by Jeff Von Ward
A History of Broken Love Things(Punk Hostage Press), by SB Stokes is the author’s debut collection of poetry, an expansive and regenerative look at identity through the tumbled stones of broken relationships. I recently had the opportunity to speak with the poet following a string of successful Bay Area events and readings. What follows is a slightly edited transcript of our discussion.
Q: When I told my high school guidance counselor I wanted to be a poet, he tried to talk me out of it. Do you have any cool stories about peoples’ responses, good, bad or unexpected, when you declared your entry in the field?
SB STOKES: Michael McClure refused to read any of my poetry while I was his student at the California College of the Arts (CCA, then known as CCAC, The California College of Arts & Crafts), and when I pressed him, he quoted Alfred Jarry to me, saying: “You know, Mister Stokes, ‘the armature of the absolute is the absurd’.” And then he smirked, winked at me, and walked away. He also refused to teach any poetry classes at the time, he was touring the world doing spoken word with Ray Manzarek, keyboardist for The Doors.
Q: That must have been in the early nineties? I remember seeing flyers for what would become Love Lion all over Santa Cruz, where I lived at that time.
SB STOKES: That sounds right. Then, when I was forced to drop out of art school (but still required to be enrolled full-time at some college-level school to continue living rent-free at my parents’ house), I went to Diablo Valley Junior College (DVC), where an Advanced Poetry instructor gave the assignment for the rest of the 35 students in the class to write a poem in MY poetic style. I was shocked, horrified, embarrassed, and humiliated. I sincerely didn’t know how to take that. Was he mocking me, trying to teach me a lesson? Complimenting my already defined personal style? (Yeah, right.) Was he trying to get me to take a good, hard look at how my poems were becoming formulaic? I sincerely have no idea. I tend to think the first idea was probably the most accurate. Any way you slice it, it sucked big-time.
Q: What is poetry anyway and why does it have such a bad rap?
SB STOKES: This question should be posed in the reverse order: poetry gets a bad rap because it is so very difficult to define generally. It is a myriad of different perspectives and voices and cadences and phrasings and lineations and formats and forms and structures and experiments and expressions and languages and vernaculars and it is constantly growing, expanding, and changing. That’s why!
Q: How do you make poetry relevant to a contemporary audience?
SB STOKES: Speak about contemporary concerns. Use the topical to be universal. Be present and relevant. Be honest about real human experiences.
Q: What are some of your poetic influences? The high and low diction reminded me a little bit of Ashbery, in a good way.
SB STOKES: I’m flattered by the Ashbery comparison! Wow. He is a poet whose work impressed me from the moment I was exposed to it. And now, I apologize in advance for the length of my answer. Well, like most people who first came to poetry as a teenager, in high school, I think my initial influences are pretty common nowadays: Shakespeare, William Blake, e.e. cummings, Charles Bukowski, Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen, Diane di Prima, Lawrence Ferlinghetti. And my Mom was always a big Rod McKuen fan, so as a small kid I was exposed to his books too. In college and grad school, the instructors I studied with most closely became truly influential. Daniel J. Langton, Camille Dungy, Truong Tran, Maxine Chernoff, Paul Hoover, Donna de la Perriere, Barbara Tomash, Toni Mirosevich, Myung Mi Kim, Aaron Shurin, Michael McClure.
Nowadays, of course, my compatriots in the SF Bay Area literary scene, especially my closest running buddies (dubbed “The Beast Generation” by Zarina Zabrisky), are probably my greatest and most immediate influences. The people I love to read with, would love to read with, or would love to read with again: Cassandra Dallett, William Taylor Jr., Joel Landmine, Jennifer Brown, Zarina Zabrisky and Simon Rogghe, Charlie Getter, Hollie Hardy, Sarah Overton, Jason Schenheit, Brontez Purnell, Alexandra Naughton, Sarah Wisby, Daniel Suarez, Justin Etc., Sandra Wassilie, Evan Karp, Cynthia Atkins, Tim Kahl, Bill Gainer, Justin Etc.,
Lately I’ve been wondering if I’m not the poetic offspring of David Meltzer… Music and lyrics are a huge influence on my poetry as well. I have a lot of poems that talk to or about particular bands or songs. And movies, oh my gawd, movies flashing in my mind constantly.
Q: That’s a dynamite list. Hoping someone reading this will find a new muse for a while. So how does your background in art inform your poetry—or does it?
SB STOKES: My background in art is a lifelong exposure and immersion and participation in the world of art, on various and varied levels. I know, that sounds like a bunch of windy bullshit, but I’ve been drawing and thinking in pictures for as long as I can remember, since I could hold a crayon, since before I knew there was such a thing as “art”.
Q: One of the things I think you do really well is the elliptical… following a stream-of-conscious “line of thought” with a quivering second and third guessing, an almost neurotic compulsion that seems both funny and true, making the speakers of your poems vulnerable and tender, even if they’re afraid sometimes of the repercussions. How much distance exists between you and the speakers?
SB STOKES: It varies widely between poems. It’s like an endless strand of Xmas lights: some of them are nearer the plug than others, and sometimes they get moved around too.
Q: How do you modulate personal pain and make it universal? Is writing poetry actually therapeutic?
SB STOKES: Poetry, for me personally, is beyond therapeutic. Sometimes it is downright cathartic. It is always necessary, even if what comes out seems like pure crap. Necessary is what poetry is for me.
As far as personal pain goes, I guess I just try to represent it as best I can, with a sincere attempt at accuracy and honesty. I try to modulate it in the same ways I try to modulate it in daily life, I guess. I think the few times when I am successful at that, that’s when it strikes a chord with the greater human heart, whether it be in writing or in person.
Q: Can you speak about the order of the poems in a history of broken love things? The poems seem to start small before moving on to encompass larger and larger spaces, greater complexity, more unsolvable problems. Is the stumblebum making some kind of moral progress or merely marking time?
SB STOKES: Honestly, A. Razor had some influence, as my editor (in addition to being half of my publisher duo, with Iris Berry), on the order of poems in my book, but mainly I was trying to create thematic clusters that seemed to relate to one another in either subject matter, voice, or overall perspective. I wish I could say that I had the forethought on this, my first book, to be so organized as to follow the progression you suggest!
Q: What is your revision process? How do you know when a piece is finished?
SB STOKES: Uhhhh. I’m not sure how to answer this one. I revise until the music and rhythm are as clean and tight as they can be? Some—very, very few—poems are done when I write them, but for the most part, it’s a matter of hours to weeks to months of reading them out loud to myself and subtracting (or adding) words to lines to balance (or knock out of balance) the meter of each line. I feel like I’m just stating the obvious right now.
Q: Tell me about your book launch in SF? That was one of the coolest readings I’ve been to this year.
SB STOKES: I was out walking the lake (Lake Merritt in Oakland) with my friend and fellow poet Cassandra Dallett and I was complaining about how a book release reading just felt like too much of giant ego trip: “Hey, everybody! Look at me! And come listen to me! Reading stuff I wrote! And celebrate MY book with ME!” So, I started thinking about how I could possibly use my book release party/reading as a means of drawing attention to other talented poet friends of mine, while necessarily highlighting and hyping my recently published book. The best idea I could come up with was to have a dozen of my female poet friends come up and read their favorite poem from the book. This idea was based on the fact that several different people, writers and non-writers, had commented to me that in some of my poems, the narrator’s voice seemed female, or of an indeterminate gender. I thought, “Just how different will these poems sound in a female voice, read by someone who has real skill at reading and/or performing poetry?” And then I thought about how many bad-ass female poets I know and it became a no-brainer. I had a truly successful book release. I sold something like forty copies of my book that night, over one hundred people attended, and the readings were stellar! I was stunned and grateful.
Q: Why did you decide to publish your debut book with Punk Hostage Press?
SB STOKES: In all honesty, because they asked me! And when I met and talked with A. Razor at Beast Crawl a few years ago, I thought, “This is a man I can relate to. Someone who will understand what I’m trying to do with this poetry thing.” I felt like we had a pretty clear kinship with one another. And I really respected Punk Hostage Press and Words As Works’ nonprofit mission to spread good, truthful, well-written, and well-produced poetry and prose books to folks who are incarcerated, homeless, or otherwise disenfranchised. It was really one of those moments of recognizing family when you first meet someone. So I said yes, and Razor and I busted out my book.
Q: You’ve maintained a blog, Mass Communications, for quite a while now. How does this fuel your poetry writing process? Is there any writing you began there that ultimately became a part of your collection?
