Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Beautiful: A Christmas Short

By Brian Wask

Jeff Holland kicked the snow looking for the newspaper. It usually landed by the lamppost but who knows sometimes. The newspaper-boy was getting older and his arm probably stronger, so maybe some day it would reach the front door and Jeff won’t have to walk through the snow or rain to get it. It used to land at the end of the driveway. That’s before he bothered to read it, but after the kids were born he cared about the schools, the property taxes, the roads and the new zoning laws that ruined his idea for a pool. (Still trying to figure something out cause the kid that can talk wants a pool.)

The boldest headline said, Attack on Christmas, and the smaller print beneath promised the residents of Brookdaleville Township there would be no such thing. A photo showed the Happy Holidays sign at the entrance to Branchville, the next town over. The article quoted a promise from Mayor Howard Skip that though the threat was closer than last year no way would it be an issue for Brookdaleville, “The last bastion of traditional Christmas”. Jeff didn’t care what signs went up where. The last two weeks Rudolph, Frosty and Santa were all over the TV, the storefront windows and colored lights the shape of the same characters hung over Main Street along with Christmas Trees and candle lamps in household windows. There was a small menorah in the tailor’s window but no one seemed to mind. He’d been the town Jew for decades and people liked their town was open to that sort-of thing.

Jeff put the damp paper under his arm, crumpled the plastic wrap into a ball and pushed it into his old robe’s good pocket, the wet soaking through and chilling his hip. The other pocket was torn by a neighbor’s dog years earlier during an argument over where Jeff parked his car. The neighbor thought Jeff parked it too close to his driveway and claimed backing his hotdog truck in and out was difficult.

Inside it was warm and the TV was quiet, the tree a blinking silhouette in the corner. Someone, most likely his oldest, was brushing their teeth in the bathroom and he could hear the boy’s aggressive strokes against his gums. “You’re going to make your mouth bleed,” he called, unconcerned if he was heard but satisfied he made an effort. He smelled the coffee finished and decided to bring Kathy a cup in bed. The stairs made more noise in the winter. The basement opened up beneath them and it was cold down there. In the bedroom, the windows frozen over with moist air, Kathy rolled over and moaned regret. Her hair, honey colored and wild, covered the side of her face. The other side sunk into the pillow.

Jeff put the coffee on the nightstand and sat on the edge of the bed. He pulled her hair away from her face and loved her cheeks and that thin nose. She opened one eye as if to say, you still there and if so why, can’t you see I’m trying to sleep, what time is it anyway. He was familiar with those expressions. “It’s seven,” he told her.

She moaned again and slightly moved so her hair stopped itching her nose.

“You got to get up baby,” he whispered, smoothing her hair back from her face, hoping it would help but quickly remembering she didn’t like it as much as he did. She accused his dirty fingers of giving her face the pimples she worked so hard to hide with makeup. He couldn’t help it. He loved to touch her face.

She turned away from him. Still didn’t want to get up.

“What time you go to sleep?” he asked. Outside through the window a small avalanche of snow fell from the roof. “It’s warming up a little.” He pulled a corner of the blanket around her exposed shoulder. Hated to think she was cold. The heat upstairs sucked but right now the money wasn’t there to fix it. “Maybe you should lay off for a while,” he said. She purred like she didn’t want to hear it. He opened the draw on the nightstand and there was the small mirror and the snipped straw and a little left smeared like salt on the road. “Denise is coming today.”

She pulled the blanket away from her face. “Why?”

He drank her coffee. “Terry called last night. They had a big fight and she left. Got on a bus and said she was coming to stay with me.”

It took effort for Kathy to sit up. Her face left an imprint in the pillow. “Oh my god. She got on a bus?”

“Yeah, last night. She called me from Ohio.”

“Oh God. I hope she’s okay.”

“She’s okay. She called again around five this morning from Pennsylvania, said she was a couple hours away. Gonna pick her up in Riverwood a little bit. She’ll be okay. We’ll have a talk with her. Lay off the shit while she’s here.”

“Okay, I’m done anyway. I feel horrible.”

Jeff was about to say something because she said that before. Instead he said, “I love ya baby.” Maybe that would help.

She leaned into his face but covered her breath with a hand. “I love you too.” She waited the little time in between that means more than the words. “Do you have work?”

“The ground’s solid, covered in snow. No machine can dig up a cold ground. Better off. They got us digging over gas lines. Shit came up last week. Someone lights a cigarette you can kiss my ass goodbye.”

