Colin Farstad – Nailed Magazine https://nailedmagazine.com Sat, 20 Oct 2018 17:47:34 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.8 Snakes and Tails by Bradley K. Rosen https://nailedmagazine.com/editors-choice/snakes-and-tails-by-bradley-k-rosen/ Mon, 04 May 2015 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.nailedmagazine.com/?post_type=ec&p=12156 If you pulled all of the minerals out of a person’s body and sold it to one of those kinds of places that like to buy minerals for a fair price you might be lucky enough to get four dollars and ninety eight cents for them. Water, oxygen, salt, iron, magnesium, zinc, chromium. We’re talking […]

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If you pulled all of the minerals out of a person’s body and sold it to one of those kinds of places that like to buy minerals for a fair price you might be lucky enough to get four dollars and ninety eight cents for them. Water, oxygen, salt, iron, magnesium, zinc, chromium. We’re talking about very small quantities here. Turns out that when taking into account the whole of a human body, a person’s skin is worth more than the actual minerals, but still, the skin doesn’t amount to much. If you skinned a large woman with large breasts you would be lucky to get three dollars and fifty cents for her skin alone. Don’t ask me what the skin buying people might do with the skin after they buy it, I don’t want to know.

Purses maybe, or galoshes, or a wallet maybe. A wallet made out of human skin, rub it the right way and it turns into a suitcase.

Sorry. My bad. But my father, also a bad joke maker, he told me never to apologize. That bad jokes are one of those things that makes us humans, well, human. They are part of what makes us imperfect, and as they all say, you can’t have the light without a little bit of the dark. You know, the ying, the yang. The saints and sinners. The darkness and the light.

One, of the many, of my own personal imperfections is the fact that I have Hepatitis C. Have had it for who knows how long really. Probably in the neighborhood of something going on forty years now. I can base that amount of time upon the idea that I contracted the virus back when I was a casual IV drug user back in the 1970’s. Back in the experimental stages of my youth. Nasty virus that Hep C. Scars up a liver little by little without a person ever really knowing about it. For a long time I was oblivious to the fact that I had Hep C. Only found out about it ten years ago. The Hep C that sat around wreaking so much havoc that my liver ended up getting so confused it gave itself the cancer.

Though the cancer may actually kill me, it is a mixed blessing. Because before I was diagnosed with cancer the insurance company had refused to pay for the treatment that was going to make the Hep C go away. The treatment is reserved for the sickest of the sick and in such cases ceases to be a preventive measure in lieu of taking on a more of a stabilization kind of role. You see, the fact that I have had Hep C for so many years and then cancer of my liver makes me a good candidate for a liver transplant. Therein the cost of a new liver being so expensive that it is not a good thing for my new liver to become infected with the old Hepatitis C that is still alive in my body.

Talk about the chicken chasing the egg.

+ + +

After a lengthy conversation with my liver doctor the pharmacy became the next step forward in the quest for my cure. The pharmacist, he looked like he was in his early thirties. Surely he was a grown man, but in the grand scheme of things he was still just a kid to me. Good looking. Healthy skin, healthy body weight. He wore the traditional long white lab coat that one might expect a pharmacist to wear. The name of the pharmacy was embroidered in cursive with bright red thread into the side of the coat opposite of his heart. For some reason I judged him to be of a family man, with maybe a good looking wife and two kids and two car payments waiting for him at home. I had seen him working at the pharmacy many times before and though we certainly hadn’t seen enough of each other in social settings to have learned to call each other friends we were friendly with each other in a clinical professional sort of way.

The drug that I had been prescribed was a new one to me and therefor elicited a consul with the resident pharmacist on duty, namely the young healthy skinned pharmacist.

He handed me the opaque orange plastic bottle with the white cap that was half full of pills. His eyes never left the computer screen in front of him.

“Full name and birthdate,” he said.

I always wondered why he never remembered my name. I suppose it was because he had lots of customers, too many of which to remember names let alone birthdays. But still, I thought that maybe I would prove to be an exception. I was in there all the time.

I turned my head and looked at the people waiting in the drug line behind me. There was four or five people there including an elderly man with a walker, and a rather large woman leaning her forearms on the front handle of a half full shopping cart. At the front of the line, too far away for me to touch but certainly not too far away to be able to hear me whisper was a woman. She was cute by my standards. A long haired brunette in jeans and a white toothed smile. She looked like an Isabella.

I looked down at the label on the bottle as I told the pharmacist my name and birthdate. The name of the drug a new one to my vocabulary. The bottle contained fourteen pills.

“Had these before?” the pharmacist asked.

His skin was milk white. Probably the result of the inside lights that shone down upon him eight to ten hours a day, five or six days a week. He had the beginnings of what might eventually turn up to be a mole on the right side of his chin.

“Take one a day,” he said. “Preferably with food.”

I picked up the paperworks that came with the drug. May cause headache, nausea, skin rash, loss of hair, etc. etc. etc. I scanned over all of these quick, I would look at them later, in private, when my mind had more time to torture itself with the what ifs and the how could it be’s and the really? My hair? At the bottom of the paper was the price of the drug and the price of what I would owe.

Turned out what I owed amounted to be nothing. My insurance was picking up the tab.

The tab was twenty two thousand dollars.

I teetered a little bit onto the backs of my heels.

I didn’t really do all of the math until later, but I knew in that moment the humongous cost of what this treatment was really going to be.

Twenty two thousand dollars. For fourteen pills. One thousand five hundred and seventy one dollars a pill. My doctor had told me I was going to be taking this drug for twelve weeks. That meant I was going to have come back six more times. Six more refills. The whole run of this treatment coming in at one hundred and thirty two thousand dollars.

“Expensive,” I said. “The price of tea in China.”

A little rush of blood ran through the pharmacist’s milky white skin, causing it to turn the slightest shade of pink. The point of his chin motioned to the little card reader with the screen and the stylus that sat there on the counter between us.

“Check the box and sign please,” he said.

I picked up the stylus and checked the box that told the world I had accepted his consul and then I signed my name on the line next to it x marks the spot.

“Some lucky bastard is buying fancy mansions and boats and trips to Jamaica,” I said.

The pharmacist’s eyes expanded and allowed more light into the middle of his blue irises. The light transforming the look in his eye into something that I could trust, into something familiar to me, into something that meant this man knew what it meant to work for a living. That this man was not much different than me. That he knew what it was to swing on a swing set, to smell a dog’s breath, to love a woman or a man.

Isabella muffled a cough behind me into what I assumed to be the inside crook of her elbow. She was a polite person like that, that had the common sense enough not to spread her germs around to the rest of the planet.

“Do you have a rewards card?” the pharmacist asked.

“I didn’t pay for anything,” I said. “How’s that work?”

“You get free gas,” he said.

I gave him my phone number. My phone number was the same number as my rewards card.

“I feel like I need an armed escort,” I said.

“What was that?” he said.

It is not an easy thing, to be able to joke around with a pharmacist.

Isabella had her nose into her phone but as I walked past her she looked up and our eyes met. She looked at me like only a woman can. And I could tell that she knew that I was really sick. That I had the Hepatitis C and the cancer inside me. Though I was oblivious to it myself, I knew that my skin looked yellow from time to time. That I had a slight case of the jaundice. She coughed again into her elbow, a harsh, deep, rasp of a cough. I smiled at her and nodded my head. I wanted her to get better, and I could tell by the way she smiled back at me that she knew that I wanted her to get better too.

+ + +

Two years ago I was on a trip to Costa Rica. I was there for three weeks and stayed with my friend Vanni, who lived in a beautiful house with a beautiful garden by the sea. My friend had a large bushy mustache and graying hair that covered most of his body. He was short and stout with a strong back and strong arms and if I was to pick him out to be any animal I believe I would see him as a sloth. Not because of a lazy nature typically associated with an animal as aptly named as a sloth, because he was a hard worker, and Vanni certainly hadn’t much laziness born into him, but a sloth for his hair, for his choice of living in solitude with the forest, and for the smile that seemed to be permanently implanted onto the front of his face.

One day we went to town, an hour drive from his house on bumpy rocked dirt roads. We went there to buy a week’s worth of groceries. The market small, filled with fresh meats and produce and packaged cookies and beer and butter and bread. We took our mostly filled shopping cart to the checkout line where a small woman with brown eyes and skin and dark, almost black hair ran the cash register. At the end of the conveyor belt a man, also small with brown skin and eyes, started to box up our groceries. The man was skinny though wiry, like a spider monkey, and he was missing one eye.

I could tell by the way my friend and the man bagging groceries communicated that they knew each other well. They signed with hand gestures and formations of their silent mouths. The man was deaf and mute. We paid the cashier in Costa Rican colones and I started to lift one of the heavy boxes to carry out to the truck.

Van stopped me, with a firm hand on my arm.

“Let him do it,” he said. “It’s his job.”

I thought he was being ridiculous. I was perfectly capable of carrying a box of groceries to the truck. But I wasn’t going to argue with my friend who had lived among these people for over twenty years. So we went outside and stood by the side of the pickup truck as the deaf man made three trips back and forth until all of the groceries were loaded. My friend Van pulled a wad of money out of his backpack and unrolled a few bills and handed them to the man.

“Muchos Gracias,” Vanni said.

The man half bowed and clasped his hands in front of him as if in prayer.

On the long ride back to Van’s piece of paradise by the sea we had a conversation about the man who boxed our groceries.

“He doesn’t work for the store,” Van said. “He works for tips. People they take care of him. That is one of the beautiful things about this country. They take care of their own.”

“What happens if he gets sick?” I asked.

“Shit I don’t know, I suppose he takes an Advil,” Van said.

“No that’s not what I mean,” I said. “I mean really sick.”

“Well,” Van said. “He either moves to the big city and hopes for the best or he gets rich real quick.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Cash only,” Van said. “Down here its cash only.”

+ + +

If the average human being’s skin and minerals are worth five dollars on a good day, it would take 26,400 dead corpses to be able to buy one treatment for one human being to eradicate the Hepatitis C virus from their system. And the thing about it is, my skin would be worth the same amount as the man who boxes groceries in Costa Rica.

On April 12, 1955 Jonas Salk, the face behind the development of the polio vaccine was faced with the question of why he didn’t patent the vaccine and therefor reap the riches that surely would have found their way into his pockets. His answer was a simple one. “Can you patent the sun?”

The same sun that shines the same kind of light on both me and the man from Costa Rica. The same light that shines on all of the people’s from all of the corners of the world. The skin of three hundred and fourteen people to buy one pill. The 24,600 people’s skin needed for one treatment laid end to end nothing anywhere near close enough to bridge the gap of distance between the earth and the sun. The sun that we all have come to count on. The sun that insures us all of its perpetual light. And still some will die, not because mankind is not brilliant or inventive or determined, but because of the newly found importance in the value of greed and money over the value of life itself that have made themselves evident in this new society that we are all now a part.

You see, the snake, it chases its tail, and the chicken, it is beginning to have a harder and harder time figuring out where it was that it laid its egg in the first place.