SB STOKES: Mass Communications started out as an experiment, back when I first got on the web and really started considering another attempt at being a serious writer, at trying to become a real published poet. I wasn’t writing much at all at that time, but I had a backlog of one-off poems and short-short prose pieces I had written, off and on, during the ten year hiatus I took from actively writing, reading, and submitting poetry.
Q: You’re very active in the Bay Area literary “scene.” You read frequently at events and also help curate Beat Crawl and guest curated one of my favorite Quiet Lightning shows. What have been the advantages or disadvantages of having such a public presence?
SB STOKES: I do more than “help curate” Beast Crawl. I am one of the people who originally created and produced Beast Crawl, and I’m still one of the folks responsible for the event’s annual production, with a handful of very smart, hardworking, and dedicated folks. We do the whole event annually for zero dollars—it’s all free and that’s the way we are trying to keep it. I’m very proud to be a part of Beast Crawl. Additionally, I curate an annual reading at the event, called SKINLESS: New & Raw Writing, which drew a bigger crowd at Beast Crawl this year than ever before. We actually had to turn folks away at the door for lack of space, with an audience of over 70 people, it was hard to believe. Truthfully, I’d like to be out reading and performing and producing more, but I work between five and six nights a week most weeks, so the numbers of readings I can attend as either a reader or audience member are actually quite few. I don’t really feel like I have that much of a public presence. Like, I never worry about over saturating the local audiences, because, like I said, I’m actually out listening and performing far less than I’d like to be, and far less than most of my poetry compatriots. And as far as producing readings or events go, I do that even less frequently.
Q: Do you have any advice for other writers?
SB STOKES: If you feel like you must write poetry, like you might die if you don’t get it out of you, like it is an undeniable compulsion, like your head might explode, or your might drive your car into a tree on purpose if you cannot write out your poetic ideas and phrases and lines frequently, then you cannot rest until you have edited, hacked at it, sanded it down, refined it to its purest essences (with or without food, or sleep, or whatever else), then by all means—by any and all means—keep writing. If you’re not sure, or it’s something you’re only vaguely interested in, or you’re not all that excited about poetry, then please just stop. There are enough talented poets out here starving already.
Q: Good advice. What are you working on now?
SB STOKES: I am currently writing and editing like a madman, as usual. My output varies widely, but lately, since the publication of my book in January 2014, I have about 140 unpublished poems that are either finished, or damn close. My hope is to have another book length manuscript ready for publication in early 2015.
by John Grey
I can’t quite believe the absorption.
Or remember it more likely.
Desire to be the self just reels,
can’t be sustained when touching.
It’s the immutable ‘us.’
And they just plant themselves there,
in the park, under the tree.
Even shoulders, toes,
rally to the eyes’ closed glances.
That’s what I miss.
Not the love.
I’ve got that in gut-loads.
Not even the lust.
That’s like the tides with me.
It’s the exclusivity.
I couldn’t interrupt them if I tried.
Hell, an earthquake
couldn’t interrupt them.
not like their earthquake
John Grey is an Australian born poet. Recently published in Slant, Southern California Review and Skidrow Penthouse with work upcoming in Bryant Literary Magazine, Natural Bridge and Soundings East.
photo by Fabio Giomandi
by Wes Solether
Absence completing the thread between lover and beloved.
There are some species that leave themselves, physically, in their lovers.
The lover resulted from the alphabet or written word.
Desire can only be reached through simile/metaphor, an impure connection.
Reaching a constellation as boughs.
Wes Solether just moved back from San Francisco to his home state of Illinois to better connect with the corn that raised him. He’s reading Americana by Don DeLillo right now. He’s recently been published in Vector Press, Epigraph Magazine, and ditch.
photo by Anais
by George Freek
Wife, this poem is for you.
I’m watching as weeds
now overtake your garden.
I haven’t the will to
fight them. Years ago,
I helped you pull them,
though my heart wasn’t in it.
I would rather be reading,
or better yet, drinking.
But it was a pleasure to see
the joy you took from it.
And I admit it. I think it’s
no disgrace. Wherever
you are, I think of you smiling,
with your dirt-stained face.
And know that no matter
how high weeds grow,
no one will ever take your place.
George Freek is a poet/playwright living in Belvidere, IL. His poems have recently been published by ‘The Missing Slate’; ‘Danse Macabre’; ‘The Stillwater Review’; ‘The Lake’; The Foliate Oak’; and
‘The Rotary Dial’. His plays are published by Havescripts; Playscripts, Inc; and Lazy Bee Scripts (UK).
photo by Xo-mox
by Donal Mahoney
Spread ‘Em for Anyone Edna
had always had trouble with men.
It started in high school when Edna,
big for her age, hosted the soccer team,
one by one, provided they won.
Edna had strong school spirit
but the players were not sportsmanlike,
telling classmates Edna was a bad goalie.
She had let everyone in.
Edna’s largesse continued in college
with lanky lads on the tennis team.
Tennis players had more couth, she said,
and they certainly knew how to serve.
They would take Edna to dinner and a movie
and she would send them home smiling,
victorious, three sets to none.
Then one Sunday morning
while home on vacation,
Edna took Grandma to church,
a place Edna had never been.
She found the preacher attractive.
He stared at Edna throughout
his fist-pounding sermon,
fire raging, brimstone crackling.
That Sunday, Spread ‘Em for Anyone Edna
answered the altar call and was born again.
After seven abortions Edna decided
to limit her kindness to one man,
a dentist named Dr. Throckmorton,
a renowned specialist in root canals,
a wealthy man she would eventually marry.
She admired his technique with a drill.
Donal Mahoney lives in St. Louis Missouri. Some of his earliest work can be found at http://booksonblog12.blogspot.com
photo by Ines
by Jeff Von Ward
Yeah, Well (Punk Hostage Press) by Joel Landmine is a debut collection of poetry that really packs a wallop. I recently had the opportunity to talk about the book with the author. What follows is a slightly edited transcript of our discussion.
Who is Joe Clifford and why does he hate poetry so much? (Editor’s note: Joe Clifford wrote the introduction to Yeah, Well.)
Hahahaha! Joe is a crime fiction writer I know from readings. He wrote an excellent memoir called Junkie Love about his experience as a junkie in San Francisco in the ’90s. He wanted to shoot a book trailer to promote it and needed someone to play him as young drug addict. He contacted me. We were just acquaintances then. He said he liked my “street” look, which was really a polite way of saying “Hey! You look like you could be a junkie!” He knew from my writing that I’ve had my own struggles with addiction, so we were really able to connect on that level. We spent a (sometimes harrowing) St. Patrick’s day shooting the thing down off of Sixth Street.
I think his problems with poetry are the same ones I have, that a lot of people have. So much of it is pompous and inaccessible. The language serves to obscure meaning rather than create it. In short, I don’t understand it, it doesn’t make me feel anything. Some poets use a lot of words to say very little, which to me is the inverse of the goal. The poetry I like tends to use poetry itself as a storytelling medium in a way similar to photography.
I tend to try to to write poems for people who don’t like poetry (and hopefully also for those that do). So I really wanted somebody who was not a poet to write the introduction, and I was very lucky that Joe agreed to do it.
Tell me a little about your background? You seem to have come into poetry in a more roundabout (i.e. honest) way than most. When did you know you wanted to write poetry and why? What were some of your first audiences and how has your work evolved?
I started writing poetry in high school. Typical angry-misfit-kid-discovers-cummings-and-Bukowski kinda stuff. I liked writing, and I had a couple of teachers who were very supportive. It was one of the few times I felt encouraged in school. I just found some of that stuff in an old box. It was predictably awful. At some point it just faded out, I stopped doing it. It was never something I took very seriously, and I kind of lost my way for a while, not just with my writing.
Later in to my twenties I managed to mangle my life up pretty badly. I’d been at it for a while, but the bottom fell out all at once. It was a situation where it took me a couple of years to get back even to the point of starting over, just some baseline normalcy. It was such a dark time, it almost seems maudlin now. But it was very painful, so I started writing again, just for myself, as a coping mechanism.
So when the smoke cleared, I was living in San Francisco. I had worked as a bar DJ for a long time, and had started doing that again for work, started taking some classes at city college. I was doing a weekly ’60s Soul night at a bar in the Tenderloin with the multitalented Jonathan Hirsch. He told me one night he was thinking about thinking about doing a reading series. So I told him I’d been writing and showed him some of my stuff, and he liked it and asked me to read.