“I’m worried about you.” She put her hand on his clawing into the sheets.

Jeff thought about worrying too but stopped himself.

“You gonna pick her up?” Kathy asked.

“Of course.”

“It’s been a while.”

“I miss her.”

“Me too.” Jeff closed the draw to the nightstand and wished he never opened it.

Kathy smiled apologetically. “I’ll stop.”


She put her hand against his prickly cheek. “Hey.”

He worried. “What?”

“She’ll be okay.”

He nodded. “I’m sorry. This shouldn’t be your problem.”

“I got the whole package when I married you. If a daughter with another woman years before is part of it then so be it. It’s okay. She just needs her dad. Is she gonna stay with us for Christmas.”

“Tonight’s Christmas Eve so I’m guessing she is.”

Jeff drove his pickup to the bus stop in nearby Riverwood. There too was an attack on Christmas. Beside the giant tree in town there was a manger and a sign that read, PLEASE RETURN OUR BABY JESUS. The infant was missing from the straw cradle at the center of the Wise Men’s attention. At the buss stop small Latinos waited in big coats, their arms gone in their pockets. A wind picked up and they turned away, the hard cold against their dark hair.

Jeff waited. His cell phone rang. Just a normal ring, no songs or jingles. He couldn’t stand hearing songs from another man’s pocket. Forget the death of Christmas, he thought, what about the death of humility. MOM CELL on the phone’s screen.

“Hey Mom,” he said.

“Is she with you yet?”

“Not yet, I’m waiting.”

“I’m worried.”

“Well, don’t.”

“What if she got off the wrong stop?”

“Then she’ll call and I’ll go get her wherever she is.”

“What if she doesn’t know where she is?”

“She’s a smart kid.”

“Why did she have to take a bus? Why couldn’t she take a train? If she was so smart she would’ve taken a train.”

“I don’t know.” He knew, but if Mom didn’t what’s the point of explaining. Kids don’t take a train when they run away from home. They take a bus, most likely, but who knows now days.

“Are you waiting in the car?” his mother asked.


“Can you see the bus stop?”

“It’s across the street. I can see it fine. How’s dad?”

“He’s fine. He’s worried too but he doesn’t want me to know cause he knows I’ll worry more.”

“Well, don’t worry. Go back to bed.”

“Oh right, like I can sleep now. I’m up early anyway. The doctor changed my pills now I’m not so tired. How’s Kathy?”

“Good. She’s busy with school.”

“I have a jacket she might want. I don’t wear it anymore.”

“She’s got plenty.”

“Well, I’ll bring it when we come by. If she likes it she can keep it. If not I’ll ask your sister. But it probably won’t fit her.”

“When are you coming?”

“We want to come by tonight and see Denise.”

“I thought you were coming tomorrow.”

“We are but your father misses her. We thought we’d have a quick Christmas Eve dinner out with Lynne and John and then stop by to see you guys for a drink afterwards. Just us though not them. They’re gonna see their grandkids. You want to talk to your father?”

“What’s he doing?”

“I think he’s in the bathroom.”

“Then no. Let me go. I’ll call you when she gets here.”

“When is she supposed to get in?”


“Call me as soon as she does.”

“I will.”

They hung up, didn’t always say goodbye and I love you anymore. It’s not necessary after thirty-nine years. He remembered when Denise stopped saying it. At first he’d remind her but she sounded so discouraged, no longer comfortable using those words, like they carried no weight.

A light went on in the deli across the street from the bus stop. A short latino came out with a shovel and pushed the snow away from the entrance. He waved to some friends waiting at the bus stop. They yelled something in Spanish back and both sides laughed.

The truck was low on gas so Jeff killed the power. The heavy engine bounced to a halt and hissed while the rotary belt continued to spin. He opened the door and dropped his work boots into the snow, stood. He closed the door and zipped up his flannel coat. Should’ve worn a hat. The morning wind made his eyes tear. He jogged across the street, careful not to slip on the road’s packed snow. Before entering the deli– its warmth among the shelves of chips– he watched a bus appear down the road. It stopped at a light. A knot formed in his stomach. It had been awhile. Last time they spoke was a few months back, but she was brief and unfamiliar. He always knew that age would come. He hadn’t seen her in over a year, with money tight on both ends, traveling and taking off from work made it difficult. But now he realized there was no good excuse. They were close once and a little distance between them shouldn’t have brought it to this. Maybe, if he’d stayed involved, been the father figure she needed, they wouldn’t be meeting at a bus stop in the freezing cold on Christmas Eve. Life got busy when the kids came. Life gets busy.

