Friday, September 3, 2010

New York City

Just about sixteen years ago this week, I packed up a small Ryder rental truck packed with a few bits of furniture and my clothes. On a bright morning in Memphis, Tennessee, as my mother and father stood tearfully watching, I pulled said rental truck out of my driveway and left to begin adulthood. I was twenty-one years old.

In a few days, after picking up my cousin with whom I'd share an apartment, I had arrived in New York City. The City was different back then. Any and every New Yorker, when waxing poetic about their youth will start with those words. New York was different then. But it was. The redemptive revitalization of American cities had not fully cleansed New York. This was 1994. In the years that would follow, the city would become cleaner and family-friendly. Unfortunately, it would also lose its character and anything closely resembling middle class affordability.

But in those days, a faint air of menace still hung over the city. In the first few months, I thought about leaving to go back home. Home? Where was home? This was home and I was struggling to make it feel so. My apartment would get broken into. I would struggle early on at a job that I felt under qualified to do. The city's menace lurked behind these challenges, all the while delivering a sneer.

But that first night I moved in, I was a god. I strolled down Lexington Avenue and bought an inordinately overpriced sixpack of beer. It was a beautiful night and the Chrysler Building was lit up in all its glory - and now it belonged to me. It was the absolute freest feeling I'd ever know.

Saturday, June 6, 2009


by Glenn Haas

It's strange for me to see the church from here; this sidewalk, this place I'd walked time and time again. There's an enormous absence where a row of houses had been. This was where my Aunt Frances had lived and like all the other vanquished places of my upbringing, it still possesses an intrasigent center of gravity. Now there's this void as I stand here with nothing between me and God but a chain link fence and some gravel. Such is the way in cities and I suppose I can think of nothing more futile than my standing here lamenting.

My Aunt Frances had a foul mouth. She'd perch at her apartment window, gaze down at the street and refer to every other passer-by as 'shitlegs' or other such similar rendering. Her brother, my great-uncle Willis was mildly retarded. Frances had cared for him his entire life. Willis spent most days either fishing in the polluted Ohio River or listening to the Reds on the radio as he rolled an endless stream of cigarettes. He was a wondrously quiet and gentle behemoth of a man. I was in their care every Wednesday while my mother was at work. Though I can't recall him ever uttering a single word to anyone, I knew he possessed a love for me and for all things on our shared universe that was beyond measure.

I might look up right now but my eyes would only meet the sun. They would not, as I would wish, meet the face of Aunt Frances...looking down upon me from her perch as my mother busily whisked me homeward. Aunt Frances, at her window would regard our departure the usual muted expression that she gave to the rest of planet earth. In a matter of moments she would pull her head inside and make Willis his dinner, but not before referring to me or perhaps anyone peripheral to me on the sidewalk, as 'shitlegs'.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Carriage and Car Collide

Another great contribution from Ruben Carbajal. Check him out at

COMMUTER: a woman in her late 40s, arm in a cast.
COACHMAN: a man in his late 40s, smoking a cigarette.
HORSE: shiny chestnut coat, bandage on his head.

I hate driving in the city. I always worried I was going to kill one of those bike messengers. But this?

It was a horn, I think. Spooked him. After that, I mean, it was all over for us.

I don't remember much. I think they sedated me. But I’ve seen the pictures. The wires picked it up. Made a couple of front pages. Even went viral, I’m told.

To be honest, I think it would've been better for everyone if I had hit a bike messenger. I know that sounds real shitty, but it's true.

The press has been crazy. Before, we'd get a few of the PETA people on us, you know, protesters? They'd harass the tourists as we'd take them through the park. Placards, and whatnot. You get called every name in the book. But this? It's just out of control.

I'm not going to comment on the whole animal rights issue, alright? I've accepted my lot in life. It's not easy. The asphalt gets hot. There's the carriage, which is no picnic. I drag around mostly Midwesterners who, let's face it, aren't exactly anorexic supermodels, okay? But then, you know, there are countries where horsemeat is a delicacy. I have a cousin who works a petting zoo. Sounds like a good gig, right? But the guy rides in a perfect circle all day. That's no life. I get to see all kinds of stuff. I like listening to the conversations. The oohs and ahhhs. You know, guys trying to impress dates? I'm a sucker for that kind of thing.