That ended up being The Tenderloin Reading Series. He did it quarterly for a couple of years and that’s where I started out. Then other writers who did reading series started asking me to read or submit, and it turned into a little career. I was really lucky to get thrown in on my first shot with some really talented writers like William Taylor Jr., and Paul Corman-Roberts. I’m still a little baffled by the whole thing, I didn’t really chase it, it just kind of snowballed. I’ve never been ambitious. People seem to like what I do, and they ask me to come do it, so I do. It’s really that simple.
Living in the East Bay now, I’m really lucky to have such high caliber peers. Alexandra Naughton, and SB Stokes both put books out on Punk Hostage the same month mine came out, and Hollie Hardy just put one out this month. I’m really inspired to keep working by a lot of my peers out here: Mk Chavez, Cassandra Dallet, Tomas Moniz, John Panzer, Tom Pitts and many more.
A lot of your poems are really short and funny. It seems like you’ve spent a lot of time at open mics perfecting the timing. Is that instrumental to keeping someone’s attention? How do you know when a piece is finished? How is contemporary poetry different than a good stand-up routine? Or, say, a punk rock concert?
That’s funny, I actually mention in the book that I write poems, not monologues, you know? Like they’re intended to be read, so in that way their brevity can be a little deceptive. There are some things that come out when someone reads a thing that doesn’t happen when they listen. I’m not great about submitting, so there are a lot of people that have only heard my work, but never read it. That always bothered me a little, because though they’re conversational, I write them to be read. But there’s a performance aspect, too, that you get used to. There are pieces in the book that I’ve never read in front of an audience because they don’t always translate, it’s a different medium. Frankly it’s kind of ironic, because there’s something about the written word being read aloud that’s always bothered me. Anyway, I hope they’re not just funny.
I’ve spent a lot more of my life at punk shows than I have at readings. And I wanted to be a standup when I was a kid. So short and fast makes sense to me. But I like being at home in bed by myself way too much to ever be a good punk musician, and I’m not funny enough to be a standup. So I do this.
I tend to think of my work as being quiet, even if the subject matter isn’t always. But in the writing and the performing, it’s that get in there say what you need to say, and try and make it entertaining attitude. I’m always more comfortable doing readings at bars and places like that. I’ve done a couple of readings where that were a little bit more “literary,” where people express enjoyment by polite attentiveness. It’s confusing to me. If I can’t hear the audience, I think I’m bombing. There has to be a give and take in a live setting. If people are squirming in their seats, or looking around the room, it’s time to shut the fuck up.
What are some of your poetic influences?
I’ve actually been influenced far more by storytelling forms outside of poetry. I enjoy sentimentality, but usually textured with some humor or nastiness. I’ve always gravitated toward the personal as opposed to the epic. I like short stories a lot as a form. Roald Dahl’s adult short stories, Denis Johnson, Kafka, there was a really good book by this guy Breece D’J pancake. Vonnegut was really influental in that he showed me that cynicism and sentimentality don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Raymond Carver is HUGE for me. A lot of people that I like wrote prose poetry as well. I like Jimmy Santiago Baca a lot, and there’s another writer on Punk Hostage named Dennis Cruz that I really look up to as a poet. Shit, the first time I ever ditched school was to go to a Douglas Adams book signing, so…
I’ve also been obsessed with movies and music since I was very young. So like John Waters, and Jim Jarmusch were big influences aesthetically, and lots of old horror and cult movies. Songs show up a lot. I really like old blues and honky tonk from a writing perspective because they so deftly combine poetry and storytelling.
A few singers are also really good writers. A handful of them have probably influenced my writing more than anything else. Tom Waits, Biggie Smalls and John Prine are all really great storytellers. Jonathan Richman is a big one for me. He has that whimsical persona that sometimes can seem gimmicky, and I think for some people that stands in the way of seeing what a GREAT writer (and guitar player, for that matter) he is. He can phrase really complex life shit in such a simple, straightforward way, which is what I aspire to. There’s another guy, Dan Reeder, that probably wins for the most stuff where I think “MAN! I wish I’D written that!” His song Maybe is probably the most articulate reflection on death I’ve ever heard (and ain’t that something people have been trying to figure out forever). Again, the work is deceptively simple. Writing something that seems simple and actually says something is much more difficult than it seems.
One of my favorite poems in your collection is “Chicharrones.” It’s a pretty sexy story and told with a certain kind of panache. I think the speaker and the girl really do love each other, even if it’s complicated. What was the inspiration for this poem?
I’ve gotten more feedback on that one piece than anything else I’ve written. A lot of people said it made them cry, which is high praise for a writer.
The story’s right there, it happened. That girl was trouble out the gate, so I dumped her. But then I realized that I missed her and then spent a summer chasing her around (mostly chasing my own tail actually). It was toxic and painful for both of us, but we absolutely loved each other. That one night really distilled the whole experience.
I see a lot of stuff about about relationships on the internet that is firmly grounded in reason. It’s all very prescriptive, like what are and aren’t acceptable ways to love. But love doesn’t fucking work like that. Feelings are rarely rational. I like to see that acknowledged. Carver’s famous story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” articulates, or that Buzzcocks song Ever Fallen In Love, it in a somewhat similar way. Knowing you should or shouldn’t love somebody rarely has any effect at all on whether or not you do. It’s an experience a lot of people can relate to, but don’t like to talk about openly.
Can you speak about the order of the poems in Yeah, Well… ? What if anything has the speaker learned about life, women, drinking, and rivalries by the end of the epilogue?
They’re not in any kind of thematic or chronological order. The editor divided them into three major themes and played with the idea of dividing the book that way, but I wanted them to mixed together. I thought it would have more texture that way. But some of the like poems ended up clumped together anyway. I don’t tend to read books of poetry or short stories in order, I’ll put them down and come back to them, jump around. I hope it holds up to read front to back.
As far as the second part of the question, well… It’s in the book. Those are questions for the reader to answer.
Why did you decide to publish your debut book with Punk Hostage Press?
Razor and Iris and I had some mutual friends. People had actually been telling me to submit to them for some time, that it would be a good fit. Then Ben told me he wanted to get in to editing, and he took some of my work to Razor. I’m really grateful to them, it was very personal, I had a lot of creative control. They’re great people, they’re good to their writers, and there are a lot of very talented people on their roster.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Don’t trust whitey, Lord loves a workin’ man, see a doctor and get rid of it.
You also recently wrote and directed a film. Can you tell me about that? How was that experience different than writing poetry?
Yeah, I made a documentary called Ladies & Gentlemen, Phatima Rude. I didn’t direct, I made it with my friend Paul King, who directed and produced. I shot and edited most of it, as well as the story editing.
Phatima is a punk drag performance artist in San Francisco. He’s been on the scene for upwards of 20 years and has been really influential on that scene, but still leads this very marginal existence. At the time we were shooting the film, he was living and working out of his van. He’s been a part of all these liminal scenes, the drag scene, the gay club scene, the queer scene in general, but in a lot of ways has been an outsider even amongst outsiders. The film touches on performance, gender identity, addiction, homelessness, but Phatima really comes to all of those things with a really unique perspective. A lot of people only know her club persona, which is very confrontational and larger than life, but as a person she is really sweet and soft spoken.
So as filmmakers, it was really important to us not to present a caricature. Phatima was very generous to us to share his story in such an intimate way. So it was my job to maintain all its texture while editorializing as little as possible. In poetry, I have more artistic license. I can rearrange or fictionalize as it suits me, as it serves the work. But here, I really had a responsibility to tell the audience Phatima’s story as it had been told to us.
That story really got its shape in the story editing. We had like 12 or 13 hours of footage with a bunch of long interviews (we ended up with two final cuts, a 25 minute, and a 38 minute). So we had everything transcribed, and it was left to me to reassemble it in to a coherent whole. So assembling the working script was where I really had to utilize my skills as a writer. Then in the actual editing, sometimes stuff from the working script we made didn’t work. There was a lot of stuff (same as in writing) that was really great, but just didn’t work in the context of the larger piece. I’m much more comfortable mercilessly cutting my own writing than I was with some of that footage. But it was kind of the same principle, like, what is the absolute minimum I can use and still tell this story? It was a learning experience for sure. The three of us collaborated pretty intensely, and I think we’re all very proud of the finished product.
by Adeola Adeniyi
When I was home Monday night hanging out with my homeboys Kenny and Chris, I answered the knocks at the door and my main man Allen was standing there holding his stomach with his bottom lip busted and right eye swollen. I could see blood along with the melting snow on the sleeves of his heavy dark blue coat too. After he came inside, he told us that these three white boys jumped him in the parking lot of the McDonald’s on Neptune and West 6thStreet as he was leaving from there. Kenny stood his tall lanky ass up and told Allen that we were all gonna go back out there to find those white boys and put a serious hurting on them. Chris added how he didn’t want any of them walking correctly anymore either. Now I really wasn’t all that eager to go throw down with anyone but Allen has been my boy since we first met in the sandbox so I nodded in agreement. Allen sat in the chair by the portable fan heater on the windowsill and Chris ran to the kitchen. I could hear him in there banging the ice tray on the counter. He came back a second later with ice cubes wrapped in a washcloth and handed it to Allen so he could press it against his eye. Chris also gave him napkins from his pocket, which he used to wipe away the blood on his lip.
