.
Toward the end of November,1915,
one of Gramps’ female cousins knocked on the door. Stepgramma answered, and into
Stepgramma’s arms baby-Mom the cousin thrust, saying, as she beat the retreat, “This
belongs to Fred.”
Well, it seems Fred (Gramps’ real name) and Stepgramma then quickly got down
to the business of making my half-aunt, born about a year later. They told Mom she, Mom,
was an orphan. Mom had no problem accepting the bitter, demanding cripple as her stepmother;
but she waited even at Gramps’ deathbed for him to confess that he was her
biological father, she always having been Fred’s little girl: helping him work
on his car, toil in his greenhouse, dropping out of middle school to slave as a
retail clerk to help Fred carry the family through the Depression.
But Fred (Gramps)
never confessed. It was cleaner that way. Better an orphan than a whore-child;
better the adopter of an orphan than the supporter of a bastard. Germans are
funny folk, even when they grow up in Pennsylvania. That same perverse blood runs in my
unprocreating veins and I grew up in Virginia, where Germans are no less sparkling clean
and riddled with silent prevarication. See if you can figure out what is not true here;
after a lifetime of pokerfacing, bluffing and double-bluffing, I’m not sure I can
be of much help.
I was fond of my
paternal grandmother. In the late fifties she took the bus down to live with us
for a few weeks each summer. She rented a room in a sooty Philly neighborhood.
We never went there. Sometimes Grandpa lived with her, sometimes not. Grandpa was never
really relevant to any conversation whatsoever.
Nanna Shelton (Dad’s mom, married to Dad’s father, that alcoholic skirtchaser
“Grandpa”) was short and stocky with a pug nose, small twinkling gray eyes
and a face round and wrinkled as the moon. A sparse mop of gray hair clung to her scalp.
She laughed a lot, smiled most of the time. Mom told me that was how come the wrinkles;
Mom was twenty years younger, frowned all the time, and also sported wrinkles; but
I of course never pointed this out. When Dad was drunk, driving us somewhere
and repeatedly swerving off the road – I wouldn’t point that out either.
Before I turned two,
my maternal grandfather “Gramps” died. I don’t remember the funeral, or, for
that matter, anything firsthand about Gramps. Just pieced together what here
and there I was told or managed to overhear. He stood under five feet tall. Weighed
200 pounds, most of it muscle. He worked in a congoleum factory and it was his
brag, up to a few months before his death from colon cancer, that no one could
shove him out of position once he took up a stance, stubby feet spread, hawserlike arms
crossed over his broad, stubborn Pennsylvania Dutch chest.
At the funeral in late 1951, when Mom’s step-sister
came forward to claim all of the inheritance, one of Gramps’ brothers stepped up
to verify that Gramps was indeed the father of my mother, therefore the inheritance should
be split between the two surviving children of his blood. Not that there was all that much
to divvy up. The step-sister’s comment, confronted with this revelation: “And
I thought my father was a DECENT man!”
So, I come from a long line
of bastards, philanderers, drunkards, liars and loafers. I have no idea who was my maternal
grandmother; but it seems reasonable she was a prostitute. Why not? Surrogate mothers were
not professionally available in 1915; not likely in Philadelphia, at least. But could not
one pay a whore to bear a child?
A pretty sum would doubtless be required; but Gramps
Rotblut (Rotblut Mom’s maiden name) was the best off of all of my impoverished forebears.
He didn’t drink; or, rather, he religiously drank exactly one beer at the end of
each day (a German without a beer is like a wheel without a hub). He put in eighteen-hour
days, working after the factory whistle in his self-built greenhouse, where he grew plants
he sold to the neighbors and at local markets.
Is it too great a
leap of faith to add to my list of titles and attributes that of Grandson of a
The slut skipped a generation in my mother. Mom hated sex. Her greatest fear was
that her youngest born, her precious son, this asshole right here, would one day discover
lust. She wanted me to grow up to marry an obedient sex-loathing handmaiden who would
bear her grandchildren. But she feared I might discover sex too early; or –
television and magazines forbid – come to LIKE sex.
Being the grandson of
a whore on one side, and on the other the grandson of a womanizer, sex for me
was ever a downhill battle. I recall having my first orgasm when not yet four
years old. While shinnying up a silver maple sapling in our front yard. I wasn’t
trying to do anything in particular, just reach the top of the tree. Then, as I humped
up the trunk – swaying in an April zephyr – panties bloomed behind my eyes,
girl tongues invaded my ears. I didn’t need a parent to abuse me sexually. I achieved
the miracle all by myself.
Less than two years later, already a practicing and accomplished masturbationist,
I discovered voyeurism. I became expert at talking the neighborhood girls into hanging
upside down from swingsets and dangling over benches and picnic tables the
better to study their panties. They thought they were just accepting a silly
dare; not a one of these four- and five-year-old victims ever suspected they
were fueling a furnace of illicit nighttime lust, when I lay awake in bed exploring
new ways to apply pressure to my groin so as to electrify the spine with sufficient amperage
to make my mind roar into an ecstasy of filth.
Here’s my keenest memory of Nanna Shelton, the only grandparent I ever got
to know as a live human being: It was the summer of 1959, the year before she died in her
sleep of a heart attack, in a rented room up in Philly. She was staying in my
sister’s bedroom. I peeked in to make sure she was awake, because it was always
fun to have Nanna and her laughter and her offcolor jokes at the breakfast
She stood with her back to me, wearing only wrinkled pink satin panties. Like an
oversized flabby fireplug with a faded flag draped around its middle. Still, they were
panties – HUGE panties. And, although she was the oldest living specimen I knew,
also the widest and the fattest, she was nonetheless a female.
I stood staring, till
she started to turn to grab her dress where she had it laid out on the bed, and
I vanished back into the hall, drawing the door silently to, taking along
another clip to file away for later use, although I was not sure at the time and am
to this day not exactly sure, how to ignite this granny fuel. Many more volatile images
were to come: PLAYBOY, PENTHOUSE, HUSTLER, internet porn. But that gray oldlady bowl-cut
head, thick short neck, broad shoulders, stout back, short legs, wrinkled panties…
they never vanish, never tarnish, never seem to evoke anything, turn me on only to the
The only thing my father ever told me that his father told him, my intellectual
inheritance, as it were: Never carry a lazy man’s load. Meaning never carry more
than you comfortably can: you’ll make more trips to move the load, but you will feel
better at the end of the day and the load will have been more efficiently
I took this to heart. I have traveled light: No family, never procreated, rarely,
after leaving home at the age of eighteen, saw my parents or any of my ghostly, tightlipped
In never carrying a lazy man’s load, I have become a most industrious ghost:
someone dead most of his life, desperately striving to report back with the utmost clarity.
Can I help it if my dispatches so often resemble lies, contradiction, untruth? Well, if
I COULD help it, still I would not. Because I will always be that little boy
masturbating in the dark, titillating to orgasm in mandatory silence, while Dad
rages drunk through the house and the boy knows that the least rustle could
draw Dad to throw open the door, flood the small bed with light and…
my life the sudden wide effulgence has been my greatest fear, my fondest passion.
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