+ + +

Header image courtesy of Vanessa Moselle. To view her photo essay ” These Human Shells,” go here.

+ + +

Bradley K. Rosen essay nailed magazineBradley K. Rosen was awarded a Bachelor of Music from the University of Oregon in 1998. He played for twenty five years as a professional rock musician before settling down in the Portland area. He still plays drums in a local rock group and plays timpani with two community orchestras. He has recently finished his first novel, The Bunkie Spills and is currently working on his second novel, which involves a taxidermied cat and nine lives. His work may be found in the anthology The Frozen Moment (Publication Studio), as well as in The Portland Review (Fall 2013 Issue 60.1).

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The Things We Know Nothing About by Margaret Malone https://nailedmagazine.com/fiction/things-know-nothing-margaret-malone/ Thu, 10 Jul 2014 17:29:30 +0000 http://www.nailedmagazine.com/?post_type=fiction&p=10341 I went to the burrito place, like I always went to the burrito place, the one in our old neighborhood, the one with the long lines of people waiting to order and the colored bulbs strung across the patio and the upside down neon sombreros hanging from the ceiling. Our new neighborhood didn’t have a […]

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I went to the burrito place, like I always went to the burrito place, the one in our old neighborhood, the one with the long lines of people waiting to order and the colored bulbs strung across the patio and the upside down neon sombreros hanging from the ceiling. Our new neighborhood didn’t have a place to order a burrito. Our new neighborhood had bored kids and no sidewalks and stop signs that nobody stopped at. Our new neighborhood was two blocks from 82nd Avenue, a busy thoroughfare of big box stores and mini-malls and giant coffee chains with crappy coffee. Also there were hookers.

In the old neighborhood, it was bikes in the front yards and hellos on the sidewalks and big trees that shaded the streets. I was finding it difficult to forget. That’s why I went back to the old neighborhood and walked into the burrito place and waited in the long line to order my veggie burrito with extra sour cream. I was pregnant and depressed and I thought a burrito might do the trick. What I wanted was for everything to go back to the way it was before.

The guy who’s always there behind the counter, the one with the big eyebrows and a radish tattooed on his forearm, he still recognized me.

His smile was all teeth.

He said, “Hey, it’s been a while.”

“Yes,” I said. I was debating whether to tell him I was pregnant. I didn’t know him at all. He was just the burrito guy.

He asked what he always asked. He said, “The usual? For here?”

And without thinking, I said what I always used to say.

“Yes,” I said. “Okay.”

I paid. He gave me an order number. No. 29. I sat down at the counter and that’s when he brought me the bottle of beer.

“Cheers,” he said. He went back to the register.

He’s right. I did always order this beer with my burrito. I didn’t want to offend him by returning it because he had remembered. He’d remembered everything. I hated offending people. My inside voice said, just shut your trap and sit with the beer. No need to drink it. Bottle’s already open and paid for. Don’t make trouble.

It had been a week since I’d had any queasy morning sickness. I sat on a small wooden stool, arms on the counter, and tried to look natural sitting next to that beer. Nobody knew anything. I tried it out in my hand. Cap off, cold glass against my palm, the familiar weight of twelve ounces. A few sips couldn’t hurt. It was just one beer. It was just a brain making a decision for a body.

I brought the bottle to my lips. I waited to be struck by lightning.

“Number twenty nine,” said the burrito guy. He slid my food across the counter and took my number. “Enjoy,” he said.

It seemed like a sign. Also, I am not one to waste a drink, a habit inherited from my mother-in-law, so I drank it.

Afterwards, I drove home to the new neighborhood. The streetlights were just coming on, overlapping with the sunset in my rearview mirror. My window was down, the radio off. The only sound was the sound of the engine and the other cars as they passed me going one direction or another. I flowed with the flow of traffic. I felt right side up. Good day sunshine. At last, here was the me I’d been waiting for.

So I did it again the next week.

And again, the week after that.

And then I kept doing it.

Week after week, it was my secret indulgence. Exhilarating, private, all mine. Back to the old neighborhood, order a burrito, drink a beer while I wait. Then, cinnamon gum on the long drive home to the unstopping stop signs and the hookers and Staffy, my husband of two springs and one summer.

Staffy has a small penis but he loves me and he married me and also he supports my art. I dabble in ceramics, occasionally selling some pieces at arts and crafts fairs on the West Coast. I’m not very good. But I really love glazing. So I stick with it. I feel the same way about Staffy. I’m no fool. I know what else is out there. Staffy may have some imperfections, the anxiety, the cologne, the nail biting, but the being married part is fun to tell people. So I stick with it.

I was trying to have the same attitude about the baby. But even then I knew that when the whole thing was over, when this baby was finally born in five months, or twenty two weeks, or one hundred and fifty four days, I’d be having a lot less fun than the fun I wasn’t having already.

I’d refused the first ultrasound at the OB’s and settled instead on the Doppler-thingy that can hear the heartbeat. I wasn’t ready to see anything yet. Hearing was enough. I needed more time. Staffy, on the other hand, couldn’t contain himself about the baby. His hands always on my barely-showing belly. Palm to my navel. Sometimes I loved this, the best we ever were. Other times, I wished I could disappear until the baby was born.

That was the thing about the beer – once I made it through the first few sips, that beer made everything better. Also beer has hops. Hops are grains. And grains are healthy. Grains are good for you. Grains are recommended by the Surgeon General.

 + + +

 The hedges were tall, as tall as a person standing on another person’s shoulders. And they were wide, as wide as a city sidewalk. They separated our backyard in the new neighborhood from the street. We never trimmed them and they were out of control. Each branch was like a hand reaching out for more. The leafy hedges were so thick nobody on one side would ever see what anybody on the other side was up to. It was the perfect place to be alone.

Until I realized I wasn’t.

The first time I understood what the hookers were doing on the street side of our hedges was the Tuesday after the week after Labor Day. And Tuesday was trash night. I loved trash night because trash night was the night before burrito night. On burrito night, I could do whatever I wanted. Like a contract had been formed between me and the universe. And I was allowed to drink once a week, and the universe was allowed to let me have a normal baby. It was pretty simple. Really, it’s the least the universe could do, leaving me in this crappy neighborhood, all pregnant and married and alone.

Staffy was bending over our bins. He was militant about separating the recycling. So careful about the smallest things. He really would make a wonderful father. Or maybe not. Maybe attention to detail makes for a terrible father. What do I know.

Staffy was on the lip of our driveway, where it meets the street, where our trashcan waits on trash night, right next to the hedges. Staffy stopped sorting and pointed out the tiny beat up Honda hatchback from the 70s, white and rusted, parked a few feet from where we were standing, on the street side of the hedges. The rusted white Honda hatchback was bouncing. And even though it was overcast and night was on its way, I could see from the streetlight that there was a woman straddling a man in the driver’s seat. A woman, facing us, bouncing up and down on the driver, facing away.

I said, “Are you fucking kidding me?”

I started to walk the ten feet to the car. I had my hand on my belly, and even though it was almost impossible to tell I was pregnant then, I was prepared to play it up. Strangers! Having sex! By a pregnant woman’s hedges!

But Staffy grabbed my arm. He said, “Don’t bother them.”

The beat up little Honda bouncing.

He said, “They might have weapons.”

I said, “They’re hookers, Staffy. Not assassins.”

Still, I decided to yell instead.

I yelled the only thing I could think of. “Hey!”

The bouncing stopped.

I yelled again. “Hey!”

And then the woman climbed off the man in the driver’s seat and the man started the white rusted hatchback. They drove off, the little car weaving left and right before settling on straight. We finished putting the trash and recycling out, but I felt sort of sick. Even with the life I’ve lived and what I know, it was kind of disturbing. It made me wonder about all the things that are going on around us all the time, the things we know nothing about.

 + + +

By our house in our new neighborhood, next to the café and the sports bar and the auto body shop, there is a business called Stumptown Tub N’ Tan. It is a nondescript storefront, by which I mean it is a storefront that I drive by and never pay attention to. A person drives by and might think, there is a business where I can go to get a tub or a tan, and then that person probably keeps driving because who really does either of those things, especially both, and at the same place. And then, after living in our new neighborhood, it occurs to me: the hookers. The hookers are the ones that tub n’ tan.

When I told Staffy, he said, “Yes. You’re probably right.”

He said, “But I bet the hookers tan on their own time. And the tubs, well, I bet they’re on the clock.”

We said nothing for a moment. Mental image of a woman, naked and skinny but with stretch marks and scars, slipping a leg into a hot tub, sharp smell of chlorine, jets on high, a hairy middle-aged man in the water, staring at her sagging breasts and whacking off.

I said to Staffy, “I wonder how often they change the water.”

 + + +

At our monthly two-person, ladies-only brunch, Staffy’s mom told the waiter she wanted a Bloody Mary, and when the waiter’s big bald head turned towards me, I put my thinking face on: I thought of water, and juice, and beer, and scotch. I made eye contact, nothing to hide. I opened my mouth, and my mouth told the waiter’s big bald head I wanted the house chardonnay. Wine, after all, seemed more civilized. Because wine is only grapes, which are fruit. And fruit is natural. Fruit is good for you. Fruit is recommended by the Surgeon General.

We sat at a table on a sunny patio, ivy growing on the wall, smell of coffee and potatoes and the fresh tar a crew was using to re-pave the street in front of the restaurant. My sense of smell these days was keen. Staffy’s mom, Vicky, waved a hand in front of her face, big gold ring, long nails painted red, then she brought the straw to her mouth and sipped, removed the celery stalk and took a crunch from it.

She said, “Del, I drank plenty when I was pregnant with Staffy.”

The tar fumes and the heavy loud clatter of metal meeting rock from the street crew made it hard to pay attention.

She crunched again and sipped and said, “We didn’t know anything then.”

The stem of my glass of chardonnay was in my hand so I gulped a healthy serving of it down. I said, “My doctor said a drink or two was fine.”

And I took another sip.

We sat across from each other and I listened to Vicky choke that stalk of celery down. I ate a breadstick from the bread basket. I hated these lunches. When Vicky got up to pee I ordered a second chardonnay. Vicky always took forever in the bathroom. I had plenty of time to polish off that first glass and put my empty on the table behind me. I knew her routine, powder on her face, lipstick on her lips, brush through her hair. What was the point of it? Death was coming anyway.

She took so long I could have ordered a third but I didn’t want to seem like a hog.

My Eggs Florentine arrived at the same time Vicky came back from the bathroom. She ordered another Bloody Mary.

The big bald waiter asked if I needed another drink.

“No,” I said. “One is enough.”

After I dropped Vicky off at her condo, I went home and sat on our cement front steps, the tiny buzz from lunch hovering around me. A woman my age walked by, pushing a baby stroller in the street, since, as I said, the new neighborhood didn’t have many sidewalks. I felt sorry for her, pushing a blanketed lump in a stroller in the middle of the day. I thought about me pushing a lump around in the middle of the day. I wondered if I would love the lump. If the lady walking by loved her lump too. The big arrival was only four months away, one season in a year, and then it would just be here. All the time. Part of me. Forever. The just me days I had left were loud in my ear. I did my best to honor them. If the baby disliked the occasional beverage, it would be sure to let me know. But it never made a peep. In fact the baby didn’t move around much at all.

