EXCERPT
from Odyssey Towards the Light
Levy Lee Simon

CHAPTER ONE

I grew up on 115th Street, in Harlem USA, during the 60s. It was a small city block sandwiched between Manhattan Avenue to the east and Morningside Avenue to the west. Morningside Avenue ran parallel with Morningside Park, which stretched from 110th street up to 125th street.  On the other side of the park, was Morningside Heights, Amsterdam Avenue, Broadway, Columbia University and what we all called the white section. Historically speaking Morningside Heights was the place that George Washington used to watch the British Navy because of  its high elevation and view of the Hudson River.

My block was my haven. And though it wasn’t tame by any stretch of the imagination, is was my safety zone, because at ten years old being away from 115th Street was kinda scary back then.  Each side of the street was lined with three, five story walk up tenement buildings. It seemed the sun always shined even in the winter, and the adults would sit in the park in the summer, on those green park benches, drinking Ballentine Ale, Shaffer Beer, Bacardi Rum, Ripple or Gallo wine, as they played, Bid Wiz, Tonk, 21 Black Jack, and Poker, watched the kids play in the block directly across the street, and waited for the number to come out. 

“What’s leading today?”

“Seven. What you play?”

“I played, 357!”

“Did you combinate it?”

“Shoot, you know I did. I learned my lesson last week!”

And the bench would roar with laughter.  

115th street was a play street in the summer. The city would block the street off with police barricades so no cars could enter the street from Manhattan Avenue.  On any given day there could be fifty kids playing in the middle of the street. The girls skipped rope and jumped double-dutch.  The boys played strike out or skullies. Skullies was a game where you’d slide flat round objects like poker chips, coat buttons or car decals on the street surface into painted boxes dispersed on the street. The goal was to slide your piece into the 13 boxes before anyone else. You could knock other tops away in the process of trying to get yours in. The idea was to have a top that could slide easy and hit hard. The harder your top hit, the further it would knock your opponents top away from the boxes. That’s why it took three or four poker chips glued or gummed together to make one that could withstand the hits or also glide safely into a box. Skully games were intense, and no car was safe parked on our block because the car decals made the best skully tops.  If you could get an Eldorado top or a Cadillac top you were doing good because, they were heaviest and glided faster, and would knock any other top far away which made your chances of winning better.  But if you did get a car decal you always had to watch out for the owner. It could end quickly and badly. We spent hours playing skullies until it was time to play stickball. Stickball took precedence over all the other games. When it was time for stickball every other game moved to the sidewalk.  We’d play stickball games among each other and against other blocks. 

One summer, when I was around ten years old, a black stretch limo pulled up at 115th Street and Manhattan Avenue. It sat there for awhile, while everyone stopped to watch. We were not accustomed to limousines pulling up and stopping, no less. After a few minutes a white chauffeur got out of the car, which was also very odd. He opened the back door and out stepped Willie Mays. Willie Mays!!!!! I couldn’t believe my eyes. We went crazy. He gave out baseballs and signed autographs. I couldn’t believe it, the “Sey Hey Kid,” was actually standing in our block. Then, to everyone’s surprised he asked if he could stay and play stickball with us. Oh, this was too much. This was way too much. I was never more excited. It was just way too much, but he stayed, and played for about 30 minutes. People were hanging out of their windows watching. He even let us strike him out once. But, then he hit one that seemed to fly into the white section across the park, and he caught every ball we hit out to Morningside Avenue. Afterwards, he waved goodbye, got back in the limo and drove off. When he left, everybody stopped playing and just kinda sat around in disbelief, taking the moment in, adults and children. It was dust, and the sky had that beautiful, orange, yellow, amber, summer color as it slowly set in the west.  It was as if we’d all experienced the same dream. But it wasn’t a dream. It was real. We played stickball with Willie Mays himself, the “Say Hey Kid!,” himself.

115th Street was not all fun and games though. It was a tough block and had a reputation of having some tough kids. The kids on 115th Street hung together in groups by age. Pretty Boy Bobby, Buck Tooth Ronnie, Four Eyed DD, and Kool James, were in the seventeen to twenty-one age group. Smokey, Smitty, KK, Mason, Prune and Jimmy, were in the thirteen to seventeen age group. Raynard, Bryce, Little Greg, Lenny, Little Gary, Killer, and Cowboy,  were in the ten to twelve age group. Cowboy was my nic- name back then because of my love for cowboy shows like “Rawhide” with a young Clint Eastwood. 

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LEVY LEE is a multiple award winning writer of over twenty produced plays, that include For the Love of Freedom, The Bow Wow Club, The Guest at Central Park West, The Magnificent Dunbar Hotel, The Stuttering Preacher and The Last Revolutionary, to name a few. As an actor he has appeared in over sixty productions, On Broadway, Off-Broadway, regional theatre and abroad, including, the Pulitzer Prize winning, Tony nominated, The Kentucky Cycle and the acclaimed London production of Ms. Ever’s Boys. His directing credits are highlighted with productions of Amiri Baraka’s Dutchman, Javon Johnson’s Breathe, and Josh Wilder’s Leftovers. A number of his play adaptations have been optioned by Hollywood studios and production companies as well.

 

2 STORIES
Jeb Schary

STORY #1

I was about 15 and a half, car crazy and full of raging hormones. I simply couldn't wait to get my driver's license, and be able to go to the beach, or the mountains. Listening to the Beach Boys on the radio. Cruising with my buddies, maybe even dating. Parking out at the beach, watching submarine races. This was the Fifties, and things were simpler then. My Dad was a huge deal at a big-time movie studio in Los Angeles, so I wasn't exactly growing up on the mean streets. Unless there were mean streets in Brentwood. I had just transferred from a private boarding school in Palos Verdes, where I wasn't doing well at all. "There's no question he could handle the work, he's very bright. But he just doesn't seem to apply himself." This from the faculty. Pretty much the same criticism I'd been hearing since the second grade. I hated boarding school.I hated being away from home. I had one or two friends, my acne was in full brutal bloom. But now I was in a public school in West Los Angeles. Kids from much different backgrounds were there. Mexicans, Japanese, Korean--all those blended in. I was learning to adapt. Which wasn't so easy. I wasn't a jock, wasn't a brain, wasn't a particularly tough guy, didn't have a car. But, on the good side, my acne was subsiding. So there was that. Life was getting better.

It was a Saturday morning. I wandered into Dad's bedroom/office. Dad was having breakfast. Shredded wheat pillows with a banana in an English china bowl. It had the Farmer's Prayer written on the side. I had memorized it. It ended "So Jolly Boys now, here's Godspeed to the plow. Long life and success to the farmer."

Dad looked up from his cereal. "Sit down. I had a meeting at the studio you'll be interested in."

I wasn't sure I wanted to hear about his meeting. The real reason I had wandered into his room is that I wanted to talk about getting a car for my sixteenth birthday. So I could be patient. Dad went on to explain that it was this time of year when the executives at the studio went through all the contracts on the various actors under employ. Big studio. Lots of contracts. The producer in charge of the talent contracts had come to my father's office with a list of the talent contracts.

Apparently all was good, until Dad noticed that there were about 8 actresses who had been under contract for a few years, and had yet to appear in a picture. "Why haven't these girls been in any picture?"

"Well, you know how it is. They're studying, learning the craft."

Some of these women have been under contract over five years? How's their studying going?

"Some better than others, not ready yet. But, come on, you know, sometimes the guys from the east come to town, and they want some company. Maybe on some rainy afternoon, you'd enjoy some company too."

I was paying close attention now. Maybe I could get some company too. After all, my birthday was coming up. I was making an effort to keep my hands still. It wasn't good to fidget, I had learned.

"What did you say?" I asked my father.

He said, "What are we running here? A motion picture studio or a whorehouse? Fire them."

I sat still, running this through my head. My father had a firm moral stance.

I could understand that. But all of them? Seemed extreme. Was there a loophole?

I said, "All of them?"

My father laughed at my pluck, and said, "Yes, all of them."

I figured now was not the time for a car talk. So I nodded, and said, "I understand."

•••

STORY #2

Spencer Tracy was my father's favorite actor. He loved Brando, Clift, Bob Ryan and many others, but he had a very special affection for Tracy. They'd met in '28 when Tracy was starring in The Last Mile on Broadway. My Dad was 23, just starting out. He had a bit part, and was an assistant stage manager. Tracy played 'Killer' Mears, and the part rocketed him to Hollywood, to begin his movie career. Some years later, my father won an Oscar for Original Screenplay for a movie starring Tracy. Tracy won the Best Actor award the same year. Years later--after many movies, from screenwriter to producing 'B' pictures to running production at RKO, until Hughes bought that studio, causing him to leave RKO, with the script Battleground in his briefcase--my Dad became head of production at MGM studios, where Tracy was a contract player, among many other big stars. Battleground was produced, in 1949 and was a big success. Things went well at Metro. It's now 1955, and MGM was about to go into production on Bad Day at Black Rock, starring Tracy, Robert Ryan, Ernest Borgnine, Lee Marvin, Anne Francis and an all-around stellar cast. But now, Tracy wanted to have a meeting with my father, who was pretty sure what the meeting was going to be about. Tracy was famous for getting last minute jitters, and hated location work. The exteriors of Bad Day were going to be shot in Lone Pine, CA. In the middle of the Mojave Desert, in the summer. 

Tracy entered my Dad's office with a smile. "You know, Dore, when we were doing The Last Mile together, I said, 'See that tall lanky kid over there? Well, sir, he's going to end up running production at Metro Goldwyn Mayer, and I'll be working for him. You'll see.'"

"I'm sure you did, Spence. But that bit of clairvoyance isn't what you wanted to see me about. What's the problem?"

"Well, Dore, I'm thinking about this Bad Day project. I'm not sure I'm right for it."

"Why not? I think it's a great role for you."

"Nah, I'm not sure. Maybe I'm too old?"

"Nope, you're perfect. You'll be terrific."

They talked back and forth for a while, with Tracy sticking to his guns. But my Dad had figured this part out.

Dad said, "Listen, if you don't want to do the picture, I'm not going to make you. I think it's a great part for you, and you'll be terrific in it. John Sturges is going to direct, we've got the whole first team working on it, but if you don't want to do it...well, there's really nothing I can do."

Tracy was suspicious. "Ok, then. You sure you're all right with this?"

"Absolutely. You know, I think Glenn Ford is available..."

"Glenn? Really? Do you think he's right? I mean..."

"Spence, if you don't want to work on the picture, we'll deal with that. I think you're better for this character McCready, but if you don't want to do it..."

"Yeah, ok. Then that's it?"

"Sure, Spence. I'll just have our guys get in touch with your agent, and we'll work this out."

"Work this out? Work what out?"

"Well, you know we've invested money on this project. Wardrobe fittings, make-up tests, and like that. But it shouldn't end up costing you too much."

"Too much?" What's too much?"

"Well, I'm just guessing, but maybe it's like 20, 30 grand. Not that big a deal really."