Kenny killed the news on TV and walked over to Allen. He started to inspect his bad eye as if he was an actual doctor while lighting a cigarette. “It looks painful.”
“It doesn’t hurt that bad.” Allen opened up the washcloth to put one of the cubes on his lips. “Those white boys didn’t know how to punch anyway. My mom used to hit me much harder when I was a kid.”
“Did you know them?” I asked.
Allen nodded while scratching under his hairy chin. “It was that punk ass Tony D. The other two dudes I’ve never seen before. They called me nigger a buncha times too.”
We didn’t know Tony DiNapoli personally but we have seen him hanging at P.S. 329 sometimes. He couldn’t be a part of the Haven program there anymore because he graduated from high school three years ago but still sold weed, hash, fake IDs, beer, liquor, and ecstasy to the white kids attending. That was all his business though.
“You know what they jumped you for A?” Chris asked.
“What does it matter?” Kenny said, opening his mouth to blow out smoke rings. “He got jumped by a bunch of white boys. We gotta get us some getback.”
Chris sucked his teeth and waved his hand at Kenny. “I was only askin’ so dead that noise quick.”
Kenny said, “We had no noise last year when you had beef with that fool Rayshawn in Mrs. Duncan’s class and wanted us to throw down with him and his crew so don’t say shit.”
“It had to do with Breanna.” Allen leaned back in the chair and slowly put both of his feet up on the footrest. “All them bullshit lies going around about us,”
“Didn’t Breanna go out with that fool before though?” Chris asked.
Allen nodded. “Just for a month when we broke up that one time and he’s still fiendin’ for what’s mines,”
“I know you ain’t do what everyone is talking about right?” Chris said.
Allen kicked the footrest and it turned over after hitting the floor. “Don’t ever be asking me anything like that fool.”
“Be easy my brother. You know I ain’t meant anything by it.” Chris replied.
I knew Chris only asked that because everyone in school has been asking each other that about him and Breanna. It even spread to P.S. 329. Breanna Feitel was a new sophomore white girl Allen started going with in September when he found out she told some of her new girlfriends she thought he was cute. For the last two days, everyone in school was whispering that Breanna told them how she told Allen to stop while they were in the middle of boning but that he kept going until he finished. Breanna swore it was all lies and they were both furious people were talking behind their backs. I didn’t believe those bullshit lies anyway. Nobody dared asked Allen anything though. People knew if they did, they’d have to deal with his fists going right to their jaws and nobody wanted to feel that pain so they kept quiet.
“Well stop talking like that then Chris ’cause we is gonna go hurt them.” Kenny let smoke out through his nose and then sucked down the rest of his cigarette.
Chris picked up the fan heater and put it on top of the broken thirty-five inch TV in the corner. He turned the heat up and rubbed his hands in front of the glowing orange lights. Kenny did the same thing.
“You sure you wanna go right now?” Chris asked. “They’re probably gone.”
Kenny got up in his face and they both stood there staring at each other hard. Kenny towered over him but Chris was a big solid dude with a large chest, hands, and arms. I didn’t know who’d win if they fought for real. It would have most likely been Chris. He won plenty of play fights with Kenny and I’m sure he could have won a real one. It looked like it could happen right now so to keep them from hurting each other or breaking my mother’s TV, computer, or coffee table, I moved in the middle between them. I stayed there for a few seconds until Chris backed away.
“Why you wanna back down for Chris?” Kenny said. “I know you’re not scared now to go out and fight some white boys just ’cause you is going to Howard U in the fall. I know that’s not the deal.”
“I ain’t scared of nobody.” Chris replied. “Now get out my face with that noise.”
Kenny pointed his finger in Chris’s face. “I say we go out there right now to find them punk ass white boys.” he slapped his chest twice with this big grin on his face. “I always say what we do ’cause I’m in charge. Don’t forget that shit.”
“Whatever,” Chris mumbled.
“I know you down right kid?” Kenny said to me after taking a drag.
I wanted to tell him how I felt but instead I kept it inside and just nodded. “Yeah man.”
Kenny smiled and slapped me five. Allen stood and went in the hallway. When he came back a few minutes later, he was patting his wet face dry with a washcloth. Kenny pushed his cigarette into the ashtray on the coffee table and started brushing his hair. He had a dark Caesar haircut and since his waves were mad deep, he brushed his hair every five minutes. Allen put on his Raiders knit hat and flung the washcloth on the couch.
“Let’s go yo!” Kenny said.
Chris and Kenny got their coats from the closet by the front door. I took mines off the couch and shut off the fan heater. When we went outside, I locked the door and followed them down the stairs.
John Dewy freed us today at three o’clock in the afternoon as always and I found Kenny waiting for me outside my homeroom. Part two of us finding Tony D and his boys was coming. We left and said nothing walking in the packed and noisy hallway. On the first floor, we heard our names called before leaving out the front entrance so we stopped. I felt kinda happy. We saw Mrs. Riley, this tiny little brown-skinned woman with glasses and some grays mixed in with her black hair leave the main office and walk over to us. We could smell the cigarette smoke on her sweater and her perfume was too strong. All four of us once had her for a teacher at some point. Kenny stood up straight and took off his Yankees cap. He even pulled his pants up. She smiled and we smiled back.
“You boys are staying out of trouble right?” she asked.
Kenny nodded. “Of course we are Mrs. Riley. You don’t have to worry about us.”
“No doubt,” I said. “You know we never get in any real trouble. We’re good.”
Mrs. Riley looked at Kenny and pointed her bony manicured finger at him. “That black eye I saw Mr. Walker with looks like trouble caused in those streets and I’ll call your mother if I find out you’re trouble Mr. Brown. You might not be in my class this year but you will always be my student so I’m always watching.” She turned to me. “You too boy,”
“It’s all good Mrs. Riley.” I said.
“Good.” She replied.
Kenny said, “We’ll be alright Mrs. Riley.”
She smiled at us again and said the same thing to a boy she found leaving the main office. Kenny put his cap back on but the right way this time and we saw our homeboy Sean buttoning his big coat at his locker so we went to him. He slapped us five.
“How’s my favorite deejay?” Sean started brushing his waves. “Is his eye better?”
Kenny nodded. “Yeah,”
“Good.” Sean said. “Now everybody knows how white pussy can lead to trouble but that Breanna Feitel sure is fine. I’d bone that girl on the serious.”
“You is a fool I swear.” Kenny said, laughing. “But I’d bone her without a doubt.”
Sean laughed too and opened his coat to show us his green shirt with a Jets logo on it. Kenny checked the tag in the back and it musta been authentic ’cause he nodded with his approving smile.
“This is the shit.” Kenny said.
“I know it’s the shit.” Sean replied. “You and the crew should come shop with me today to the JFK store my girl works at. She says the security there is a joke.”
I wouldn’t have said no to some shopping since we did that good and that shirt was cool but I knew Kenny wasn’t going for that.
“Maybe Friday bro,” Kenny said. “We gotta get some getback.”
“Aiight, but watch y’all backs ’cause I heard that Tony D is a nut.” Sean said.
