Adventures in Customer Satisfaction: Two Dispatches

i.

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Dear Valued Customer,
Thank you for flying with us! 
We would like to get your input on your recent experience with this flight by completing this quick survey.  We recognize that listening to our customers is one of the most important things we can do, and your response will help us ensure that your next experience exceeds your expectations.

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Well, that’s a tough one, frankly. My overall experience on December 04, 2016 from Chicago O’Hare (ORD) to Baltimore, MD (BWI) was really not at all about Spirit Airlines, until, abruptly, it was. My overall experience was about my father in the hospital, dying, in Baltimore, and me, in Chicago, trying to get out to see him for the last time. So as you can imagine, Spirit Airlines, my overall experience that evening was both all I could think about, and all I could not think about.  Instead, I focused on details: the email you considerately sent informing me that the flight had been delayed by 45 minutes; the amount of shit I could cram into a carry-on that would be light enough not to be confiscated at the gate, at which point I would be charged $100 to check it; rushing to the airport. I was not overly concerned with missing the flight (I had some other things on my plate, like getting someone in to feed the cats, finding a place to park the car that wouldn’t overdraw my checking account, merging onto the rush-hour Kennedy Expressway, speaking to the nurse who stood at my father’s  bedside, her voice timid and southern-inflected in the Bluetooth-configured cabin of my car, assuring me that while he could not speak, he smiled as he heard my voice: ‘I’m on my way, Dad. Hang in there. I’m on my way.’

You had assured me there was a delay, Spirit Airlines, and I had left enough time that I was certain to be at the gate before even the flight’s originally scheduled departure.

There was plenty of time.

I was reassured, upon arriving at the airport, that the delay was still in place: all six monitors I obsessively checked assured me of this.  So imagine my surprise when, upon arriving at the gate, 15 minutes prior to the *original* departure time, I was informed that the plane had already left and was taxiing down the runway.

If you actually gave a shit, Spirit Airlines, about your employees, those beleaguered and expressionless gate agents who have to break this kind of news and then endure the blowtorch of wrath from your paying customers, you would ask these particular two what they had to hear from me, maybe have given them a little bonus, or at the very least a day off.  There was a lot of obscenity, some flying spit (I’m a theater major; my professor tells me if you aren’t drenching the people in the first row you’re not enunciating sufficiently), some tears, some flung baggage.  What could they do? The plane was on the runway. My father was, as the doctors called it, ‘actively’ dying. I was, I’m embarrassed to confess, on my knees, clutching my head, wailing.

Oh well!

I’m going to assume that ‘overall experience’ includes my attempt to reach your customer service line, a succession of cheery bots who led me in a mechanical circle right back to where I’d begun, so I’ll toss that into the mix too.

My overall experience? Are you sure you really want to ask me that?

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Hmm. The primary reason.  How about ‘you fucking suck’?  I think that about covers it.  I have not filled in any of the holes above because there is not a number low enough. How likely? How likely?

departureWell, now, see, this is easy, because none of this part ever actually happened. It’s hard to assess a boarding process when you didn’t get to even fucking board.  I mean, I suppose I could apply this to the flight the following morning, but I was a little distracted by the fact that by the time we landed in Baltimore my father was dead, and I had an email from you, time-stamped two hours earlier, assuring me that the delay on the flight that had departed before its scheduled departure time the previous evening was still in place, so hey! No rush!

Now, this afternoon, in the Uber on the way to the funeral home, I have occasion to ponder your choice of name. Spirit. I assume it’s meant to evoke a sprightly will, a zest for life, a seize-it-by-the-horns, embark on an exciting journey kind of feeling. But I find myself drawn-chalk it up to the emotional intensity of the present moment, I guess-to its more ethereal, metaphysical connotations: spirits, like that of my dead father, like mine, like those of all of your other passengers, all of whom, I’m guessing, have reasons to travel that are, well, shall we say, pressing.

You bear each of our spirits into the air and back down again. We give you our money. We pass through security, throw away our water bottles, take off our shoes, stand in the backscatter booths with our arms over our heads like caught criminals, participate in the magical-thinking rituals, reassuring ourselves that we will not fall from the sky or careen headlong into an office building, screaming the names of our children, our parents, our lovers. We run down the concourse, draw up breathless at the gate, only to find that you have left us.We trust you with our lives and those of the people we love. But you have left the gate, and as one of the blank-eyed gate agents told me, almost wistfully, ‘I’m afraid there’s nothing we can do.’

But I’m here now, Spirit, and I have to pay the driver and go in to pick a coffin. I hope that this survey will help you ensure that my next experience exceeds my expectations.

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ii.

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  1. Why was the restaurant three-quarters empty when we arrived for the ‘only’ reservation your hostess told us was available?
  2. Was the jewelry the hostess wore real or fake? And has she heard how much she looks like Ali MacGraw? Does she even know who that is?
  3. Why did we have to wait 15 minutes to be seated?
  4. Why were we asked three times, by the hostess, the man who seated us, and our server, whether we had any vouchers or coupons? And, perhaps more to the point, why did this not set off alarm bells in our exhausted brains?
  5. Why were we asked, also three times (must be a charm!), whether we’d been to Ruth’s Chris before? Was this simply small talk, or a canny stab at assessing our level of gullibility?
  6. Why was it a nearly two-minute walk through the murmuring plush and glint of dimly lit winding corridors to the heart of the labyrinth, a tiny walled booth (if memory serves, there were drapes), where we were placed in our seats like dingy chocolates in a gilt box, a massive cube-shaped chandelier glaring and winking above our heads? 1aaabirdcagegfairy003Might it have been that we were rumpled after a long drive, for which one tends to dress casually, and that landed us in the cheap seats?  Might it be that there is a certain standard a restaurant is within its rights to uphold, that it cannot afford to have other diners, of which there were, at this particular moment, roughly 12, put off by shabby patrons? Is it maybe because we didn’t look like these guys? Does anyone look like these guys?Screen Shot 2017-05-15 at 5.02.41 PM
  7. Why did anyone think it was a good idea to produce smoky-voiced-chanteuse, lounge-lizard covers of such favorites as Wish You Were Here, Under My Thumb, Billie Jean, and Smells Like Teen Spirit? And why did your establishment opt to play them?

With the lights out, it’s less dangerous
Here we are now, entertain us
I feel stupid and contagious
Here we are now, entertain us
A mulatto, an Albino
A mosquito, my libido, yeah
8. Why–wait, what, I–what the actual…are these Canadian dollars? Are we at a movie theater concession stand for steaks? Is this a fucking *joke*?
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9. Why didn’t we listen to our 19 year old son, who dropped his menu and said ‘let’s just get out of here’? Did it have something to do with feeling flattered and shamed at the exact same moment? Or were we just exhausted?

10. Why does a dinner that costs a fortune come with a stern warning not to touch the plates, which are heated to 500 degrees (to ensure your food stays hot from first bite to last!), lest you badly burn yourself? Why am I paying for that?
10a. Why were my crab cakes cold anyway?
10b. Why was there no glass of ice water to plunge my fingers into after I forgot (do you know how easy a thing that is to forget?) and touched my plate?