I know it sounds cold, but do you know if I would've hit a messenger, this wouldn't have made the second to last page of the Daily News? A couple hundred of those poor bastards get squashed like bugs every year; you think anyone gives a crap? Hit a horse, and suddenly I'm one notch above a kiddie porn photographer. I've been getting honest to god death threats. I mean, the horse ran into me.

There was a strange moment there, when he freaked out... All day, every day, that horse goes where I say he goes. You take it for granted. Suddenly, I'm at his mercy. Where will he take me? Where will my life go from here? Will I die?

I was scared. I remember that. The papers said I got spooked by a car horn. Maybe. Initially, could be. But I think what really freaked me out was the realization that I was in control. The reigns were loose. I’d been handed the power over my own fate. Was this what I had hoped for all along? My whole life I've been told where to go, when to turn, how fast, how slow. Now, here I am in the middle of 5th Avenue, the storefronts illuminating the rain-soaked streets...The master of my own destiny. Where will I go from here? Where will I take my life? Will I die?

My husband took me on a carriage ride once. It was Valentine's Day. Snow everywhere. Traveling at that speed, the world slows down. The hoof beats transport you to a rhythm that New Yorkers are just not used to. Like your heart beat. You take notice. The bare branches carrying all that snow in their arms. Wrapped in a wool blanket, next to the man you settled for. The same view you might see a hundred years ago. Longer, even. You think about time. And the way we conduct our lives now. And it’s so quiet. You feel like you're in one of those snow globes, like the world is covered in glass. About halfway through, you get a little unsettled. You know, just over the walls of the park, the city is moving. You’re separated. From those going to their jobs. Making decisions. Participating in life. By the end of it, you're full on anxious. You want the ride to end. You want to get back to your apartment. Your life. New Yorkers are in New York because we don't like to ruminate. We don't want time to philosophize or listen to our souls. It’s just too damn terrifying. Why do you think we’ve plugged ourselves into machines 24-7? Anything, we’ll take any damn distraction to stave off an empty moment of contemplation.

I don’t know. It’s basically over for me. The whole business. Good riddance, I guess. It’s just not worth it any more. Too much controversy. Too much bullshit, you know? Somone’s always got a problem with something. There used to be certain things that were always New York. Egg Creams. Smoking a joint on the street without being hassled. A decent strip club. Not any more. I got cited. Bad publicity. Company fired me. Not sure what I’ll do. My cousin has a rickshaw business he started a few years ago. He says I’ll have to start at the bottom, work my way up. Whatever. Maybe it’ll get me back into shape.

Well, the carriage company retired me. Some upstate hippie couple agreed to take me in. I'll get some needed time off. Some of my earliest memories are of the sky. A horizon unimpeded by buildings. It'll be good to return to that. I think I'll miss the city, though. When I look at that photo, I have to admit, I’m overcome with this strange feeling of pride.

I think to myself, this is a metaphor for something.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Moment Before Impact

by Ruben Carbajal

The horrible screeching of tires. SHE (Early 40’s), frozen in an expression of terror. HE(Mid-40’s), seated next to her, pantomimes a steering wheel, carefree expression.Lighting change. HE loses the steering wheel. They address the audience directly: their delivery should be impassive, pleasant but clinical.
They begin...
Moment before impact: I'm helpless to react.

(Almost jolly)I never know what hit me.

He was my best friend's husband. The one rash act of my life.

(Almost Proud)Ruining one marriage while consummating the next; at the same time, is a trick.

Terrorism. Violent Crime. Poverty. Shark Attacks. Outliving our son. Balding.

Things She Worried About. (BEAT) Impotence. The new VP of Sales. Physical Fights. Being Bad Father. Balding.

Things He Worried About.

My whole life I'm told I'm capable of great things. I bask in my potential and accomplish nothing.

I work hard. Nose to grindstone. T's Crossed, I's dotted. I'm rarely, and mildly acknowledged.

HE (Gingerly)
I slept with interns.

Things He Thinks I Don't Know. (BEAT) I'd trade him in to have my best friend back.

Things She Thinks I Don’t Know.