Tracy exploded. "20, 30 grand!!??!! Are you crazy? This is blackmail! I'll be out in the middle of the desert, sweating my nuts off, and you'll be sitting here in your air-conditioned office, playing with my 30 grand. I mean, Jesus, Dore."

"So that's what this is about? Listen, Spence, if you do this movie, I'll come out to the desert, and sweat along with you. I'll hold your sweaty hand. Come on, it's a couple of weeks. It's going to be a great picture, and you'll be great in it."

Tracy paused, then said, "And you'll tell Glenn Ford to piss off?"

"You bet."

So Tracy agreed to do the picture, and he was brilliant in it.

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JEB SCHARY: My father was a writer/producer, my mother a painter. I've spent my life producing commercials for various ad agencies around the country, writing some of them. My sister, my son, and my wife have conspired to make me pick up the writing machine. Something about my brain. 

EXCERPT
from Loss
Mel R. Friedman

At 9PM sharp, per her instruction, Leo dialed  the phone number Victoria had scribbled on the folded scrap of paper that afternoon. She answered the phone on the first ring. Her tone  suggested anxiety, trepidation, anticipation, or perhaps a combination of all three. She told him she could not chat for long, as her relatives were discussing a matter of utmost importance with her at the moment, but, yes, she definitely would like to meet Leo for lunch the following day.

Leo suggested they meet at a dairy restaurant on 48th Street at one o'clock, and Victoria agreed. Leo was unaware of her observance of dietary laws or lack thereof,  so he considered the dairy restaurant a safe choice. She readily agreed.

“One o'clock, then? Excellent. See you then”. 

The sharp click of the phone line as her handset was placed in its cradle annoyed Leo for a moment, but he remembered she was staying with potentially intrusive relatives, and perhaps she would have surmised the less they knew of her activities, the better.

Leo approached the entrance of the eatery at 12:55. He did not wish to keep this lady waiting. He placed his right hand over his eyebrows to block the midday sun as he pressed his forehead against the pane glass window to have a look inside. As he did so,  he heard the sound of a woman's voice behind him.

“I hope I didn't make you wait too long,” she said.

Leo turned around to face her.

“Not at all”, he replied.

“In fact, we are both a few minutes early. Why don't we go inside, then?”

Leo pulled the  entrance door open for her, then followed Victoria inside. They found an unoccupied booth. Leo took both of their coats and hung them on the vertical rack adjacent to their table. The pair now seated, the waiter brought them menus.

“I hope my choice of this restaurant meets with your approval”, Leo began. “To be honest, I wasn't sure of your observance of dietary laws or lack thereof, so I figured the dairy restaurant would be a safe bet.”

“That's very considerate on your part,” she replied. “No, I'm not really observant at all, I'll eat just about anything, though I still harbor a distaste for pork and shellfish. My therapist tells me these are vestiges of  my parents' conflicted  attitudes regarding religious observance throughout my upbringing, though I continue to insist I just find these foods repulsive on their own.”

Leo raised an eyebrow. 

“So how long have you been in therapy,then?”

“Three years. I highly recommend it. Many folks, especially those my parents' age, attach a stigma to the concept of psychotherapy. They erroneously think a person in therapy might be on the verge of an emotional breakdown, or possibly be incapable of as simple a task as tying one's own shoes. They don't see therapy as a way to attain self awareness  and improve one's emotional well being.”

“If you don't mind my asking, what prompted you explore psychotherapy three years ago,then?”

“I'd say a series of events which ultimately led to my divorce, though  unresolved issues  existed before I  even got married.”

“What sorts of issues?”  Leo was intrigued.

“My parents were lucky to have gotten out of Europe in the late 1930's. They didn't have me until 1948, three years after the war had already ended. Still, the trauma of having lost so many relatives who couldn't get out took its toll. I  believe my parents do care for  me and wish  for  me to be happy, but they are unaware how their  own fear  and sadness have taken an emotional toll on me throughout my upbringing. I grew up in a relatively safe country, but in a small, insular community. Life choices were limited. By the time I was twelve, my parents had already  formulated the plan of who I would marry when I reached the ripe old age of twenty. It was absurd. He wasn't a bad person. He came from a successful family, and, on paper, at least, they thought they were looking out for my best interests. The fact that there was no 'spark' between us, for lack of a better term, made no difference. .”

Leo took a deep breath.

“I can see I'm boring you, and perhaps I've gone on with my personal story for  too long. How about you? How did the remaining members of your family survive, when did you come to New York, and how did you end up in the diamond business?”

“No, I can assure you, I'm not  bored at all. I'm quite fascinated. After what I've lived through and seen with my own eyes, the field of psychology has interested me for some time.”

Victoria raised an eyebrow. 

“Have you ever considered  going into therapy yourself?” 

Leo took another deep breath.

“To be perfectly honest, I have considered it at various points .”

“What stopped you then?”

“There are  traumas I've lived through  I'd prefer to keep buried in the past. At this point in my life I question the wisdom of dredging them up  and I wonder if it would serve any useful purpose. At some point I might reconsider my point of view, but for the moment I think we should take a look at the menu and decide what we'll have for lunch.”  

“I suppose I may have come on a bit too strong about this before we've gotten to know each other better and for that I do apologize. I just have such a strong opinion regarding the value of psychotherapy.”

“No need to apologize. “

Leo reached for one of the menus , opened it up, and placed it before her.

“See if they have something you might like, then perhaps I'll share my story with you as well.”  

She  managed a smile as she picked up her menu  in search of  an item which, as the Brits would say, might  tickle her fancy. 

As she perused the list of available entrees, Leo  observed her with rapt attention.  He thought of Marina, her whining voice and  mood swings coupled with  her complete  lack of self awareness. Emotionally, Marina was a wounded bird. Leo  realized  that  emotional state had  manifested itself in other women he'd known before as well, from Leah to Dahlia, and, most recently, Marina.  He visualized an ad he could have placed  in the weekly personal section of the Daily Forward  . 'Recently widowed man, 50 ish, seeks attractive woman in her late twenties or early thirties, wounded birds a specialty.”  

As he now observed Victoria seated across the table , Leo knew this woman  was different from  others he'd known. She had  been raised in an affluent home, but in many ways still a gilded cage. Her life choices had been limited. She had been pushed into a  passionless  marriage and tried to go along with her parents' wishes. Like Leo, she'd been haunted with the familiar refrain, “there has to be more than this.”  Unlike Leo, however,she had sought professional guidance  in a concerted effort to put her emotional life in order. He felt a strong admiration for her perseverance. Leo felt he was now navigating uncharted territory. It filled him with a mixture of  dread and attraction.

“So, have you decided what you'd like?” he asked.

“Are the cheese blintzes good?”

“Cheese blintzes like these, I can assure you, you will not find in  Montevideo, or anywhere else in Uruguay, I guarantee it.”

The two of them laughed. The ice had been broken.

Leo summoned the waiter to place their order. 

Things were definitely looking up. 

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MEL R. FRIEDMAN spent his formative years growing up in Queens, New York. After graduating New York's Stuyvesant High School and CUNY's Queens College, he moved to Southern  California, where he resides till this day.  After joining the Wimpole Street Group several years ago, Mel began writing again after a long hiatus.

     

     

6 POEMS
Don Norman

@: As If
I don't want to be alone
I want intimacy
I want to experience, together
as if two sets of eyes were one
as if the sweet pangs of beauty born were a cup to be shared
as if we were truly I

I don't want to be invisible
I want to be transparent
as if light and I were so alike that shadows found no purchase
as if shame did not solidify my marrow
as if there were some respite from my self

I don't want to end
I want to transform
to become more, without losing that essential core
as if I am not merely a collection
as if I am some how less
as if the great mystery could remain unsolved

I don't want to be alone
as if I were


*

@: pretty
i've never been pretty
that word, all the feelings
all the expansive and burdensome landscape
it plays across in the great mind we share
has never been applied to me
i learned to wield it though, the word, clumsily
as a compliment to little girls
'' "pretty shoes", "pretty dress", "such a pretty girl"
and pets
'' "pretty girl"
and later, as a stand in for lust
'' "pretty girl"
or a dismissal
'' "pretty girl", "pretty woman"
or a joke
'' "i feel pretty, oh so pretty..."
and much later, as a many layered thing
'' "he's very pretty"

now its a word of the past
an engine for the baggage train of patriarchy and oppression
and a reminder of my own culpability
a word I don't use any more
a violent word like "cunt", "whore", "slut"
a word that dies on the back of my tongue

i watched my daughter, in her battle against prettiness
shave her head and insert gold teeth
she wanted to feel what i felt
the absense of the priviledge and weight
my little girl
who delighted in her princess dress and sparkly shoes
who danced and sang with abandon on the back lawn at twilight
declaring to no one, in a voice like a forest stream
"I am so pretty"

*

@: Opening
In the morning of my evening
I found, like a lost treasure in a forgotten pocket,
myself opening
not as a stately door on well-oiled hinges
nor as a crooked gate, bent by years
what holds me closed is not latch or turf or rust
but the ghost of a burning coal
an ashen shape that falls away
at your whisper
I am torn open
(not as the temple curtain was ripped
when the lamb was slain)
torn like fabric too worn by living and loving
for the weave to hold

*

@: Peace
a breath of air
lifting this page ever so slightly
then leaving it to fall
the cat at my feet
rolling tummy up, eyes closed
the horn of the neighborhood grocery truck, some blocks away, announcing its arrival with "La Cucaracha"
more distant, and beneath children sounds, the ebbing and flowing hum of cars on streets all around
a family of parakeets sing the sun down, the sky a brilliant fading orange
I reach up and pull the light cord
and look at this page
blank (and a little too bright) except for the word
"Peace"
hours later, I surrender;
the sparse page unyielding
"i don't know what this word means"

*

@:love doesn't end
love doesn't end
it isn't a coat you remove
when you grow too warm
love is wearing you
and like a child in a new satin dress
she refuses to take you off even to sleep
she plays wildly in you
without regard to tearing or digging in the dirt
so you quickly grow tattered and threadbare
until love stands naked inside you
until you become love's own skin
through you she feels
other skin and gravity and fire
she refuses to wash you off as
her aroma penetrates your sweat and desire and fear
though, in the course of time
you may find that you are left
in bits and pieces on the road
while love continues on
you will never, ever, be rid of the stench of love

*

@: Friend Song

it is in the trembling of my fingers,
a trembling that wells up from
bone and memory
that I know you are near

Not your words, though I feel the breath of them

not your eyes which hold me like a cloud holds water

not the grasp of your hand, though it's warmth is a persistent sun

I am moved by your moving, the currents of my life rippled in your wake

I feel you feel, like our hearts are great tethered balloons traveling through the wide sky streams

I am seen, and thus see
I am heard, and know music
I find you here
even in this emptiness

 

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DON NORMAN has been a database programmer, a newspaper reporter, an evangelical minister, a shoe salesman, a leather tanner, a DJ, and a high school history teacher.  He continues to be a father and grandfather.  He likes to stylishly arrange words and take pictures of dancing people.  He is also deeply in love with an extraordinary woman.
 