11. Why is there some guy in the men’s room chatting up my son, nudging his little saucer of dollar bills across the counter, offering a paper towel in exchange for a tip?  Is a man in a bathroom assuming familiarity with a stranger in exchange for cash somehow classy?

12. Why does a tablespoonful of mint jelly cost 4 dollars?

13. How long did the ‘julienned potatoes’ (read: fries) sit under the warming lamp?

14. Why did our server never quite strike the balance between attentive and discreet, instead veering wildly between obsequious and oblivious? Was she having a bad night, maybe? A babysitter flaked on her? Her mother showed up drunk to her kid’s birthday party?

15. Why did I feel sorry for the unseen couple at the adjacent booth (‘my table just proposed,’ our server blurted breathlessly as she bustled past us with two little flutes of champagne), muttering under my breath ‘I give it six months’? Does a marriage whose seeds were planted in this place stand a chance?

16. Why did my food taste like rain-soaked charcoal ashes?

17. Why, at 27 dollars a glass, did my husband order a second glass of wine? I mean, I guess that’s something I should ask him. Or not.

18. Why did I ask for the remainder of my dinner to be packed up when we were staying in a fridgeless hotel room, then scurry out of the restaurant with a plastic bag with handles feeling like maybe, at least, I’d gotten away with *something*? I mean, it would’ve been like leaving 65 dollars in cash (well, I’d eaten half of them, so let’s call it $32.50) on the table.

19. How would Ruth Fertel, your establishment’s founder, described on your website as a feisty single mom who overcame all kinds of obstacles, including a fire that burned her first steakhouse to the ground, have felt about being cynically pampered, deftly insulted, and divested of her money for a *steak* when she had children to send to college? Or was this what drove her? Was this how she justified the business model she strove to create? Did hardship beget hardness? Eat or be eaten? Did it beat the decent right out of her? Hers is a compelling story, an inspirational screenplay. Just look at her, tiny, barely 5 feet tall, butchering steaks with a bandsaw, hiring only single mothers as waitstaff. What’s not to love? But did it occur to her that maybe she had some single mothers as customers?

20. Did our server maybe for one second feel a little bit sorry for us, or does she have problems of her own (see above)?

21. Why am I surprised that Donald Trump is the president?  I mean, well, we’re in Canada, but only by about fifty feet. You want to feel rich? It’s gonna cost you. Even with the vouchers, you’re getting gouged. And ‘Wow!’ we think. ‘What a deal! I’m surrounded by velvet!’

22. My son picked up the little frosted glass votive on the table, peered in, and saw a battery-operated lightbulb, showed it to us with a wordless eye roll. Could you maybe have sprung for some actual candles?

23. Why, after we left, did I prefer to imagine I’d just been mugged than out to dinner? Maybe because at least a mugger acts out of necessity, however base? Maybe because a mugger wouldn’t pretend he was doing me a great service by pressing a steak knife to my throat? Maybe he wouldn’t shower me with false flattery first?

 

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24. Why was I relieved to learn that we were not your only victims?

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25. Four dollars for a diet Pepsi?

26. Have you ever seen anything more beautiful in your life?

 

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I mean, if you’re going to sit awake all night thinking about your health insurance, your property taxes, the credit card balance and the weird noise coming from underneath your car, you couldn’t ask for a better view.  I’d say it puts all of it in perspective. I’d take a moment to be grateful that such beauty is given to us, this miraculous world, regardless of whether we deserve it.

But I’m afraid that’s going to have to wait for another day.

 

 

 

The Bag of Shame: Four Soliloquies

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Part 1: Trick or Treat
Riley Detmer, age 9

Why do I always have to be doing something?  Mom and Dad all the time ‘what are you doing?’ How does a bag save a planet?

I don’t know.  I think this is going to be my last year.  I was too young and now I’m too old to remember when it was fun. The one story I always hear is how I went through my entire candy bag when I was three and a bumblebee, ran around like I was crazy and stopped in the middle of my grandparents’ all white almost empty living room and turned white like a ghost bee and barfed all over the floor.

I mean, that doesn’t sound very fun.

unknown-5Last year I was 8 and I wanted to be Wolverine from X-men. Wolverine could save the planet better than a bag. The answer was no. The reason was my mom said Wolverine made violent choices and didn’t think of better ways to solve a problem. Is that really what you want to be Riley she said which the answer was yes. Is that a part of yourself you think is okay? she said. What if I don’t have the claws I said. She shook her head. Nice people are the real heroes she said.

This happens a lot. I used to get mad about it but finally I stopped. Getting mad is a violent choice and besides it just makes her talk more. I ended up being a fireman with a plastic helmet and coat that looked totally fake.

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When I was 7 I wanted to be a Apache brave which we were learning in school. This was also no because we shouldn’t take things from the Indians and we also should not be calling them Indians. You’re a lucky little boy because you are privileged she said, and that means you can’t take things that aren’t yours and make fun of Native Americans. I said I am not making fun. If I am privileged I said I wonder why does that mean I can’t pick my costume and be whatever I want. This was before I stopped arguing about everything. Plus it was totally confusing because Wyatt who is 5 and my brother was Ariel from Little Mermaid. But Ariel is a girl I said. Wyatt can make that choice my mom said. We can’t tell him how he should express himself. But I want to express myself and be a Apache brave I said. Wyatt is not a girl I said. Riley, she said. Stop making fun of your brother. This is along with my friend Chloe at school who was a artist with a french hat called a beret because she was not allowed to be Ariel from Little Mermaid because it is not what little girls should want to be. So Wyatt got to be Ariel with a boob thing made of two plastic seashells and a tail thing with sequins.  I don’t know why but I just wanted to hit him really hard. And I was a cowboy because it is okay I guess to make fun of them.

imagesWhen I was 6 we didn’t do Halloween because refined sugar. When I was 5 I wanted to be a hobo with a stick but that was no for some reason too so my mom made my costume without even asking me which was a bunch of grapes made of balloons. I was mad and got a timeout. Before that I don’t remember except the story about barfing which is not really a thing I remember but just a thing they told me that happened.

So I think this will be my last year. I don’t know what I will be. I guess I will wait for Mom to tell me. But I will take this bag because those plastic pumpkins with handles are stupid and for babies and I swear to God I will argue about that if I have to.

That is what I am doing.

Part #2: Domesticity
Amy Wallace-Detmer, age 38

What am I doing? What does it look like? I’m putting away the goddamned groceries.  There’s a guy who loads them into my car at the store but once I’m home I’m on my own. It’s easier than trying to get the boys to help me.  I pick my battles.

I remember you. Back when I was young, in that big old first wave of recycling, you all were saying the same thing. And now it’s back, and the bags are back, asking questions: a successful campaign; why wouldn’t it be successful again?