Kenny and I walked on Mermaid Avenue to P.S. 329. Allen kept getting angry ’cause he couldn’t hear the other person on his cell phone that good. Even with our coats, the chilly winds made our bodies shiver. We had about four or five inches of snow on the ground already with more coming down. The only people outside were these two young Spanish boys we passed taking turns spitting some pretty decent rhymes as they shoveled the snow in front of a bodega. I wanted to be home right now or anywhere else really but instead I was here. I had to be here. If I didn’t show up to fight, they’d think I was turning into a punk. That type of thinking about my character would get around and I’d lose respect. The last thing a man needed was to lose respect in Coney Island. Then they’d really think I was soft if I backed out of fighting some white boys. A fool in Coney Island needed his rep the same way he needed his arms and legs. The same way he needed oxygen. That was the real reason I went with Allen, Chris, and Kenny back to McDonald’s, P.S. 329, Nathan’s, and the arcade on Surf Avenue last night. I also thought of the time my kid sister Crystal came home crying and told me some dude that lived in her homegirl’s building pinched her ass as she went to visit her. I had her take us to the building to show us the pervert. They never even debated whether to help me beat his ass or not. We followed that fool to a supermarket and Kenny hit him with a garbage can to knock him on the ground. After we repeatedly kicked him in his chest and ribs, he had to use all his strength to crawl away.
We got to the bodega on West 30th Street right across the street from P.S. 329 at about four but there was no Chris. First, only Allen was at the subway on Avenue X where we normally met after school and now Chris wasn’t here. We went to his crib at the Gravesend Houses earlier and asked his grandpops if he saw him but he had no idea.
Allen leaned back against a car and pulled out a couple of bills from his pocket. He counted his loot twice and then put it away. Kenny hit Chris up on his cell again and still got nothing. He then suddenly started swinging both of his fists wildly in the air.
“I knew Chris was gonna punk out on us.” Kenny shouted. “I just knew it!”
“You don’t know anything. Chris loves to rumble more than the three of us.” I replied. “He probably went to an unexpected football practice or just ain’t here yet so be easy.”
“We had practice this morning and he showed up to that.” Allen replied.
“He’s scared.” Kenny said. “Chris is actually scared to fight some white boys.”
Allen lit a cigarette and waved it at him. “Man shut up.”
Kenny said, “’Member how Chris tackled Wingate’s Quarterback so hard he broke that fool’s leg?”
“That boy is gonna be out at least until next year so we gonna beat them easy this month.” Allen said. “Wingate ain’t ever gonna be able to talk shit about our team.”
“Well I hope Chris shows up.” Kenny said. “You mess with one of us and we’ll come back at you harder.” He looked at me. “You ’member that right fool?”
“No doubt,” I said.
I wondered why Chris ain’t show up here today. I thought that maybe Chris was just getting tired of fighting. Maybe I thought that ’cause that’s how I felt sometimes. I was also tired of us fighting other boys, tagging walls, joyriding, and all the other dumb shit we did. I was still going to be there for Allen though. Back in July, we fought these three Crip niggas on the boardwalk one evening near the entrance to Astroland ’cause they tried punking Kenny for his new Jordans and gold chain. Chris was throwing most of the punches and even when one of them cut his arm, they still ran after he grabbed the switchblade from the boy who cut him and sliced his hand. Even after Coney Island Hospital stitched Chris up and left him with a bad scar, he still won two fights later. One was outside his building with a grown man dating his older sister and another against a player for Layette after we lost to them and he decided to talk shit. Our school wouldn’t have won the PSAL championship last year without Chris’s strength, speed, and tackling ability so their coach fought to keep the school from suspending him off the team as they did with Mark Johnson. Mark’s fight with the center from Erasmus Hall wasn’t too bad either. Only a shove that led to some punches before people pulled them apart. The thing was that Mark really ain’t been doing much on the team to help them win. Maybe this was the fight Chris didn’t wanna go through with and actually had the balls not to show up for it. If true, he had something that I really didn’t have. Kenny or Allen either.
“Fighting is beneath proper college brothers.” Kenny smirked. “They train them at Howard and all colleges really to be proper and upstanding citizens. Y’all just watch. He’s going to forget about his boys. Do y’all see my brother Alex in Coney Island anymore? Nope. He’s out living it up in Cali with his no titty or ass having wife.”
Allen finished his cigarette and walked over to Kenny to jab his finger into his chest. “But you still ain’t gotta hate on him. Anyway, you steady claiming you leaving after the summer. Least I’m only going to Hunter in the fall.”
“I’m going into the Marines but I’ll be back.” Kenny slapped Allen’s finger away, made an imaginary rifle to point at a city bus, and then pulled the trigger three times at the back of it. “When we get that stupid diploma come June, I’m out. This recruiter told me there’s all kinds of exotic pussy out there so I’m gonna go get some in Greece, Spain, Asia, and Egypt.” He laughed. “I’ll hear my name moaned in so many different languages it’s gonna be insane kid.”
“Ok playboy,” Allen said, rubbing his hands together. “But what’d you gonna do when they send you and your little dick to Iraq. Did your dumb ass forget we’re still at war?”
Kenny sucked his teeth. “You only hatin’ ’cause you gonna miss me but I’m out.”
“You better get outta here with that homo shit,” Allen replied.
Kenny shoved Allen and after Allen swung on him, Kenny grabbed the back of his coat and put him in a headlock. Allen punched Kenny’s sides and I moved out the way as they fell on the ground. Kenny got on top of Allen laughing while he struggled to free himself but suddenly Allen was able to climb on top of Kenny and pin that fool down. Allen picked up some snow to smash in Kenny’s face but Kenny got back on top again. They kept wrestling around on the ground laughing.
About fifteen minutes later, we crossed the street to go inside P.S. 329. Allen kept looking behind him. I looked back myself hoping to see Chris but I only saw two old dudes standing by the store now sharing a bottle. We reached the front entrance and the safety agent inside sighed because we bothered his reading of the Daily News by showing him our Haven ID cards. We then passed the gym seeing these two boys pushing each other and another trying to stop them. Walking up the empty staircase to the third floor, we saw three girls hanging outside the girl’s bathroom. They waved at us. When Allen tried kissing one on the cheek, she backed away. He sucked his teeth and we kept going.
“Blaze this masterpiece.” Allen said, giving him his iPod. “The hottest deejay in New York straight outta Coney Island finished his new mixtape.”
Kenny said, “Been waiting to hear this shit for the longest,” He flipped through the songs. “Aiight, you got 50 Cent, G-Unit, DMX, some Mobb Deep, and B.I.G on it. Cool.”
I could hear the beat from 50 Cent’s “In My Hood.” with Biggie spitting the “Things Done Changed.” rhymes on it.
“Diddy ain’t my favorite but I love his track that I used.” Allen said. “It’s hard.”
“Look, you are either hard or soft and Diddy is soft.” Kenny put one of the earplugs in his ear. “The nigga is a soft little bitch.”
“Whatever. I just like the song.” Allen said. “I like the Will Smith song I used too.”
Kenny laughed. “Little faggot.”
“That’s not what your sister said when she let me suck on her titties last night.” Allen replied. “Those plums sure were sweet.”
“I know. Karen said your tongue game was seriously whack bro.” Kenny said.
Allen shook his head with half a grin and knocked on the classroom door next to the water fountain. Breanna came out holding a thin paperback book in her hand. They both smiled at each other and he kissed her thin pink lips. Breanna was tall and pretty with these big green eyes and her brownish blond hair reaching her ass. She had herself a little slender figure too. To be real, I got hard seeing her in her low cut white blouse that showed her breasts perfectly. My dick then started aching seeing the silver ball ring in her tongue.
“Hey guys.” She waved her book at me and Kenny then turned back to Allen. “Hey there DJ Truth,” She slugged him in the arm lightly. “You never hit me back on IM last night when you left for a few seconds. I called you like ten times for almost an hour but got nothing.”
“Sorry,” Allen replied. “I just had to go do something with my pops. Forgive me?”
Breanna hit him on his head with her book. “Uh maybe, since I am your biggest and most loyal fan in Brooklyn and maybe the whole of New York.”
“You better be.” He said, kissing her on the forehead. “And that’s real.”
I was at Allen’s crib with him while they were talking on the web. Each time she called his cell he showed me her number on the caller ID and bragged about how much she loved him. I wasn’t saying anything about that though.
“I hope you’re feeling better.” Breanna said, rubbing his black eye with her thumb slowly. She then kissed it. “It doesn’t look so bad. It actually looks cute you know.”
“I look extra hard.” Allen smiled then held her free hand. “What’d you doing in there?”
Breanna lifted up her book. “Re-reading Hamlet since my mission is to kill next week’s audition. I have to show Mrs. Dawson I’m perfect to play Hamlet. I have to kill it.”
“I thought she wants you for Ophelia though?” Allen said.
Breanna started twisting the gold chain around her neck. “She does, but I already played Ophelia at my old school. Sienna is playing Claudius so if I get Hamlet, I get to kill her.” she grinned. “I think doing Hamlet could be therapeutic for me.”
