U.S.A. Barber

by Sir Francis of the Suburbs

 

            “Happiness,” says Scotty in his heavy accent, “is the only thing.”

            “There are three kinds of people,” he says, spinning the chair so that I am facing him. He steps directly in front of me, hands bent, shears in one hand clippers in the other, with his wrists touching his hips. I’m seated in the barber’s chair, haircut halfway finished.

            Why do I come to this barbershop? Because the barbers, staff, whoever, they rarely speak to me. They speak to each other in Vietnamese, I think. The speed and grace with which they work, coupled with the foreign cadences of their conversations makes for a very relaxing atmosphere.

            But today Scotty wants to lecture me. No, not lecture, he wants to rap with me. I’m no good at this. But I combine head nods, appropriately timed (shears not near), with “uh huh” and “you got it” well enough not to insult him.

            “One kind of person keep all the money for himself,” he says gesturing grandly, now waving his hands and shears dangerously. “Second kind of person keep some money for him, and give some to others. Giving this money,” he says pointing to his chest/heart area with both equipment-filled hands, “makes him feel something. Feel something good.” Although his speech has only lasted maybe thirty seconds, it feels a lot longer. And it feels as though everyone else in the shop has stopped what they were doing to listen. I’m afraid to move my head much, not because I’m restrained but because I’m not usually supposed to—in the barber's chair, I’m supposed to be completely still. Anyway, I’m not sure how many others are in the shop with us, but it feels like a lot. And it feels as though all eyes are on us.

            “Third kind of person. Do you know what they are?”

            “Uh huh, you got it” I blather out, smiling stupidly.

            “He gives all his money away to others,” answers Scotty, only slightly deterred by my non-answer to his pretty straightforward question. He follows up with, “Why does he do that?”

            Scotty is still directly in front of me, both hands in the air, palms up and still grasping the clippers and shears. His entire body seems like a question mark. For a terrifying second his gaze is locked onto me. I’m following his logic but I have no idea how to answer his question. He waits through my silence just long enough to show everyone watching/listening that I have no clue how to solve his riddle.

            “Because he’s poor and the government come and take it all!” roars Scotty, now bent over clenching at his stomach with laugher. I momentarily worry that Scotty may injure himself with his tools.

            I had misjudged Scotty. He wasn’t quizzing me. He was performing for me. I wonder how many times he’s performed this same, or similar, joke before. “Oh yeah of course. I agree with that!” I lamely reply. Scotty and I are the only ones laughing (and I’m too anxious to really be laughing), so I surmise that the others in the shop hadn’t stopped to watch his performance so much as gauge my reaction.

            “No, but happiness man, that’s the thing,” says Scotty as he goes back to cutting my hair, clippers buzzing away in one hand, shears slicing away in the other.

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His Fortress was a Faithful Heart

by Robert Leeming

The flickering outdoor light cast a milky pattern across the garden pond Oonagh had dug on her forty-fifth birthday. Michael stared at the water and remembered the dirt piling up beside the wooden deck chair he had sat in while she worked.

Oonagh had the habit of making household rearrangements to mark milestones. On her fortieth birthday she had smashed through a partition wall to open up the dining and sitting rooms and on her fiftieth she had uprooted several conifer trees that had grown so tall they blocked out the sun for the majority of the day.

He’d objected to the pond, he’d objected to chopping the trees down. He’d become unforgivably objectionable after he stopped working at the RAF base at Cogley Wood, and he had dragged his feet mercilessly as she hacked away at the tree trunks.

“Why don’t you go a little easy,” Michael had shouted at her, “you’re fifty now, you’re not as young as you used to be.”

“If it wasn’t for me,” she said, breaking to breathe after each swing, “nothing would change around here.”

The fact that he could gaze out across the garden to the Robinson place, the fact that he could sit and watch people come and go from the Horse and Jockey pub, the fact that he could make note of the changing seasons, the maypole in the summer, the lighting of the tree in winter, this was her gift of openness to him. Chopping those trees down had kept him connected to the world when he most wanted to be out of it.