But I’ll ask you a question back:  What did it succeed at?  Do people shop more at stores with bags that sneer at them?  I saw lots of you tumbling empty through parking lots, wadded up in garbage cans.  Just what was it you were trying to accomplish?

All you have to do is wait long enough and everything comes back around again.

You can be reused 125 times.  Well, we have that in common, at any rate. In fact, I may very well have you beat. And will I reuse you? Not likely. I never think to bring bags along until I’m in the car. They pile up under the sink. So you are not the first bag to ask me that question. I’ll stuff you down there and you can all trade saving-the-planet stories, congratulate yourselves in a crinkly little cocktail-party mumble.  I’ll pull one out to carry wet bathing suits, clean the litter box, load up with some stuff to take over to Dad on the days Meals on Wheels doesn’t come, give to Riley and Wyatt for trick or treating.

That snuck up on me. I used to be better about holidays. Now I’m always running along behind them, like the kids. I thought I had parenthood nailed, once: cupcakes one year topped with orange frosting and spiders with gum-drop bodies and licorice-whip legs, a dozen of them, for Riley’s pre-K. I was up until 3. I wanted to do everything for him, which might’ve been a mistake. He’s become so passive. It kept me anchored, the routines, the recipes, the things it was okay or not okay to do or be or read or say.

I am a parent. Everything is my fault.

You’d like Ted, bag.  He is saving the planet, or the people on it with cancer, at any rate.  Does that count?  You and he would get along, trading smug challenges and debating the finer points of planet-saving. He’s always taken care of me, from the time he met me when he was rounding through the psych unit as a med student. I was glad I’d washed my hair. He saved me, I guess you could say–so it would be peevish to criticize. But I sometimes think he loves that he saved me more than he loves me.

I love him. I do.

That said, there’s a whole continuity of care issue–I stole that from him–when it comes to the boys.  He’s never around, in other words, to see things and watch things, which to me means that he’s not in a super-good place to worry out loud that our kids are always trying to comfort me and settle me down and that that is bad for them, that I am always trying to control them, and that that is bad for them, when all I am doing is trying to keep them safe, calm, confident, on the right path. And maybe they could want to comfort me sometimes? Is that such a bad thing? Aren’t we all supposed to kind of look after each other? Isn’t loving someone enough to want to comfort them a good thing?

I mean, Ted, stick to cancer, okay?  Help me out by not suggesting maybe I should’ve gone back to work, which implies there was work to go back to: B.A. in Music, Minor in Astronomy? As my mother once said, ‘Now, there’s a lucrative career path.’ Maybe only remind me of the psych unit a few times a year, the checking account I emptied to make that model of the universe, the run of not-so-wise intimate encounters, the inanimate objects like cell phones and shopping carts coming to life and trying to hurt me, you know, the suicide stuff after.  Holidays, maybe. Mention it on holidays. Halloween. Last year I got that haunted house place across town to close down the room that was supposed to be a mental hospital full of wackos, but it’s funny; I couldn’t really work up a big old head of steam about it. Stigma, it’s called, but that’s just another word for being afraid: their problem, not mine.  Crazy people have bigger fish to fry: med compliance, shrink after shrink, bloodwork, behavioral coping therapies, insurance, revolving fucking door policies.  I was lucky.  The meds finally caught and held, never let go after that, and I never let go of them. I joke to people that I am a professional patient.  I am my own job.

There is really nothing wrong with being afraid of crazy.  I mean, I have enough trouble with what I think; I have to decide how others think now too?  I mean, I try to say the right things, have the right feelings, arrange them neatly, like setting a table for company.

You’ve got enough job for two people, Ted. It all balances out.

Meanwhile, well, yeah, groceries.  And the phone call to that woman at the managed care place; my father’s going nowhere fast. And Riley’s waiting for me to tell him what he wants for a costume. Like I would know. I don’t understand why he doesn’t want to decide on his own anymore. I don’t know why Wyatt wants to be a girl.

I just don’t want them to be crazy. That is all I don’t want.

So, yeah. Not real interested in saving the planet. I’ve got other things on my plate. But you go right on ahead.

That is what I am doing.

Part 3: Music of the Spheres
Conrad Wallace, age 68

What am I doing? I’m going through Amy’s things. And I guess you’re the bag I’m not supposed to open but must be sure not to leave behind or throw away, her machine-gun instructions from the unit, over the phone, what the docs called pressured speech, don’t open it, Dad, and don’t even fucking think about throwing it away, it might look like garbage to you but that’s because you don’t get it, you never got it, I had to ride this goddamned genius train all by myself, feel the music all around and align my body to it like a tuning fork, Dad, do you even know what a fucking tuning fork is, Dad? Of course you don’t, because you don’t get it.

She was never a cusser.

‘It’s a work-in-progress, Dad, a model, I’m helping the structure perfect itself, capture the music, make it audible to everyone. And if you throw it away like everything else you’ve always dismissed and made fun of–‘

‘Honey, I never–‘

‘Shut up Dad! Shut the fuck up, Dad! You don’t get to talk! I’m giving you simple instructions.  You throw away that bag and that will be the end of us.  The end of Amy and Dad at the planetarium. No more music for us.’

So the work in progress, and boxes of books, sheaves of sheet music, clothes, sheets and towels, a giant pair of men’s basketball sneakers, a small pair of briefs that I tweeze from the floor like a dead animal. One man? Two? The guy she brought to our house for dinner once and spent the evening fondling, scratching his back under his shirt, murmuring in his ear as her mother and I sat and watched, our food cold lumps in our mouths?  There were a lot of them, when things got bad. It was how you knew they were getting bad. There was no stopping that either.

And you, bag, heavy, clanking like pirate’s loot and knotted tightly at the top, everything goes into the U-Haul, again, another failed flight for Amy, again, her third school in as many years, the meds make me fat and stupid, Dad, I’m meant for bigger things, I can’t fuck, I can’t sleep, I can’t wake up. I know how to balance this.

I read her a story once about Phaethon, the son of the sun, his father had made him a promise: ask me for anything and it is yours, swore on a sacred river. And he asked to drive his father’s chariot dawn to dusk across the sky. Myths were my music when I was a kid; I thought I might grow up to be a writer once (‘Now there’s a lucrative career path,’ my practical wife told me, not unkindly). The sun balked and begged his son, please don’t make me keep that promise, it is more than you can do, the horses are wild, but he had sworn on a sacred river, that is of course what a promise to a child must be, unbreakable,  and Phaethon was stubborn like kids always are, convinced he could control the uncontrollable and he took off and the horses sensed his tentative hold on the reins and went wild and the chariot tipped down toward the earth and set it alight, the fire spreading so quickly birds burned in the trees, then veered back up and just as fast it froze, charred branches locked up in layers of ice, the chariot’s axle snapping, Phaethon falling into the sea, slipping between the waves, and he was gone.