“You’re still angry at her?” Allen said.
“I know the cunt did introduce me to her agent at DNA and helped get me signed with them but I’ll never forgive her for what she did to me. I do still have to kiss her tanned behind because she is Sienna Parker after all.” Breanna spit on the floor near her blue low top Converse sneakers and put the book in her back pocket. “I have to.”
Allen kissed her forehead again. “Well my baby is modeling so I’m happy about that.”
Breanna shrugged. “I think the whole modeling thing is stupid you ask me. I’m only doing it because my mother is making me. Anyway, since she’s tanning in Miami, I’m having a party at my place in celebration tonight. It’s only going to be us girls and we’re going to get high, high, high until we reach the moon.”
“We gotta talk Breanna.” Allen told her. “On the real,”
“It’s about Anthony isn’t it?” Breanna sucked her teeth. “I told you he’s a psycho. Can’t you just leave it alone? This macho nonsense isn’t even sexy anymore. Let it end.”
This white boy with short brown hair actually sporting a blue Tony Romo jersey came out the classroom holding the same Hamlet book and stood at the door. “Are you coming back to rehearsal ’cause you know I already miss you Bre, Bre.”
“In a sec babe,” Breanna replied.
“Cool,” he said.
After he left, Allen said, “Who’s that gay dude?”
Breanna laughed. “He’s anything but a queer. Michael has a girlfriend and two exes in our little acting group.”
Allen put his arm around Breanna’s waist and led her up the hallway. He started telling her something half way up there in her ear. Kenny and I went downstairs and we saw two cops taking those boys that were fighting out the gym in handcuffs. One was struggling with his cop as he led him to the door but the other boy walked calmly with his officer. We waited for Allen outside and watched the cops put the boys in their car.
“That fool Tony goes to work at the aquarium every day at eight in the morning so I say we meet there at seven thirty and wait.” Allen told us this while we sat in the back of a B74 bus with some old people and young kids an hour later. The whole time I sat between Allen and Kenny I was hoping the beef with Tony would be done with since we didn’t find him or his boys at the school and they most likely wouldn’t show up there anymore because of the expected get back but that wish just died right now.
“He’s already off work so we could go to that fool’s crib now.” Allen said. “He lives in Bensonhurst with his sister. I got his address out of Breanna and everything.”
Kenny shook his head and then moved his finger over his throat. “Not even kid. That’ll be like going to Afghanistan.” He stood up and pressed the request stop. “We’ll beat his punk ass tomorrow morning and be on our way to school. That shit will be mad quick and easy.”
The bus stopped at Surf and Stillwell and we got off through the back doors. Kenny grabbed the back of Allen’s coat and put him in a headlock. Kenny kept laughing but let go after seeing this short coffee color shorty with black hair walk to the bus crowd. Kenny went and tried talking with her but we watched her ignore him until she stepped on the bus.
“Shorty’s a dime but she’s frontin’ hard kid.” Kenny said when he jogged back.
“Nah, she just has eyes and a brain is all.” Allen straightened his coat. “Let’s go get some dogs and fries.”
Kenny lit a cigarette. “I can’t. I gotta go stack that loot and my boss is gonna go bat shit crazy on me if I’m late. I’ll see you fools on the block later tonight.”
Allen giggled. “Have fun slinging them taco sand burritos.”
Kenny smiled as he slowly lifted his middle finger up at Allen. We then slapped him five and he walked to the subway. I walked across the street with Allen to Nathan’s and stood on the line looking up at the menus.
The next day I stayed home and didn’t answer the door when the boys came at seven in the morning to pick me up. I just stayed in bed and put the pillow over my head. I got up later at nine and watched women fight each other over assholes on two dumb talk shows. I thought of Allen the whole time and couldn’t stop feeling like a punk. When the buzzer rang at eleven, I still didn’t touch the intercom. In like ten minutes, the doorbell started ringing. I just sat on the couch with the TV on mute and drowned out the bell but after it stopped, the kicking on the door started. The combo of feeling like shit and the noise made me open it. Kenny was there smoking a cigarette and Chris was sipping a cup of steaming coco. I didn’t see Allen. When I asked, “What’s up?” Kenny just shook his head. Chris kept drinking his coco.
Kenny brushed the snow off his coat. “You are just pitiful sometimes I swear man. You never know anything.”
I sucked my teeth. “Just tell me what’s up fool!”
“You don’t know ’cause you herbed out on us this morning but forget that.” Chris wiped away coco foam from his mouth with the back of his hand. “Breanna’s at Coney Island Hospital. She overdosed at her party this morning at about three after sniffing some of that bin Laden coke them fools on the boardwalk be slinging.”
“We found out in calculus.” Kenny replied. “Everyone in school is talking about it.”
Chris said, “She’s lucky she’s alive. I heard they were just smoking weed at first but then Sienna Parker brought out the yayo and made Breanna and their friends try it with her.”
Kenny shook his head. “That wasn’t her first time using that shit idiot. My girl told me she heard Breanna be using it in the clubs all the time. Allen’s all crazy over a crazy ho.”
“I know you still fiendin’ for Sheila but she’s yo ex and why is Breanna a ho?” Chris said. “That’s cold even for you man. The girl coulda died you know.”
Kenny sucked his teeth. “I ain’t saying it to be mean. I swear I’m not. It’s just a fact. I heard Breanna slept with like twenty dudes already. She just turned sixteen and that’s way too many men for a girl that age to have fucked. And, everyone knows them crazy stories about her at her old school in Forest Hills. Don’t blame me fool.”
“Let’s just go to the hospital.” Chris said. “Allen’s waiting for us.”
I walked back inside with them. Chris and Kenny sat on the couch. I went into my bedroom and got dressed. I felt bad for Breanna but at least she was still alive. I felt bad for Kenny too. He was hurting. Allen couldn’t lose her. Breanna was the only thing in his life that mattered to him even though he had his music, football, and his rep. He told me once before when we were alone how Breanna was the only good thing he had. The four of us really had so little in our lives that mattered so we tried to hold on to the few things that did.
I grabbed my coat along with my scarf and went back inside. When they saw me, they got up and Chris turned off the TV. I got my keys and we left without saying anything.
The three of us walked up Ocean Parkway a half hour later and got to Coney Island Hospital. We found Allen in front of the building by the entrance smoking a cigarette. His eyes were all watery. Kenny was the first to hug him then Chris went and it was my turn afterwards. Allen put his cigarette out on the ash urn on the garbage can and we walked into the lobby. Kenny led us to the window. A young skinny boy about eight or nine with a cast on his left arm kept crying even though his mom told him to be quite. She finally gave him the two dollars for the machine he was begging for because the people sitting on the plastic orange chairs watching Rachael Ray on the TV attached to the ceiling kept giving them hard stares. We saw doctors, nurses, security guards, and sick people walking around everywhere.
“How’s Breanna doing brother?” Chris said.
“They won’t let anybody see her but she’s ok.” Allen replied. “They keep trying to reach her mom but can’t ’cause she left Miami for Vegas last night and her brother is somewhere in the Congo. The actual Congo you know. With her dad, it’s like who even knows.” He balled his hands into fists. “And those stupid nurses up there won’t let me see her.”
“You’ll get to see her. Don’t worry man.” Kenny said.
“This shit is all fucked up!” Allen said, sitting in the empty seat next to the boy with his mom. The boy was quiet now since he had an ice cream sandwich in his mouth. Chris and I sat facing him. Kenny stood to stare out the window.
Chris got up and patted Allen on the back. “The main thing is that she’s alive. She’s gonna be fine.”
“Thanks man.” Allen replied.
“You’re our brother. We hurt when you hurt.” Kenny said.
Four nurses walked in the lobby together laughing and when they split in different directions, I saw that the tall skinny white boy with messy black hair walking behind them was Tony D. He was checking out the ass of a woman who walked past him. Allen, Kenny, and Chris noticed him too because they started agreeing it was him. Tony walked closer and the four of us looked at him. He was going to sit in the empty seat under the security camera on the ceiling but when he saw us, he stopped. He was holding yellow roses in one hand and a plastic bag full of books in the other. We kept looking at him and he did the same. After this went on for a few seconds, he turned around and started walking back to the doors fast.
“Let’s go follow him.” Kenny said. “We got that punk right now.”
Allen waved his hand in the direction of the front doors. “Forget him. I don’t care about him.”