The light changed and the bus’s exhaust clouded up the pale sky. The brakes squealed when it stopped, its breath steamy on the snow beneath. The doors opened and a couple of Latinos leaped out eager to get to their indoor jobs. Her small frame was the last to exit, revealing she was uneager. She was hooded but not clothed for the current weather. A gym bag, patched with skulls and crossbones, hung by her side.

Jeff waited rather than call her name. She spotted him and pulled down her hood, a small smile, more like an apology. Her nose was pierced and so was her lip. Her head was shaved around the side so the curls on top stuck out like a mad clown, part flamingo part raven. She was beautiful, still, never mind all those things on top. Jeff took off his jacket while crossing the street. He wrapped it around her small shoulders, hugged her and together they reached the car. Once in the car Jeff noticed some of her hair was blue, too. “You look different,” he said.

“I know.”

“Cool.” He started the trcuk and messed with the heat dial.

She was surprised. “My mom doesn’t like the way I look.”

“Well, parents don’t like when their kids try so hard.”

“I’m not trying hard. This is just me.”

“Okay,” he said. “I got no problem with that.”

“Are you mad at me?”

“I should be.”

“But you’re not?”

“You’re mom is.”

“She’s always mad at me.”

“You hungry?”


“What do you feel like?”


“It’s a little early. Don’t think pizza’s ready yet. How bout a diner? Eggs, bacon.”

“Okay. I don’t like bacon though.”

“You don’t like bacon? Who doesn’t like bacon?”

“I don’t.”

“Okay, but… your loss.”

“It comes from a pig though.”

“So do hotdogs. You love hotdogs.”

“Not anymore.”

On the way he watched her look out the window, her slender neck a pedestal to her wild head. He handed her his cell phone. “Call your mom.”


“Yeah, you better. She’s worried.”

“Are you going to make me go home?”

“Not today.”

She smiled. He missed that smile. She was beautiful, despite the metal piercing her flesh, the short buzz circling her head and the candy colored springs of hair sticking out of her scalp.

Jeff pulled up the phone by the power chord attached to the cigarette lighter. “Call your mom.” He let it fall on her lap. “Tell her you’re okay.”

“Why does she care?”

“Be quiet. That sounds stupid. Even you know that.”


“Whatever,” Jeff echoed, his voice a mocking squeal. “Call her,” he reverted to a baritone.

Denise pulled off her tight, knitted gloves and watched the growling snowplow clear a path ahead. “She’s gonna be mad.”

“I would think so. Why shouldn’t she be?”


“Well, then I guess you’re right. Cause.” Jeff turned down Garden Place, a corner mailbox on his left.

She dialed, put the phone to her ear. “It’s me. I’m with him now.” She listened, pretended like she had something better to do, playing with the hoop circling her bottom lip, turning it like a ring on a finger. “I know.” Something her mother said stopped her. “I’m sorry. I love you, too. Okay. Bye.” She closed the phone and put it on her lap.

“Everything good?” Jeff asked.

“For now.”

“How long you want to stay?”


“With us.”

“I got to go back to school January third.”

“You don’t want to be with your mom on New Year’s? You’re already not gonna see her for Christmas. That’s a first, no?”

“I don’t care.”

“You should. She’s all by herself.”

“That’s her fault.” Denise blamed her mother for not having a Dad, that she knew at least.

Jeff navigated the truck into a spot in the diner’s parking lot. They high stepped through the snow. Once inside they followed the host to an empty booth by the window. The floor was covered in wet footprints. They ate quietly. Jeff watched Denise mostly. Her movements were angelic. There was a peace in her presence he couldn’t get any where else. For that moment he knew his daughter was okay because she was with him. Most nights he lay awake thinking about her. This Christmas Eve he planned to sleep well for the first time in a long time. They left quickly after finishing their food. He pulled into his driveway not long after. He’d shovel later, probably work up a sweat, take off his jacket and come down with a cold just in time for holidays.

They exited the truck. Rather than follow the path Jeff carved through the snow earlier Denise stepped into the soft bed of snow and up to her knees. She lifted her knees leaving small but deep footprints behind. Jeff shuffled down the slightly shoveled walk.