“To accept the immediacy of death is the only way to overcome anxiety,” she would say. And, “To grow nightingale roses on the eastern side of a garden is to open up your life to a host of secrets,” among other such maxims that were not so serviceable for reality, but certainly were worth bearing in mind for the next world.

Michael still hated it when people sang ‘Jerusalem’ at weddings, everybody likes the tune but the words are hardly fitting and although they really belted it out on that summer’s day in 1952, he couldn’t help but cringe at the memory. Although her countenance was divine, the holy city paled in comparison to the passion Oonagh would bring forth every Sunday night, down by the beach, with the leaky roof and the jet planes from Cogley Wood roaring overhead.

Miraculous moments come and go, in the blink of an eye, and then, the miracle done, you are left to wonder if it was just a predetermined certainty you were made to wait a little longer for than you were entirely comfortable with.

Oonagh saw the world in Michael and the generational back-and-forth continued until probability conspired that they chop down the trees together, and she looked back at him from amongst the fallen wood, the world opening up before him again, as time proved his heart faithful, and she told him about the changes.

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Femininity

by Raquel Wasserman

     Jung says we all have a feminine half and until you share it, you’re not really you.  Toby liked girls. He had a line-up of chicks over the phone, on afternoons at the pizza shop, and in class.  He would poke around his mother's closet for high heels from the 70’s, sinking into them with sensual ecstasy. Then he’d flip through her beaten up Cosmo's, tracing the sexed up pages of Janice Dickinson gingerly.
      This tranny nonsense just wasn't done in Clark, his small Nevada town amid the grand arid desert of America. Maybe it was a dryness that extended to the simple people who lived there. The boys he knew were brawny and virile animals. They beat him up, and often. He was the Pretty Boy.


      He knew he was not gay -- not at all. He loved girls. Their world, after all, was the world he wanted to be a part of. When they gossiped at the bus, he felt a longing in his deep heart. Maybe the problem was his connection with girls was too tight, too personal. He knew their souls like the back of his hands.
      He knew what they wanted: to be pretty, to be popular, to make varsity, to date the cool guys. And he had even chosen a girl to date: Stephanie Koupos, who sat in front of him in Biology class.
      Stephanie was an upper-middle-class girl who smelled of patchouli, and wanted to go to school at Brandeis. He had a hopeless crush on her and her gorgeous kinks of Greek hair. She had a big bosom under her creamy sweaters, which to him exemplified all that was feminine.
      She was a very smart, competent girl. But he was a young man, and he loved dresses, and Nevada didn't cut it. He had a big poster on his wall of the only place he knew he could survive. New York.


And from the minute he went there, it was his town.


     At eighteen he ran away from his violent stepfather, who would not deal with his rebellion. He had his whole trashy/ classy vamp look down by now. A long black satin dress with red Jimmy Choos. Powdered face, china white, with a smoky Bardot eye and nude lip gloss. And he bought a stunning wig from an Orthodox store in Williamsburg.

      He tried a dozen shades, from blonde to red or nut brown. But his favorite was a black wig by Fosse. It cost over 200 dollars. Straight across his shoulder with bangs. He loved black.
It opened every door. It was so beautiful that the bus drivers would ask him out on dates. Then he would open his mouth, and they would hear his low voice and grow pale with Republican fury. He got kicked out of a lot of places for his real voice.


     He changed his last name to Fatone. He liked the sound of Fatone. It sounded like a wonderful gangster with a dame in the back room. All the other drag queens thought he looked like Ava Gardner, when she did that cult movie The Killers. He was eighteen and new, and they showed him all the stores and clubs.


     He met a blonde model, named Vega. She was his new dearest friend. She was lovely, from Missouri. He would brush the knots out of her hair as they discussed makeup. She was climbing to the top of fashion, no sweat, until she met him. He destroyed her career. Her addiction to drugs took her down. He had taught her this. He felt a little guilty.