SHOUT, LAUGH AND CRY!
The Youth Orchestra of Colombia and Gustavo Dudamel
Laurence Vittes

Huffington Post, August 1, 2013

Representing the dreams of 250,000 children, and showcasing one of the finest fruits of Colombia’s El Sistema-based, youth orchestra initiative, the Filarmónica Joven de Colombia (FJC) made its North American debut Friday night, in Miami Beach.

Before a packed house of supporters, FJC’s 108 young musicians played a demanding program of colorful orchestral showpieces at a gala concert in Miami’s New World Center, that showed where the future of classical music lies.

Encouraged by Alejandro Posada on the podium to follow their hearts as long as they played most of the notes, FJP pounced on Cristobal Halffter’s fantastic Tiento del Primer Tono y Batalla Imperial(1986) with exciting clarity and explosive virtuosity. When four young trumpeters played the work’s martial fanfares, the conflict and glory of Colombia’s shared legacy with imperial and colonial Spain echoed through the hall.

Next, Eduardo Rojas played Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto as a tumultuous, majestic symphony for piano and orchestra. Rojas and his massive technique collaborated with the young musicians at times on an intimate scale, finding poetry in lingering legato phrases and lovely woodwind colors and, at other times, surging to the music’s iconic Romantic outbursts. Rojas began a theme that continued through the night with his dazzling encore based on the popular Colombian song “La Gata Golosa.”

After intermission, a hip, young production team enhanced a richly electric performance of Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite with a light show, and a sumptuous performance of Respighi’s Pines of Rome with quirky, closely aligned if non-contiguous projections on a large, high screen. Two encores based on popular songs, “Kalamarí” and “Colombia Tierra Querida,” had the audience dancing in the aisles, and musicians donning Colombian national soccer jerseys.

In Frank Gehry’s audiophile hall, the Filarmónica Joven de Colombia connected immediately with the wonderfully receptive, enthusiastic crowd. Whenever it seemed appropriate to applaud, there was always a moment’s hesitation before the audience decided whether to shout, laugh or cry. Usually they did all three in an outburst of love for the music, the musicians and Colombia.

For the musicians themselves (who had begun nearly a year ago, rehearsing in groups scattered across the country before gathering in Cartagena in January for their first rehearsal together) it signaled a process through which they had begun as boys and girls, and had now become women and men, and for more than 20 percent, professional musicians.

In Colombia, as in Venezuela, the core of the idea that has ignited such energy, enthusiasm and commitment is a national youth orchestra program that creates a way of life for its participants and is intended for all. The Batuta (Spanish for the conductor’s baton) National Foundation for Youth and Children Symphonic Orchestras, created in 1991, now supports 284 orchestral centers in 106 cities. Modeled on and adapted collaboratively alongside Gustavo Dudamel’s El Sistema, in Venezuela, Batuta is reportedly the second largest youth orchestra system in Latin America.

There are lots of national youth orchestras these days.

Venezuela’s youth orchestras propelled Dudamel into the big time. The National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America, launched a few weeks ago and a project of cultural conglomerate Carnegie Hall, has reached London’s Royal Albert Hall on its debut tour of prestigious culture palaces at home and abroad, wearing red pants, blue blazers and Converse All-Star tennis shoes.

For the Filarmónica Joven de Colombia, attired in disarmingly simple white tops and dark pants for the men, simple, elegant dresses for the women and, for both, retro sneakers with neon laces, after touring Bogotá and five other Colombian cities, Miami was the culminating event. And none of the young musicians can tell stories more compelling than FJC’s harpist who can’t afford his own harp; even if he were able to raise the $15,000 a harp costs, he would rather use it to buy a house for his family.

It’s not only the 20 percent of the Filarmónica Joven de Colombia who become professional musicians that demonstrate that investing in the arts is sound economic policy. It’s the 80 percent who will become teachers and audience, who discover ways of life and ways of making a living and self-esteem that go beyond what we, in the States, commonly experience in the transactions going on in outreach. The impact of the 250,000 participants who have passed through Batuta will be immense.

Now that the El Sistema universe has gained a firm footing in North America, Colombia can also begin to offer its own experience, innovations and humanity directly to the American adaptations, providing a common musical experience with which to communicate across linguistic and cultural gaps. In Dallas and Fort Worth, Eduardo Rojas will be soon heading the El Sistema implementation.

An intriguing thought.

Dudamel, whose relationship with Bogotá, and throughout Colombia, is very close, could secure FJC’s fortune if he conducted them on a North American tour. By endorsing Colombia’s vision and investment, such a tour would accelerate the process of putting Colombia on the map as a builder of classical music bridges, and fuel Batuta and the Filarmónica Joven de Colombia’s growth, stability and instrument banks.

Speaking of soccer jerseys, in March, bitter rival Venezuela defeated Colombia in soccer, one to zero. The Filarmonica Joven de Colombia is good enough right now to challenge Venezuela’s best in a classical music youth orchestra duel and regain their country’s honor. Better get those FJC jerseys ready!

 

All rights reserved by Filarmónica Joven de Colombia

 

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LAURENCE VITTES was born and grew up in Los Angeles. His father was a writer and his mother a teacher. He writes about classical music for Gramophone, Bachtrack, Early Music America, Seen & Heard International, and Strings.

CHAOS
Michelle Seabreeze

I am chaos
A wild open door
Filled with crooked shadows
and inconspicuous miracles.
Like a jumbled collaboration
between here and there
And everyone involved
I am abandon
And I am aware
that I am doing too many things
that feel like
Running in the rain
|on a warm day
or conversely
like carrying fire in the wind
when there's gasoline in my veins
Whilst I silently argue with myself
about what could have been possible
If time wasn't everything
And the end never existed

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A Philadelphia, PA native, MICHELLE SEABREEZE is a poet who has written and performed original work at the NY Fringe Festival, Inspired Word, Busboys & Poets, Nuyorican Poets Cafe
and Brown University.


"I write poetry because it helps me translate the world.
I hope I've written something that is either comforting,
or unsettling, or both."

THE HALLWAY
Jack Doehring

The hallway today was dim. There was a faint glow emanating from the room that was at the end of the hall. I walked down the hallway guided by this faint glow. I looked down but couldn’t see where the white carpet transitioned to the bass board trim of the white walls. All was a dark grey. I passed two closed doors on my right spaced about ten feet from each other and made it to the yellow light that came from the open doorway of the room situated on the right. The light formed a rectangle shaped block perpendicular to me that splashed down onto the carpet and crept halfway up the wall. I stepped into the room from whence the light came and looked at myself, my face in the mirror. 

The hallway today was bright. Probably because I flipped on the light switch at the beginning of the hall where I was currently standing. Two spotlights one a third of the way down the hall and another two thirds of the way down the hall illuminated the space. I walked slowly. I stopped at the first door, it was open. I looked inside and surveyed my daughter’s bedroom. Everything was in its place despite her absence from the room for several years. Her school textbooks from high school and college were still on their shelves, the funny old bean bag chair was still in the corner, photos of her and her friends still adorned the wall opposite me above her desk. Most of the photos were of her and her friends at the amusement park she liked to go to. Her bed jutted out in the middle of the room. I imagined her lying there her elbows supporting her upper body as she looked down at some magazine, her phone or even sometimes her homework as her legs stretched back to where her feet rested on the pillows where her head was supposed to lie. I was struck by the joy of remembering her like that as well as the pain of knowing I would never see her like that again. I grasped the doorknob and pulled the door shut. I turned back to the hall and marched down it with the memories of her buzzing in my mind. I looked at myself in the mirror noticing the wrinkles expanding out from the corners of my eyes.

The hallway today was chilly. My bare feet were cold even on the carpet. I couldn’t find my damned slippers in the closet. I sauntered halfway down the hall and stopped at the wood bordered window cut into the middle of the left wall. The blinds had been pulled up. I looked out at the pines and glanced down to see the dusting of snow covering the grass and pinecones. Two squirrels were chasing each other around the trunks of the trees. The longer I looked the more I had to squint as the bright light reflected of the snow and the powerful sunlight came through the window. I continued down the hall. I always saw the same face at the end but I walked there anyway hoping it might look different. Hoping two different colored eyes would be looking back at me, a face with a different nose not the bulbous one I had or different lips not stretched out and cracked like mine. But, my face was as it was every day.

The hallway today was dark except for the soft light streaming through the wood window halfway down the hall. Four squares of moonlight with a shadowed cross between them fell on the wall on the other side of the hall illuminating a poster we had purchased years prior. The poster had prominent lettering on the top that said Peggy Guggenheim Collection and underneath it said Venice in small lettering. The poster was of a painting by Rene Magritte in which the top half was a bright blue sky with wispy clouds scattered throughout as if it was high noon and the bottom was a silhouette of some trees and a single building cast in darkness as if it was the witching hour. An awkwardly painted streetlamp and a couple windows from the building gave off a muted glow that quickly subsided as it was absorbed by the gloom of the trees above and empty street below. Underneath the painting the title was given as “Empire of light” or in French as “L’Empire des Luminieres.” I didn’t know why it was called that. I walked down the hall to see if I looked any different.

The hallway today felt longer that I remembered. I stood at its beginning. I looked down at my cold naked feet. I followed the vein that ran from my ankle to my big toe and then saw the pink stain in the carpet next to my right foot. I bent down and traced the stains outline with my finger. It was a large oval with a few jagged lines flayed out towards the wall. In my mind I could see the red wine spilling from my wife’s wine glass in slow motion falling to the white carpet. Of course she would say it was wine from my glass. She had rushed down the stairs to retrieve the vinegar, baking soda and paper towels but by the time she had returned the stain was there to stay even as she wiped at it vigorously. It took me a while to make it down the hall that day. I noticed each splotch on the carpet. Some stains seemed to be as small as a single discolored hair of the stuff, others were little lines and streaks. Most were grayish in color but some were slightly yellow or a pale green. It certainly did not seem like a white carpet anymore. I looked at my face in the mirror. Each pore and skin cell reminded me of each strand of the carpet. I saw small circular scars on my forehead healed slightly lighter than the surrounding skin. The discolored dark spots on the side of my face stood out and I inspected the strange blue mounds of cells under my eyes. It was always the same face. 

The hallway today looked beautiful. It had a gentleness to it like it was saying no matter what happens I will always be here. I walked past my daughters room and noticed dust and hair floating in the illuminated space provided by the open window. I marveled at the levitating specks and elongated follicles. The randomness of their movements didn’t compute with my feeling that they had some strange purpose to their journey as if the hair and dust knew exactly where it was supposed to travel. I passed through the light and saw some dust on one of the black frames of our family's photographs. I wiped some of the dust off leaving half of the frame with a clean black sheen while the rest of the frame was still sprinkled with the little gray particles. I looked at the photograph. My daughter, my wife and myself were standing there looking back at me. My daughter was eight or nine and we were at the pumpkin patch. My daughter was cheerfully clutching our selected pumpkin to her jean overalls with both her arms, the weight of the pumpkin not affecting her inner happiness. My wife and I stood behind her grinning. I reached up to touch the photo and my fingertips gathered more dust as I streaked them down our faces and bodies clarifying the image. With each passing second it became harder to look and yet I almost wished I could look upon the photo forever. I had to tear my eyes away and finish the trek down the hall. I splashed water on my face and looked in the mirror. How did the hair on my head become so thin I wondered.