Oh, her baby-bird wings, no escape velocity, she peaked for a moment in the sky, pausing as if taking a breath of surprise–Jesus, how did I get up here–like one of the model rockets she made dozens upon dozens of once, her fingers peeling with hardened glue, gunpowder on the air, then turning nose down, plummeting to the ground.  Again.

I was old when she came, closing in on 50.  Her mother, too, 45.  An accident after we’d given up, a wish we no longer made. Was it that? That we’d stopped hoping? Was it faulty sperm? A stale old egg like a wrinkled pea? She was odd from the beginning, never cracked a smile. She never knew happy.

I am a parent.  Everything is my fault.

And here is the present moment again, life is a messy pile of them, I’m poised on it, weaving, like a drunken gymnast on a bar, the present only starts to make sense once it isn’t the present anymore. The past falling away behind me, her sweaty hand in mine, the future dim in front of me, will she come back this time? Will she ever have a nice house, the right meds, a couple of kids, a husband who maybe won’t be real warm but helps her stay on track, will always come to save her, kind of like me, who feels for her the kind of love he’s capable of feeling on his best days?   Will they have a piano? Will daily things replace her magic flights?

Will she be okay with that? Will she be okay?

My knees ache as I bend to drag stuff out from under the bed, my neck twangs as I pull posters from the cinder-block walls, her roommate silent in the doorway, owl-eyed, who called the Student Health Center three days ago, got the hospital ball rolling. Again.

I think it burned her brain a little, each time. A smell came off her: carbon, model rockets. When she was a kid there wasn’t a name for it. Then, suddenly, there was.  And it turns out it did. Burn her brain, I mean. An electrical storm. The psychiatrist used those exact words.

She used to love explaining things. I’ve always been good at having things explained to me. I like to think she loved me for that. I’d take her to the zoo, the Natural History museum, the aquarium on the Sundays when her mom went for coffee and an afternoon with her journal, but she loved the planetarium the most. We’d sit in the soft movie-theater seats, a curved acoustic-tiled heaven within a heaven, pinpoints of light, a man’s deep voice-over edged with static, explaining, and she’d name the planets above us, trace their orbits.

The music came later, flowing out her fingers into white keys, stretched strings, padded hammers. I took out a little loan for the piano, the lessons, the expensive schools. She’d sit and watch the tuner work his magic, striking keys, adjusting wires, damping pedals.

I sit back on the floor for a minute, stretch the stiff out of my knees, look around at all the crap, don’t know where to begin. And you sit there, I look over at you again: ‘I’m saving the planet.’  As though you are inviting me with a weird plastic sympathy to look inside: maybe this will vindicate her. Maybe she really is on to something.  Maybe the third time’s a charm, where the crazy finally burns away to leave a bright star of brilliance. Maybe you really do hold magic, the mechanism she began to describe over the phone six weeks ago, screen-shot-2016-11-29-at-3-59-23-pmshe’d never made anything before, this was new, an hysterical thread running through her voice, dead men whispering, Pythagoras, Kepler, the music of the spheres, hidden ratios, that unheard song, the cycles of the planets, the stringed instruments of bodies, one cannot hear nor align with the other, she’d found a way to do that, emptied her checking account buying the materials and the tools, was embarked on the design and construction of the tool that would make it possible, she ticked the list off during another phone call, this one at 3 a.m.: a jeweler’s drill, sheets of brass, a tiny saw, rubber hammer, watch springs, threaded screws that would pass through the eye of a needle.

People need to hear it, Dad. People need to hear it.

Then the Health Center called, then the Dean. Then I got in the truck and drove to the hospital.  Then I stood outside the ancient spacecraft airlock doors of the unit, waited for the burly male nurse who’d greeted me twice before–a former Marine, maybe? his hair was so short, his crossed arms behind the chicken-wire glass as big around as my thighs, I looked like him once–to buzz me in, took that short instant alone to drop my head into my hands, feel my legs begin to go, feel the wail run through me, aligning me with that silent chord of the universe, escaping, my mouth shaping it into her name.

I don’t have room for any of this stuff anymore, her mother’s death only made the house smaller, I guess I’ll rent a locker. That way there’s a chance she’ll come get it, a chance she’ll come back to earth, heft the heavy lock in her palm, scroll in the combination, slide open the door.

But meanwhile in this present that makes no sense yet I drag you acrogears_watch_piless and up and into my lap, work the knot with my fingers, give up, tear you stem to stern. Tiny gears and crookedly sawn tiny lengths of brass, sharp enough to draw blood, and the tools, a miniature disaster, chaos in a bag, clashing, crashing notes. I gather them up in my hands, let them fall, and they jingle and ring with trapped music.

That is what I am doing.

Part 4: Do No Harm
Ted Detmer, Age 46

What am I doing. Well. Do you want the methodical answer, or the existential one? I’ll confess, as a research physician, that I prefer the former. My cocktail-party rap about my research is that I am in the business of blocking microscopic traffic.  You see, there are these proteins. Well (*chuckle*, sips drink), that’s pretty much all there are, actually. But the ones I’m interested in are the ones that block other proteins from rushing like repair teams to damaged DNA, lashing it back together before it collapses like a rickety ladder or a rope bridge across a chasm. If my interlocutor’s eyes haven’t glazed over by now, he or she might ask ‘well, why would you want to block something that fixes damage?’ I then can give him or her the lip-twitch ironic smile I’ve been perfecting since high school and say ‘well, what if that DNA codes for cancer cells?’ Depending on how late the party has gone, it can take from seconds to a full minute for this to sink in.

The War on Cancer. Dramatic, sexy, an heroic standoff with the forces of chaos. But cancer is really quite methodical, tedious even.  It makes petty plans and carries them out pretty much the way people do: sophisticated but often fucked up communication, ill-advised liaisons, mixed messages, amassing of armies, sabotage, subterfuge, disguise.

All you really have to know is how to look really closely, for a really long time, at really small things, and be willing to do that over and over and over again.

I once thought I’d work with patients, but that was the existential end of the continuum and it turned out not to suit me: too many variables, or too few.  I realized this very early on, my third year of med school, rounding through the psych unit where I met my wife. I saw it as a choice: I could try to slam the gate after the horse had escaped, talk patients down as I scrambled for a treatment, an explanation, a reason to fight, or I could climb into the stall myself, corner that fucking horse at the molecular level and take him out.

So let’s go with methodical: I’m emptying out a bag of things I found in Wyatt’s closet. In order of extraction, I find the following:

  1. child’s plastic princess crown, symmetrical placement of false gems in a blue, clear, pink, green, yellow progression, one (pink) missing
  2. small plastic sandals, colloquially termed ‘mules,’ pink, with a kitten heel and a vamp made of puffy pink and white synthetic feathers
  3. child-sized kimono-style robe, red synthetic satin, machine-embroidered floral details at hem, collar and sleeves
  4. iridescent, semi-translucent rainbow-hued scarf, fabric unknown

    pinterest-com

    pinterest.com

It is perhaps more challenging to identify and assess my reaction (mouth goes dry, heart rate quickens, mood darkens and edges toward anger: he has hidden them! he has deceived me! we had an agreement!), and it is unclear whether it would serve any useful purpose: it is familiar and chaotic at once; it is both fully aware and utterly bewildered.  It explains everything and nothing at all.