“We got him right now.” Chris stood up. “Don’t you puss out on us fool!”
“I ain’t man.” Allen replied.
“Then let’s go.” Kenny said. “Now is our chance.”
Kenny and Chris ran through the automatic doors but Allen stayed. I just sat there but when Kenny came back a few minutes later and told us to come on, I didn’t move. Allen didn’t either. Kenny didn’t touch Allen but started pulling my right arm so I punched his hand a few times and he let go. He waved his hand at me and ran back through the doors but I moved closer to Allen so I could be there for my boy.
Adeola Adeniyi is a 28-year-old college student at Medgar Evers College majoring in English. His work has been published in the fall 2010 and 2011 issues of Black Magnolias Literary Journal, had a story in the top ten of the Open City Magazine 2010 RRofihe Trophy Short Story Contest and was recently published in aaduna’s Winter 2012 issue.
photo by dandeluca
by Kevin Ridgeway
I could not afford to go to Orange Julius
I would watch the hip rich kids at
the shopping mall food court
drinking their orange whips
and wiping chili from their
ninety nine-dollar Abercrombie sleeves
I ate at Jack-in-the-Box:
ninety-nine cents for two
spicy twenty nine percent beef tacos
wiping hot sauce from
my oversized thrift store sweater
and whispering among
drug dealers and thieves
gunfire and sirens in the distance
some things have changed,
I can afford Orange Julius now
but would rather get smashed
on a bottle of cheap vodka at
my high school reunion
and tell those stupid bastards
what I really think
and that I showed them all
but I won’t
I’ll just go to Jack-in-the-Box
order two tacos
wipe the sauce on my oversized
Johnny Cash t-shirt
and tip-toe in my battered slippers
over the homeless men
sleeping on the sidewalk outside
while I get greasy fingerprints
on my Jack-in-the-Box job application
Kevin Ridgeway is from Southern California, where he resides in a shady bungalow with his girlfriend and their one-eyed cat. Recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in Trailer Park Quarterly, My Favorite Bullet and Cadence Collective. His latest chapbook of poems, All the Rage, is now available from Electric Windmill Press.
photo by OJ
by Bradley K Meyer
We finished off the liquor and the wine
we’d brought up to the bluffs with us.
We wrote notes in the bottles
and threw them over the edge.
In ten minutes a couple of hikers passed through
the stream below the bluffs- a couple in their 20’s.
“Hey! Hey, read our notes! Read them!”
“Us? …what notes?”
“They’re in bottles! Take five steps to your right
and then a few more backwards-
there’s a wine bottle.”
“Here it is; I found it,” said the girl, “How do I get it out?”
“YOU HAVE TO SMASH IT,” Amber instructed.
“I don’t know if I want to do that…”
“You’re holding a secret note right in your hand
and you don’t want to read it?
Who are you?”
She broke open the bottle on a rock and read the note silently.
All the while her boyfriend milled about awkwardly, unwilling to take part.
“No! No! Read it out loud!”
“Okay. ‘HAIL SATAN. I fuck hardcore like in the movies.
I wrote this note on a receipt. Did you notice?
Guess what I bought. Have a good day.
Love, Amber. PS: HAIL SATAN.’”
“I’ll tell you what I bought. I bought bananas. Look!”
Amber held up a banana peel. “See?”
“But wait, there’s another note; are you going to read it?”
The girl’s boyfriend said no they were not.
The girl looked disappointed.
Bradley K Meyer writes from Dayton, Ohio. He has previously published work in The General (Athens, Ohio). He released his debut chapbook, ‘Hotel Room’ (Vostok East Press, 2013), last September. His favorite animal is the Virginia opossum. He is 25.
photo by wildxplorer
by Aurelia Lorca
Grumpy is my cousin and she is a spaz. She has just little too much junk in her trunk and wears her jeans so tight you know she has to lie down to zip. She is a tragedy waiting to happen. She has been skating since she was a kid. Every Saturday, she takes the morning lessons and skates the afternoon skates. Her mom says it is good exercise. My mom started me skating because of Grumpy. My moms says letting me spend my Saturdays at the skating rink is a nice way to get me out of her hair for the day. Like most of us, Grumpy has no-where else to go: No friends, no brothers, no sisters, only me, her younger cousin. She has a dad, but he is never around.
Nobody really liked her until a really fine guy started showing up on Saturday afternoons with his little brothers and sisters. We had seen his picture in the papers- he was some sort of basketball hero. He was so fine, when Grumpy first saw him she couldn’t stop staring and skated into the wall. Dude musta felt sorry for her banging against the wall so he asked her to skate couples.
Grumpy freaked and hid in the bathroom, crying that she had never held hands with a boy before. Everyone cracked up. But Happy felt sorry for her and said she had to do something. Happy always claimed with a little hairspray she could transform anyone, anyone. So she dragged Grumpy out of the stall, told her to quit crying and not move while she sprayed up her bangs proper.
After Grumpy came out of the bathroom, the situation became only more pathetic. Turns out dude didn’t speak much English. We could hear Grumpy repeating the same thing each time she skated by us- “Yo tengo un gato el se llama ‘Merlin’ el es blanco, negro, y muy gordo.” Of course we never saw the boy or his family again. And that was that.
But because of their bonding over a can of hairspray, Grumpy became friends with Happy, which made her cool with the rest of the Shorties.
“She has the best hair,” Happy said. “She doesn’t even need a pick to keep it up.”
When her mom finally allowed her to go to the Friday and Saturday night skates, Grumpy officially became a Shortie, and was given her name, “Grumpy,” the Seventh Shortie. Yeah. She thought the name Grumpy gave her an edge, thought they were giving her props, but girl couldn’t stare down a Care-Bear much less kick her way out of a wet paper bag. Grumpy was the only name left- the one none of us wanted- what guy would wanna get sprung on a chick named Grumpy? Even Sneezy was better.
Once she was a Shortie, everyone thought Grumpy was ok. The only downer about night-skates for Grumpy is me. My mission is to skate in the line and pick up on older guys by pretending I am fifteen. Though army guys are horn-dogs and easy targets, most don’t buy my hustle, at least not yet. One army dude told me that he had seen mosquito bites that were bigger than my tits, and little girls like me should stay home. But Grumpy’s mom, my aunt, won’t let her come to the night skates alone. So she drags me with her, only to ditch me. If I don’t leave her alone, she calls me “mosquito bite”.
I have to give Grumpy credit, she does try, but she can’t help looking like a freak. Her mom won’t allow her to have a job- it will take away from her schoolwork- and girl thinks “stealing was wrong.” So she has to beg and beg for jeans straight from the clearance rack that are just wrong, straight funky, not enough zippers, or too much neon paisley and plaid. She carries a Liz Claiborne, like the rest of us, but it too is from the clearance rack and was green instead of tan. Making things worse, Grumpy stuffs her pick in her purse instead of her back pocket because she is scared it will make her butt look funny. That pick along with her can of Aqua Net, gum, and a brush with a handle covered in scrunchies, pokes its sorry yellow head from a sorry small hole, like it is gasping for air or something.
Her pick, her purse, her jeans and her ass are all sorry. Grumpy is sorry. But in that line with the Shorties, she is different. She is cool. They make her cool.
Every Friday and Saturday night the Seven Shorties ruled the rink. They never skated unless it was a good song. When the bass started bumping, they did their thing, rocking the floor in line with the Shortie in front of them. Get in their way and they were Rocka-bye baby. BOMPA BOMP BOMP. Just skate to the side, give props and stare. They looked good and they knew it. The Seven Shorties rockin’ that bass, aqua-net and ass.
Except for Grumpy, they were all of their names: Doc was going to be a senior and knew things so she was Doc. Happy was the state freestyle champion who could get mad height on her jumps and was pure genius with a curling iron and a can of hairspray, and was well, Happy with the loudest lamest laugh you ever heard. Bashful you never heard, but we learned everything we needed to know about makeup from Bashful. Sleepy was hecka chill and never got up before noon. We all know what Dopey was, and why, but she had a thing going with the floor-guard, Miguel, so it was cool (even though he was a 19 year old army guy, with a wife and kid back in Brooklyn). Sneezy had asthma real bad but she had been skating since she was old enough to walk and wore 32DD bra-size. Dudes never cared about her wheezing.
Each of them rocked black satin jackets with a white skate and their names stitched in red on the back: Doc, Happy, Bashful, Sleepy, Dopey, Sneezy, and Grumpy. The Seven Shorties.