The hallway today was hard to bear. Stacks of boxes lined the wall outside of my daughter’s room. I hesitatingly took a few steps forward. My daughter exited her room and dropped another box on the pile. 

“Are you sure you have to do this?” My gruff voice asked. She straightened up and turned towards me. She took after her mother in appearance with her straight nose, almond eyes and longish face. She glared at me, her eyes alight with a fireI had never seen in them before.

“Don’t you get it Dad? I can’t have anything to do with this house anymore. I don’t belong here, nothing that is mine belongs here and you don’t belong here either.” She said with a sharp edge in her voice, her words piercing me.

“This is my home.” 

“And you’re rotting away in here, can’t you see it? Its starring you straight in the your face and you are looking right past it.”

“You’re too young.”

“Young really? Thats all you can say to me is that I’m young? I have no time for your stubbornness, I’ll be gone in the morning with my things.” She brushed past me and left the hall. I turned.

“Abby wait!” But she was gone. I walked to the end of the hall but couldn’t bring myself to look in the mirror that day. 

The hallway today felt empty. The boxes were gone. Abigail’s door was open, I glanced in and all there was was naked furniture. I turned back to look at the hall. I saw our cat or rather my cat at the end of the hall starting to walk towards me. Thank god she wasn’t black or that would’ve been too symbolic. I walked towards her and watched as she didn’t even look up at me as if I didn’t exist. After she passed me on the right I kept looking down at the floor and saw a spider with long spindly legs moving in the same direction as me, hugging the crease where the wall and carpet meet. The spider eventually made it to the second door on my right and disappeared underneath the door into the darkness beyond. I put my hand on the doorknob and felt an incredible surge of fear as I tried to twist it. I let go and fell back against the wall behind me unable to bring myself to open the door. After some time I stood myself up and was drawn down to the opening at the end of the hall. The mirror was waiting for me.

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JACK DOEHRING is a writer and visual artist who graduated from the University of Michigan with a Bachelor's degree of Fine Art in 2010. He currently works at the Beverly Hills Public Library and plans to continue writing, painting and drawing in his free time.

 

WHAT’S HAPPENING? WHAT’S GOING ON?
Frank M. Braggiotti

My legs won’t lift off the chiropractor’s table.
Susan, my fiancé, says that I have to go to the Emergency Room.
I agree to go after my Sunday 7 am meeting, August 8, 2011.

ER is too expensive, so I go to Urgent Care instead.
Go to Urgent Care and my personal Doctor, Dr. Yee is there.
He’s in Urgent Care on a Sunday at 8:30 am! That’s odd.
Dr. Yee is the Head of Internal Medicine at Kaiser Permanente Hospital.
They say: “If it’s odd--that’s God!”
Dr. Yee examines me and says: ”This is not you, Frank.”
He has someone put me in a wheel chair and they roll me over to the ER.
They start running tests on me. They put a camera down my throat to look in my stomach.
They put a catheter in me so now I pee in a bag. What’s happening? What’s going on?
Dr. Yee says that I have to go to see an Oncologist and he sets up an appointment for me.
Is an Oncologist a cancer doctor? What’s happening? What’s going on?
A few days later we are in Dr. Pakanati’s office with my fiancé Susan, my son, Dylan, my daughter Elizabeth, and her wife, Cia. Dr. Pakanati says that I have a rare form of cancer.
Everyone gets out their smart phones and they Google the name of the cancer.
Doctor says that there are seven tumors in my stomach and they are growing aggressively and I must take aggressive Chemo immediately.
She says that there is a 10% chance of my surviving the stomach cancer and the chemo.
She says that if the Chemo kills the tumors too fast and they leave holes in my stomach, I will die.
She says that there is cancer in my spine and that there is a 0% chance of my ever walking again.
I say that I want a second opinion. Everyone else says no and a wheel chair takes me down to the Chemo Floor of the hospital and they begin the Chemo.
I say that I don’t mind dying, but I want to marry Susan before I die
Everyone says focus on getting well. What’s happening? What’s going on?
The chemo begins and I get sick. My hair is falling out.
I won’t eat anything except a lox and bagel sandwich. This is scary.

My Chemo nurse is an Indian from India. I tell her that I am Indian too. She says your name is Italian. I tell her that my biological grandfather is Swami Paramananda, so I have Indian ancestry.
She is polite, but thinks that I am confused because of the Chemo. Gradually, she lets me tell her my story. I tell her that when I was 18 and about to go to Europe for the summer in 1960, my mother tells me that I am going to spend August with my father, Mario.

She says that now that I am 18, I need to know that my father, Mario, is really my uncle and my uncle Chad is really my biological father. Have a nice summer.
Wait! My father, Mario, is my uncle, and my uncle Chad is really my father?
I grab the biggest bottle of Vodka and stick it in my bag and drink it all the way to London. Is this a nightmare? What’s happening? What’s going on?

The nurse says: “How does this mean that your grandfather is the Swami Paramananda?”
Well, this is really crazy. It turns out that my Grandmother Lily Braggiotti had an affair with the Swamiand she had a baby with him and that was my biological father Chad.
Sorry, this makes me sick just telling her all this. Time to throw up again.

I didn’t even like Chad. I really liked Mario. It’s the family secret and no one wants to talk about it. Turns out that my mother, known as Baby, couldn’t have a child with Mario, so she decided to conceive a child with Mario’s youngest brother, Chad. So, that is how I have an Indian ancestry.
About this time, my heart starts beating real fast. They race my bed up to the heart floor.
Now they tell me that I have a heart condition called Afib, an irregular beating of my heart.
They stabilize me after a few days and send me back to down to the Chemo floor.
Happy to see my Indian nurse. She says why don’t you write a book about your story.
I tell her that is a good idea, but I don’t feel like it right now. Besides I have more stories.
It’s like they say that when you are dying your life flashes before and you see things from your
past like a movie. My son, Dylan, gets me a tape recorder so that I can begin to tell my stories.
I try but it is very difficult. I see things and hear things but I just can’t to get them down.
There are so many memories. They come and then they go. There is more Chemo and now the Doctor starts injecting the Chemo right in my spine. They give me medicines to kill the pain. Makes me sleepy. Awakened by Elizabeth bringing me a lox and bagel sandwich. Maybe I can remember something.

In 1962, I built the Three Fountains apartments. In 1964, I went to work with Kaufman and Broad, Phoenix Division. Then moved to Los Angeles to be the Assistant Division Manager of the Los Angeles Division. After a year, I was let go. I was hired to create a home building company for the California City and Colorado City communities. Return to Phoenix to build a shopping center.

In 1968, I was in Las Vegas consulting on building the first McDonalds that was not the red and white tile on Maryland Parkway. Located McDonald locations over the western United States. Met Ray Kroc. He took us to see Fidler on the Roof and then ended my client’s relationship with Sheppard & Tupper. This was described as a $5 million dollar hamburger fiasco.
Started a home building company in Phoenix with Kaufman and Broad plans. It was called Tempo Homes. Built hundreds of homes. I was called the “Hippy Home Builder.”
On July 4, 1972, I declared that I would run as a Republican candidate for Governor in the Recall Election to replace governor Jack Williams when he was recalled.

On September 16, I rented the Phoenix International Race Track and had a rally to protest the U.S. expelling the Beatle John Lennon. It was broadcast live on KDKB radio and made into a record album. Interrupted by Susan who prayed over me and gave communion like she did every night that I was in the Hospital. On November 19, 2011, my children and Susan were called by the Hospital and told that if they wanted to see me before I died, they must come ASAP because after I had survived the cancer and heart issues, I now had pneumonia and the medicine they were giving me wasn’t working. My son, Dylan, convinced the head nurse to continue the saline solution because I was severely dehydrated.

I was almost dead, unable to talk nor write. When the intravenous solution began the dials on the machines began to show improvement. Susan came as the children were leaving.
Again, I said that I didn’t want to die without marrying her because I knew that when I would be absent from my body, I would be in Heaven. Susan got a Pastor to marry us the next day,
November 20, 2011.

On November 27, the Hospital decided that I should be moved to a skilled nursing Facility called Grand Valley Health care Center. What’s happening? What’s going on?
They teach me how to eat again. They put me in a machine to make me stand up. After 2 years, I am able to take my first steps in parallel bars. Then walk with a walker. I spent two years and eight months there and was able to walk out of there July 3, 2014.

Now Susan and I go back there the first Friday of every month to our “church” of people in wheel chairs. We give them our hope, strength, and experience. Also we give them stuffed animals and handouts.

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FRANK BRAGGIOTI was born in New York City, raised in Arizona, and graduated Arizona State University.

 

2 PIECES
Nate Clute

LONG NIGHT'S JOURNEY INTO LIGHT

Four fifths of a fifth drunk, one fifth left in the fifth, my James’ son, Irish whizzing key in cardinal, I am. Are you, my fraternal brethren of sigma nu? You bet you’re damned hearse I am. Bud, light our brand in the basement sty did run atop a-rye, son long done with college ten years near now coarse-sinning a-fly. When does it end? So bury it all in the past, or set it alight. Let the flame of the present light eat it alive, liquor sopped sac ridden and all, right on down to its hell-hardened, core-infested lie. Defects within the being universal within us we all did die, verge on the cusp of the paradoxical, ultra dichotomized souls transmigrating to the eternal universal. Metempsychosis, karmic binds within us all we do most certainly find. In the maelstrom of worldwide calamities we fare better as humankind to be humane in kind. But ruthlessly kind, fair to those who rule and engage in actions most cruel, hard we all do find to treat those as kin in kind. Nonetheless the same in humanity, we all do find. Dare I presume, but not ass whom, that most remain fairly blind. And therein lies the rub.

Luminosity, candled candelabra, its wick lit, held by a young man in Prague on his way across cobblestones three alley ways from the entrance gate to a Bavarian style castle. Dapper dress, clad in smooth Levi jeans and a suede button up brown shirt, gray boots no less comfortable than appealing to the eye, their bohemian style, his tan skin feeling cold air goose bumps rising still beneath his pea coat thick, draws nigh. He lights his cigarette from the flame, and inhales deep the tobacco of his smoldering, burning, fuming cigarette. Alight, the flame from the candle in his eyes reflecting, burning strong and bright. In Kafka’s realm, the castle of the night, dark, its shadows’ in tangible sight. A symmetrical patterns’ eyes upon the cobbled path its gate does with gaping metal teeth welcome this hip, boots clapping cobbles young stranger as a distant cathedral’s bell dongs eleven times in song, this night net yet fully sung, not nearly done with James’ son. Thoughts of his father popping up often enough for him to question his life and where it has taken him, stuffed all back down every time he drags upon that cigarette alight, tobacco leaves concentric symmetry, smithy like a third eye bright. His would be destination there in sight.