 + + +

Summer crept off. The arts and crafts fairs mostly over by now, and I’d done nothing this year. Already, what I loved was slipping away. Autumn snuck in and it was my birthday and Staffy made a pot pie for the occasion.

“Pot pie,” he said. “Yum.” He pointed at his plate with his fork. “From scratch.”

Between bites I nodded and mumbled approval, thinking how much better this meal would be with a nice big bottle of red wine.

Staffy wiped at the corners of his mouth with a paper napkin. He sat up straighter, shoulders back. He must have read my mind.

“I’ve decided,” he said. “That’s about enough.”

The jig was up. He knew about the booze. About me not loving the neighborhood. Me not loving the baby. He’d tell me he was angry and disappointed. Maybe he’d ask me to leave. I’d pretend to want to stay. I’d say some sorry things. And then I’d run upstairs and pack a bag and drive back to rent a room in the old neighborhood, where I could push my soon-to-be blanketed lump around on sidewalks, under a canopy of trees, on my way to buy a burrito.

He said, “I found more condoms in the gutter.”

Staffy was talking about the hookers.

“And this morning,” he said. He took a bite of pot pie. “Inside out latex gloves.”

His mouth chewed. He said, “What are those for?”

I had some ideas.

He said, “I don’t want to know.”

I watched him eat, slow, circular chews, his mouth a little bit open, his eyes on my eyes. I knew him well enough to know he was waiting for a response. I just didn’t know him well enough to know which one.

Finally I heard him swallow. I tried to think of something to say, but I thought instead of how it was my birthday and something like that only happens once a year, and that I should probably allow myself one drink tonight, because one isn’t a big deal.

Staffy sighed a heavy sigh, breath through his tight lips from deep inside, wiped at his mouth again with that napkin, pushed his chair back, and walked to the coat closet. When he walked back, he had a box in his arms, a box the size of a toaster oven covered in shiny giftwrap and a big gold bow.

He moved my plate of pot pie out of the way, even though I was not done yet, set the shiny box on my placemat next to a wet chunk of pot pie that had fallen off my plate.

“Happy birthday,” he said.

It just sat there, that wet chunk, right next to my birthday present.

A whiff of Staffy’s cologne just then made me sick to my stomach. I wiped my hands on the napkin in my lap: my thighs, I’d noticed, already getting bigger.

“Open it,” he said.

The shiny box in front of me, I thought of all the things it could be. The possibility that every present has. I thought maybe a new glaze for my pots. Bigger pants for my widening thighs. A new spatula. And then I opened it.

I said, “Thank you.” But I didn’t understand what I was seeing.

Staffy said, “It’s a Wexby Industrial Super Search Eye Spotlight.”

He said, “It’s ten million candlepower.”

I stared at the hand held portable spotlight.

He said, “It’s for the hookers.”

He said, “I charged it up yesterday.”

He said, “Let’s try it out.”

It was dark out, couldn’t find the moon, and I didn’t want to trip. So I used my new Super Search Eye Spotlight and pointed it at the ground. I thought I’d use it like a flashlight. But when I clicked it on, the beam was ferocious. That beam of light swallowed up the dark. It was a superhuman ray, a perfect straight line, a bright mobile sun I controlled. I loved it.

We waited for a while on our side of the hedges, what a birthday, but nothing happened. Staffy seemed disappointed, so I said, “Let’s do a dry run.”

“Good idea,” he said.

Staffy played the hooker. I played myself.

We did a couple drills in the backyard. Staffy kneeled on the grass and said, “Okay, I’m fellating someone now.”

Then I’d shine the bright light on his face to bust him. Poor Staffy looked pasty in that monster light, and guilty, so guilty. I guess that was the idea.

After two practice rounds, finally I said what I was really thinking. “Is there cake?” I said.

He was holding his hand up in front of his face. “Anyway,” Staffy said, “I can’t see so well right now.”

There was a cake. Chocolate, my favorite, with vanilla icing. And in the middle of the cake was a candle, one perfect birthday candle waiting to be lit. But Staffy said his pupils hurt. He was worried he’d almost gone blind.

He said, “I’m going to bed.” Staffy had his defeated voice on. I felt bad about his eyes but that voice made me crazy. It was a stomping in socked feet on a kitchen floor, that voice. It reminded me of all the mothering he needed.

I told him good night, that I’d be right up. But it was my birthday, and I wasn’t tired at all. I went to the kitchen, to the bottles of good wine Staffy kept on the bottom rung of the cheap wood wine rack. Already knew which one I wanted. The bottle had a plain white label and fancy silver writing. I held it in my hand, felt the weight of it. The bottle said, …valley in the south of France. It said, earthy and chocolate and berries. It said, According to the Surgeon General….

I imagined Staffy’s sense of hearing was heightened since his pupils were so sore. Removing the cork, I was very careful. I suffocated the sound with a green plaid dish towel. The smell of the good, aged wine was stronger than I was ready for. It launched a gulp of nausea high into my throat. But I waited it out. I stood in the kitchen and breathed my breath until the nausea passed into a familiar dull chunk inside my chest.

The lights were off and the living room window was open to catch some of the early fall air and I sat on the built-in window seat with my bottle of wine. No sense in wasting a glass. When the baby was born I’d be up nights a lot. I imagined a blanketed lump in my arms. I put my wine bottle down and held my arms out, imagining the tiny weight, cradling the invisible air. I don’t know. It just felt like holding nothing. It seemed possible that it could be born and I might not love it. It seemed possible that it could be born and I would never feel a thing.

Through the open window, there was the sound of a car driving by out front. I could tell from the rattle of the engine that it was German, and I could tell that it didn’t come to a full and complete stop at the stop sign. Assholes.

One big birthday sip, a toast to me. I thought, if I was a tree I’d have thirty-one rings. Then I heard the insistent rattle of the German engine again, this time it slowed down a lot as it passed, and then the sound slowed to a stop on the street side of our hedges.

This is it.

I almost dropped the bottle of wine, almost fell up the stairs I was running so fast to tell Staffy, this is what he’d been waiting for. But he was already asleep, open-mouthed and breathy. I put my ear up to the open bedroom window and heard the engine by the hedges still running. Hurry. Wait, what if the grass is damp with dew? Maybe I should bring a blanket. My god, it’s not a picnic, woman. Move. Get out there. Go. I said that last go out loud, too loud, and Staffy’s breathing stopped. He turned onto his side, and when he did, I took one nice big sip from the bottle and I knew that I didn’t want him to come with me anyway. I wanted to do this alone. It’s my fucking birthday.

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This is me: Delilah Seward. Pregnant. Hand around the neck of the bottle of good wine. Wexby Industrial Super Search Eye Spotlight. Crouched on my haunches behind the big green hedges, crouched down low. Except, being pregnant, I couldn’t crouch that well. I listened.

Even though the hedges were as wide as a sidewalk, they were just leaves and branches and air after all, and sound traveled through them like nothing was in sound’s way. I could hear the faraway freeway and the underneath noise of 82nd Avenue. I could hear the persistent late night tweet of bird calls and wondered which birds are the birds that are up so late.

The German car’s windows must have been rolled down because I heard Led Zeppelin singing from the other side of the hedge, and then I heard it click off. And just then, a jolt of panic went off in me: that strong loud quiet, all of us strangers, all so close. It made my heart race. And the race traveled up to my brain and back down to my heart past my stomach and then it landed in my gut. My bowels to be exact. Perfect.

Sound of the car’s old springs as bodies moved around inside.

The man’s voice was close. “Let’s go,” he said.

A woman’s voice from the other side of the hedge, an accent, Russian maybe.

She said, “You do not be nervous.”

He said, “You said fifty.” His voice sounded mean, the way mean sounds when it’s scared. “I gave you fifty.”

She said, “Shhh.”

He said, “Hurry. Oh. Good. Yes.”

And it seemed so obvious right then: it’s the men, not the women. It’s the men.

My stomach and intestines started making noises, angry gurgling, impossible to ignore. That fucking pot pie.

From the hedges, the man’s voice again. “Good,” he said. “Good, yeah.”

It was gross and intimate, and made my stomachache worse. I suddenly missed being a kid, before sidewalks and marriage and overgrown hedges. I missed being small. How Staffy must feel all the time. Like he just wants to be taken care of.

The hedges said, “Oh, God.”

The hedges said something like, “The other one too.”

I didn’t know what I thought I’d hear. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. All I could feel was the nervous in my gut. I really needed to fart, but didn’t want them to hear.

The hedges said something like, “This one?”

I looked up and there were the stars, dim pins of light in the sky. My Super Search Eye was slung over my shoulder, thanks to its handy nylon carrying belt. My Super Search Eye like a star of my own.

Another sip. Just a small sip. I could almost smell the sex through the hedges. As far as I could tell, it was just normal stuff. Just lumps of flesh bumping into each other. No wonder people have to pay for it.

The man raised his voice then. One sharp, quick cry.

Air stayed in my lungs and wouldn’t budge. Me listening, all of us quiet. That cry made me want to throw my head into the hedges, just to be near something else alive.

Air sneaked out of my lungs. The sounds of everything began to fade back in.

Then the whine of a car door that needs some oil, opening. The woman’s voice, her maybe Russian accent, said, “No, here good, fine.” And the metal chunk of the door slamming shut.

The turn of the engine and the engine driving away, and then the sound of high heels walking on asphalt, the sound of walking away.

Just me now, by the hedges. Alone, the way I like it. Still had plenty of good wine left in the bottle, still half full.

Heard another car drive by, stop at the stop sign, and keep going. It all started doing laps in my head. The wine and the sexy stuff and the listening. All of it. I felt gross. Everything was gross. I needed to lie down, so I did. Me and my belly, we lowered ourselves onto the grass by the overgrown hedges. Splayed out like an angel, the damp against my arms.

It was late, early late, and the stars were really going now. Dulled a little by the city’s light, but still, I could see them. The stars shone and winked. But nothing shot. Up there, just dust and rocks and light and darkness.

Next Monday was my 20-week appointment with the ultrasound technician, the one where we see the baby, learn the sex, where they check all its organs and brains and important parts and make sure everything’s okay.

The great big sky above me, the moon already gone. I thought of all the nights I’d be up soon shushing that baby to sleep. I thought of diapers and burp cloths and the way new baby houses smelled like sour regurgitated milk.

And then I thought of the cake, my cake, waiting on the countertop. And the candle. That one perfect candle, all mine, waiting to be wished.

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margaret malone writer fiction nailed magazineMargaret Malone’s work has appeared in The Missouri Review, Oregon Humanities, Swink, Coal City Review, latimes.com, and elsewhere. She is the recipient of an Oregon Literary Fellowship and an Oregon Arts Commission Individual Artist Fellowship. A co-host of the artist and literary gathering SHARE, she lives in Portland with her husband and two children. You can learn more about her at her website, here.