“Is Kathy home?”


“Is she mad at me?”

“Nah. She could never be mad at you. That’s why you’re not aloud to be alone together cause she’d let you do whatever you wanted.”

Denise found that idea appealing and that smile lit up her face.

“Yeah, she’s cool.”

They dusted off inside, a pile of wet shoes and gloves in a puddle next to the door. Kathy appeared in the kitchen, finished wiping her hands with a towel before she came over and gave Denise a hug. “School was cancelled,” she told her husband. “Went all the way over there before I found out.”

He looked around the doorway and into the den where his children watched TV, mesmerized by the colorful puppets singing the alphabet. “Great.”

“What’s going on?” Kathy asked on her way back to the kitchen. “Want some hot chocolate?”

“Nah,” Denise said.

“Have some,” Jeff told her. “She’ll make it for you.”

“I don’t want any.”

“Take off your coat, or whatever you call it. Sweatshirt. Why don’t you have a coat?”

“I do but I don’t like it.”

“Why not?”


“Cause why?”

“I don’t know. I just don’t like it.”

“What’s not to like about it? It keeps you warm…” He stopped when Kathy looked through the doorway and gave him a look telling him to stop. He watched his daughter peel off her sweatshirt and hang it on a hook next to children’s little winter coats. “Go sit down in the kitchen.” She went and Jeff entered the den, leaned over and kissed the baby in the cradle. He tried to kiss his son but he squirmed in his little comfy chair. He didn’t like being bothered when watching shows. It was a video he’d seen a thousand times. Maybe a million. Jeff watched for a second.

The kitchen was quiet and warm, except the surface of the table was for some reason cold so Denise kept her arms at her side.

Jeff came in and flipped through the paper he left on the counter earlier. “Say’s it’s going to snow again tonight.”

“I hate snow,” Denise said.

Jeff laughed. “You hate snow. On Christmas Eve. Why? How could you hate snow? You’re a kid.”

“I don’t know. It gets all wet and dirty.”

“You used to love the snow.”


“Yeah, I guess. So.”

She was turning the ring in her lip again.

“Doesn’t that hurt?” he asked.

“No.” Denise left the room. Jeff and Kathy wondered why. She returned wearing her sweater, zipping it up and pulling the sleeves over her hands. “I’m cold.”

“Put on a wet sweat shirt. That’ll keep you warm.”

Kathy’s look told him to stop. She still felt like shit but laying in bed was not an option like she thought it would’ve been that day. She had presents to wrap later but that’s it. “What’s new? How’s school?”


Jeff looked up from the paper. Didn’t like hearing that.

Kathy said, “Yeah school’s pretty stupid but if you don’t do it now you’ll be doing it when you’re my age. And that’s really stupid.

“It’s just, like, they teach us stuff I don’t care about.”

“I know. I used to think that, too. Who cares what the square root of five is, right?”

“I know. Like, why do they waste my time?”

Jeff tried to refrain but couldn’t. “They’re not wasting your time. You’re wasting their time.”

“No I’m not.”

“Yes you are.”

Kathy dropped a spoon on purpose. “Anything you’d rather be doing?”

“Not really.”

“We’ll…” she continued with her back to them, mixing cups of hot chocolate. “Find something you’d rather be doing this way you don’t have to go back to school when you’re my age. You got hobbies?”

“I don’t know. Hanging out.”



“You like movies?”

“Not really.”

“You like books?’

“Yeah, I guess.”

“What books?” Jeff asked.

Denise looked past him. “Is it too late to change my mind for a hot chocolate?”

“No way, sweetie,” Kathy said. “I knew you would so I made you one.” She turned and carried two mugs to the table. A third on the counter was hers. Denise went to take a sip. “Wait,” Kathy said, opening the cupboard. “Got marshmallows.”

“Got whip cream?” Jeff asked.

“No,” Kathy said disappointed. “Sorry.”

“That’s okay,” Denise assured her.

Kathy sat with her mug and the bag of marshmallows. Dropped a few in each. Together they smelled before their first sips and all umm-ed at the same time. Snow fell from the roof and past the window looking out at the backyard, the tree limbs heavy white and the houses past the old wooden fence a real winter wonderland.