Really, they all of could be called Dopey, except for Happy- she thought it was ‘gross’- and, of course, Grumpy. Grumpy never fooled with it, wouldn’t even try and left when we smoked in the parking lot because she feared getting contact high. Never mind that we were outdoors. Shit, Grumpy left even when we snuck wine coolers in the bathroom. She claimed she couldn’t even have a just a sip because of an accident she had on her ten speed in middle school.
“I had a head injury and the doctors told me that if I ever drink I could end up in fetal rat position like this,” she would say, curling up her hands under her chin like they were little paws.
On the Friday night skate of Labor Day Weekend, the floor is shining with fresh wax but the rink is silent, stinking of new carpet, and so empty it is hollow. Everything smells like new carpet instead of old skates. Everything is too shiny, too clean.
“This is bunk,” Dopey says.
“What about Miguel?” Grumpy asks.
“What about him? “ Dopey shrugs. “It’s not as if he is the only reason I come here.”
The skating rink had shut down for the entire month of August to remodel, dumping us all with nowhere to go. Grumpy spent most of the summer at home anyway, recovering from a bad sunburn. She looked like that dude from the movie “The Fly”. Her shit was red, puffy and flaking. She had been using a zit cream and didn’t believe the label when it said, “no sun exposure.”
Lame. Gave new meaning to the word.
The rest of the Shorties were almost as lost. Dopey disappeared, no one knew where until later, when it all went down. Doc worked more hours at her job. Sleepy started waking up early and got into soap operas, until Sneezy got her driver’s license and they started cruising. According to Sleepy, Bashful spent most of the time on the phone with some ridiculously fine army guy, talking about what she didn’t know because girl never talked.
Grumpy doesn’t hang around to listen about Dopey’s latest beef with Miguel and races to put on her skates.
Her skin is still red and flaking. All night she has been complaining that her braces are too tight.
“I FEEL THE NEED FOR SPEED!” she screams.
I am the only one to follow her.
“What the fuck?” Sneezy says. “Does she think she’s in Top Gun or something?”
“Hurry up!” Grumpy shouts. “Put on your skates! The floor is so smooth its like skating on butter!”
“What a spaz,” Doc says.
“A total spaz,” I say, as Grumpy skates around the floor alone, rockin’ out without any music.
I follow Grumpy onto the floor, laughing to myself how she doesn’t even seem to notice the way things have changed. The rink has finally fixed the marquise so it no longer said, “Del Monte Gard s.” The floor is still a giant wood rectangle, but it is polished, too polished. To the right of the entrance is still the the trophy window and photos of skaters, the skate shop, the rental skate booth, the lockers, the bathrooms. Alongside the photos of skaters, are still the autographed pictures of Laverne and Shirley and The Fonz, all on skates, and the sign, “Skating is Fun,” with a Coppertone blonde in a blue skating dress. But the carpet is too new, too fluffy.
Grumpy continues to speed around the freshly waxed floor, shouting at the rest of the Shorties to join her. The dj must have been feeling Grumpy’s elation, because all of a sudden L’Trimm’s “Cars that Go Boom” starts blasting. Grumpy claps, squeals a cheer, and, I’m sad to say, jumps a little hop. So, I clap, squeal a cheer, and jump. Grumpy just ignores me and starts to Cabbage Patch, her fists jiggling with the beat. So, I begin to Cabbage Patch.
“Get lost mosquito bite!” she screams over her shoulder. “It’s the Seven Shorties, not eight!”
“You guys, get out here!” she shouts. “The floor is like butter! Mosquito bite- scram!”
She skates off the floor screaming, her hair flying, her hands waving, “Come on you guys!”
“We like the cars, the cars that go BOOM!” she sings.
I trail behind her and then stop. Normally, we roll off the floor onto the carpet no problem, never had to slow down because the carpet was so old. But the new carpet is fat, I mean, fat, F-A-T. Just as Grumpy says “BOOM” her wheels hit the carpet and she straight launches horizontally into the air three feet, her arms out like Superman. Her bangs are like a tidal wave of hair sprayed into a horn charging towards the rest of the Shorites, and then BOO-YAH.
Absolutely fucking beautiful.
Grumpy lays spread-eagled, face down on the red and blue swirls of the carpet. The music stops playing.
“Is she alive?” Sleepy asks.
The Shorties all roll over to her. I want to laugh but my cousin appears lifeless so all I can do is wait in anticipation with my fingers in my mouth.
None of us can move.
“It’s like skating on butter”, Grumpy whimpers, her face still down in the carpet.
We can’t move. We can’t speak. We can’t get the image of Grumpy flying out of our heads.
Grumpy never notices anything. Just like she doesn’t notice how all of the Shorties are upset. How and why Sneezy’s Uncle is not around tonight.
Sometimes Sneezy’s Uncle works as a rental skate guy, though he is not in the army. He says he likes us because we made him feel young. He is twenty-nine going on thirty. Turning thirty makes him feel old he says. Doc is seventeen. Sneezy, Happy, Bashful, and Sleepy are sixteen. Dopey and Grumpy are fifteen. I am thirteen.
He is old, we say.
We loved the attention he gave us. We thought he loved us. He knew Siouxsie Sioux back in the day, and even showed us the record she had signed for him. He always said Happy was so beautiful, and gave her a little teddy bear on Valentine’s Day when the guy she had been hanging out with dumped her. He said Grumpy would be pretty if she lost weight.
Grumpy’s mother refused to let her go to the beach when he took everyone, even though my mother let me go. His brother and sister-in-law, Sneezy’s dad and step-mom, had their wedding at the rink. My mom said he was safe, after all we knew his family, and Sneezy was our age. My aunt said he reminded her far too much of the Pied Piper.
That August, when the rink was closed, Dopey started hanging out at his apartment. At first we didn’t understand. But then we found out she was pregnant, and her mom had kicked her out of the house. Sneezy’s Uncle said it was cool to stay with him. He said we could all hang out. His apartment became party central. None of us knew that he and Dopey had also been doing speed. What did it matter? We all drank and smoked at the rink anyway. He was the one who always bought us wine coolers and kicked us down weed. What difference did it make that we were at his apartment? He was pretty much family. It was cool.
Except one night, at his apartment, Happy got too drunk and she semi-blacked out. He put her into his bed, and later, we found out, he had sex with her. She had been a virgin. She didn’t like him like that, she told us. She didn’t think of him that way. She had thought of him like a dorky uncle. She thought he was safe.
He always greeted us with long hugs. Whenever he hugged me I could feel the “T” shape of his torso under his shirt.
“You have a bangin‘ body,” I told him. “Too bad it’s attached to your head.”
Another night at his apartment he let me touch his cock through his pants. It was disappointingly small. We all felt sorry for Happy because it was her first time, and he was so pathetic. Afterwards he cried and tried to blame it on the drugs and the booze. We agreed to not tell anyone. Not our moms, not our other friends, and especially not Grumpy.
Grumpy is still laying face down on the carpet. We still can’t move. We still can’t speak. We still can’t stop seeing Grumpy soaring through the air.
“Did you see the height she got on that jump?” Happy finally says.
“Damn,” Dopey says.
“It’s like skating on butter,” Grumpy says again into the carpet.
“Can you move?” Happy asks.
“Like butter,” Grumpy says.
“Help her,” Happy says.
Doc and I each take one of her arms and pulled her up.
“What?” Happy asks. “Are you in pain? Did you break something?”
“My jeans!” she cries.
Her black jeans, one of the few pairs she has in a normal color, are split in two at the zipper.
We can not stop laughing.
“Just wear your shirt tucked out,” Happy says. “No-one will notice.”
“I’m leaving in ten if no-one shows,” Dopey says in between laughs.
The Shorties all skate out onto the floor. The rink is empty, silent. The dj has left his booth. They get in line anyway.
I trail behind them, flipping up Grumpy’s shirt whenever I have the chance, trying to make everyone laugh, but I can’t see anyone’s face. I am in the back of the line. Grumpy keeps slapping my hand away. Dopey has her hands in her sleeves, Happy’s shoulders are stiff, Bashful is playing with her hair, Sleepy keeps skating off to the left, and Sneezy keeps skating off to the right. Only Doc, in the front, holds her head up, nodding ever so slightly. The joke is not funny anymore.
The dj gets back into his booth, starts playing “Cindy” by the Armani Crew.
“This girl,” the Armani Crew sings. “She pulled up her skirt and said slap me ‘til it hurts.”
It is a good song with a good beat, so we begin to dance.
photo by mahfrot