I arrive, for I am he, you see my sight? Siphoning off from reality any when but here and now, I look to my right, see a button, press. The modern adornment rings bland, waiting, beeping, answers from the other side a voice dreary, yet the faint hint of excitement I felt in her salacious, a tone. Meant by me, sincere in my venture this far side of a foreign town, curiosity bound even when danger sounds.  

For I had been invited by my dear lady friend, Gertrude Coyle. We’d been dating for some eleven teen months now. Eight years the younger, she held my hand for spades that paid in fun. A trickster of a lass, she had those witchy Hazel eyes that sass an Irish look. Fore took eleven teen thousand years to evolve in its seductive spook.

—Come on in, her voice chimes in over the intercom, her fey countenance sounds contrite compared to the other woman’s voice that initially had greeted me. Her maid, or her mother, either or, I couldn’t help but shutter. As the gate opens slowly, a train whistle blows loud its oncoming, freight outbound a warning blight in fury. Smite!

I found serried along the castle’s entrance walls beyond the gate, knights in draconian armor guard. Stood their blackened by age dented metallic garb, scarred by swords, battle axes and Time’s scything remind I, Brandon James, that I do feel the cull of a distant age’s bind. When was last I the page? Humble and meek, most certainly not in these last few debaucherous, Gertrude for ruck us in sheets. In bites. Since four in Hekate spate weeks gorgeous frocks of curls, coils, spiral swirls of hair, did join us forlorn. Tempted me to have other women join, I could not them, us scorn. For other loins I could not help but with her, Gertrude Coyle, enjoy and adorn. All of us more gorgeous merry, ripe and full of that craving for our lives in full. Sincere in our youth, soothing each in gall. Experiencing everything. Enjoining in one, in all.

The aftermath of which these past few days I have never felt the same quite since. Having tossed a tan, trick ball, bouncy, she did see us one and all. And gave us that present same trick bouncy ball, tan in color, thrown on the marble ground for one and all to see it rise and fall. Gifted us each at our present age in a sense still as of yet not upended this night; for I, Brandon James, still do yearn to see her late.  

—Early yet, Brand... done, her voice silks inside sweet the hallway, knight serried walls listening from a none too distant age of man waylaid, a lie in Morgana’s glories paid. Gorge he ides the church bells did chime before the end of your March from home to my sweet rind. Did you bring your bouncy, tan, trick ball for me to see it bounce upon the castle ground? To see it rise and fall, from me to you to meet my family here upon this midnight drear in call?

Fog outside descends, a run furl weather begins to swirl, the wind hounds in a destitute call for I do sense some portent beck about this night’s strange, calm before, whining winds’ attack this late in winter did befall.

In the shadows, out she saunters on into bits of scattered moonlight, stands still a moment further. Then she spoke. Her voice etches in time that which does escape description mere words alone pretend to belie. Colors out of space and time begin to replace, I dissociate, still standing quite still, as of yet still young James’ son, incorporeal sight, sound, texture, the smell and the taste of sulfur ethereal a-round, round, round, merry go-bound. “J’aime le bon ton fashion, Brand... ennui. C’est tres chic,” she bemoans with more than a hint of derision in her tone. Sarcasm? Her own garb a black and white checkered dress, strands of tattered grey in her once pure brunette hair, though no less young nor old in appearance she does rebound her voice in echoes neither lost nor found. “Ancient as the time before civilization, before the world, before The Word, before any and all, I was, and remain, the wisest, the most beautiful of them all. Neither angels nor demons would dare to proclaim. For you see, you are but a player upon a checkered board. I control your movements, some, if not all, the same to me. Did you enjoy your brand... on ball, Brand... done, James’ son, as I recall?”

Memories flash before his then young, aging fast now bloodshot eyes upending, downed, as I into my body back do rebound. A seismic shift, the superb fluctuations of time remiss, though the images of deeds past done they do persist, in sins hellacious in nature they do insist, every thought, word, action, all those deeds they do bequeath summation for a cleansing rinse. Lives dating back to civilization’s birth, primordial ooze, amoebas, a sole amoeba as a tentacle reaches out from beneath Gertrude Coyle’s waist, lifting garments up to reveal more, an infinite galore, more tentacles from centrifugal petals in tentacular chase, each one slithering into my James’ son’s, psyche, body, mind, spirit, soul, sucking out the rest of the filth, slowly, painfully, from his sour sac-ridden in whole, four fifths finished now, on hold, a pause in the feeding. I, Brandon’s near all over now life, keeling. Reeling. Anything to make the hurt stop, I’m on my knees now begging for God to save me from his monstrous revealing.

Please make it stop!!!

—Anything, God, to make the hurt go away...

Pop!!! And there she stood upon the same spot fey, though the scenery changed, her family surrounding her. In pre-Victorian aristocratic garb, Gertrude at the head of the table, her bosom held in corset, the bouncy tan, trick ball atop her cleavage she did balance it there holding it still with ease in balance for one and all, her mother, father, and grandparents in awe and me my jaw agape at the other end of the dining table hall, feeling my paralysis, held stiff, still by tentacles infinite, invisible, though for what I saw I must admit I do feel more than a fair bit of sinuous enthrall. 

—Tonight, we’ll be eating sole fillet, Brandon. It’s best to try it with a little seitan. It’s a delicacy of ours, spiced up and diced, mixed together with human, compliments of yours truly, Brandon James. As a reward for your enduring our colorful treatment of the rainbow plus indigo, a color unseen, plus many, an infinite, in fact more in hue mane characteristics of my family, dare I proclaim? Like a lion roaming about, my silent entrance roar anyone, if heard, would most certainly abhor, looking for just a meal, solo, ready to devour. Why that look upon your face so sour?

She admonishes me with a longing look, not without a bit of the winds’ howling tantrum. Forsaken by my call for help, I could not but guess I did upon her other worldly senses impress, the enfolds of her gown whirling with the wind’s abound, a surly knight she found? This night, might I chance a rebound?

And with that thought at the forefront of my consciousness, subterranean dungeons I did hear them quake beneath my feet as she gave, in turn, an equal in measure, surly wink, then mirroring my look to perfection personified, such was the artistry of her capacity to demonstrate reality, to turn the mirror to mine own nature and see Hell’s flaming lights in mine own eyes in her sweet rind as the bell did chime midnight late, in spate. Awake!!

Now early, rising from my bed in sighs pleasurable and horrible, thunder crashing outside, to look at my clock on the bedside table, stopped at midnight on the tick, between the tock. And atop it did I see that tan, trick bouncy ball balanced to perfection upon the clock’s round surface, defying gravity for more than a moment did I behold it rise and fall, bouncing upon the ground as my eyes and ears do recall. That bouncy, bouncy, pouncing ball and Gertrude Coyle’s silent roar, crackling her proud as lightning catty call.

***

DEAREST READER

Dearest Reader, It was five o’clock in the afternoon when I received a phone call from my employer regarding a request from a well known high-end client who was looking for someone fresh to renew his sense of purpose.  I’m not going to bore you with the details of his circuitous approach to requesting my services.  But I will tell you this:  I have never before been requested by someone as determined as he was to keep our exchanges, though strictly professional, as quiet and non-disclosed as possible.  Meet four needs I did and wouldn’t dare to repeat.  He maintains what I believe most would see as a high degree of notoriety in his particular field of expertise.  He is political.  And regarded by many as contemptible.  His name begets any would-be fiction writer as rather Dickensian.  I’ll give you a few more hints, though given the current zeitgeist, it can’t be too hard to guess of whom, or of what, I leak. How interesting that the word “ald” refers to a municipal serviceman in Old English ...to don a sense of higher purpose.  The gentleman of whom I speak does thump with every step leaving much disarray in his rather ignorant wake.

So when he invited me for tea that Tuesday evening I couldn’t help but feel a not surprising weakening of the knees and a feeling of awe in whom I was about to meet.  I am of the fee, male persuasion is just my thing, you see?  Flirt tea, not too surly, I know how to cock a tease to please, this ald’s donned attention I did seize.  But not too much to my surprise, I discovered he had company already in his penthouse suite of the Watergate Hotel.  A couple of other women not unlike myself.  One of my compatriots remarked, “Yes, the tea does come before the rump.”  I couldn’t help but smirk.  Our host grinned from ear to ear, apparently found the remark endearing, yet I couldn’t help but feel a tingling of fear as my other comrade downed the rest of her sangria to hold back what appeared to be a tear.

The penthouse suite, its location not without historic irony given history; Her-story is but a nightmare upon which we all are but a country trying to awake.  English, ah, yes, the language of commerce.  Or ...well, it doesn’t hurt to wonder why the word “country” isn’t pronounced count tree. Especially after that one Tricky Dick president founded the E.P.A... The one who went to Whittier, Dick Nixon’s alma mater, Dickensian snide aside, the expression “put-in” dick-tat-tore-he-ally comes, grotesquely, to mind as another man arrives.  Tearing, rushin’ Russian into the sweet he, quite drunken, flies.  Just in time for tea, our host, his kindred American tea-totaling friend not even remotely surprised. 

To see such a show of venison upon a platter at a dining table, my compatriots and I complied, and were offered meat to suck and nibble upon before the arrival of another guest both men were so excited to induct into their zeal.  A lot meant to both the other men by this third guest’s imminence, though both regarded him as far more the frightful in his vehemence.  But such quiet, touching, kindred understanding they really did seem to possess for this one un-dulating, somewhat young, Nero-esque, no less slender than the teetotaler, slug. Though pugnacity not in lack,  him to whose ill dead North-Korean daddy issues we all did wonder would the world erupt in misbegotten thunderstruck and flack?  And while waiting for this third to arrive, between festivities not one symphonic Bach can all I describe, both men did break wind while playing with a lighter to tempt and taunt each a new clear of rumpus toot from organs most foul, their continued gorging upon us, gorgeous meat, patoot, and forging a-head without remittance for sense in lute.  Plenty of footage for any one spy to shoot.

Such are the wicked, something comes this way all the time, ways of the world.  You’ll have to pardon my pun-gent, ill, woe-man lease word.  My pen is certainly mightier than any fund a mental listless felaheens’ fat, what sward? Moo ha, mad? I sin, all... ah, for a prophet.  Maddening show, venison rich profit nest of gout, dare I with my pen-is bold describe to you the third’s arrival and what to the other two he too told?    

Imp potent rage he did exhibit with his cold, merciless glare, the other two not quite able to return his stare.  And finally, not without dignity and grace, staring, the other two men, naked, an audience of five, right into their eyes most base, his face stern and chaste:  “I can’t believe you two would cheat the election!”  Emphatic with his sarcasm, “Pulled a fast one on one and all!  At least I’m honest about my duplicity, my megalomaniacal superiority.  You two still cower behind a plastic mask of democratic process.  I scoff at your moderate oligarchy.  I’m old school tyranny, and I know you both secretly admire my impeccable Empire regalia Star Wars inspired style!  I am everything you want to be, but more with my wile!”  And with that, once his translator had finished emulating his tone and oratory style in both diction and friction, he whispered in that same man’s ear, and a few moments later the translator puked up not but a small bit of bile for the other two to behold in garish flare.  Its stench in the penthouse suite of the Watergate Hotel no less pungent than urine soaked sheets by hookers in a “put-in” reek hotel bed old pile.  We all did share that same sordid old air.  Compliments of my employer, Lucy Fair.  But who’s to care? 