The house was quiet the rest of the day until dinner, which came late because they’d forgotten to remove the steaks from the freezer until last minute, had to defrost them under a hot faucet. After dinner Denise said she wanted to walk around the house in the snow and look at the stars. They assumed that meant sneak a cigarette. What could they say? They wanted to do the same but quit years earlier when the kids were born. Some habits are easier to kick. Others lingered. Kathy approached the draw beside her bed, its little knob electric by touch. Maybe. Shouldn’t. I’m tired. Just a little. Got presents to wrap. While Jeff sat with his feet up in the living the room– the soft fabric a cozy swallow and the kids occupied by the TV– in the dark Denise smoked weed from her little pipe under a window in the deep snow beside the house and his wife inhaled cocaine above in a chilly bedroom, the space heater starting to smell like burnt paper. What’s so funny about Sponge Bob? He would’ve read something about the Civil War but the print was so small it gave him headaches. So did the overhead lights. Sometimes the kids did too, when they cried in disguise of demands.

The front door opened, inviting the cold, and light toes tapped down from upstairs. Denise leaned over to untie her wet boots. Kathy appeared, her nose a little runny.

“What you guys doing?” Jeff asked.

“Nothing,” they replied almost simultaneously.

“Gonna start desert,” Kathy continued. “Ya hungry?” she asked anyone listening.

“No,” said the boy on the floor, never looking away from the TV.

Jeff adjusted his feet. “What do you mean no?”

“I don’t wanna eat.”

“You gotta eat desert of Christmas Eve.”

Denise remained at the door, afraid her smell would give her way.

Jeff dropped his feet and sat up. “You don’t want to eat desert on Christmas Eve?”

The boy pushed a toy with wheels away from him. “No.”

“How come?”

“I don’t know.”

“That’s not a good enough reason.”

The boy looked at his dad, unable to respond logically, but surprised that logic was necessary. I don’t know had always been a good enough reason. And at that moment the boy was a day older, no longer allowed to ignore rationality but expected to reply with reason. “Why do I have to?”

Jeff thought. “Because you do.”

The front door opened again inviting the solstice sounds that accompany a winter's night. Denise, still nearby, was immediately embraced by Mimi. Poppy not far behind, his knees not what they used to be. “Hey,” he called into the house. “Why’s the walkway all icy?”

Jeff pushed himself up, certain his knees would go just the same. “I shoveled earlier. Been busy all day. Grab a shovel.”

Poppy smirked. “You’re mother almost fell.” It was really him who slipped.

Mimi was still holding her first grandchild. The one that changed everything forever. “You made us worry,” she whispered.

“Sorry,” Denise said. “I didn’t mean to.”

Mimi held her away so she could get a better look. The metal in her face and the blue hair was distracting. “Why you make every body worry?”

Poppy stomped the snow from his feet. “Where you going?” he asked Denise, still in her boots.

“Hi Poppy.” She wrapped her arms around his thick waist. “I was just playing in the snow.”

“You take your brother out in the snow? Maybe you can see Santa in the sky.”


“You should. He’d like that. His big sister taken him out in the snow.”

The boy was on the carpet in front of the TV, an eager look on his face. He would’ve liked like that.

Kathy came from the kitchen, her eyes wide and smile broad. “Hey.” They exchanged hello pecks and loose hugs. “You guy’s want a drink?”

“I’m okay,” Poppy said, unzipping his coat and mysteriously hurting his elbow in the process. “We had a few at dinner.”

“You got rum?” Mimi asked and laughed like she shouldn’t but why not.

Kathy winked, decided she’d have one too.

“Make me a vodka,” Poppy decided.

A little later they sat at the kitchen table. Denise attacked her ice cream but ignored her cake. The boy picked through his plate but found nothing he liked. Mimi fed the baby a little melted ice cream. Kathy didn’t touch anything but her drink. Poppy watched the dark windows reflection of his family, sometimes smiling when he’d hear the children. But there was that look he’d give Jeff. Why is she here and what’s all that stuff in her face? Jeff finished desert first and sipped from a beer bottle. He watched the clock. Eventually his parents left said see you in the morning. Jeff put the kids to sleep and laid down in bed. He listened to Kathy and Denise talk, TV sounds between their laughs.