     He had another bad habit. He liked to tease straight guys. He would get them to buy him a drink. He would get presents, rings, dresses, lingerie, whatever. And then he would unceremoniously drop the guy. It worked out perfectly.
     He realized that city life was changing him.
     He was becoming evil.


     He was becoming hard and tough and unsentimental. There was a Frank O'Hara poem, about the wonderful aspect of cruelty. He got that now. The coldness as comfort.

      One night, he came home late from a club at three AM and his makeup was dripping off. A man on the street had tried to punch his lights out. He wasn't in the best mood.
      “Queer!” the punk had screamed and grabbed onto Toby's Fosse wig and ripped, “Go back home!”
      Did he have a home, he wondered? Where was his soul really going to? If he couldn't blend in New York, where could he blend? This feminine half, this masculine half, where were they going to?
      He’d staggered into a deli for a bagel. His expensive wig was off, and two teenage girls from Brooklyn fawned over him at the counter.


     He went before his mirror. Removed his base, his false eyelashes, the Chanel gloss. And with his face bare, it struck him that he was a very handsome man. He looked like the kind of guy to be a lawyer or doctor or something. He looked very staid. He should have a wife and kids by now. But he didn't. He was in transit. He was like New York itself, the beautiful secret that looks like a Swarovski necklace but which is actually a snake.

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Who Stole My Sonnets?!!