Yours truly,

Stefanny Demurely Dedalanus

P.S.  No need to pity me. The smithy of my soul remains ever so pithy.

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THEN THE  MUD
Kara Raynaud

On January 8th, two weeks after the containment of the Santa Barbara fire, I was outside sweeping up some of the ash and hosing down the bougainvillea bush in my tiny yard. My neighbor Karen came over with some tarps. “You may want to cover that outdoor furniture.” she said.

“Oh-right. We have a rain storm coming - finally!” I remember saying. “I wish it came three weeks ago!” I said. 

 “It’s supposed to be really bad.” She said.  

I remember thinking what an odd statement that was. After all the fire - it would be nice to finally have some rain.  My dog Romio’s once white coat was now a permanent dingy grey.  No amount of washing seemed to get him clean and my lungs were still killing me from the residual ash. 

“It’s really not a good thing for such a heavy rain to come after a fire.” She said.

“Why?” I asked. 

 “Mudslides.”

In New York City, we have rain - loud, pounding, howling rain and wild winds. It is not unheard of to have 3-5 inches per hour. As you walk the streets it pours from rooftops like waterfalls and will often go on and on for days on end. There’s not a New Yorker who doesn’t own a pair of rainboots and an umbrella. If you’re not prepared for the monsoon-kind-of-rainfall in the city, you’re guaranteed to spend your day with shoes full of water.      

On January 7th, two days before the storm hit, 7,000 residents in the mandatory zone were told to leave their homes immediately. The same evacuations were ordered as were for the fire. They predicted 1 inch of rain per hour. Weather forecasters had predicted a heavy rainstorm would pound the Thomas Fire burn scar directly above Montecito.  I could imagine their angst having to leave again just 4 weeks after the fire--for yet another evacuation.  In the middle of the night on January 9th, at around 3:30 am, my dog Romio began barking and howling. I awoke to the sound of rain pounding the roof of my cottage. 

“It’s just rain - go to bed.” I told him. 

He never slept. He stayed up all night howling and barking.  I remember thinking why is he getting so crazy - it’s no worse than the rain in New York. Little did I know as I went back to sleep, waist high mud and boulders the size of trucks became unhinged and began rolling from the high hills of Montecito straight into town, taking cars, trees, and anyone in their path. The mud continued to drag all in its way,  straight toward the ocean, burying and climbing over 101 North - the main highway that carries over 100,000 trucks a year through California through the west coast of the United States. People were awoken in the middle of the night and climbed up onto their shaking rooftops, some with children, praying for their lives as they pulled neighbors, dogs and all living things up with them.  No one expected a mudslide that would push all the way out to the ocean like it did. Some of the victims’ bodies were swept more than a mile from their homes.

At around 10:30 I ran into Karen as I walked on the property and she told me about the mudslide. “It’s so sad. Karen said, “I heard someone died.” We didn’t really know at the time the extent of the destruction. I turned on NPR when I got in my cottage and learned that all the roads to Montecito were shut down due to the mudslide. I thought of my friend Jan who lived in Montecito on Park Lane and called her. She didn’t pick up. 

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KARA RAYNAUD lived the better part of her life in Greenwich Village. She began her career as a Makeup Artist on the film KIDS but quickly transitioned into writing and directing. She has directed Off-Off Broadway and wrote and directed, The Queen of Greenwich Village, a comedy pilot starring Anne Meara and Carole Shelley. At this time she enjoys the next better part of her life in California where she hopes to continue to write and direct. 

3 PIECES
Jane Zingale

IN HIS PRESENSE

The white square of his clerical collar scowls. His eyelids quiver.

I stand firm and silent after my confession.

His jaw stiffens; taut lips hug his dentures, the corners of his grimace twitch.

I fear his judgment.

He prepares to speak; his stale breath sickens me.

The radiator in the vestry gurgles heat while anguish chills my bones.

His clenched hands squeeze and release.

The pupils of my eyes shrink to tiny pinpoints as I conjure up a thunderbolt shooting straight into his shaved Adam’s apple. With a flash it shuts down his vocal cords. I’ve rendered him speechless for now. 

*

MY SHOES

My shoes stand in numerous places around my apartment.

They line up toe-to-toe or nestle into the arch of the other.

Either way they are empty ready to mobilize.

*

SHE THINKS OF HERSELF

She thinks of herself as a girl, twelve years of age or so. Her mind flutters from one thought to another when she discusses situations of interest to herelf and the other members of her mind. She walks and talks in animated fashion, speaking out loud with her hands. Her hips, like liquid mercury, slide from side to side as she moves splayfooted down the path. 

 

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JANE ZINGALE is an artist, writer and yoga instructor. She taught performance techniques at the Dutch Institute of Art in Amsterdam, NL and the Ecole Nationale des Beaux-arts Lyon, FR. She’s performed in Los Angeles at the Getty, The Reina Sophia Museum Madrid, Spain, The LA County Museum, CA, MOMA in NY, The Pompidou, Paris FR and The Museum of Modern Art Warsaw.  Publications— Hamilton Stone Review, New Flash Fiction Review, Bath Flash Fiction.

 

WHEN IT RAINS IN LOS ANGELES
Isaac E. Ronch
Translated from the Yiddish by Marvin S. Zuckerman

When it rains in Los Angeles,
|The sky falls to earth
And its blue turns grey, and "hey!" 
A little wind blows, 
And the skyscrapers tremble, 
The encircling hills hide,
The Pacific disappears--
When it rains in Los Angeles

The many-branched banana tree
Becomes a frayed willow twig, 
And the blood-red poinsettias
Hang their heads in shame.
The familiar bird-of-paradise
Opens its throat, thirsty.
My! The things that happen
When it rains in Los Angeles.

The palm-tips whisper in their need. 
Sacrifices are brought to the Moloch rain: 
Carob-pods, olives, wild berries, mandarins
Lie strewn about on slippery sidewalks.
A person dares not risk his being,
And stares out through shut, dewy windows,
Shuddering, like the green leaves outside.
Solitary cars splash about, chastened, 
Like stray dogs whose punishment it is
To draw themselves over wet, dreary roads--
When it rains in Los Angeles.

 

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MARVIN ZUCKERMAN. Born in the Bronx to Yiddish-speaking garment workers from Poland. Long-time Chair of English Department at LA Valley College; retired as Dean of Academic Affairs. Seven books published and numerous articles. Translator from Yiddish to English, latest, a memoir, published, Purdue University Press, 2016.

ROBOT THOUGHTS
Audri Phillips

It occurred to me that just as our thoughts and body (machine) are totally dependent on each other, inseparable because our thoughts change our brain structure, our brain creates our thoughts, so too is that the way our technology is developing. The hardware and software are totally dependent upon one another. Hardware is being structured so that it can work with the newly developing AI algorithms and software. The hardware and software are becoming one, much as they are in us.

So it is to be expected that soon we will have developed a fully self aware robot, purely constructed by our software and hardware, no spirit at any point ever having been inserted? Is this to mean that we have no spirit, that without our body we do not exist? Or can it be that everything down to the smallest atom has a life force, an intelligence and that the organization of these life forces is constantly being changed. So the life force is always there, the spirit is always there. It is only the structure and organization of this life force that is changing, is always changing.

Can it be that when the robot is constructed to a certain point, hardware and software are ready, that the spirit enters? What is the difference between consciousness and spirit?

Watching my father die it occurred to me how for 102 years the cells in his body had fought to keep him alive. They had all agreed to work as one, and as he lay there, they were still fighting to keep the organization they had formed intact and functioning.

Perhaps the intellect of my father wished to die, but the machine was fighting on. This is the tragedy. Everything down to the small ant scuttling in fear across the floor wants to live.

So what is this mysterious force of attraction or organization that makes atoms and even smaller particles join up for a common cause, whatever it is, a person, a robot, a tree, a plastic container? At what point do the atoms not only act with a separate intelligence, consciousness and connectivity to the universe but also provide a connectivity, consciousness and intelligence that operates for the whole, the tree, the person, the robot, the plastic can? I include the plastic can in that possibility as well, because the atoms that make it up have an intelligence, that everything has an intelligence. So what happens when the body, the robot, the tree, the plastic can start to deteriorate, or what is commonly known for a person, die? Do the atoms once again return to their separateness and the whole loses it connectivity to the universe, its consciousness, or is there a possibility that once formed as a whole and establishing its own connection, consciousness, that it continues on in some changed state because consciousness once formed never was inside the body but always existed outside of it?

I once watched an old beautiful Grey stone mansion being taken apart piece by piece. It was being done this way so as not to disturb the neighborhood with an explosion. Only the tall cranes and bulldozers were being used. It took 3 days. Finally all was flattened but one small section of a wall with a window in it. A shredded curtain in the window blew in the wind. I watched as the window was also taken down. Only then did it seem that the building and its spirit were truly gone.

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AUDRI PHILLIPS is an immersive media specialist, visualist/3D animator and writer based in Los Angeles.  She is currently directing her transmedia  project, “Robot Prayers”.

EXCERPT
From the memoir A New Past
Drew Vandiver

It’s impossible to walk into a room where you watched someone die and not think of them. Something about the space is forever altered by the memory you have of watching them fight their way out of this life. There is no such thing as a graceful exit. We go out the same way we came in. Kicking, screaming, messing yourself and scared. Birth and death are violent acts in which we get ripped out of one world and launched in the next against our will. Neither birth nor death allow one any dignity.

When the Hospice Nurse arrived, Mama was sitting at the roll top desk in her bedroom, reading glasses perched in the end of her nose, paying bills. I remember the nurse as dirty blonde, but that’s all. She wore light green scrubs and her thick-soled nurse’s shoes gleamed white. I led her down the hall to the bedroom. I knocked on the partially open door. She put her pen down and pushed her glasses up on her head.

I fetched a couple of chairs and the nurse sat in one very close to Mama. Dad came in the room and sat on the edge of the bed. I stood by the dresser.

“Ms. Vandiver, do you know what Hospice care is?”

“Yes. You take care of sick people until they get better.” My stomach dropped. We were all trying our dead level best to avoid talking about it, but I thought Mama understood the diagnosis. She looked over at me and saw my discomfort. Dad stared in the other direction. She reached up and pulled her glasses off her head and sat them on the desk.

“Or if they don’t.”

The nurse never hesitated or blanched.

“When the time comes that you need it, we will bring in a hospital bed. Where would you like us to put it?” She pointed to where I was standing.

“I suppose right over there.”

As the tumor at the top of her lungs grew larger, her ability to speak weakened. By then, the cancer was in her bones, had passed the blood-brain barrier and was affecting her mind. We kept very careful notes about how often we changed the Fentanyl patches on her back and how much morphine we dripped into her mouth.