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Summer Storm Coming by Edie Rylander https://nailedmagazine.com/fiction/summer-storm-coming-by-edie-rylander/ Tue, 01 Jul 2014 09:00:02 +0000 http://www.nailedmagazine.com/?post_type=fiction&p=10242 In the yellow light that falls like sulfur around the bleached gray cedar chips of the playground I am chasing frogs. Dirt is a smear on the hem of my pink dress. I will get beat for this later, a black belt striking across pale legs leaving bruises like grape halves in cream, but at […]

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In the yellow light that falls like sulfur around the bleached gray cedar chips of the playground I am chasing frogs. Dirt is a smear on the hem of my pink dress. I will get beat for this later, a black belt striking across pale legs leaving bruises like grape halves in cream, but at this moment, I don’t know, and at this moment, I am alive in nighttime joy, and aloneness.

Church had let out with a humid sigh an hour before, the congregants milling into the quickening Talahassee darkness like gnats, vibrating towards their Oldsmobiles and Chevys, their own destinations of a late supper, maybe a movie appearing to me like stars next to stars; disappearing if I think about them hard enough, but clear if I don’t think about them at all. When the cars skid from the gravel parking lot, spitting bits of splayed stone they are gone, and I have stayed. My parents are inside, talking to the pastor about Rickie.

I chase frogs. I get dirt on my dress.

There is the growling buzz of the watchful streetlight and the groaning of hundreds of cicadas, brown molts like scabs stuck to trees, in low tangles of hanging spanish moss. Despite the vibrations of pulsing sound that cover my footsteps, I narrow my body against playground equipment. I am hunting in the only way I know how, like Elmer Fudd–I must be very, very quiet. I exaggerate my tip-toes in white Sunday shoes. My palms are raised before me. This is how it looks to chase frogs. Big, fat frogs like animated stones, medium sized frogs with fussy old-lady jumps. Tiny frogs like chocolate chips that are cute, but not worth a catch.

If Rickie were here, he’d be scrambling like a Great Dane puppy over cedar chips, his excitement over the frogs messing up any chance of catching one. He’d shriek in the way five year olds do, and in the wisdom of my own seven years I’d hush him, then giggle, then hush him, then get mad. I’d get so mad.

Instead, I stretch my arms into the freedom of the night, of the way space expands around me, and horizons could end up anywhere in the dark.The humid air is wet sweater thick, the tiny hairs of my arms and legs raise with each low rumble in the distance. My world has condensed to this heat and electric noise, to the sharp metallic scent of the oncoming storm and the nothingness that lies beyond the illumination of the streetlight. My small chest feels full with the possibility of so much open emptiness.

Angled in orange glow I spy the biggest frog I have ever seen. He is fat, he is a king of playground frogs. I look around for someone to show, my first instinct, eyes darting around the empty brown and yellow playground equipment. The parking lot between the playground and church is just as barren; our Nova sits adjacent to the small church that is completely dark save two squares of light that sit like markers, signifying where my parents are. My impatience overcomes the desire to show off this prize. I am going to catch this frog.

My Sunday shoes clatter over resigned wooden chips as I press the flat of my feet forward towards him. The frog freezes at my oncoming assault, then attempts to leap away into the night. I am prepared for this; my legs brace out and my dress slides up, revealing striped Care Bear underwear and bruises. Just as the frog begins arcing up and away I reach for him, tiny hands clasping around skin as thin as eyelids. I crow laughter, triumphant bumps and warts firm under my thumbs. My rough fingers grasp soft frog belly, intestines and organs slide under my eagerness. I am standing, feet splayed, directly under the yellow streetlight, holding the frog that is struggling against my grip. A moment later, the frog lets loose with a splash of hot urine, a warm mossy stream of defense. He lifts his hind legs in an attempt to push himself free, but I tighten my hold, piss ringing my fingers. He is mine, and we are both fiercely and savagely alive. Each, determined.

Dirt from the playground mingles with the urine on my hands creating streaks of sticky grit on my palms and up the length of my arms. Instinctively I hold the frog up and away from my dress, but it doesn’t matter: drops of grass-scented frog pee dot the skirt.

I don’t realize how hard I am gripping the frog until he lets out a plastic sounding squeak, then relaxes in my fingers. I gasp, skinning knees to the ground, chips poking splinters into my legs. I set the frog before me — but do not yet let him go. How can I let him go? He is too big, too much of a win to release. I cannot, I cannot. He looks at me with eyes like green glass in mud. Under my clumsy hands I feel his heartbeat, a tremble of muscle. We are surrounded in cicada chorus.

For a moment he sits, breathing, and I think of Rickie, how he was breathing until he wasn’t breathing any more, and how that last breath wasn’t breathing in and it wasn’t breathing out either. How I kept waiting, and waiting, for one or the other until I was sent from the room and now, each night on my pillow I don’t breathe in and I don’t breathe out and I try to find that moment.

Over and over, my face red with effort and crying I hold my lungs still and try to reach where Rickie is. Every successive night he seems farther away. I can feel him slipping. I can the feel the frog slipping, the frog is pushing from me, he is loose, he is jumping away in one leap that seems to me in all my heart to take him over the playground, over the streetlight, over crying rust red swings, and into the dark.

The church door pries a slice of light into the parking lot as my parents come out. I smell the summer storm breaking. It is the last time I will chase frogs; this electric summer night under God’s own eyes. I walk to meet my parents at the car, the house a clear destination in my mind. And tonight, newly bruised and scrubbed clean from any indication of the frog, I will hold my breath. My mother, bent over her Bible at the kitchen table will hold her breath. My father in the dark living room will hold his breath.

Our car grips gravel and spins into the night. Crackling heat lightning illuminates scrub pines, sending bony pointing fingers of shadow through endless leaping frogs.

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edie rylander fiction nailed magazineEdie Rylander’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Think Jam, Crack the Spine Literary Magazine, Black Heart Magazine, and Gobshite Quarterly. She studies word crafting at Portland State University and is a co-editor for the online literary press, The Gravity of the Thing.

 

 

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How to See the Dead and Yourself by Niama Sandy https://nailedmagazine.com/editors-choice/how-to-see-the-dead-and-yourself-by-niama-sandy/ Sun, 15 Jun 2014 09:00:39 +0000 http://www.nailedmagazine.com/?post_type=ec&p=10142 As I watched Horace Ové’s King Carnival set in 1973 Port of Spain I found myself scanning for my father in the many crowds jubilating pushing pan, jumping up in a band. I discovered his Army discharge papers just after he died. He had gone AWOL that year in February. If I know my father […]

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As I watched Horace Ové’s King Carnival set in 1973 Port of Spain I found myself scanning for my father in the many crowds jubilating pushing pan, jumping up in a band. I discovered his Army discharge papers just after he died. He had gone AWOL that year in February. If I know my father – a man with so many unsung songs in his blood that they spilled into the way he walked – there is no place else he would have gone. London had just hit a wall and was a few years from recovery. There was not enough happening in Brooklyn to shake a stick at. There was no DC, no Miami, and who was schlepping to Toronto? In those times Trinidad was it for de mas.

I wondered about where he kept his jouvay shoes. Were they caked with years’ worth of mud, paint and oil, as mine are years later? Was the feeling of the Caiso hitting yuh pwefwen the same? Moving through the spine to all of the places we feel our heart other than our chest – the hips, waist, shoulders, arms, hands, fingers, lips to give praise for life, love and rhythm? I know that it is. But, sometimes that I cannot call him and ask is painful.

No one ever warns you about how any of that is going to feel. About all of the beautiful ugliness.

The hardest part was watching him wither away. Seeing the tears in his eyes as he realized that cancer was just about to claim him. He who was always the coolest, sharpest person in the room – everyone there howled when they realized it was no longer true. Except for me. I stood next to him, his hand in mine. My mind was blank and calm. I felt him leave his body and drift into the ether. I said nothing. There were no tears – a paradox as I typed this with tears in my eyes. I didn’t cry at the tragicomedy of a funeral.

I have wondered why no tears came on those days. My eyes could do nothing but record everything I was seeing as they secreted my tears away. I realize that I was too exhausted, emotionally and physically, to deal with what I was seeing then. The tears were to be re-membered to me, joined with me again in a way that will make me whole, at another time and space when they could come down fiercely and freely. Recently I’ve started having flashes of fragments of moments from those last weeks of my father’s life. They are as vivid as if they are happening in front of me. I imagine that this happens because my body understands those moments to be important, if traumatic. Initially, it was startling – what with his stark frailty, and the possibility that I was going mad – but the tears I didn’t shed back then came. The tears made it okay.

None of this was made easier by fact of the sometimes difficult relationship I had with my father. One of the last times my father spoke to me he said “Sorry.” At that point, as the cancer had literally ravaged his whole body, speaking was difficult for him – which made posing the question of what exactly he was sorry for impossible. Throughout my lifetime I can recall countless broken promises, periods of quasi-estrangement – the last ending as we learned just how ill he was. I realize now that these visions may be my mind’s way to lament and celebrate not merely my father, but also myself. He was among the first to teach me how disappointment felt; but also how to love, to forgive, to drink in people and moments, and how to let go.

I sat to finish writing this on what would have been his 65th birthday, I imagined us having a drink to celebrate. Him raising his obligatory bottle of Heineken, and me doing the same with whatever I may have fancied at that moment, in toast to life and the hopes of the many more moments – whether trying or triumphant – to come.

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writer niama sandy How to See the Dead and YourselfNiama Sandy is a Brooklyn-born creative of Caribbean heritage. She is a force to be reckoned with in any arena she sets foot. A graduate of Howard University’s illustrious School of Communications and current MA candidate in the Anthropology department at the renowned School of Oriental & African Studies (SOAS) in London, Sandy is a lifelong creator, lover, and patron of the art of life. Her interests cover a broad range of topics including music, art, the African Diaspora, the constructed nature of history, human rights, race, gender, economies (and the nation-state), and their social and political implications on everyday life.

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Interview: Real-Life Superheroes by Nora Brooks https://nailedmagazine.com/interview/interview-real-life-superheroes-by-nora-brooks/ Wed, 30 Apr 2014 09:00:34 +0000 http://www.nailedmagazine.com/?post_type=interview&p=9738 Real-Life Superheroes: A Conversation with the Sideshow Artists of the NY Variety All-Stars   I’m crouched down behind a stage with Cardone and Adam RealMan. We’re trying to get the microphone to pick up our voices over the cacophony pervading the Malspeth Carnival. RealMan, a strongman, has the huge sideburns of a old-timey carnival barker, […]

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Real-Life Superheroes: A Conversation with the Sideshow Artists of the NY Variety All-Stars

 

I’m crouched down behind a stage with Cardone and Adam RealMan. We’re trying to get the microphone to pick up our voices over the cacophony pervading the Malspeth Carnival. RealMan, a strongman, has the huge sideburns of a old-timey carnival barker, and magician Cardone is in a shiny lounge-act tuxedo. It’s a hot afternoon in late summer in a Queens parking lot filled up for the day with games booths and cotton candy vendors, the pavement already sticky with dropped soda. All these people are about to watch Cardone pull a string of razors out of his throat. Clearly—a really good time.