In a dream Jeff watched himself operate a backhoe. Someone on the ground, bundled up like an Eskimo, called out so he opened the little window on the door. The man was inaudible over the wind so Jeff chose to pretend he heard and closed the window. Another man, not as bundled, waved for him to dig. He pushed the stiff lever forward and pulled another back. The bucket stabbed the Earth and the machine shook. He tried again, this time lifting the machine’s front end off the ground. He’d tried several times to brake the surface with the bucket while the others shivering nearby waited against their shovels. The one in charge waved his hands but Jeff already had the bucket coming down and felt like this time it would break through. When it did something exploded and sent the backhoe and the men on the ground tens of yards in the air, landing hard on the dirt. The backhoe fell on its side, Jeff still belted into the seat, the fan hot against his neck. The world looked sideways. The way things had always looked for Jeff Holland. A geyser of gas exploded from where he tried to dig. Some of the others ran to his aide, climbing up the yellow machine, the door’s rusty hinges cranked when they opened it. He couldn’t hear much but droned out voices carrying over one another. The men handed him down to the ground. The smell of gas was overwhelming. He couldn’t move and them his eyes were opened and the ceiling above was his bedroom. He realized it was a dream. Kathy was sleeping beside him. She did what he asked and stayed off the shit.

Jeff slipped out of bed and felt around with his feet for his slippers. He tried to be quiet on the stairs but the old wood yawned. He found the living room in the dark and in the little moonlight coming through the window he could see Denise on the couch, a giant comforter swallowing her hole, but for her head. That beautiful head. She moved a little but didn’t wake. He watched. She was safe. He sat in his chair nearby and closed his eyes so in the morning he’d be there beside her.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Maxter Metropolis Knows How To Dance

By Brian Wask

Maxter Metropolis is a singer/songwriter from the low-side of town. His hair is missing in some spots and his thumb serves as a guitar pick. His shirt hangs open revealing more than his audience prefers. Performances have been described as odd, invigorating and bare. A rooster plays the drums.

I'm Getting Down

by Maxter Metropolis

Gone to the beach show my chest

Packing heat I got the best

Kicking sand in punks face

Got a dollar watch strippers dance

Pull your pants push your car

Toke the dope cash the bar

Doobie’s bored of bad plans

That face’s name is Dead Man

I’m getting down.

Getting down.

Forget all the greats.

Don’t throw(smash) the plates.

I’m getting down.

Getting down.

Dance real slow but real fast

Throw away the little bastard

Plant the bush between chapped lips

Toss the ship into the mist.

Hold her hand and don’t let go

Pray my man who makes the snow

Hide the fake ‘hind monster leaves

Let the dogs prove real peace

I’m getting down.

Getting down.

Forget all the greats

Don’t throw(smash) the plates.

I’m getting down.

Getting down.

Check into Machine Motel

Shake your hips like a soul from Hell

Swim the boat kick your shoe’s good heal

Catch a moon it’s the Earth’s last sound

Sky falls along with the birds

Dirt’s plan call it quits old world

That worm aint sorry

Rain comes in a hurry

I’m getting down.

Getting down.

Forget all the greats.

Don’t throw(smash) the plates.

I’m getting down.

Getting down.

Don’t leave the floor open when the couch is empty cause that’s how the cats go boom.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Dear Santa

From Cody Ovitch.

Hey Santa. You never brought me nothing and I feel I’m about due for something. One Christmas Eve I slept in Grampa’s car while he drank everything in a bar across the street. I watched the snow land on the windshield and after an hour I could no longer see the night sky. I didn’t ask for nothing but I remember thinking maybe you’d find me. I understand why you never brought me anything because we moved around so much how were you supposed to figure out where I was. Now I can tell you exactly where I am and I want you to do something for me. I’m in the MDC in Brooklyn, Floor 3 cell 6. My bunky is a black kid from a shitty town and he got mixed up hanging out on the street. He robbed some drug dealer and someone got shot in the foot in the process. Rashid was sentenced to five years in a plea because he was facing fifteen for armed robbery. He’s taking classes in math but he sucks at it. I don’t know what he’s good at. He writes in a notebook but he isn’t ready to share it. When he does everything will change. He’ll find he has better things to do than stand on the corner and sell coke. But I want you to bring him some good pens. The COs only let him have one per month so he’s real careful with it. He even got some bad time because another inmate tried to shake him down for his only pen but Rashid wasn’t having any of it. So bring him some pens damn it. I’ll even hoard some of the stale cookies they give us with dinner and the warm milk they give us with breakfast. And carrots. Never mind, that’s the Easter Bunny. See you soon. Also, if you could do something for the other guys too cause there’s way too many people locked up for no good reason and I heard they’re building another prison nearby. Thanks.