One afternoon, my father changed her diaper and left to go run an errand. I noticed that the sheets on the bed had a small bit of mess on them, so I decided to change them. I had spent enough time in hospitals to know how nurses changed the sheets around a patient, so I pulled the edges of the sheets away and started. I began to fail almost immediately. Mom was too heavy for me to push, so I had to pull on the sheet to roll her. She opened her eyes and stared at me. She was on too much medicine to be in pain, but not enough to stop her from being annoyed. I had seen that stare before. I felt like a laser beam and even when I looked away, I could feel her eyes burrowing into me.

“I’m sorry. I have to change your sheets.” Her little, shaking hands pulled the sheet on top of her up to her neck defensively.

“I want Drew.”

Most fistfights are not lost in the moment of the first punch, but in the moment that follows. When the shock of being hit causes you to hesitate and not react with a return blow.

“Mama, I am Drew.”

I focused intently on the sheets, tugging harder, trying to finish.  The second that you get hit, your body disconnects from your mind. That’s why fighters train. You train your body to react, not think. The body reacts to a hit with a hit. You have to take you mind out of it because your mind is never going to get used or be okay with being hit. I focused on my hands. I have her hands. Small, with little fingers.

I looked up again. Her stare had neither abated nor relaxed.

“I believe I told you that I want Drew.” I opened my mouth, but nothing came out.  My whole body shook. The feeling was the same as when you are holding on to something to keep from falling and you lose that grip. That seized, frightened body shake. She tried to clear her throat and couldn’t, which made her madder. Her voice came out no louder but strained by anger, with a slight gurgle behind her words.

"I want Drew. Go get him.”

I nodded and closed the door behind me as I left.

I walked down the hall towards the kitchen, reeling. I had read in the hospice manual that this would happen. But feelings are mystical things and no matter how many times you read about them, it does not ready you to feel them. I squeezed the edge of the metal kitchen sink and locked my elbows to stay upright. That was the first time I felt the feeling I would feel when she actually passed. She’s gone. My mother is gone. But what do I do? I pulled my cell phone out and held it. I couldn’t call anyone. I would just dissolve in tears. I had to go back in there and finish. I had to give her a clean bed to lie in. And I had to be her son, even if she didn’t recognize me. I took a couple of deep breaths and walked back down the hall. I tried to straighten my spine and clinch my abs. Another blow was coming. Be ready for it.

I opened the door and met her gaze head on. She was waiting for me. I stretched my lips across my teeth in the closest approximation of a smile I could muster. I grabbed the sheets where I left off and went to work.

“I believe I told you that I want Drew.” In that instant, my fear and sadness transformed into respect and admiration. My god, she couldn’t hardly move or talk but she would not give over her will. She would not bow her head. It took every ounce of soul she had left, but she was not going to be ignored. I looked up at her. A pale, grey wounded lion, cornered and bleeding, but roaring as loud as she could with no idea how to surrender. Tears rolled down my cheeks.

“Well, mama, I am Drew. And you ought to know that because you are the one who gave me that name. You put it on my birth certificate. I am legally Drew because you said so. So I have a question. If you say I’m not Drew, does that a legal standing?”

Her hard, pursed lips relaxed and the corner of them turned slightly upward, almost to a smile.

“Never mind. You’re definitely Drew.” I coughed out a laugh and wiped my eyes. She tried to curl lips into a smile, but she now she was aware of what just happened. Her lips quivered and she began to cry. Her small voice tried to croak out the word sorry, but she couldn’t push it out.

“It’s okay, mama. It’s okay.” She shook her head gently from side to side. It wasn’t okay. She knew now that her mind was going. She couldn’t trust her own thoughts. And she had frightened me and she had no ability to watch her children in pain. I held her hand and kissed her on the forehead.

“It’s okay. You’re on a lot of drugs. I remember when I was doing this many drugs. I once slapped my friend because I thought we were both animated and I had Go-Go-Gadget arms.” She opened her mouth to laugh. No sound came out, but she shook with laughter and that was good enough for the moment.

“And you have some good drugs. It’s a damn shame I’m sober.” She shook with more laughter and an easy sense of relief. I smiled at her and she nodded.

“It’s going to be okay. I promise.”

I’ve never stood in that room since without thinking of her lying there in that bed, the sand of dignity and life sliding through the little fingers of the small hands we share.

 

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DREW VANDIVER is an actor and writer who currently lives in Los Angeles, California.

 

A LONG WAY TO HOME
Valerie Woods

Naturally, it was my father’s fault, this wanderlust that kept me moving from place to place.  For my dad, being married with four growing kids didn’t stop him from traveling and rambling.  The only time I happily woke before noon was that day in late summer when we got the pre-dawn wake-up call from my dad.  A quick breakfast, leave the dishes – we didn’t even have to make our beds.  And then, the car or camper or whatever we had that year, was loaded up, windows open to the August dawn, and we were off. 

This inherited travel bug may be at the root of why I found myself stepping off a plane into the soft, warm night of Mumbai, in the Maharastran state of southern India.  What else would explain why a city girl from the south side of Chicago would be on this side of the world?  My move from Chicago to Manhattan was understandable… I was a struggling actress after all.  And then the move back to Chicago to live with mom after my father died made sense.  A marriage proposal and an aspiration to screenwriting took me Los Angeles. But now Mumbai…Bombay…India.

This pilgrimage to India was in the hopes that I would finally, after eleven years of practicing meditation, be able to, well, actually meditate.  At least, what I thought of as “real” meditation.  That deep, transcendent state of wondrous bliss that I’d heard so much about.  When I sat to meditate, grocery lists, past memories or clever scenarios of imagination would scramble across my inner screen and I’d jerk myself out of it, inwardly chastising myself for a lack of discipline. 

There were rare occasions when, during a session with my teacher, I’d touch that space, but I couldn’t maintain it. I wanted to go to what I considered to be the source.

Mumbai Airport - 1:00am.

Outside waiting for the shuttle, I was surprised at how familiar I felt in the night. There’s a hazy moon and just enough moisture in the air for comfort. It reminded me of Chicago summer nights, hanging out on the stoop, too hot to be shut up inside. It’s definitely India, there are people everywhere, speaking rapidly in Marathi, Hindi or Gujarati, I can’t tell. But it still felt like home.  Maybe it had to do with the fact that I shared the skin tone of nearly everyone I saw.  My short, fuzzy hair, in contrast to the long, silken hair of the Indian women, identified me as someone not from this neighborhood.  And yet I didn’t feel out of place.  Was it this similarity of color that made me so comfortable so far from where I called home?  I remembered the surprise my father felt when he arrived in Africa for the first time.  He could see the faces of his relatives all around.  That man could be his cousin; that one looked just like the guy at the barbershop.  It was a wonder to finally experience this connection to his ancestral and genetic home. I didn’t think too much about it at the time.  It was enough to simply enjoy the atmosphere and the sense of welcome.

The temple bells were ringing when we arrived at the retreat site. At 3:30am it was time for the day of worship to begin.  I quickly changed clothes and entered the sacred space. Candlelight danced in the darkness of the stone and marble courtyard.  The mystical beauty of the place was not surprising.  I had seen photographs and videos of this holy place with its classical Indian architecture, arches and symbols.  However, I wasn’t quite prepared for the waves of emotion that trembled through me. I had never been in a place where the vibrations of silence were so clearly heard. I was powerless to contain either the tears that flowed or the non-subjective love that surged in my chest as I entered the candlelit temple.

A man in traditional Indian clothing waved a large silver lamp with multiple flames – side to side and then in a large circle.  The light swirled in the smoke of incense that surrounded the temple deity.  And the arati being sung lulled my travel worn spirit.  Then, after the morning chant, when the dawn burst through, a monk I had met in the States, greeted me by saying, “Welcome home.” 

There it was again.  Home.  How could that be?  Nothing in my upbringing had prepared me to be in this place, with these people and chanting in ancient Sanskrit.  And yet, I was now wondering how I could possibly leave this place now that I had found it.

That eagerness to awake before noon was back as we all made treks to neighboring temples to make offerings at dawn: climbing tall stairways with trays ladened with garlands of flowers, coconuts, incense, candles.  Lilting chants to the rising sun, to the Goddess and to Shiva.  And yes, there were cattle in the marketplace, and prayerful sadhus, holy men, bathing at the sacred hot springs. And then, morning chai, but made without the caffeine.  We were invited to forgo caffeine for the entire retreat.  This would support our meditation.  I knew there wouldn’t be Starbucks, and I was cool with that.  But no caffeine at all?  Well, I’d come this far and I did want my meditation supported, so…herbal tea chai.  At least there was sugar.  And, there was progress.  But I also struggled. Aside from the physical challenges of heat, unfamiliar food confusing my digestive system, there was the realization that this inner journey I had begun was proving to be more than just a notion. 

Yes, it had its share of spiritually romantic aspects that Hollywood movies like to highlight.  Yet, as we traveled the inner terrain, anything and almost everything could and would surface. There were times of intense frustration, unexplained sadness, or whip-fast surges of anger.  Yes, it was not all sweetness, yet there was some light. 

Near the end of my stay, during a meditation session, I felt I’d nailed it.  A typical westerner’s concept, I realize now.   Meditation is not a competition after all.  In any case, I was moving with the breath, I could feel my awareness dropping into the deep void of Consciousness, the stillness and peace of the Self.  The next thing I knew, a scene from an old movie western was playing through my mind -- a movie I’d only seen once in my life maybe thirty years ago!  Why in the world was it in my head while I’m on a journey to the inner Self in a sacred meditation hall in a remote village in India?  I.  Was.  Furious. 

At the conclusion of the meditation, the teacher gently told us to pick up our journal and write about our meditation experience.  ‘What meditation experience?’ I screamed in my head.  I was daydreaming about an old movie!  But I said to myself, fine, I’ll write. Fine, I’ll “journal” about my great meditation experience.  And so I began to detail the movie scene that had played in my mind.  A man and a woman were hiding from danger inside a cave.  And naturally, the man made a move on the woman, as if this was the time to get romantic.  Yes, I was supremely angry that this scene interrupted my spiritual journey, but I kept writing.  In the scene, the woman stopped the man and said, “Don’t do it unless you mean it.”  And then…I stopped writing. “Don’t do it, unless you mean it.”  The words I’d written on the page hit me in the face with startling clarity. Why did I make this journey? Was it just a whim? Had I been carried away by the novelty or by simple curiosity?  Did I mean it?  Here, in the heart of India, in the land of yoga, in this place, there was no faking it.  I had to check myself.  Did I mean it?  And the advice: Don’t do it, unless you mean it. 

So maybe meditation isn’t about visions of light.  Maybe it’s not about relaxation or stress reduction, even though that does happen.  And perhaps it’s true that meditation isn’t what you think.  Meditation, “real” meditation, was about the journey to know who you truly are.  And if you don’t want to know the answer to that, then don’t make the trip. Who am I, really?