Cardone and Realman are core members of a Coney Island sideshow troupe, The NY Variety All-Stars that specializes in a vaudeville style of sideshow. Also featured this afternoon is Krissy Kocktail, a sword swallower and general femme fatale. I catch up with them to find out what sideshow is really all about.

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NAILED MAGAZINE: How did you get started in sideshow performing?

ADAM REALMAN: I grew up in Coney Island and was exposed to this kind of entertainment as a kid. I was probably about twelve, thirteen, when I came across the Coney Island Circus Sideshow on the boardwalk and was completely blown away by it. I’d memorize the lines.

Fast forward some fifteen-odd years, and I see something on the internet: sideshow school, Coney Island. I say, oh wait as second. This is phenomenal. Took the class and within a matter of days, learned the workings of the acts. Now fast forward a year from then, after going over the acts—perfecting them, mastering them, mastering what I was going to say, how I was going to present them—I jumped up on stage and with great review. I mean, people loved it. And at that point, I said ok, this is it.

I do all of what are called the working acts of the circus. I swallow swords, eat fire, do the human blockhead, walk on glass, lay on a bed of nails. I can talk the inside of the show and the outside of the show. I do a lot of what are called strongman acts.

NAILED: What about you, Cardone?

CARDONE: Out of traditional sideshow working acts, there’s only a couple that I do. But I do stuff in the realm of magic that very few people get to see. Escapes that are very rare.

NAILED: I notice that in the sideshow, a lot of times they explain the trick.

CARDONE: A lot of sideshows don’t like magic because it almost diminishes what the sideshow is, which is reality. To incorporate magic is a little tricky because it’s not always real. It’s fake.

The show that we do now kind of blurs the lines. My favorite things are escapes. Escapes are real. Unfortunately over the last twenty-five years with a lot of magicians doing escapes, they’re parodies of escapes.

NAILED: How real are the acts in the sideshow?

REALMAN: Every single act is extremely dangerous. The fact that we’re well-rehearsed and we know what we’re doing eliminates some of the danger. Everything has to be done with the correct frame of mind because there’s just no room for error. Whether it’s something as walking on glass where you can just completely lacerate your foot to hammering a nail into your head, nothing is without danger.

NAILED: I was wondering what the effect was on the body.

REALMAN: A lot of sword swallowers have been injured doing their sword-swallowing. What you’ll find now is that a lot of sword-swallowers are just trying to show up the next sword-swallower. So ok—you swallowed a sword and bent over backwards, I’m now going to try to do a backflip. I’m going to swallow thirty swords.

NAILED: There’s a one-upmanship.

CARDONE: It’s like that with magic too. These are people who perform for other magicians. It’s not for these people. Look at these kids over there. These people have never seen any of this before.

For me the biggest buzz I get as a performer is tapping into the brain of an adult and making them have the feeling they had when they were a kid. And for the kids, it’s giving them something that when they are an adult is this legendary moment they had when they were younger. It’s that, right there. When I have a bunch of Wall Street businessmen clapping because I made a bunch of sponge bunnies appear.

That’s the buzz. We lose it as adults. Me and him haven’t lost it. But most people lose that energy of wonder and amazement at the natural world.

REALMAN: With me, the strongman feats are the ones that resonate the most universally whether it’s with kids or adults. I mean, it literally is a real-life superhero. You’re doing things that no one, I mean hardly anyone, can do. Everyone has touched a nail. You know how thick a six-penny nail is. I go to bend a steel bar, everyone is just: wow, I can’t believe you did that.

CARDONE: The question is, why does this stuff still work? Like magicians, we use the same techniques we did five thousand years ago because we understand human psychology. It’s how our brains work. If I lift a cup up, you’re going to look underneath it. That’s the way it is. When you eat fire, you know cavemen were afraid of fire.

NAILED: It’s watching people do real things that most people are afraid of.

REALMAN: That’s exactly it.

CARDONE: And that why we’re doing this. There’re not many things like that around today.

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Adam Realman is a consummate sideshow performer specializing in strongman feats, sword swallowing, and fire breathing and eating. Realman’s act has toured from some of New York’s hottest venues to Oklahoma, Georgia and North Carolina. He is a graduate of the Coney Island Sideshow School where he now teaches.

Cardone’s magic been featured on Fox 5 News, Good Day New York, Wonderground Las Vegas, Monday Night Magic, the Learning Channel, CW’s Stylista and as the opening act for the Miss Hong Kong Pop Show. He holds a BFA in Theatre Arts from Carnegie Mellon University and has received grants from the Henson Foundation/St. Ann’s Theatre for Puppetry and Magic.

[Header Photo Credit: Norman Blake]

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poet nora brooks nailed magazineNora Brooks is a poet and nonfiction writer whose work has been published in Poets & Writers, PopMatters, Monkeybicyle, Redactions, Alimentum, and The Best American Poetry blog, among others. She is an MFA student at The New School and research assistant to David Lehman. She lives in New York with a lot of taxidermy.

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The Call by Niama Sandy https://nailedmagazine.com/editors-choice/the-call-by-niama-sandy/ Fri, 04 Apr 2014 09:00:31 +0000 http://www.nailedmagazine.com/?post_type=ec&p=9499 I had just completed almost a full day’s journey from West Africa on the day I received the call. In my attempt to stave off a protracted battle with jet lag I decided to try my best to stay awake upon my arrival back in the country – effectively making me a zombie hovering over […]

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I had just completed almost a full day’s journey from West Africa on the day I received the call. In my attempt to stave off a protracted battle with jet lag I decided to try my best to stay awake upon my arrival back in the country – effectively making me a zombie hovering over the precipice of a travel-induced coma. Her call knocked me away from rest. She called to say that she had spoken to “him” about what happened between us. On Christmas Day in 2011 I went out with a man about town in Washington, D.C. Long story short, the next morning I woke up in his bed with no clothes on. When I went to sleep I am certain that I was not naked. I have always stopped short of calling it rape because I have no memory before waking up undressed. Over two years later, she said that she sees him all the time and since I shared what I recollect of the story it has bothered her. It bothered her.

She said that when she broached the topic with him, he said he had no idea I felt that way. Never mind that every time I laid eyes on him after that, the look of disgust on my face and the fact that I invariably pretended he was invisible or made a beeline as far away as possible, should have signaled otherwise.

She said that he told her we didn’t have sex. Interesting as when I asked him the morning after the incident he told me I tasted “good” and didn’t give up anything else save that “it should be a lesson to me.”

She told me that he said that I was conscious and aware when he took my clothes off that night. That, is something I have no memory of.

He told her that he didn’t realize I was so young (I was freshly 26 at the time); as though that mattered somehow. She insisted that me being older did make a difference. Perhaps it had something to do with the assumption that automatic access to a woman’s body is understood upon passing the threshold of a man’s house with age. As though the older an unmarried woman gets the closer to the bottom of the barrel she must scrape. Perhaps there was a learned, omniscient figure whose instructions I missed: You must snatch the crumbs a man throws you. At his house past 11 p.m.? NEWSFLASH: you’re gonna have to fuck him because you’re not getting any younger, and frankly your ass is starting to sag. There will be an expiration date stamped on your face once the crows feet start to demarcate your ascent into spinsterhood. That said, you better get up on that peen,­ girl!

For weeks after this incident I have struggled with getting a grasp on my thoughts and feelings. That day, I didn’t feel like the floor had opened up beneath me, leaving me wading in a sea of sadness. But here and now, I am just shy of seething with rage. Why? I’m wide awake now and I am clear that this act was nothing short of a betrayal to me, and perhaps an affront to women everywhere who have been in similar situations. That she brought up something I said to her in confidence is problematic; but what’s more is I’m unsure of when it became normal to, years after the fact of knowing about a violation occurring, have a casual chat about a sexual assault with the person who perpetrated it? It wasn’t even that the conversation was had without my consent or any real regard for my wellbeing; it is the rape-apologist stance that this woman has chosen to take – perhaps without even realizing it. She said she wanted to let him know how I felt. Even though she was neither in a position to do so, nor has this man shown at any point in the recent past that he gives two shits about how I feel. Even so, I do not want him to be privy to anything more than he already took without my consent – not her bastardized version of my words, not my thoughts, nothing. She did not have the right to speak for me; and maybe, from now on, to me. To her credit, she has done one friendly thing for me here, however inadvertently. She has armed me. I have hesitated in the past to call him my assailant; today I hesitate no more.

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niama sandy essay the call nailed magazineNiama Sandy is a Brooklyn-born creative of Caribbean heritage. She is a force to be reckoned with in any arena she sets foot. A graduate of Howard University’s illustrious School of Communications and current MA candidate in the Anthropology department at the renowned School of Oriental & African Studies (SOAS) in London, Sandy is a lifelong creator, lover, and patron of the art of life. Her interests cover a broad range of topics including music, art, the African Diaspora, the constructed nature of history, human rights, race, gender, economies (and the nation-state), and their social and political implications on everyday life.

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Interview Part 2: Novelist Tom Spanbauer https://nailedmagazine.com/interview/interview-part-2-novelist-tom-spanbauer/ Mon, 31 Mar 2014 19:03:36 +0000 http://www.nailedmagazine.com/?post_type=interview&p=9410 Part Two: On Writing, Teaching, and Legacy: An Interview With Novelist Tom Spanbauer This interview was conducted in person by contributing editor Colin Farstand, for NAILED. Part One lives here. + + + NAILED: How did you get into writing, Tom? SPANBAUER: Well, I got a Bachelor’s in English at Idaho State University because I […]

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Part Two: On Writing, Teaching, and Legacy: An Interview With Novelist Tom Spanbauer

This interview was conducted in person by contributing editor Colin Farstand, for NAILED. Part One lives here.

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NAILED: How did you get into writing, Tom?

SPANBAUER: Well, I got a Bachelor’s in English at Idaho State University because I always wanted to write. I was always writing short stories and poems. They were all pretty bad, but my professors were nice to me. When I went to the Peace Corps, I spent a lot of time writing love letters to my girlfriend back home. I loved the idea that I could capture something very fleeting in a moment. When you can stop time and just watch the verticality of this thing open up and up. I loved that about poetry.

I came back [from the Peace Corps] and got married. Thought I’d teach high school. I couldn’t teach high school. I got dumb jobs and became a waiter. Finally, I left my wife and spent a lot of time drinking and drugging, you know, being a waiter. Living that glamorous life of a waiter. Key West and all that. Then finally I got to New York City and Columbia.

NAILED: How did you get involved in Columbia’s MFA creative writing program?

SPANBAUER: It was another serendipitous moment where literally I was living on Spring street. I got the Sunday Times and there was a section in there about education and courses available that Fall. I know this sounds really corny, but the wind blew open the paper and there was Columbia writing, come get your MFA. I said to my boyfriend at the time, “Oh look, I should go up to Columbia and go get my MFA,” and he said, “You ought to.” There would never have been a way I would have done that but he said, “No, call them up, call them up right now.”