Final score: 15,652 Days, 46,956 Meals, 2 Marriages, 2 Children, 3 Continents,17 Lovers.

Two Children?

Things He or She Didn't Know.


HE (Musing)
What a mess.

SHE (Correcting)
What a lovely mess. I’ll miss it. If it’s possible to miss anything now. Probably not.

THEY hold hands. Stare into each other’s eyes.

SHE (To the audience)
This is a dramatic conceit. When it happens, we don’t actually hold hands.

HE (To the audience)
There is no time for that.

Lighting change. Sound of screeching tires. SHE, frozen in an expression of terror. HE,holds the steering wheel, joyfully oblivious. Lights out.

PHOTO: Dangers of Driving in Central Florida by Tom Arthur via Creative Commons License(Link to artists work:

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

1923 (Coney Island)

by John Biscello

In the black and white photo, 1923 written in faded pencil in the lower left hand corner, neatly scalloped perforations along the borders—my grandmother and her sister, Rose, are standing on the beach. Coney Island: I know this because the steel tower that is The Parachute looms prominently in the distant background. In the nearer background the crowd is a swell of bikinis and bathing suits and sandals and bare feet.

My grandmother and her sister are standing side by side, practically grafted at the hip, the both of them smiling wider rubbery smiles. Summertime smiles. Rose is several years younger than my grandmother, she is also slimmer and slightly taller. Her narrow beak-like nose seems, in contrast, to extend the width of her almond-shaped eyes.

My grandmother—squat, buxom, busty—has a darker complexion than Rose, and that’s how I’ve always known my grandmother: sun-baked, year-round, reminding me of an overdone potato.

I look at the writing—1923—and wonder whose handwriting it is. I try to imagine it being written in the year 1923, then try to imagine the year 1923, what it was like, try to imagine the hustle and verve and majesty of Coney Island in its heyday, try to imagine the Depression, which will come on like a plague in six years and cast a dark pall over people’s visions and dreams and optimism. I try to imagine these things and only get as far as surface thoughts, lean imaginings.

In relation to me, my grandmother has always been old, and when I see this photo of her in 1923, I feel as if I’m looking at the person who played my grandmother in the early part of her life. Not was her, but played her: the young actress who fulfilled the role until a slightly older actress stepped in, who was then replaced by a slightly older actress, and so on and so forth. Now that my grandmother is dead she is no longer played by anyone. No more flesh-animated actors are required to keep the drama alive and running: my grandmother, as a ghost, has been liberated from further participation in Life-the-Movie.

Thinking of the photo, 1923, I think of myself, how I’m growing older, and if I were to look at photos of myself—when I was eight, fourteen, twenty-one, twenty-six—I would see all the people who I thought I was, all the actors who played me for a while. By the time I pass away, there will exist a slide-show gallery of actors and masks to view in relation to my life, but the sum-of-all-their-parts will not equate to the definitive version of me, won’t even come close.

Absence, I suspect, holds the dearest most essential parts of us, which is why a photo of my grandmother in 1923, is a misleading speck of evidence in a much larger and more mysterious investigation.

Monday, May 18, 2009

DO NOT (Dallas)

by Glenn Haas

You have to wait until a few hours past dark.

DO NOT go to the back porch via the side with the driveway. I call that neighbor Nosy Insomniac. Go the other way. There’s an old lady on that side who’s asleep by the time Jeopardy is done. If her dog barks, DO NOT panic. That thing barks incessantly, endlessly. The whole world ignores that godforsaken mutt, so you should too. Dress in dark clothes. The back porch light will be off and I unscrewed the flood bulbs in the motion-activated lights just before I left.

Now, the key will be under the flowerpot that’s shaped like a turtle. It goes to the side door that leads into the kitchen. If the key sticks a bit when you first try it, DO NOT freak. Just giggle it a bit, and it will work.

Remember to take off your shoes before you walk in. God knows the carpets are white and will be until the end of time. There’s a center hall that goes through the middle of the house. Go to the last door on the right, that’s my room.

DO NOT turn on the light. You’ll now be on the side of the house that borders Nosy Insomniac. If you turn on the light, WE ARE DONE!

Under my bed you'll find a black duffle bag. Go to my drawers and fill it with underwear, jeans, t-shirts - as much as you can pack in. Try not to make a mess of things.