by Fishspit

    No one believes my tale . . . what happened . . . no one, that is, but the two most mentally ill people in my mental health support group. This sort of thing just doesn’t happen! But maybe I should tell you about “the curse” I live under that led up to the incident before I tell you what happened.
    I live under a curse! I don’t know when it started . . . yet over the last two years it has become obvious. I have had nothing go right for two years! I hear my beloved optimist reader: “Fishspit! You are just looking at the negative! You dismiss the positive!” I hear the cognitive behaviorist counselor say, “Fishspit, you have developed a negative cognitive schema. You need to change your cognitions.” Bullshit! I’m under a curse!
     Does a person who gets in four wrecks in four months have a problem of mere cognition? Hell no! There’s someone out to get him! I can hear you! You blame me! Say I am cognitive deficient and caused the wrecks . . . but no!  I admit to two of them . . . but the other two . . . well, I got rear ended. I was sitting at red lights.  
    Everything was going wrong! Had been for so long I can’t even remember what to regale you with as proof since it was a daily occurrence! While I try to cull some of the big miseries from my curse, I’ll go ahead and regale you with a strange tale.
    I had me a girl.  I loved her.  She always had good luck! It irked me!  But her karma was so good. It was just unbelievable! She didn’t lie, cheat, and steal like yours truly. No . . . she was a good person.  I’ve often wondered if my curse is me paying for my decades of terrible actions. But in all reality, I believe it is some woman who has put a curse on me. Really! I was lousy to a lot of them when I was a drunk . . . a bad drunk . . . I must have hurt one so bad that she put the whammy on me . . . a voodoo curse.
    Back to the girl though . . . damn! . . . I’m always taking you on long tangents reader. I don’t know how to avoid it. How do you avoid rambling off like this? It’s my poor bean. It’s so fried. But that girl! She didn’t do bad things! She really was good! A good woman?! I know it’s hard to believe. But she was one if there ever was one. As a matter of fact . . . as I ponder it here . . . every broad I went out with when I was so rotten was a good person. Hmm. Maybe those stories mama told me that all women were bad (except my mama) weren’t true. Maybe misogynist dudes like me have it all wrong about broads. Hmm?
    But back to the girl . . . goddamned . . . she was a good soul!  I ain’t lyin’ either! I ain’t stretching the truth! She was my girl and we loved each other a lot. I lost her though. I was too mentally ill for her . . . I liked to live too hard and fast.  She wanted a smart, mellow fellow. I sure wasn’t either of those things. So she left me for a smart, mellow fellow.
    Ugh! I’ve got to do it reader . . . I’m so sorry . . . but . . . well . . . I’ve got to take you on another circuitous route . . . but I’ll get back to “the tale” soon . . . . . I promise.
    In my heartbreak over this girl, I spent a lot of time reading 18th century British poets. I do that when I’m low. Somehow I stumbled upon this poet from this period of literary genius whom I had never heard of before. His name is John Bampfylde. Nothin’, or hardly anything, is known about him. He wrote 16 sonnets . . . fell in love with the famous painter Joshua Reynolds’s niece (or daughter, or some other pretty she-devil related to Sir Joshua) . . . and went insane from unrequited love.
    He then threw a lot of rocks through Joshua Reynolds’s windows . . . and mad as a hatter at age 25, he was carted off to the lunatic asylum. He spent 20 years there! They let him out at age 45 and he immediately got consumption and died. And I complain about my lot in life! Sheesh! Here was a fellow that had worse luck than me! Well . . . almost. I became intrigued.
    His sonnets were published once in his lifetime.  Sometime in this century, an eccentric sort fell in love with Bampfylde’s sonnets and published the 16 of them in an edition of 300.  It cost me 50 bucks but I got ahold of a copy.  These were the first sonnets I’d ever read (except for a handful of Shakespearian which bored me), and I dug them.  I really did.  I decided to learn the form and write 16 of my own.  There are a number of rhyme schemes in the sonnet form.  You’ve heard of the Shakespearian sonnet.  It’s the most commonly used form.  I think! I’m no fuckin’ scholar, so don’t quote me on that. . . but it’s the one they taught us in high school.  Bampfylde deviated from this form and so I used his rhyme scheme.
    But I needed a muse!  I needed a fair dame to write the 16 sonnets to.  I chose the girl who broke my heart.  I wrote sad sonnets to what we had, and what we’d never have again.  I had written 13 of the sonnets or so . . . worked goddamned hard on them!  One night I was writing on one late into the dark hours, but had stalled out.   I couldn’t finish a line.  “Fuck it,” I concluded and put the journal containing all the sonnets so far writ onto the nightstand beside my bed.  I took my anti-psychotic meds, turned off the lamp, and laid back.