None of this is new; he has had the scarf since he was 3, snatched from a bin at Goodwill while shopping with his mother. He enjoyed lying on his back and arranging it over his face so that the world bloomed into color as he looked up through it. He danced, flounced, squealed, *lisped*: behaviors I’d always understood as learned, acquired, socially and politically inflected, and have now been forced to attribute to…what?  Where could he have learned this? Where acquired? At 3?

This is where my reaction gets chaotic, and hence not helpful, and I have borne this in mind when I have talked to Wyatt, who is old enough, at 5, to be talked to; old enough, at 5, to understand that there are things you do, and things you don’t do, depending on who you are. We don’t get to decide what we are any more than we get to decide whether or not to be born. It is not about *us.*  We are all prisoners of our bodies: capricious, prone to failure, stubbornly insistent on being what they are. The sooner peace can be made with that, well, let’s just say I want to spare my son the exhausting and futile task of trying to make himself into whatever he wants to be.

It’s just not that simple.

These things are scripted, okay? DNA is an instruction manual: what you will become, how, when, everything but the why. We don’t get to write it.  It writes us.

Trust me.  I’m a doctor.

So I was methodical with Wyatt, a year ago, and it appeared to gain purchase: you are a boy, Wyatt; it is what you are. These things are what girls do, and I don’t want you to feel confused. We reached an agreement, I thought: together he and I gathered up the clothing, the toys, the Barbies with their tiny pointy shoes, the kitchen things, the toy vacuum cleaner (such oppressive roles!), the miniature cosmetics, all the girl stuff (Amy has poor boundaries with these things, more often than not simply buying him what he asks for rather than asking why or- and I don’t think she has this in her- simply saying no), and boxed them up for his new little cousin in Seattle, just born into her body, just beginning to sense the limits, the possibilities, the finite number of options.

And then his mother allowed him to be a Disney mermaid for Halloween, dismantling it all with one swoop. ‘There are things we just don’t understand, Ted,’ she said. ‘But we can understand what he wants.’
‘He doesn’t know what he wants!’ I shouted.  ‘He made a deal with me, Amy. We had an agreement. We gave away the girl things. He was fine with it.’
‘Fine with it? Fine with it? Is that why he’s out back right now dancing around in a plastic seashell bra?’
You bought it for him!’
He wanted it!”
‘It’s going to Sophia. He and I tomorrow will put it in a box, and it is going in the mail to Sophia.’

Can we just have a few things that are clear and unambiguous? Can we just agree on that? And could one of them be my child’s gender? I’d be fine with a clear message. It doesn’t have to be the one I’d prefer; the clarity would be sufficient.

I was the only one who could comfort him, right from the beginning. He was born crying, howling in protest. Amy likes to say she felt him wailing before he’d even left her body, but Amy is like that: prone to hyperbole and excess, needing a steady hand. I sometimes wonder whether she loves that I saved her more than she loves me.

And of course there was the question of whether to have children at all. The nifty little salt that settles Amy’s brain-no one has ever been abled to explain why-has been linked to heart defects in infants; when she turned up pregnant with Riley, unplanned, we did a risk-benefit with her ob who, once he’d read her history, advised her to stay on it. We’ve kept an eye; Riley’s heart ticks as steadily and soundly as a Swiss watch.

Were we gambling when we opted for a second? I am not a gambler by nature, and Amy has learned caution the hard way. I think it was more that we carefully looked off the other way and let it sneak up on us. Can you plan to be surprised?

She’d call me in tears, Wyatt wailing in her arms, beg me to come home.  I’d take him from her and he’d settle instantly, which only upset her more. We were spoiled by Riley. He was an easy baby, fooled us into thinking we knew what we were doing. I’d sit with Wyatt as he fought sleep, fix him on my lap and page with him through the color plates in my medical books, the stained microscopic images of cancer cells: the swirling shapes and brilliant colors, which I would explain in a sleepy, lulling murmur aren’t their actual colors

cancer-research-uk

cancerresearchUK

but rather a broad range of contrast media saturated with ultraviolet and infrared light: it defined them more clearly. It isn’t art, Wye, I’d murmur. It’s science. He’d stare, transfixed, lay his fingers on the glossy images, nod into sleep, eyes rolling back and his heavy head dropping against my chest.

I sit on the bed, lift a shoe, drop it, pick up the crown, perch it on my head, lift it off, drop it.  The door opens and slams downstairs, a murmur of voices: Amy, Riley, Wyatt, back from some errand or other.

I have samples to culture, rows of test tubes in wire baskets (that’s not strictly true; I have techs and assistants for all that by now, but I prefer thinking that this is what I still do.  The writing and grant-grubbing and lecture circuit and panel-sitting are wearing away at me. It’s not what I am good at).

Oh, Wyatt.  Oh, Wye. I stand and bundle all of the stuff into my arms, lift and shake you open, bag, to jam it all back in, and find that I cannot do it, the way that on my honeymoon, two thirds of the way from the summit of Mt. Katahdin, clouded in so that I could see nothing but my feet below me, I could suddenly no longer walk, could suddenly no longer detach myself from the rock face behind me. I was nearly there.  Nearly there.

‘Pick a snack, Wye, then nap,’ I hear Amy say.  They’ll be heading up soon.  We’ve talked about naps, that, at 5, he has surely outgrown them, but he insists, sinking into them like a fainting lady on a couch, as eagerly as he resists going to sleep at night. I stand there for a moment longer, drop you on the floor so that I can use both hands to place Wyatt’s

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things on the bed, laying down the scarf first and arranging the crown, shoes, and kimono on top of it,  a neat colored square, a contrast medium, everything carefully arranged.  I step away, assess the symmetry, make a few adjustments, stand there a moment longer, then turn and leave the room.

That is what I am doing.

 

 

©Melinda Rooney, 2016

Recycled Declaration

 

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Peter Breslin

“Happy Independence Day! Today, I declare my independence from jingoism, nationalism, American exceptionalism, starry-eyed sappy sentimental faux-patriotism, hagiography of our military forces and police and other public servants masquerading as unquestioning respect for heroism, willfully gluttonous and destructive consumerism masquerading as freedom.

I declare my independence from the tempting blindness to the entrenched corporate-fascist plutocracy that has slowly maneuvered a (bloodless?) global coup of politics and press.

I declare my independence from the State-sponsored story, the lies my teachers told me, the narrow minded, provincial and embarrassing ignorance of what it means to be not just an American but also a global citizen in a rapidly shrinking world.

I declare my independence from an all-too-convenient and unearned pride in an alarmingly deteriorating country where Constitutional freedoms have been slowly eroded or eliminated and where protest, speaking the truth to power and political activism (the very bedrock of our revolutionary origins) is now seen as, at best, ungrateful, and at worst, a form of treason.