One day, at the noon chant in the temple, I had a glimpse of the answer. The melody was unfamiliar, haunting and beautiful. It was a shloka, or devotional poem, written by the great sage Adi Shankaracharya.  As the melody continued, I read the translation.  It’s called the Nirvana Shatakam, the Six Stanzas on Salvation.  One of the stories about its origin is that at the age of eight, Shankaracharya was wandering the Himalayas in search of his guru.  He met an old sage who asked him: “Who are you?”  And the boy’s response resulted in this shloka that expresses the essence of Advaita Vedanta, the philosophy of non-duality.  In essence it says I am neither this nor that.  I am not the senses or the body.  I am not the eyes or the mind.  I am Consciousness and Bliss.  I am Shiva.  I am Shiva. 

In this context, it is Shiva who represents our true nature, the indivisible Self of all. Things began to make sense, especially the sense of feeling at home. Throughout my stay, there had been no reflection of me as a city girl, a black girl from the south side of Chicago.  I wasn’t a foreigner or a tourist. I was neither male, nor female, short nor tall.  For a brief time, traveling the pathways of meditation, I caught a glimpse of my destination -- I saw no difference.  This was finding the universal home of each one as one.  The eyes, the hair, the skin, the body, the hands -- I am not those things.  And neither is anyone else.  I am Consciousness and Bliss.  And so are you.  

Yes, it was my father’s fault.  This longing for traveling unchartered territory, whether tangible roads or the intangible pathways of meditation.  I never got the chance to thank him for my wanderlust while he was here, but now I can thank him as I continue the journey to the universal heart – where all journeys lead.

Chicago to Mumbai: not a long way from home.  It was a long way to home.

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VALERIE C. WOODS is a writer/producer in television and film and is also a publisher, editor and author Valerie is currently Adjunct Faculty for the Stephens College Low Residency MFA Television & Screenwriting programs and was appointed Creative Director for Syd Field - The Art of Visual Storytelling organization. www.valeriecwoods.com; Follow Valerie on Twitter: @vcwoods24

MY GOD...MY GOD
Susan Dumas

I made you in my own image. When I
look at you, I see a Masterpiece,
an Ambassador, my very own.
When you speak, you speak the right
words, because it is I who worketh
in you both to will and to do of my
good pleasure. When I spoke I
created the heavens and the earth.
When you speak, you can make your own
heaven on earth. Remember the One
Who owns cattle on a thousand
hills, the One Who wishes above all
things that you prosper and be in
good health, it is the One Who
wants you to be more than a conqueror
through Him Who loves you.
You can do all things!
All of your needs, wants, and desires are met
according to His riches in glory…

 

It is my God, my God…

EXCERPT
from Walking Gun
Romey Keys

Chapter 1 – FUGU

Fugu spilled all over North Beach. You felt Fugu before you could see it. It began as a bass throbbing in the chest. Then there was the glow in the sky as if a building were on fire two blocks over. As you got closer, the sound was like a stadium crowd. For blocks around, you passed through streets full of driverless cars, cruising the streets on wait mode. Closer still you began to enter the crowd. Some people came not to get into Fugu but to experience the scene. A line dance, formed out of the crowd waiting to get in, circled the club. Sellers and takers moved among the crowd, their robot vans forming a wall along one street. People stood in conversation. Food trucks and carts were set up on another street. The people who called themselves Spectacles. Their bodies a living show screaming look at me!

Fugu went after the Cosplay crowd, the Rich Decadents in their evening clothes coming down from their towers, the tourists from the territories staring look-at-that, and all the varieties of wannabes. It was an inter-racial crowd, all seven or was it nine sexes represented. Some elaborately dressed. Some still wearing the dusters and wide-brimmed hats that had become fashionable daywear in an environment gone crazy. People openly chewed, smoked, inhaled, injected, and rubbed into their skin a number of narcotics advertised in neon ads that drifted through the streets. And somewhere in this crowd was Mark Redman.

Redman was six feet tall and two hundred pounds and looked as if he had spent his youth running after balls in various sports. He was a racial mixture. Redman strolled along like the others who had come to see. He allowed himself to be drawn toward the entrance by the motion of the crowd. Redman seemed to have no particular purpose in mind other than to enjoy the night. But he had acquired a follower. A Spectacle covered in white body paint, white hair jelled into a rooster comb, a knot, jerked into an explosion; the jell shifting it, leaping into the air near him. A red slash of a mouth and dark eyes, another figure of the night. The woman kept to his course though she also seemed to be an aimless wanderer. Nothing to make her stand out from the crowd being drawn to Fugu.

Ignoring the line, Redman drifted to a stop at the entrance.

“My friend,” said Afa.

The seven foot tall, 300 pound Tongan refugee in cowboy boots and an immaculate and bulletproof tuxedo, who was the Decider for Fugu, greeted Redman. He was a heavy on the cream café au lait shade, spoke eight languages, and his name meant Hurricane. It fitted. Redman had seen him handle a mob trying to break through the lines.

“Afa, anything?”

“Not yet,” said Afa.

“The Flash are out tonight,” said Redman.

The Flash, the people who came to be seen. Who invested every penny and every waking hour into being seen. Because once you were seen, you existed. Fugu was their life.

“Creepers and Crawlers all. We’ve caught a lot of people trying to sneak in Listeners. I don’t know what people think they’re going to hear. We’ve got the best countermeasures on club row.”

“Listeners, not visuals?” said Redman.

“And someone showed up with full shields. Had to register it before we let him in. Was quite nice about it. And a real heavy guy came in just ahead of you. Quintero.”

“Don’t know him.” Redman lied.

“I bet you don’t. That guy got some evil tats. Beware, Redman.”

“Where is he, Afa?”

“B3 upper.”

“Thanks,” said Redman.

Redman entered through the tunnel. Two figures came off the wall. Packs of sellers were waiting. “You want a patch?”

“One for mild elevation,” said Redman.

“We got the whole spectrum of up and down, and sideways,” said the other.

Redman handed the guy one of the Blue 500 with Clinton’s hologram on it. A red fifty bought him a group of crowd breakers. The men formed a flying wedge in front of him. Redman followed in their wake. This was how they made enough to live on through the week. Busting crowds at Fugu.

The wedge of busters pushed through, moving him into the interior. Some wearing their avatar masks, electronic devices disguising the wearer’s appearance with a hologram. He reached a balcony and looked out over the crowd. The white Spectacle was dancing wildly on a table. A group of revelers painted a variety of colors danced around her.

Redman continued searching the masses on the floor until he found what he had come for. A woman was struggling through the crowd toward the lifts. She carried a thick, grey paper-wrapped package. Redman looked across at two men on the same level. They also were watching the woman.

And, Redman knew, a level up, in a space of darkness Quintero watched. Redman knew him quite well. He had all the Intel files on Redman that you could get in the legal world. And most of the black files.

•••

Chapter 2 – THE GUN WAKES UP

Adrastos Quintero, a man with a reputation for violence, watched the thin line of vapor chase the dark speck of the scramjet across the sky. The 3:10 am flight from Moscow ended its steep dive toward the Bay, leveled off and started a turn to bring it in over air traffic and put it on the path to Sacramento. Quintero—a regulator, thief, and gunman—was staring into the night from the top of the Mark Hopkins hotel. Before him, the nightscape of San Francisco was looming shapes covered with sheets of light.  

“Come to me,” said Quintero.

The Gun woke up. First, a basic set of routines with no awareness. Then it knew itself. It recognized the parts of itself as they came online and went to ready status. It ran a systems check. It was alright. In a fraction of a second it moved through the four levels of intelligence. Now it could reason and plan. All visual systems went infrared and accepted and processed the cascade of data falling on its receptors. The Gun was suddenly aware of the world immediately around it. Its tools powered up. Four identical barrels extended and retracted: a .50 machine gun, a Direct Attack Autonomous Guided Weapon, and an Exact-Target, Long Range Sniper weapon. Defensive systems went down their checklists.

The final check: “Why is a Walking Gun like the East Bay?” from Gertrude Stein by way of Herb Caen, “Because there is no there there.” The Gun paused, and then understood the joke. It had reached its highest level of self-awareness, intelligence, and independence.

Looking like a cross between a Rottweiler and something out of the bio-tech labs at Livermore, the Walking Gun was a weapon with mobility features and a high-level AI.

Quintero began walking toward the edge of the building and the Gun followed him. The weapon reached the edge and stopped beside Quintero.

“Stay. Set up. Lock down. Locate position. Acquire target.”

The Walking Gun began to transform, moving from machine to organic, biologic and mechanical assembling its components for firing. The short barrel protruded from its mouth, taking the snout with it as a silencer. Hind legs moved away from the body and screwed themselves into the roof. A port popped open on its back.

“Safe?” said Quintero.

“Clear,” said the Gun.

Quintero carefully stepped within the gun’s defensive perimeter, waited a second, then took out a small targeting scope and plugged it into the port. He paused and listened. When Quintero listened he engaged the best upgrades you could obtain. He heard a baby pigeon tentatively peck at a straw in its nest, the flow of water down the sides of the building, the wind roughly sweeping over the granite and metal around him, and nothing threatening.

Quintero blinked and the Lake home was pulled out of the dark, appearing within arm’s reach. He saw heat radiating from everything within it. Blinked again, saw a high-resolution, incredibly detailed plan of Lake’s home. He activated his body’s network and linked to the Gun. He scanned across the length of the penthouse, penetrating the shielded windows. Shields blurred some areas, totally obscuring others. He gave the coordinates to the Gun.

A man wearing the formal dress of a European butler made his way through the rooms of the Lake penthouse followed by an attractive young woman who carried a champagne flute. Quintero almost smiled. A red hot shape with multiple limbs was forming and reforming in a bedroom. He saw them clearly through pebbled glass and shields.

The Gun has secured itself to the roof. Quintero removed a magazine from the bag, loading it into the gun.

“Status?”

“Target acquired. Five Stryker rounds loaded. Ready.”

“Fire.”

The gun fired twice, two muffled metallic thunks the sound of a blade striking a log. At 101 meters past the barrel the projectiles gave a high-pitched roar, coming to life and arcing up.

James Lake was enjoying a courtesan in one of the lounges in his townhome. He was stretched out on a very large bed. The girl was astride Lake, working on him. Suddenly, something hit the window glass. The glass bellied in, ripples spread out over its surface. The window began to separate into layers. One of the middle layers caught fire, turning a translucent orange that flashed across the expanse of the whole window. A thin point suddenly appeared on the surface and then exploded. The projectile hit the girl, lifting her up in the air. She pin wheeled toward the wall. The window fractured and blew in, filling the air with a blizzard of burning plastic flakes.

“Blinds! Blinds!” yelled Lake.

Armored shutters came down like guillotines over the windows. Fire suppression filled the room with white particles of foam. Guards burst through the door.

“Stand down,” Quintero said to the Gun. Already in motion, he had somewhere he had to be. “Return home. Nest. Deactivate.”

Quintero was gone through the doorway. The Walking Gun moved to the edge of the building. Its feet became climbing appendages. The Gun started down the side of the building. But it did not return home and it did not deactivate. As it climbed, the Gun’s downlink was receiving terabytes of instructions.

---

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ROMEY KEYS was born at home in Lanham, Maryland in 1947. The doctor delivered him between breaks to catch a boxing match on the radio. He has a Ph.D. in English Literature. He taught at UCLA for eight years. Now he's a Documentation Specialist for hire.