So I left a message, and this woman named Janet called me back the next day and she said, “Classes are filled, and really the deadline is over but why don’t you send me over some of your stuff just in case.” So I got on the subway the next day, that was when it was still a scary thing to do, be on the subway, and I dropped off some of my stories I had about Africa. She liked them a lot and she called me up and said, “We want you in the program, you start tomorrow,” but I had no money. She said, “We’ll get you some loans.” Then I had to stop and think if I really wanted to spend twenty five thousand dollars on loans.

NAILED: What do you think about the program looking back on it?

SPANBAUER: The longer I’m away from Columbia the more I realize what an important thing that was for me. Because I was thirty seven years old at the time and it really made me focus on my work. It put me back into an academic situation. I couldn’t go out and stay out all night, go to after hours clubs. I had to start reading and doing my homework and writing.

Then I met some really incredibly smart people that took me under their wing. Stephen Koch, Steven Spender and then of course [Gordon] Lish later on. It was exactly what I needed at the time. I was no longer a waiter who wrote poetry. I was now a writer who worked at a restaurant. I don’t think necessarily that creative writing programs are for everybody. There was a lot that I would criticize about the program, but for me, at that point in time, it was a really important step. I’m really glad I did it.

NAILED: There’s definitely been a change in the landscape over the years in publishing and the years that you’ve been a novelist in the field. How does that relate to you and in your writing and your new book?

SPANBAUER: Every book of mine, when it was accepted for publication, each time it has been some kind of miracle. Faraway Places, Lish promised to publish, then backed out. A student of Lish’s, Stacey Creamer, worked at Putnam’s and gave me a sympathy read. She went on to publish it. I got the news on my fortieth birthday. The Man Who Fell In Love With The Moon, when I asked Putnam’s for an advance to write it, they decided against that and dropped me as one of their authors. I was without a publishing house for nearly three years. In The City Of Shy Hunters was its own miracle, just the fact that I lived through writing it. And Now Is the Hour, Morgan Entrekin at Atlantic Monthly Press, at lunch one day asked me about my next book and I made up some shit about a guy I used to bale hay with and right there he told me he’d publish it. That meant I had to write it. Then when it was finished I had the balls to ask for too much money and he quit talking to me (and my agent). Thank God Anton Mueller likes novels written in the west. He was at Houghton-Mifflin and he called up one day and said he wanted to read it.

I guess my point is, with every novel, every time, the possibilities of getting published were almost nil. But each time, some damn thing happened. And the reason my books have always been a hard sell has not been because the editorial staff didn’t like them. It’s always been that the business people didn’t know how to market them.

Every time, with each book, as the years passed, the business people got stronger and stronger.

Well now they’re running the show.

On Teaching and Legacy

NAILED: Your first novel Faraway Places was published in 1989 and you moved to Portland in 1990, when did you start teaching Dangerous Writing?

SPANBAUER: It really took me a really long time to set it up. They had a thing called Literruption at the time, and so I got a gig reading at Literruption. They had me there at ten o’clock in the morning, downtown Portland on a band stage with traffic going by everywhere and a microphone. You could barely hear me. My boyfriend was in the audience and that was it.

So I did some circulars for Dangerous Writing: New York author, published author wants to start a class. Two people showed up. One person paid for it and the other I paid him to come.         

NAILED: What is Dangerous Writing to you?

SPANBAUER: My job as a teacher is to tell students, look at your own heart. Look at your own father, look at your own mother. Where are you so hurt that you can’t go there? What infuriates you?

Take my own life. There’s still a way now that if something gets underfoot from me I’ll kick the fucker across the room. I just can’t stand that. I guess it’s because as a child I was really clumsy and I was criticized. Now I’m wondering, I’ve just kicked my new something or other across the room and broke it, why did I do that? Because I am my father criticizing myself. Now is there a way that I can stop doing that. Bring awareness to it?

This is all to say that Dangerous Writing is just a way of becoming aware. I don’t know what good the awareness is really. I don’t think that because I’m aware I’m going to go to heaven now. There’s really no reward except for the awareness itself.

NAILED: There’s the infamous writing group going on here in Portland featuring your former students Monica Drake, Suzy Vitello and Chuck Palahniuk, among other amazing writers such as Chelsea Cain, Lidia Yuknavitch and Cheryl Strayed, what does it feel like having been a teacher to Chuck, Suzy and Monica, seeing your teaching go on in a way?

SPANBAUER: Monica Drake, Chuck Palahniuk, Suzy Vitello, Kass Alonzo, Joanna Rose and Stevan Allred. And many others. Their success is my success and I’m blessed for it. How this codifies Dangerous Writing into a literary art is difficult for me to judge. I mean I’m just so close to it. On normal days, I think Dangerous Writing is just Lish with Heart. On bad days, Dangerous Writing is just another class I have to sit five hours long for. On good days, though, it’s the fulfillment of a dream that Peter Christopher and I had, and we’re fucking flying man. We’re better than Paris.

NAILED: How do you feel about your legacy as an author in the literary world?

SPANBAUER: Boy, I don’t have a clue. I’d like to be a fly on the wall somewhere because I really don’t know. I asked my agent once, “What do people think of me out there?” And he hedged. He wouldn’t say. I don’t know though. I’ve always had a very poor opinion of myself, so what I think of myself and how other people think of me, there’s a big disparity. But then I’ll get emails from Chile and Spain from readers. There’s a guy in France who loved Now is the Hour so much (France wouldn’t buy it) that he translated it himself. Now he’s taking it around to all the different publishers in France trying to sell it.

But then I look at Shy Hunters. I think that in a way, my editor Anton Mueller, tries to forget that book ever existed because maybe in a way it ruined my rep on the block. It took ten years to finish In the City of Shy Hunters and the marketing world hasn’t ever forgiven me for that.  I think of all my books, that is the book that will take the longest for people to read seriously. But it took ten years to finish Shy Hunters and the marketing world hasn’t ever forgiven me for that.

NAILED: What was your experience like bringing a book out after that ten year gap? What changed while you were gone?

SPANBAUER: Just about everything in the world changed. All those years writing about New York, all the while the world I was writing about was disappearing. So much went into the change. The AIDS cocktail changed things. Plus, the gay neighborhood of Greenwich Village just up and moved to Chelsea. I think there was just too much heartache on those streets and people had to get away.

Giuilani was making New York a safe place for New Yorkers and turning Times Square into Disneyland. Wall Street was going wild making obscene profits. So much money and no room for disparity pushed so many artists out of the city and into Brooklyn. Then Brooklyn became a Manhattan. Brooklyn became a suburb with housewives and baby carriages. Artists were pushed farther and farther away. Queens, Hoboken.

And with the new money and all those artists who’d died from AIDS, things got real conservative.

Sage [Spanbauer’s Partner] told me a great story of an interview he read. The person interviewed was a Broadway actress and the interviewer asked her why the arts had become so vapid. She said something about the first rows in a theater. The first rows were always filled with people who loved the arts and who were artists themselves. She said after AIDS, there was no first rows anymore. After AIDS, the fifth and sixth row were the first row now because the first five rows had all died.

NAILED: And what about your most critically acclaimed novel, The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon? Do you think the success of that was because it’s your most traditional novel?

SPANBAUER: It was mythic. It was magical realism and it took on Mormonism in a way that liberals really found appealing. They could get through the butt-fucking because someone was saying something true about Mormonism. There’s a way that it’s in the past and it’s a sprawling epic novel and it’s got ridiculous things like pink whore houses and all that. It touches the collective unconscious in a way. Shy Hunters does too, but it’s still too early to talk about it.

But then when I went on my book tour for Now is the Hour this group of New Yorkers threw this party for me out on the pier, and four hundred people showed up on a pier in New York City and most of them had Shy Hunters with them, asking, will you please sign this. There are gay men or people in New York City who are making Shy Hunters into a cult novel. The same way they made Man Who Fell in Love With the Moon a cult novel.

NAILED: Is your legacy as an author just this guy who wrote these cult novels dealing with homosexuality or do you ever think you’ll be more widely read?

SPANBAUER: I don’t know. There was a young man who came and interviewed me two years ago and he said, “Tom, just tell me why aren’t more people reading you and why are you always classified as Gay and Lesbian Literature.” And really it’s just our fragmented society. The marketing world has to put it somewhere. So the first place they put it is gay, and then it’s gay. Then there’s all these other people that won’t read it because it’s gay. I just hope with time that will all pass, but it probably won’t be when I’m alive.

But I’ve been in hiding in a lot of ways because I was too sick to have too much attention. When I was on Social Security I had to watch out. I couldn’t make so much money. Now though, I’m not on Social Security anymore and I can step up and make as much money as I want to. It’s a new ball game now. When you’re so sick that you don’t really know if you’re going to be able to teach a class tonight you have to protect yourself. Now though, I’m more in the world than I’ve ever been.

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Part 1 of the Interview can be read here.

Read some of Tom Spanbauer’s writing in an essay entitled, “Being Queer in Idaho,” here; or read through the controversial teacher-student correspondence between Tom Spanbauer and Gordon Lish, here.

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author tom spanbauerTom Spanbauer grew up on a farm twelve miles outside Pocatello, Idaho. He attended St. Joseph’s Catholic School and Highland High School. In 1969, he received his BA in English Literature from Idaho State University. Tom served two years in the Peace Corps in Kenya, East Africa. He returned to Idaho until 1978, when he decided he needed to get out of that state. He moved to New Hampshire, then Vermont, then Key West, Florida. In 1988, Tom studied at Columbia University while waiting tables at Café Un Deux Trois and Odeon, and being a super of five buildings on East Fifth Street. In 1988, he received his MFA from Columbia in Fiction. In 1991, Tom settled in Portland, Oregon where he teaches Dangerous Writing in the basement of his house. Forty (more or less forty—-he’s lost count) of his students have published novels and/or memoirs. His novels include Faraway Places, The Man Who Fell in Love With the Moon, In The City of Shy Hunters, and Now Is the Hour.

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Interview: Novelist and Teacher Tom Spanbauer https://nailedmagazine.com/interview/interview-novelist-and-teacher-tom-spanbauer/ Thu, 20 Mar 2014 09:00:38 +0000 http://www.nailedmagazine.com/?post_type=interview&p=9407 Part One: I Loved Your More, An Interview With Novelist Tom Spanbauer This interview was conducted in person by contributing editor Colin Farstand, for NAILED. + + + At sixty-seven years old and living with AIDS, novelist Tom Spanbauer still teaches a weekly writer’s workshop called Dangerous Writing in the basement of his home in […]

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Part One: I Loved Your More, An Interview With Novelist Tom Spanbauer

This interview was conducted in person by contributing editor Colin Farstand, for NAILED.

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At sixty-seven years old and living with AIDS, novelist Tom Spanbauer still teaches a weekly writer’s workshop called Dangerous Writing in the basement of his home in Portland, Oregon. On April 1st, 2014 Tom Spanbauer’s latest novel I Loved You More will be published by Hawthorne Books.