I celebrate the true spirit of the American revolution and the American experiment today. I celebrate the human passion for freedom and justice, the universal longing for a better life, the grand ideal of a government of the people, by the people and for the people. I celebrate the greatness of America’s marginalized, disenfranchised, oppressed, exploited and apparently disposable people who have made it all possible from the bottom up. The poor and educationally short-changed who seem so easily put in harm’s way and who constitute the vast majority of our volunteer military, the suffering and homeless veterans who have been bought and sold on the market of questionable wars abroad, the labor force that sacrificed so much life and safety and comfort in the early part of the 20th Century for quality of life improvements we now take entirely for granted but that has been relentlessly disempowered and excluded from the economic and social conversation today.

I celebrate those who worship whatever God or Goddess they worship freely, humbly and quietly and in the true spirit of their faith, not obstreperously, legislatively and oppressively in the marketplace of public, civic ideals.

I celebrate the grand tradition of progressive thought and action in American history, represented by progressive education, progressive health, labor and work improvements, progressive programs to ameliorate suffering and aid the worst off among us, progressive attitudes about the privacy and security of our persons, papers and effects, progressive voting rights, progressive civil rights in their long, slow, painful unfolding, progressive and open ideals regarding the free exchange of ideas (including the least popular of those ideas), progressive attitudes of welcome and appreciation for those from other countries yearning to be free.

I celebrate America’s great innovators in the arts and sciences and America’s irrepressible spirit of not so much ‘why?’ as ‘why not?’ (to paraphrase Ornette Coleman). If there is any heft in the oft-repeated claim that America is the ‘greatest nation on earth,’ perhaps the anchor for that claim, ironically, rests in the most bold, progressive and innovative, most free and most humane and democratic of all of our contributions to the world.

If America has been great and exceptional in human history, it has done so along these lines: the greatest possible liberation of the human spirit, in spite of vicious and regressive attempts at oppression, for the greatest number. Empires are a dime a dozen throughout the centuries of our species. Tribalism, exclusion, oppression, greed, genocide, invasion and exploitation are dirt cheap and common in the human story. I celebrate an America that has been and perhaps still could be a true exception to these commonplace horrors.

Happy Independence Day! How free do you want to be?”

©Peter Breslin, 2010

Peter Breslin is a teacher, musician, PhD student in plant conservation biology at Arizona State University and writer who lives in Tempe AZ.

Donald’s Villanelle

The villanelle is a poetic form with its origins in Italian rustic song (‘villanelle’ deriving from the Italian word ‘villano,’ which means ‘peasant,’ or, perhaps, from ‘villa,’ Latin for ‘farm’). Speculation locates it in a tradition of ‘round’ songs (remember those from kindergarten?) sung to accompany the repeated rituals of agriculture: sowing and reaping.

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Jean-Francois Millet: Buckwheat Harvest: Summer; 1868-1870; pastel

It evolved into its present form in the 16th century, in French poetry. Throughout history and up to the present day, poets have been smitten with the villanelle, ensuring its ongoing evolution even as it resonates with echoes of the past.

Its structure is as follows:

  1. It is a poem of nineteen lines.

  2. It has five stanzas, each of three lines, with a final one of four lines.

  3. The first line of the first stanza is repeated as the last line of the second and fourth stanzas.

  4. The third line of the first stanza is repeated as the last line of the third and fifth stanzas.

  5. These two refrain lines follow each other to become the second-to-last and last lines of the poem.

  6. The rhyme scheme is aba. The rhymes are repeated according to the refrains.

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Donald’s Villanelle

I’ve done nothing wrong, you know
Russia, kickbacks, it’s all lies
I hope that you can let this go.

The fake news witch hunt, on it goes
Sad! Their whos and whats and whys
I’ve done nothing wrong, you know

There’s a high road, there’s a low
Drain the swamp and scrape the skies
I hope that you can let this go

Crooked H, bad hombres, foes
So-called judges, leaking spies
I’ve done nothing wrong, you know

Walls and tariffs, jobs and dough
You’ll tire of winning, all you guys
I hope that you can let this go

Believe me, time will tell and show
Great Again, Tremendous Size
I’ve done nothing wrong, you know
I hope that you can let this go

©Melinda Rooney, 2017

[I’m indebted to The Making of a Poem: a Norton Anthology of poetic forms; Mark Strand and Eavan Boland, eds. New York, W.W. Norton & Company; 2000.]

Keynote: Variations on a Theme of Steve Jobs

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Ten years ago, in 2007, Steve Jobs and Apple introduced iPhone to the world.  For those of us too young or too old to remember it well, which is to say all of us, it’s worth watching again, or for the first time, if only to see his dazzled audience erupt in wild applause as he demonstrates ‘cover flow,’ a conference call, sending a text, flipping a photo from portrait to landscape, accessing voicemail: things that are so woven into our daily experience by now that they’ve come to seem humdrum.

But man, are they ever not.

It’s nearly an hour long, but if you’re feeling low about humanity lately, it will restore your sense of wonder: here are the things we are able to do. The talk is a work of art in itself, a litany of miracles intoned by a simply dressed man who’s remembered as part geek, part tyrant, and all genius.


What follows is a found poem from the transcript of that talk, which has been engraved in my memory since my son, then 14, showed it to me in 2007: ‘You’re not going to believe this,’ he said. ‘Grab onto something.’  Its words are, for the most part, Jobs’s: verbatim in some places (the final stanza contains the longest direct quotation); tweaked for fluency, coherence, and scan in others, with some words of my own mixed in, sort of a verbal glue.

Steve Jobs was possessive of what he created: notoriously secretive, intensely private, sometimes litigious, wary of theft. But at the same time he was a collaborator and borrower par excellence, taking and using the work and ideas of others to create something entirely new. I hope, from his place in the Cloud, that he will see this recycled piece in that spirit.

images

 

Keynote

i.

Push here for the days I’ve waited,
We’re gonna leave them here for now
Hit this little button here
And put them all to sleep.

Hit it again, and wake it up
And here it is: today
Portrait to landscape
Sleeping to waking
This
Changes
Everything

No, I mean it!
One from three
A leapfrog product
All we need
It’s all we need
It’s everything
It’s in my hand
It’s built right in

This stuff off a server? Up there in the cloud?
I, a proud father
Captured it here
The things we never knew we wanted
Right here in my hand.
Miniature interface
Graphite and hardware
Web-fingered software
Battery life
Custom-mold silicon
Speaker and microphone
All of it, here, in the palm of my hand.

Featherweight management,
200 patents
It takes you back home from wherever you are
Your life in your pocket,
The usual suspects
Mouse, clickwheel, multi-touch
Infant to man

Now here’s stuff you can’t see:
An ambient sensor
Accelerometer
Proximity sensor

Wait.
What does that do?

Well, have you heard about spurious inputs?
Those things your face does when it’s pressed to the screen?
A sensor ignores unintentional touches
It turns them all off
So the data stays clean.