From Feo, my neighbor.

Fuck you old man. You saint of a bitch. I’m running for Santa Claus next year and I’ll do a hell lot better than you no doubt. When no one older than ten believes in you it’s time to call it quits. I’m growing the fucking beard. No ifs. DONE. The other day or maybe yesterday I gave ten dollars to the hunchback that lives in the basement of my building. What are you going to give her? Nothing I’m willing to bet. You’re not half the man I am. I turn sixty-two in March and the rules state Santa has to be sixty-two or more. Expect my campaign to begin soon after. Beware the Ides of March old friend, we have a score to settle. Remember the claw-hammer I asked for? Yeah, I never got it. You’ll get it. I take that back. But watch your ass. My sister called the other day said she got mixed up with a limo driver and he wails on her. I offered to come down to Florida and kill him myself. At first she thought it was a good idea. Then she started thinking about all the good things he does for her. He drives her back and forth to the bar. He grills steaks on Sundays. His eyes are blue. You can guess where I’m going with this one. You’re a smart guy. Lazy yet still quick. But you disappoint me Santa. You disappoint a lot of people. I’m giving you one more chance but if you fail I’m coming after you with everything I got. It wont be a cookie eating contest. It’s going to get bloody and I will win. I’m growing a beard but I wont hide behind it like you. One more chance Santa. Lets see what you got.

Coming Soon: "Beautiful: A Christmas Short"

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Winter Recollections From Aunt Bea

Barbara Eleanor Anderson is no longer with us but she left countless recollections of holidays past and loves lost. She was nostalgic and sentimental and rarely remembered why her stories began. I recently visited London where I was allowed by the executor of her archives to leaf through millions of pages, some no longer legible. Some made me cry, others made me laugh. I don’t know what to make of the woman. I’d like to think she was a knockout in her day but those days are not commonly documented by photographs. Either way, not a letter I read made a bit of sense.

Winter Tales and Christmas Eve Eve

By Aunt Bea

I can remember the years of old, in the days of flowers and rock candy, at night when snowflakes sparkled and lamp posts shined under the light of the moon. I’d dance for a dime to see a movie or buy soda pop for a boy whom I loved, and played the songs of doves and dreamed of planets far away. I looked into an endless space illuminated by stars, not the kind in movies or television, but the kind at night in space and beyond. And Mother. It was always a boy Mother warned me of, with their short hair and Adam’s apples, she’d say, “Sneeze them away with all God has given you.” I’d come crying like a child, as I was as I remember, placing a hand above my head she’d then pat me like a doggy and I’d cry more, until she began to yell and curse at me and call me worthless and fruitless and throw things around the room injuring the real dog and braking glasses because they were made of glass. I ran and ran and ran away finally and moved in with a family who only yelled at me when I overflowed the toilet and they let me stay in a bedroom with a window and a bed and access to the bathroom in the middle of the night. “Find your inner self,” my new mother would whisper in my ear, pushing my hair away from my face and kissing me as though she loved me. “Before you are happy, you must look within yourself and find what it is about yourself that is truly and entirely from you.” Then I’d say, “Please continue mother, with me guiding me to salvation and beyond this world.” New mother didn’t like when I spoke with such fruitful and delicious detail and sophisticated tone. “For instance,” she said with her lips and her mouth moving with the sounds of letters and syllables. “When you find your true self, you will be happy with what you are. But as long as you think you want to be something else or look like somebody else, you won’t find happiness because, you will never be anybody but yourself.” New mother found a new family years or so in the future relating to that story which I have recalled from my youth many long years ago. Now with the leaves turning a solstice rust and the nights becoming cooler in temperature as though nothing can stop the time that goes by in our lives and in other’s lives. Until next time when I recall and remember something from a long time ago, be well, take care, and live healthy. Peace. God. Love.

Barbara Eleanor Anderson

Bloomsbury, London

December 9th, 1978

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

When Punch is Served...