When I first sat down with Spanbauer, he had recently finished I Loved You More. The novel’s focus is Ben, an Idaho-raised writer living in New York City, and his friend Hank, a fellow Columbia student. Although Ben is gay and Hank is straight, they’re in love all the same. That is, until a woman comes between them. I Loved You More takes the reader through 23 years, four cities, and a tale of love, loss, illness, and friendship.

In the dining room of his home in southeast Portland, Spanbauer was dressed in a Columbia University zip-up sweater and wearing his classic black square-framed glasses. The dining room table was littered with students’ pages from his weekly workshop class, his small marks in the margin, and the signature heart on the back, but in the middle of the table was a stack of paper: the manuscript for I Loved You More, higher than all the rest.

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NAILED MAGAZINE: Tell me about your new book, I Loved You More.

TOM SPANBAUER: The thing that makes it really different from the other books is the narrator is not telling the story right after it’s over with. The last part of the story is being told in 2008 and the first part is 1985, so 23 years, and really there’s all that kind of comments that [the narrator Ben] can make about the 23 years. He can talk about time. He can talk about what he doesn’t remember. What he remembers now and how he doesn’t know if that’s really the case.

But more than anything I can be in-scene with two characters talking, and I can stop and say look at us with our eighties hair. We didn’t know this, we didn’t know that, we didn’t know all this stuff. So it’s a whole other dimension.

NAILED: That makes it pretty different from your other books that are more coming of age stories.

SPANBAUER: That very particular element, that fact that it’s told with all those years in-between, does make it sound very different. I really like that it gives me more. It doesn’t keep me so bound up in a voice. I can stop and go somewhere else and start commenting on shit. I like the way I feel released and opened up in a way. It’s not so confined. It’s scary because it’s new.

I started writing [I Loved You More] in June of 2008. Three and a half years to write this size of a book is really great. There’s a beginning, middle and end. More than ever it’s a marketable piece.

And you know, I have AIDS and had a stroke and I’m old. I’m sure they’re thinking the old fucker is going to die. So there it is. A finished product. It’s a powerful, I think a really powerful, new voice.

NAILED: The last time you wrote about AIDS was in In the City of Shy Hunters and you’ve broached that topic again in I Loved You More. You’ve said before that writing In the City of Shy Hunters almost killed you. How was writing about AIDS again?

SPANBAUER: I’ve come to a much more transformative sort of attitude towards it. I’ve never really thought I’d say thank god I got AIDS or that it was a blessing I got AIDS. I actually end up saying it in this book. It was. It’s helped me have a new awareness about all this shit that I went through. It’s really profound. For the longest time I felt selected out and put upon and why me. Now I just understand that I’m just a part of human suffering. It’s made me more of a human being than somebody who was just being punished for some reason or another. As you grow older you see how people suffer. Just the natural aging process. All my friends are going through it. It’s hard growing old. All of it’s suffering, and I just feel blessed because I’m a part of this humanity thing.

NAILED: We’ve talked before about how you only can truly feel a book is done and in the past once you have the physical thing in your hand. How does it feel to be so close to being able to put this book to rest in your mind?

SPANBAUER: Putting this book to rest in my mind. What a lovely idea that is. With I Loved You More I’ve had to remind myself that each book is its own particular child and each child will have its own particular birth. I haven’t held the book in my hands yet. Maybe that will be when rest will come. But probably like always, the book won’t really be in the world until the world starts talking about it. When other people have taken my story and made it something personal, when they start telling other people about it, start reviewing it and writing about it, that’s when the book will stop being something that is only within me and become something out there in the world.

NAILED: Can you tell me about the process you went through in publishing I Loved You More through Hawthorne Books?

SPANBAUER: I first sent I Loved You More to Houghton-Mifflin because they had the right of first refusal. My editor, Anton Muller, had been fired from Houghton-Mifflin, and so the book went to Laura Wein.  She had some great things to say about it but passed. When I spoke to my agent, Neil Olson, he said, “Nothing surprises me these days.” We then sent it around to a bunch of New York publishing houses. Michael Signorelli at Random House praised it highly but just didn’t know how to place it. Three or four more publishing houses passed. Anton was at Bloomsbury and he ended up passing on it too. He doesn’t like stories that have writers in them.

It felt rotten, the way New York publishing houses were treating me. Christ I’ve published four novels, won prizes, had good sales. But for some reason my history in publishing suddenly didn’t amount to anything. It was as if I was out to pasture and only old homosexuals were going to read the book.

I decided quite early on that I wanted to be in a house where the publishers respected me and appreciated my body of work. My agent and I talked about it, and we decided Rhonda Hughes at Hawthorne Books was exactly the right place for this book to be. I liked the idea of publishing in my hometown and Rhonda has a great track record for selling books. So far it has been a match made in heaven. It feels like I’m a part of a family rather than some old guy in a long line in an overcrowded waiting room trying to get corporate attention.

NAILED: Creating a book is such a long-term project, it’s draining at times, with a chronic illness like AIDS you have to come into it with a certain mindset and preparations. What did that involve for you with I Loved You More?

SPANBAUER: I didn’t prepare myself. That big dumb German part of me who thinks I’m superman was oblivious. Even after how fucked up I got writing Shy Hunters. But after all, I had written a whole book, Now Is The Hour, and I had no trouble. So it was quite a surprise during I Loved You More, when I started writing about my depression and sleeplessness of ten years before and I started not sleeping again. Really all of it, the sleeplessness, the fear of not being able to fall asleep. Afraid of my actual bed. It all came back. My doctor wasn’t going to give me any more Klonopin and I was up Shit Creek. Thank God for acupuncture and Qi Gong.

I think really your larger question though is how do you prepare for a long journey into darkness. Believe me, I won’t make the mistake again. What happens is the world you are creating becomes more real than the one you’re living and your poor body gets confused. I just watched Black Swan and totally related.

My suggestions for anybody going on a journey like this is to always be mindful of your body. Don’t lose attention to it. Your body needs friends and good dinners and good sex and time away from the writing—a respite—whatever that means to you. Wilderness hiking, shopping for shoes, wandering through Hippo Hardware, or walking over Portland’s bridges. Anything that feeds you. There’s an acupuncture spot in the center of both your palms. Those spots are called The Palace Of Weariness. And it’s where the Prince went to get away from it all. For each person I guess that palace is different.

NAILED: Can you talk more about the sleeplessness while you were writing I Loved You More?

SPANBAUER: I’m not exactly sure what happened. There were a couple real world things that could have caused the sleeplessness. But it’s weird, as soon as I started writing Book Two(the second book in I Loved You More), the book that starts with Ben being diagnosed HIV+, all my sleep issues began. It was in those very days at the beginning of June that I just stopped sleeping. Poor sleep at first and then no sleep at all. Deep into Book Two I started writing about the year I suffered most with the depression, then the eleven days I didn’t sleep at all.

That sent me running to an acupuncturist and the sessions with the acupuncturist and the ensuing Qi Gong exercises are making me into a new person. Now that I think of it, I never would have come up with the ending of the novel as it is now, without that journey of sleeplessness then the ensuing recovery.

This book made me a part of something that I felt apart of for a long time. At one point the police came to my back yard and they hand cuffed me because I was yelling in here. I was so pissed off that I was so sick and I was so depressed and I was so tired and I was so weak. I just hated it. I hated it. I guess if I was still feeling that way now I don’t know what I’d be doing but I’m feeling better. I can just have a larger view of it now and it’s all because I wrote this book.

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Part 2 of the Interview can be read here.

Read some of Tom Spanbauer’s writing in an essay entitled, “Being Queer in Idaho,” here; or read through the controversial teacher-student correspondence between Tom Spanbauer and Gordon Lish, here.

 + + +

author tom spanbauerTom Spanbauer grew up on a farm twelve miles outside Pocatello, Idaho. He attended St. Joseph’s Catholic School and Highland High School. In 1969, he received his BA in English Literature from Idaho State University. Tom served two years in the Peace Corps in Kenya, East Africa. He returned to Idaho until 1978, when he decided he needed to get out of that state. He moved to New Hampshire, then Vermont, then Key West, Florida. In 1988, Tom studied at Columbia University while waiting tables at Café Un Deux Trois and Odeon, and being a super of five buildings on East Fifth Street. In 1988, he received his MFA from Columbia in Fiction. In 1991, Tom settled in Portland, Oregon where he teaches Dangerous Writing in the basement of his house. Forty (more or less forty—-he’s lost count) of his students have published novels and/or memoirs. His novels include Faraway Places, The Man Who Fell in Love With the Moon, In The City of Shy Hunters, and Now Is the Hour.

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This Place I Come From by Joseph Riippi https://nailedmagazine.com/fiction/this-place-i-come-from-by-joseph-riippi/ Mon, 17 Mar 2014 09:00:29 +0000 http://www.nailedmagazine.com/?post_type=fiction&p=9370 This piece is an excerpt from the novel Because.   I want to tell you about the place I was born, the city Seattle, the Pacific Northwest, and how because I was born there and grew up there and left there, the music and movies and art from there belong to me more than to you. […]

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This piece is an excerpt from the novel Because.

 

I want to tell you about the place I was born, the city Seattle, the Pacific Northwest, and how because I was born there and grew up there and left there, the music and movies and art from there belong to me more than to you.

I want to tell you about the famous things I remember that you already recognize, the flannel and rain and romantic comedies. I want to tell you the names of the yellow-slickered men throwing salmon for photographers, the histories of the neon signs and the tragedies of failed coffee shops no one outside Capitol Hill remembers. I want to tell you about the puddles in the cobblestones and how they reflect the white sky and plaid and no umbrellas, ever.

I want you to remember your favorites of all those songs written by the wet-hooded musicians who splash and laugh beneath my white sky. I want to have helped load-in amplifiers and drum kits in exchange for beer and tickets to the concerts I was too young to see.

I want mosh pits and tinnitus. I want crowd surfing and a boot to the face.

I want you to hear this, and hear me, and know exactly what I’m talking about. I want you to know without me having to tell you what song I’m thinking about right now.

I want to play guitar on the roof of the Pike Place Market. I want to play guitar while sitting in an evergreen. I want to fly high up through white clouds like swimming in the Sound. I want to float back down like a cedar seed dropped upon the Sound’s surface and then, water-logged, slowly sink to the bottom with all the other needles and leaves in the mud. I want to rest and breathe and find out if there, at the darkest part of the Sound, deeper than any family grave, is where I belong. I want to wave at the octopi. I want to wave at the orcas. I want to sing out and watch the bubbles rise like leaves falling up.

I want to show you my school-portrait fashions and how-to-play-guitar songbooks, the commemorative mugs clogging the cupboards. I want you to learn to play the famous power chord riffs with me. I want you to head bang. I want you to feel the rush of blood.

I want to watch a movie with you and point out the restaurant in the background where I had my twelfth birthday party. I want to take you to the first famous coffee shop. I want to drink coffee with you and tell you about my grandfather and how he came to this country on a boat before the war. I want to show you the postcard he sent from New York City when he first arrived, the one that’s a painting of a blooming magnolia with a brownstone beside it and the Statue of Liberty in its backyard. I want to tell you how that’s across the street from where I live now.