    The mind never shuts up of course.  Mine kept working at the line I couldn’t finish.  Whammo! Hot dog damn and diddly! The line that eluded me!  I had it! I turned on the light excitedly and reached for the sonnet journal . . . it was gone!!!  Reader!  I am not a believer in weird shit!  I’m a pragmatist!  Obstinately sensible!  Way too imbecilic to appreciate the fantastic!  These things just don’t happen! Figuring it had to have fallen down behind the bed, I crawled under . . . nope.  Must be in the bed . . . tore the bed apart . . . nope. I started feeling really weird . . . totally zizzled in the noggin!  Already dizzled in the head enough, this sort of situation sends me to the other side of the rainbow.  I freak out!
    I tore my room apart. Nothing! I started searching in places it could not possibly be!  I checked all the other rooms I go into . . . rooms I hadn’t even been in that day. Nothing! I was going mad.  I knew I wouldn’t be doing any sleeping anymore.  It was a Saturday night.  I live in my parent’s basement as I’m going to school and can’t afford both tuition and rent at present.  My folks were upstairs asleep.  I did not want to wake them over this. They already think I’m bonkers!  Hell . . . one night last December I got a push by God . . . up the stairs. . . at 3 a.m. . . . and God told me to go to my mama and tell her Jesus loved her.  Really! I was standing there at the bottom of the stairs and something came along and swooshed me up the stairs! Right on into the bedroom . . . I didn’t even walk . . . I floated! I swear.   I did it . . . which totally confused my shaken awake mother as I gave her the message.  It was crazy!  But . . . well . . . hell. . . that’s a different story.  I want to talk about that fucking sonnet journal. . . not God.  I just wanted to show you, dear reader, why they are wary of me. I chose not to give them the further opportunity to wonder about me . . . and I laid there in my bed staring at the ceiling.
    When you are awake all night, the chattering mind comes up with some doozies!  My mind decided that my lost love was dead! And her spirit had come by to take the sonnet journal.  I wanted to call her and check on her . . . but like I said about my folks . . . she already thought I was batty . . . a regular doodlesump! I didn’t want to run her off anymore than I had.  At that time, though she’d kicked me to the curb, we still were in communication and civil to each other.  Deciding she was dead, I decided to think what I’d wear to her funeral.
    Dressed up in my imagination in my suave black suit and slick Italian-made wingtips . . . for the funeral you know . . . man I was looking sharp . . . well . . . I laid in bed, eyes wide open . . . waiting for my folks to get up to go to church . . . so I could nab them before they left to come have a look-see into my abode.  Surely they’d spot the journal.  I was just missing it somehow. My parents were even more practical than I!  Things didn’t disappear in their world. Hell no!  Just didn’t happen.  The laws of the universe that we all follow slavishly . . . they too followed unquestioningly. It’s a comfortable way to live.
    I certainly wasn’t comfortable in my own mind.  I waited.  They were up.  I waited.  I could tell breakfast was going via my nozzle.  I jumped up and nabbed them!  My mom went at it; then my dad.  Every nook and corner!  Every cobweb! The cat’s behind! Places the damned thing would have to shrink up something awful to fit in to.  My mother was getting flustered.  This scared me.  The woman’s a rock!  She told me that they had to get on to church but when they got home we’d all do a full spring cleaning of my bedroom.  It would certainly show up.  But there was a twang of nervousness in her voice.  She was a little flumdiddled.  That had me feeling . . . well . . . spooked!
    After they left I lay back down and stared at the ceiling.  I wanted to call the girl and see if she was up yet, but I didn’t wanna wake her up with a frantic  “Are you dead?!”  Then if she was I’d be really spooked!  Or if she wasn’t, how could I explain the sonnet disappearance?  She was even more pragmatic than the rest of us put together!  She’d think I was trying to pull a fast one! An attempt at getting her back involved with me . . . in some unfortunate manner. I got my pride goddamed it!  I loved (think I still do too)
that girl though she don’t love me no more . . . and besides my pride, I still have a modicum of concern for others left, and I didn’t want to disturb her sleep or her peace.
    I'd call her later.  If she was dead there weren’t no hurry.  If she was alive there wasn’t any either.  There commenced two hours of dreadful waiting.  Thems two hours I’d like to have back . . . staring at the ceiling.  And worse . . . thinking!  Thinking that some evil spirit was cursing me.  Damn!  My ass hurt from the reaming I’d been getting by good old bad luck.  Bad, bad luck! And let’s not forget hardship! Hell no!
    Finally! The folks got home.  We donned our gloves, grabbed 52 brands of cleaning supplies, and went to town. We cleaned every inch of that room!  No notebook!  My mother sent my dad to clean the rest of the basement. Places I didn’t even go to!  She had a new theory that I’d been sleep walking.  “I didn’t sleep walk mama! I turned the light off, thought of a verse, turned the light on, and it was gone!”
    My mother, totally out of ideas, well reasonable ones suggested, “Maybe Pip took it.”  Pip!  My 3 and a half pound 15 year old cat!  Was she joking?  Her face didn’t imply she was.  But every spot had been checked!  Double checked!  Quondrupledouble checked! The sonnet journal was gone. 
   