This is not what you find on most phones.

This is not the crippled stuff.

ii.

It’s amazing
Amazing
How hard, making calls
Actually having to dial them each time
Right?

How many of you do that?
I bet more than a few

So you’re gonna use contacts like never before
Bring down your contacts right into your phone
Set some stars
Hit the buttons
The bandwagon
Arrows
All of those things that you find in the world

Here’s what it looks like when you get a call
Here’s what it sounds like
Go on, take a look
Push it right here, boom,
And there, you can see them,
Favorites and recents and contacts and mail
Scroll through them,
Scroll through them,
Scroll through them once more
These arrows and buttons and stars.

Ring
Ring
Ring

Jony! How are you?
It’s over 2 years!
I’m thrilled
I remember
When we started all this.
It’s amazing
Amazing
Wait—whoa, what is this?
Sorry J, I got a call coming in

J, can I put you on hold for a minute?
Hi Phil
I’ll just touch him and bring Jony back.
Hey, J, are you there?
Hey listen, uh, Phil’s here
I’ll conference you in

And so
Here we are

Wait
Hello?

J? You there?
Phil? You there?

Wait
Jony. Jony.
Phil.

Okay, take care, Jony.
Phil, thanks very much, but I gotta go, so–
Bye-bye.
Yeah, alright.
I’ll talk to you later
Like sometime this fall
Okay then, alrighty.

And I end this call.

So, now there’s a way to make favorites here.
Move Phil if I want to, you know, to the top.
Jony, well, Jony- now he’s changed his number.
I’ll just remove Jony.
And boom, there we go.

It’s that simple.
Very, very easy.

If I wanna see all the ones that I’ve missed
I go up, touch that button
Boom: ones that I’ve missed.

If there’s a new message, it goes there and tells me
Error prevention
Error correction
I won’t not make some, I probably will
But then I can just say sounds great, see you there
And then I can send that. And then, there it is.

It’s that simple.

You don’t have to manage the network, you know.
Be sure, no, be certain it will do the right thing.

iii.

Now let me show you something else.
I’ll pick Italy.
Push that button and we go right there.
I turn, I’m in portrait.
I turn, I’m in landscape.
Here, look at the pinch: make it bigger, now smaller
So let’s take a look now.
What’s this all about?

Satellite photos, directions and traffic.
Touch maps with my finger, the world on a screen.
And here we go. Scroll here. Go there, now we’re there.
Just go over there now; come back over here.

Get rid of them all just by hitting the X.

I know!
Let’s go to the Washington Monument.
Double-tap here,
Hit this button and

…uh, let’s just let it catch up to me

Okay, so now
The Washington Monument.
People down there!
There we go. Look at this!

And now here’s another one, uh, Eiffel Tower.
Look at this, right here, the real Eiffel Tower.
There’s people down there! On my phone! You can see!
Look at that.
Do you see them?
Do you think they see me?

So now, over here,
Colosseum in Rome
Here we are, Colosseum.
Colosseum in Rome.
Satellite imagery.
Look at that. God!
That’s the Colosseum,
The Colosseum in Rome.

Here we go,
Here’s the weather.
Let’s see what it’s like.
49 now, 61 later
We’ll just stay in here then, until it warms up.

Here’s Paris right here, and it’s nighttime in Paris.
It’s nighttime in Paris, and warmer than here.
Wow. Aspen. No snow until later this week.
Hawaii–it’s raining, that’s not good at all.

[I hope you’ll never really know
Because it’s really bad out there]

iv.

Let’s put it together
and see what it does
Is everyone with me?
Okay. Here we go.

Go on ahead and touch your music
While I set some stars by hitting the marks.
Slide it across now
We’ve only just started
Go on, touch your music
Take your finger, and scroll

See? Here we are. We’re in artists right now
A little rubber banding when I run off the edge
And if I wanna pick one
Well then, I pick one
I scroll here
I tap it
And boom, there it is:
Screen Shot 2017-06-17 at 2.29.14 PM

 

With A Little Help From My Friends

See?
We wanted something you couldn’t do by accident in your pocket.

Music fades,
The screen changes.
There’s a call here, coming in.
So I can ignore it, but I think that I’ll answer.

I answer it.
Howdy.

Oh, hi Phil. Hey listen, I’m busy right now–
–A photo? Hawaii?
Uh, Okay.
Hold on.
[So I go home, right here, and I’m still on the call.]
Okay, let me look.

[I scroll through the photos
I think it was this one…
Don’t know why he wants it
He looks like a slob]

Yup, Phil, here, I’ve got it.
You want I should send?
[Now watch this. I tap here? And boom. There it goes.]

This is what it’s like when you put it together.
A real-life scenario
Here’s where you are.

v.

You know, when I was in high school.

Steve and I, well, mostly Steve, uh, he made this little device called the tv jammer. And it was, it was this little oscillator that put out frequencies that would screw up the tv. And he would have it in his pocket, and we’d go into like a dorm where he was going to school and a bunch of folks was watching like Star Trek and he’d screw up the TV, and somebody’d go up to fix it,
and and and
just as they had their foot off the ground,
He’d turn it back on. And if they put their foot back on the ground he’d screw up the TV again.
And within 5 minutes he’d have somebody like this for the rest of the Star Trek episode.

I don’t think anyone is gonna look at anything quite the same way again.

What does this tell you?

Those of us there, we will never forget
And I don’t think the world will, ever again.
First was the first one
The second came next
And now here’s the third, in the palm of my hand.

I wanna get home, so I push the button,
I wanna get home, and it takes me home.
The button, you touch it, and it takes you home
It takes you back home from wherever you are.

Look at all the days I’ve waited,
We’re gonna leave them here for now.
We skate to where the puck will be,
Not to where it’s been.

Why do you do things the way that you do?
Alan, he asked me this 30 years back
Why do you do that?
Why?
Well, Alan, tell me
Why do you do things the way that you do?

It’s really not too shabby, is it?
We’ve really only just begun
I think I’ve shown you everything
Let’s go ahead and turn it on

You know, I showed this once to someone
Someone who’d never seen it before
Well, what do you think? I asked
I remember
He told me
Dude, you had me at scrolling.

download

©Melinda Rooney, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

Recycled Limerick

Kimmy Allan

…public service announcement meets poetic form. Result: recycled art with a message.downloadThere once was a girl named Renee
Who recycled things every day
And because less trash
It meant far more cash
For she had more money to play

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©Kimmy Alan, 2017

Kimmy Alan is a wannabe poet from the land of Lake Woebegone. A retired steel worker who was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, Kimmy Alan pursued his love of poetry as a distraction while undergoing chemo and radiation. For him, poetry has proven to be a powerful catharsis, as he is currently in remission. When he isn’t writing he spends time with his four wonderful nieces, whom he says “are driving him to pieces.”