The last and most important thing is this: get the chair by my desk and use it to get to the top shelf of my closet. There's a small brown paper bag hidden way in the back of the shelf to the right - that's where I hid it. DO NOT forget to get that. Once you have it, stuff it in the duffle bag with my clothes and whatnot.

Remember to go out the back, lock up the door with the key and take the key with you.

Can't wait, baby. Just wish I could see the looks on their faces...

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Single and Seeking (Albany)

by Natalie N. Narine

I should have known from the beginning, that my relationship with Jasper was headed for the rocks. Okay, I knew deep down it would, but at the time I didn’t care. I had been single for about two years, since ending an abusive six year relationship. I had promised myself nothing serious. It was fun in the beginning, being out there again. The thrill quickly faded after creepy, married, or gay men seemed to be my only options.

Jude’s was far from your typical dive. Outside, the building looked like an abandoned warehouse, but inside was a chic nightclub. Locals, as well as outsiders, frequented the place. Playing a gig there was considered prestigious. I was feeling a bit solemn that night. Even the ranting of my best friend’s bedroom buddies didn’t interest me. Shutting everything out, I gazed into my drink. Was I getting too old for this shit? Something sultry knocked me back into reality. My attention now was focused on the stage.

As the trumpet wailed, the humidity rose in the room. It felt like a night in Cuba. Throwing my shoes off to the side, I danced hypnotically toward the front row. My hair was drenched in sweat and covering most of my face. My clothes clung to my swaying body. His eyes were burning my flesh. It made me wild and excited. After his set, and just before exiting the club, he mouthed his name to me…Jasper.

It was a tsunami after that. Nights filled with music, lust and whatever else stumbled into our paths. It was like living the life of a character in some paperback novel. Somehow I was able to function during the day. Going to work at the old folks home, sleeping for a few hours, and then out all night. My other relationships took the back burner, somehow I didn’t think they would mind. I was in love with a man that every girl wanted. Little did I know, he loved and wanted them too.

At first there were little signs. A bit of perfume here, some lipstick there. I always forced myself to believe him. I went to less gigs. Our love nest became a pig sty for him to crash at occasionally. Why wasn’t this working? Where did it start going wrong? I started to feel defeated, but not knocked out just yet.

On a weeknight I headed to Jude’s to surprise Jasper. The motion of my hips to his horn would surely remind him of what we had. A few groups played before him. I got tired of waiting and headed down to the lounge for the performers. Maybe I could seduce him and get him hot before his set. Spiraling down the staircase into the darkness, I could hear drunken laughter. Stepping into the light, I could see my best friend with her legs wrapped around my lover.

I changed my locks. I refused his numerous calls, pleading for forgiveness. I knew I was doing the right thing, but I felt so wrong on the inside. Weeks had gone by and his persistence elevated. Showering me with sweet words. Maybe if he promised it wouldn’t happen again.

We needed to get out of the city. Away from the temptations and bad memories. I picked the perfect spot. A place I use to go to with my family on vacations when I was a child. A secluded little bungalow by the water. We hadn’t been there very long, but we couldn’t keep our hands off of each other. The passion was intense, like when we first met. Oddly, the more he treated me well, the more I felt anguish. On our last night we made love, not sure where we would end up.

The morning was somber. Jasper kept himself hidden. I packed our things to leave. It was getting late, and he still wouldn’t answer or come out. This was ridiculous, I thought. If this weekend was just a joke, tell me. Furious, I barged into the room. He was naked and in bed, like the night before. His head was dented. His trumpet lay on my pillow.

I left, but not before remembering to put the key back under the matt of senile Mrs. Flemming’s home. She was always kind and cooperative during my shifts. I’m sure once all the paperwork is finished, her heirs will come to claim the property. As for me, I will always have Cuba.

Natalie N. Narine is a Visual/Expressive Art Educator, Radio Personality and Published Writer. "I was introduced to the creative craft by myfathers visions...Nurtured by inner magic andtormented by the ambitious beast...I create through my3rd eye...reaching out to the spectrum of what isbeyond plain view...given glimpses to what supposedlyparallels human nature...I am influenced by what ishidden, forbidden, and raw."