I want to stand with you atop the Space Needle, as my grandfather did with me on my fifth birthday, the first one I can remember. I want him to put his arms around us. I want him to point out for us the biggest mountain. I want him to tell us his early stories, about when he was a ski trooper from Finland and new husband to my grandmother.

I want to have known my grandmother then, when she smiled and put a hand to her heart and hung a flag with a blue army star in the kitchen window. I want to have coffee with her and listen to her and hear her tell me about her new soldier husband. I want to hear the versions she might tell of all my grandfather’s made-up stories. I want to tell her the versions I remember and check them against her memory for facts.

I want to make my grandmother laugh when I tell of how her husband told us grandkids he worked for Santa when he was in the army, how most men spent the war fighting, but he was charged with finding the Clauses a summer home to vacation in, a getaway that was snowy like the North Pole, but warm enough still to be a break from it.

I want to drive my children through the Puyallup Valley when they’re very young, and I want to point up to the mountain and tell the kids how their Great-Grandfather Riippi built a summer cabin there for Santa, in the white patch between the green and the blue, with a great magnolia tree in the yard that was always pink and purple in blossom, so the Clauses and elves could always find their way home through the snow. I want to tell them that someday we’ll climb the mountain together and find it.

I want to describe for you what really happened on the mountain, how that’s where the Tenth Mountain Division trained in the early years of the war. I want to show you their teams of pack-mules like reindeer, their armory of small and large guns like a toyshop. I want to show you their tents, perched just above the tree line, where the rocks were white as the snow, and the snow was hard as rocks, and there was no pink or purple beauty in sight.

I want to read to you the Bible verses and curse words the men scratched into their skis like football players. I want to watch the games of hot potato they played with live grenades along the glacier cliffs. I want to know what it was like to sit around a fire and wonder if I’d ever have to kill or what it feels like to be blown up. I want to know what it was like to be my grandfather’s friend.

I want to stand atop the mountain with him. I want to look back at you watching from the Needle on the Sound. I want to stare into outer space through a pink-purple morning sky.

I want to sing out ho-ho-ho to my wife and children looking up from the valley. I want to holler and smile and wave at them to join my grandfather and me on the mountain.

I want to be better at explaining my complicated feelings about home, or what was home, this place I come from.

I want to know why I keep wanting to cry while I write this.

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fiction by joseph riippiJoseph Riippi was born in Seattle and lives in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. His latest novel is Because, released this year from Civil Coping Mechanisms. In October, CCM will also release Riippi’s next book, Research (A novel for performance), and a chapbook (with illustrations by Edward Mullany) called Puyallup, Washington (an interrogation) is forthcoming later this year from Publishing Genius. His other books include A Cloth HouseThe Orange Suitcase, and Do Something! Do Something! Do Something! Visit his website here.

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A Different Kind of Church https://nailedmagazine.com/editors-choice/a-different-kind-of-church/ Tue, 04 Mar 2014 10:00:29 +0000 http://www.nailedmagazine.com/?post_type=ec&p=9256 We were late to the shoot. My friend and I had started drinking in the afternoon and continued into the night after we met her boyfriend. What started out as a “maybe,” turned into a “definitely” and our plans were set. We were going to a Public Humiliation shoot for Kink. Kink being the porn […]

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We were late to the shoot. My friend and I had started drinking in the afternoon and continued into the night after we met her boyfriend. What started out as a “maybe,” turned into a “definitely” and our plans were set. We were going to a Public Humiliation shoot for Kink. Kink being the porn company located in the San Francisco armory. A Public Humiliation shoot being a porn shoot with audience participation.

My friend Sylvia works as a stylist for Kink, doing everything from picking out the right kind of latex and leather for their photo shoots to making sure that enemas are done beforehand. Enemas are important in porn. I was the civilian and she wanted to show me her world. She knew I was a writer. When it comes to things like this, I always say yes.

The shoot wasn’t held at the armory but in the Mission District of San Francisco, at a place that, from the outside looked like it staged underground rock shows or the kind of places I’ve found in New York that hold speakeasy-themed bars with crystal chandeliers inside, but on the outside look like any other dive bar or strip club.

There was a man out front and a man inside. The first making sure we were on the list my friend had put us on early that day over beers at her local dive bar. On the inside, instead of a man waiting to stamp our wrists and take our cover, was a table with the appropriate forms to complete and a digital camera. There are rules in porn. Get tested for STIs and get tested again. Fill out paper work that indicates consent.

The problem with the paper work wasn’t the language or my hesitancy to put my name on a piece of paper and associate myself with the porn industry. It was the sound and smell of sex coming from the darkened room down the hall. The sound that echoed off the bright concrete walls lit by fluorescent bulbs and the smell of latex, lube, and cum. Not to mention the voices. It wasn’t a woman’s screams of pornographic pleasure but male voices, yelling, urging. It was the sound of audience participation.

A Pentecostal church has nothing on a public humiliation shoot for Kink.

I wrote my name, drivers license number, checked boxes and was given a space to put my stage name while men yelled to fuck her harder and put it in her mouth. There was no doubt what the “it” was over the sounds of hands slapping flesh.

The paper I filled out gave Kink the right to use my face should it appear in the shoot. Audience participation meant I could be on camera. Audience participation meant my stage name was important. And when faced with this idea to create a new identity for myself, to take on a new name, almost a new identity, I chose not to. I’d like to think it was some kind of stance like, the person that might be in a porn would be no different from the me I am in my everyday existence, but the truth is, all the names I thought of sounded stupid. Somewhere out there, it’s possible, my name is in the credits of a porn. Although I don’t think I’ve ever known anyone who has watched the credits of a porn, or if they even have them.

The whole time we were filling out our paper work and having a picture of us taken holding our driver license next to our face, my friend chatted amicably with the man handling our forms about who was performing and who was in there and who was doing the lights while the sound and smell of sex came out of the room, filling the hallway, lingering, spilling out the cracks of the front door, into the Mission District.

The dichotomy of San Francisco: a porn shoot happening in a venue blocks away from fancy restaurants and expensive housing. The drug trade of the Tenderloin a five minute walk from Twitter’s headquarters. Love it or hate it, we are a part of it.

Finally we were able to walk down the hallway and into the shoot. Dark, damn near pitch black at the edges of the room, but bright as shit in the middle, with stage lights flooding, what could only be called the stage. A naked woman with ropes that framed her large breasts and wrapped down her legs, not tied to anything but themselves, was bent at the waist being fucked by a skinny tall white guy, that would look like any other tall skinny guy if you put clothes on him. They were in the middle of the room and on the edges were couches. There was a staircase that led to a catwalk type balcony, and all around them in a circle stood men. There was only one other woman besides people working for Kink and Sylvia. Dark hair and bangs, the only other woman in the room sat at the edge of a couch, watching with what looked like her boyfriend beside her with a protective hand on her leg. The men were doing the yelling. They stood in groups holding bottles of beer, black men and white men and brown and Asian, wearing jeans and t-shirts and jackets and some wearing sunglasses. The smell, the heat of the room, like a small room where you left the heater on all night combined with the dampness to the air filled with that smell of sex, something earthy and primal.

Primal were the shouts of the men standing right next to the porn star, slapping her tits and ass while the male star fucked away and the cameras moved, from one side of them to the other, for a better angle, a different shot.

Primal was the look on her face when she was positioned to have her mouth fucked while the male porn star climbed part way up the staircase to do it. Primal was the way we all looked on and watched. I didn’t feel revulsion but I didn’t feel turned on either. I was taking it in, the drab couch that was the color of orange that is meant to be in a parent’s basement. The smile of the black man wearing sunglasses, his teeth polished straight and bright white against the lights from the cameras. I stood alongside Sylvia and her boyfriend in the shadow next to the bar, writer eyes trying to see all, know all, but not having a fucking clue on what to think of this whole thing.

We got drinks at the bar that was set up like any other bar including the bartender  who looked exactly as I have looked at times, standing behind a bar when all the customers have a drink and there’s no one sitting at the bar: bored.

Once we had our drinks, we stood in a circle outside of the view of the cameras, talking, me taking it in, my friend saying hello to the people in charge of the shoot who were running back and forth from the green room on different errands, lube, a different camera lens, who knows what. I was introduced, but they never really had time to stay and talk. Even the male star walked by and said hello to Sylvia, his erect dick swinging back and forth with his walk on the way to the green room to come back with a prop, a very large dildo.

We stood and chatted and watched as two people fucked in front of us. We stood and watched as the woman was lead to the couch to be fucked next to the group of men, urging them on, as the only other woman in the audience sat feet away. It was odd and interesting to watch as they spent time not fucking but standing around, being positioned for the cameras, moved so this person or that person could be in the frame, and even as one of the audience members stood next to them, unzipping his pants and masturbated next to them. And really, to be truthful, with a drink in my hand, a great friend next to me, yelling louder than the rest of the men in the room, in all truth, it was fun.

I have to stop here for a moment. It needs to be said that I get the idea of the objectification of this woman who was being fucked on camera surrounded by men, treating her like an object, a piece of meat. I will admit that the audience of men yelling and directing couldn’t help but raise some kind of small disgust from the inherent violence of an audience encouraged to slap the porn star’s ass and tits while she was dragged around to be fucked in different positions, that I couldn’t easily dismiss. In the end though, it gave me a thrill because I was behind the scenes of a porn. Love it or hate it, porn is porn. People will buy it and men and women will pay for it and there are men and women that want to be paid to have sex on camera. That want to be paid to have sex in a room full of strangers yelling. There are many different ways to express your sexuality. There will be no sexual shaming coming from me.

We all signed consent forms.

I never did make it onto camera. Me and Sylvia’s boyfriend–for different reasons–always stood behind them, to the side as they shifted and moved, even though we were always encouraged to participate. Whenever I was encouraged to take place I would say, Can’t. I want to run for congress one day.

It wasn’t a matter of worrying over being in a porn, albeit in the background. It was because I wanted to experience it, take it in, watch the audience participation from the back. Sometimes being a writer is like being a photographer. You’re not in the middle of the action but in the corner, recording the experience.

And in that experience, that’s when I saw a man, tall, wide shoulders, close cropped dark hair, on his own, not yelling like the other men in the room or in the light of the camera, but still being a part of the experience. I learned by chatting to him that he was the female porn star’s boyfriend. He stood and watched and waited while this woman’s body was moved and fucked in every way that we can all have sex. He waited while they got as many people as they could to be in one shot. He waited while not one, but two cum shots were recorded. And he was there at the end, when after it was all finished and everyone was told to leave, the room becoming quiet as the men stopped yelling and went home to wherever they had come from in Oakland or San Francisco. He was there when his girlfriend was carried to a couch, her legs shaking, body sweating and sore, the way a body is sore after over an hour of sex while audience members slap your ass and tits and face, he was there for her, love, fucking love right there in his eyes and hands and body helping her to the couch, handing her a bottle of water.

And it was beautiful.

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