Over the next week I lived in a surreal world.  I tried to live the practical life. . . but that journal kept popping into my mind.  Was I really cursed?  Maybe it was that Jewish girl I used to tease so bad!  She’d moved to New Orleans!  Had she put the hoodoo on me?!  I was getting paranoid!  I spent hours going over the broads in my life and trying to figure out which one hated me the most and had a personality inclined toward witchcraft.  I visited one of my local gurus.  She had me keep something precious in my pocket (I chose a clipping of Pip’s belly fur), to immerse myself in salt water baths, and to say “return to sender” whenever I could . . . all this to send this curse back to the one that sent it.  I did them.
    Things seemed to get better . . . I started to slip into a normal routine. The girl was not dead. Life went on. I started a new set of sonnets called “Who stole my sonnets!?”  All sonnets about broads that had good reason to put the hex on me!
    Things settled.  I concentrated on school.  Then . . . about 2 months later . . . I woke up . . . sitting on the floor . . . three feet from the side of the bed I sleep on . . . yeah . . . you guessed it!  The sonnet journal!


This piece is a part of Fishspit's ongoing project Wiseblood.  Learn more about the author and the project at WeMakeZines.

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Years in a Seahorse

by Zachary Scott Hamilton

( 1 )  BALLOONS

My mind is still a balloon full of helium. I am wandering the shale cliffs, I store a few balloons, and a dream, like a good idea, in your home. I found a glass of water in the forest vines, and filled my wandering legs without a doctor. When I arrive at your residence, seven seconds pass. Topics like healing with garlic, the state of the union, homelessness in the inner city make up an hour for me, and when abandoned, a few weeks. I figure if I sit down with you, and bring glyphs into your eyes, and the spinning summer waterfall bathing--I've forgotten about it--and the rest of Berlin unfolds with us, please notify the author Gertrude Stein right as six seconds (you seem pretty sure) are going through equations of creating that seven seconds stuffed in a box with a key.

( 2 )  MID NIGHTHAWK 

Earthworms burrow three holes into 4465 east Remington place. China plates, cabinet flower print, vine dreamt, and vertical ladders tied at the top to the painted sun, then the education of light. Healing a freeze-frame with that black hat floating underwater, upside down in a profile, split in screens, two each side of a mule passing Arc St. digging glass with their new album, spectacles like spiders, walls, and a queens hand, gloved-handkerchief umbrellas flying over the ocean. One, spinning nowhere, one in the rainbow. Middletown, turning a record beneath the needle claw, his wife closes herself in eyelashes.

Leprechauns climb out of the pottery all around the floating room. Middletown is a strange place, each bit of burning aroma wanders like tourists to the sea, the passage is in ocher locks of lichen, like arms. For a thousand breakfasts, in a claw foot tub, before moon and flame, bathing in leaves on the webs of sleep near the eaves of a French impersonator, Godfrey, with rockets in her dreams, large green eyes, and delicate hands, flirts with a tv remote. Her finger nails glitter in the static, dreams switch channels, static as she sleeps.

Closely trimmed in a white dance of basil lakes, and parasols that leak out speakers, the boats turn green. The algae, laughing, goat for halloween! Waking (A. in glove), (A. in goat) eating cakes. Godfrey Samples small locks of her keyboard with knife-point algebra. The road lets in floating military backpacks, to wire with solder, and children and Leaf the childrens’ world, just left heart beat, just playback oxygen, Oxen wanderlust.

( 3 )  EATING

Face the symmetrical furniture, the chandeliers, the jacket, the green, neon clock. The angel Auriel makes sure of the favorite pair of color swatch eyes, the best way to the nose, wakes eating cakes in an identical Wednesday, dancing on the slides with a hundred years in a letter to the post office, or over a week, so galactic.

I am curious, humane, sheltered in scarves. I have grown a lot of wings from maple, and friends in New York. I even found a place for the past, and I will have a healthy fear of you who jangle your keys next to the passage in twilight. I join handmade letters from cardboard, kiss under heavens, float to shore, as Zachary.

( 4 )  GERMAN DOLL

At the felt sleeve of the cosmos, the Catalina stairways practice Eucla cod, the Elvers are fed atoms, and suspended in animations so the Danio can gorge on tv commercials.

There are nine awkward turns to go, thanks to the iceberg crystalline. Her first frozen mammoths appear in the story bridge, and reflecting ponds, in the snow suits, and warm tongues.

( 5 )  BLUE INK

Swerve into a hat, into a white whale, a bird, throwing glitter, glowing retina tin can, sewing machine spit, conditioner lathered foam noises. Lurching on a wire, a maple figure, is woven black threads, a new nightmare stitch under the winding of doors, sculpted all hair for songs, and gold furniture, rewind --

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