Wednesday, June 27, 2018

June 27: Bethany Maile • Jordan Wiklund • Tom McAllister • Sarah Ruhlen • S.L. Wisenberg • Doug Hesse • A. E. Weisgerber • Nora Almeida • Jamison Crabtree • Whittier Strong

Today we present ten more dispatches from June 21, 2018 to you. More details on the project here, but, in brief, we asked you to write about what happened on one day in June, and are publishing the results, largely unedited, for the next month and change, roughly ten a day. If you wrote something (it's not too late!), send us your work by the end of June (at the latest: earlier is better!) via this submission form (it's okay if you didn't RSVP before: the more the merrier).

—The Editors

Bethany Maile • Jordan Wiklund • Tom McAllister • Sarah Ruhlen • S.L. Wisenberg • Doug Hesse • A. E. Weisgerber • Nora Almeida • Jamison Crabtree • Whittier Strong


Last night, I had asked my husband to help me get the girls ready in the morning, so when my alarm buzzes, I tell myself I can take a few extra minutes. Eventually, though, I cannot rouse myself, so I text him to come wake me up—rip off the blankets, sprinkle some water, that whole thing. Instead, he crawls back in bed and holds me for ten minutes. A rare lull for us, this. An uncommon relishing, brought on, I suspect, by the fact that this morning he leaves for Alaska.
     I rake my hair into a pony and brush on mascara and am irritated when our three-year-old trots into the bathroom wearing a filthy princess gown and no undies. He intuits my displeasure and gets her dressed, God bless him.
     Before the airport, we drop our five-year-old off at preschool where I realize I’ve forgotten—despite her reminding me moments before we left the house—the book she wanted to bring for share time. I am mid-apology when the car door shuts.
     The Boise Airport is dead at 9 am (any time, really), so we pull up curbside and my husband unloads his bags and just like that, he is off. Each month, he flies to Alaska, where we lived for six years and where his job is still based. Each month, for one week, he couch-crashes at his buddies’ and stays in bars as late as he likes and plays guitar and, of course, gets his work done.
     From the airport, I take our youngest to swim lessons where she is learning to throw herself onto the water, turn, and then grab the poolside. Each time she surfaces, even if it is for the tenth straight time, she is stunned anew. She comes up wide-eyed and searching for me, and each time I clap and give a thumbs up.
     We are always in a hurry. The busier we are, I’ve learned, the happier we are. Boredom breeds unrest or bickering in the children and self-pity or malaise in the mother. I speed across town to a play date—meaning she and another toddler will ignore one another while I make small talk with another parent about our children’s sleep habits and eating habits and tantrum habits. When we leave, I worry—as I almost always do after any social situation—that I’d talked too much, hadn’t asked enough questions, was a verbal deluge of me-me-me.
     While I wait in the pick-up line for my daughter to come out of her classroom, I read an article on my phone about how Melania Trump, on a visit to the children her husband tore from their asylum-seeking parents, wore an army-green jacket that read, “I really don’t care, do you?” Quietly, so my daughter cannot hear, I mutter Fuck that shit, and I reach around and squeeze her calf.
     Once home, I feed my daughters lunch. By the end of the day I will not for the life of me be able to remember what I sliced or stirred or microwaved.
     As true as anything, if it is 1:00, my youngest is taking a nap. I tuck her in but only after promising her—in a moment of questionable parenting—one marshmallow if she goes right to sleep without yelling for me (because her dolly’s arm has jutted out from the blanket; because her pillow has shimmied askew; because the bathroom light was on but now no longer is; because I am awake, eating my own lunch, and that is unfair). The marshmallow is a worthy bribe. She goes out without a squawk.
     While the youngest sleeps, the eldest reads books and watches probably too much Netflix and draws a treasure map for our cat, “So he can find the treats I’ve hidden.” And I labor my way through an exercise video titled, grimly, Insanity Max 30: Max Out Sweat. Then, splayed on my yoga mat, too leg-sore to move, I finish two freelance assignments for an oncologist’s blog and read a trashy article about why Kim Kardashian feels fine appropriating Fulani braids. Too soon, the rustle and fuss of a child rising.