 

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  1. Who are you named after?
    No one. My mother opened a baby name book and dropped her finger on a page. My father came and went and left me in his wake, a little seed and I grew into a little plant, and she said she’d jump off a bridge before she’d name me after him. All I know is that he is a rock star. She didn’t want me doomed, she said once, to either having to live up to him or repeating his mistakes. She had this thing about fate and free will. She went to college for awhile I guess. She read me a lot of books.
  2. Last time you cried?
    When she died. I was twelve. She jumped off a bridge.
  3. Do you like your handwriting?
    Very much. I was praised as a child. People are more likely to help you out if you take some trouble making your sign. You can’t just scribble any old which way on some crappy piece of cardboard. You don’t want to look crazy. You have to make an effort, have a little self-respect. If I can scare up the right kind of marker and a relatively blemish-free surface, I mean, get out of my way. (Dumpsters outside movie theaters are great. If they haven’t just crumpled them up, if they’ve gone to the trouble to roll them which you’d be surprised, a lot of them do, the back of a movie poster is the perfect medium: glossy, pure white, just stiff enough to withstand some weather. And there are a couple of the librarians here, they loan me Sharpies. Sharpies only used to come in black but they’re all colors now.) Sometimes I’ll make a little picture: a puppy, a bunch of flowers. One of my foster moms, she liked to do art. And school was not for me but I did like the books and art class. My philosophy is you make it nice for people, they’ll want to make it nice for you.
  4. What is your favorite lunch meat? download
    They don’t make it anymore. Or maybe they do and I just haven’t been in a store for awhile. It was this baloney with sliced olives in it. Pimento loaf. On rye bread with cream cheese. Foster Family Four, if memory serves.
  5. Longest relationship?
    My mom. We lived in a bus. After that I kind of went from house to house, you know, sometimes a juvenile facility. A hospital once.
  6. Do you still have your tonsils?
    She didn’t believe in doctors. And we couldn’t pay for one anyway.
  7. Would you bungee jump?
    Not likely. But I’ve been known to surprise myself. I kind of have enough on my plate.
  8. Favorite kind of cereal?
    I’ve only ever had one kind. We didn’t do refined sugar or Screen Shot 2017-06-05 at 3.58.37 PMpreservatives and plus the no money thing so I stole a box of Frankenberry from a Kroger’s one day when we came into town and ate it in the parking lot. I was six I think. I don’t know. I guess I’d eat Frankenberry again. I’m not sure they make it anymore, like the pimento loaf. It makes your poop a funny color.
  9. Do you untie your shoes when you take them off?
    I avoid shoes. It’s what’s nice about warm climates. That and you can sleep outside and not freeze to death. There’s a shoes rule here, but I hole up in one of the computer cubicles so I’m generally not seen. I bring all my shit in with me, you know, because you need to keep an eye, and that has likewise never been a problem. As I said, I think it’s preferable by all that there be the option not to see certain things.
  10. Favorite ice cream?
    Ah, see, now you’re just messing with me.
  11. What is the first thing you notice about a person?
    The way they pretend not to see me. Everyone’s different, the way they do it, like fingerprints. It’s why I make an effort with the sign.
  12. Football or baseball?
    Baseball. Spring training down here. Nice guys. I watch through the fence.
  13. What color pants are you wearing?
    You mean originally? Couldn’t tell you.
  14. Last thing you ate?
    Why? You offering?
  15. What are you listening to?
    Grunge. Any and all. Once when I nagged her my mother told me that’s what my dad played. So I think sometimes hey, maybe this song I’m listening to? Maybe that’s him. They make me use these headphones. You know: shhhh. I like YouTube. And these quizzes. No one can see you on Facebook, so no one has to on purpose not see you. Simplifies things for everybody. I have a profile and everything, I’ve made some friends, you know, I have a list. I get to answer questions as if someone really wants to know. They say this stuff about privacy, about stealing your data, but I got nothing to steal, and privacy is overrated. You only care about privacy when you’re not alone all the time.
  16. If you were a crayon, what color would you be? download
    Burnt Sienna. I loved crayons as a kid, still do. That little sharpener in the box. Sometimes with a new box I’d just run my fingers over the tips and not want to use them because they were so perfect.
  17. What is your favorite smell?
    Simmering garlic and onions.
  18. Who was the last person you talked to on the phone?
    Some lady at the shelter.
  19. Married?
    Once. Wasn’t for me.
  20. Hair color?
    Blonde. The greenish is from chlorine. I sneak into people’s yards sometimes, you know, use the pool. One place? Really rich folks, never there. Easy to creep in through the woods, lame security system. It’s called an Infinity pool, and it just tips right off the edge of the world. That’s a favorite spot.
    stirling infinity
  21. Eye color?
    Brown, but kind of dull and blurry, like beer bottles on the beach.
    Screen Shot 2017-06-05 at 3.53.47 PM
  22. Favorite foods to eat?
    Whatever I can find. Whatever they give me.
  23. Scary movies or happy endings?
    Depends on my mood.
  24. Last movie you watched?
    Wizard of Oz. That’s a weird fucking movie. No one ever points that out.
    Screen Shot 2017-06-05 at 4.03.18 PM
  25. What color shirt are you wearing?
    Formerly white.
  26. Favorite holiday?
    New Year’s. People give you drinks, you know, they’re drunk so they’re nice to you.
  27. Beer or Wine?
    Do I have to choose? I mean, I’d prefer weed but I had to give it up awhile back. It made me too hungry.
  28. Night owl or morning person?
    Both. I can’t afford to be choosy.
  29. Favorite day of the week?
    I stopped keeping track awhile ago. You’d be surprised how quickly it stops mattering. I hate Sundays though and I always know when they are because they are when the library’s closed. The library’s quiet. You can’t believe how noisy the world is when you’re outside all the time.
  30. Favorite season?
    No seasons here. I miss the fall sometimes, the trees like they’re on fire, frost in the grass. It got cold in the bus, but my mom was always there and we’d bundle up, and I don’t know how she did it, but she was always warm.

    Screen Shot 2017-06-05 at 4.05.37 PM
    ©Melinda Rooney, 2017

Tilth

Robin Cracknell

Last year I decided to cut up a book called ‘Misunderstood’ by Florence Montgomery. I then rearranged pieces of it in a set of ten poems (artwork, really) that spoke to my situation at the time.

tilthpoem (1)

Robin Cracknell is a photographer and writer living in London, UK. His work has been widely published and exhibited including, notably, Eyemazing Magazine, The Michael Hoppen Gallery in London and a solo show at Sous Les Etoiles in New York. A selection of his notebooks is featured in the acclaimed 2014 Thames and Hudson publication, ‘Photographers’ Sketchbooks’ with further work from his ‘Childhood’ series in Thames and Hudson’s ‘Family Photography Now’ published in 2016.

Robin Cracknell’s work is in various private collections internationally as well as The National Portrait Gallery in London, The Victoria and Albert Museum, and the Fundacion Privada Sorigue, a museum of contemporary art in Lleida, Spain.