By Brian Wask

“Goodbye boys. I die a true American!” – Bill “The Butcher” Poole

Pawel Pulaski came to the U.S. from Poland by ship in 1861. During the voyage a woman eight months pregnant was raped. The monster left her and her unborn child to die in the cramped bowels of a damp hull. A deckhand discovered the woman face down suffocating in her own placenta. Though the woman departed while giving birth to a healthy girl, she was able to identify the attacker. The baby was named America by a collection of midwives. Pulaski was elected judge and jury and set out to find the fiend among the ship’s mechanicals and inventory. What happened next has been dramatized over centuries. Each legend agrees he returned to the cabin covered in another’s blood. Some said he had guts between his teeth. In an illustration, presently kept at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum in Manhattan, drawn by Brunon Machowski, the ship’s resident artist, Pulaski’s face is painted like a clown, the mote of red around his mouth represents blood, the hand behind his back holding a partially devoured human leg.

After traveling the Yankee states for a year, learning English from the oral histories of freed slaves, and Americanizing his first name to Paul, in 1862, Pulaski, inspired by Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, enthusiastically joined the North in the war between the states. He personally promised Jefferson Davis’s faux-presidential head on a stick. He tagged along with Colonel Ambrose Burnside's infantry in Rhode Island. Pulaski had such admiration for the Colonel's patriotism (Burnside would soon be a general) he mimicked his appearance– Ambrose's unique style of facial hair would later be called sideburns. In December of the same year General Burnside’s army was hammered by General Lee in the Battle of Fredericksburg, where the nineteen year old Paul Pulaski lost his left leg. He recovered in a makeshift Confederate hospital beside the Rappahannock River. There he continued to work on his English by listening to the wounded southerners surrounding him and transcribing what he heard. Some of them killed northerners with bayonets. A powder bomb took a Confederate soldier’s sight. He promised God he’d never fight nobody or nothing ever again in return for his sight. An amputee Yankee soldier finally departed after weeks of decomposing from infection. The hospital mourned together. Never mind what flag they fought for. After learning to walk with a wooden prosthetic Paul Pulaski gathered the few things he still had, registered an ID with a new last name– he took the name from a dead Irishman– and left with one leg in the night.

In July of 1863, Pulaski, now known as Paul Cody, finished his long haul to New York, settling in a Lower East Side tenement. The final draft of the Conscription Act passed congress; the government could now draft men eighteen to forty-five to fight in the War. It was hell hot and the street sewage ankle deep. The public was dispirited, insisting the draft infringed on their individual freedoms. Paul Cody sat and listened from the doorway to his ground floor tenement. Sad dogs slept nearby. Souls sunk like fractured ships. Orphans begged and coppers beat them with clubs. The Dead Rabbits and Plug Uglies gathered at the Five Points, cracked skulls and severed hands. Sometimes at night Paul Cody left the tenements and limped west to the Hudson River, along the way passing rumbles outside Bowery brew houses. At the river, strolling the planks, he’d listen to wharf rats pillage anchored ships, often followed by loud gun fights that lit up the dark like the stages of Broadway. During a flash of light he could see the brown ridges of New Jersey. One night a hussy called Mazie drunk stumbled into a turf war between local thugs in Paradise Square and was bludgeoned to death with a cast iron claw-hammer. The police force came in numbers but retreated just as often. The gangs ruled the slums and there wasn’t much anyone could do about it. Then John Wilkes Booth shot Abraham Lincoln and, in Paul Cody’s words, “The country died, leaving a population to debate between the innate delusions of right and wrong.” His English was still okay.

For ten years Paul Cody auctioned live stock on the polluted river. Ships came and went and the brew clubs of the 4th Ward spilled into the streets until the Westside of the Bowery sank into the harbor, feeding the river death and disease. He gathered the few items he managed to keep from thieves and slept against a wall just above the Bowery in Cooper Square for several weeks during the Fall. Before the first snow Old John McSorley, the owner of the Old House at Home on 7th street, offered him a job watching his horse during the day, while Old John, between pouring ale, fed the baker’s oven wood so his saloon remained toasty. The city was predicting a cold winter, a confidence plan the government conspired to collect charitable donations from its wealthier citizens. Without heat Old John was certain customers would find another alehouse to drown in. The winter sales were better than ever so Old John hired Paul to watch the horse full-time and gave him a room for nothing above the saloon. Because the horse slept peacefully most of the day the horse-watcher enjoyed considerable time drinking ale in lieu of pay. One day a German bricklayer, fixed to a window next to the entrance on most nights, called out to Paul but instead called him Punch. From then on everyone called him Punch. Over the years Punch Cody continued to document the stories he heard at McSorley's but most of these journals remain illegible.

Nov 17, 2009