     After the nap, I pack a bag with cookies and snap peas and sunscreen and towels and drive through Idaho’s low-sage hills to a little pocket of wealthy mansions on the outskirts of town, where a friend has invited us to use her pool. My daughters are all limbs in the water, churning fast, unsure, desperate, buoyant, gleeful. I am launching my youngest in the air, catching her in thick splashes, when my eldest, who is somewhere behind me, flips beneath her shark-shaped float. My friend, who is holding both of her own kids, somehow fishes her back up to air. My daughter is undone. I wrap her in a towel and feed her a cookie and she sobs through it. “I didn’t hear her tip,” I say. “It didn’t make a sound, I swear,” my friend offers, a comment meant to function as a hand on the shoulder, an understanding nod.
     We drive out of the hills and the children fight. I am not well versed in this. They seldom bicker, are usually peculiarly affectionate and devoted, but I suspect my eldest hasn’t recovered from the surprise submersion, and my three-year-old, who is maximizing an on-time developmental surge of defiance, makes an ideal sparring mate. They fight over a stuffed kitten, a book, a crayon. They shush each other and spit at each other and make each other cry. I slam on the brakes and pull over to the side of the road and make some stupid threat about TV and feel immediately ashamed of my shitty parenting. I think of those children in their cages, staring up at Melania with her model-glare eyes, her cut-you cheekbones, her middle-finger of a jacket, and feel all the worse.
     I am a piss-poor cook on a good day, and when my husband is in Alaska, I don’t even try. We pull into a drive thru, and if they can eat their burgers calmly and kindly (those two words, I must say them a million times each day), then maybe they can choose a treat at home (another dubious parenting strategy, but at least less charged this time). The Fanci-Freez attendants forget to hold the mustard and don’t include the cheese. My kids are sirens of dissatisfaction. My eldest mandates I lick the mustard from her patty, and I do.
     Once home, we FaceTime their father who is stuck with a long layover. My eldest tells him, chin quivering, that she wants him to come home today, not next week, and he assures her the time will go quickly, that we will all have fun, and then, on his end, the intercom buzzes for boarding and our children wave goodnight.
     After I bathe them, I sit on the floor and wrap them in their towels and tell them I want to talk about the ride home from the pool. “We were all too frustrated,” I say, “but we’re on the same team and tomorrow we get to try again.” Once more, I tell them, “Kind and calm.” My eldest says she was just scared and sad because she’d fallen all the way in the water. I pull her belly to my chest and she blows a raspberry on my arm and the youngest says, “Tomorrow we can be best friends, and [long pause] tinkles do not come out of your vagina”—which makes me laugh.
     Once the children are in bed, I draw myself a tub. The bath serves an important function in our world: it signals that the mother is here but inaccessible. The children hear the rush of water and know their voices—pleading for another song, one more drink—are fuzzy and faint on the other side of this door, this torrent. I am just across the hall, but my head is submerged; I am occupied. Here, but not. When the tub is full, I cut the water and scroll through social media. An old roommate dances—sun-pink and sweaty—in Mexico City. A man I knew as a younger woman smiles over a plate of fancy food. At some of these posts, I pause—perhaps for too long. Then Facebook’s algorithm spits out an article about children and marriage and happiness. I read it. The solitude and work of parenthood wedges itself into a relationship, the research shows. No surprise there. In the tub, nearly suspended on the water’s surface, I am weighted with longing.
     Before my husband returned to our bed this morning, he had packed for his trip and emptied the cat box and swept the floors. He’d cleaned and filled our bedroom humidifier with distilled water and lavender drops so the high desert air wouldn’t trigger my migraines. He’d put fresh batteries in our daughters’ nightlights. He’d folded my sports bras and rolled my workout socks and tucked them all away. He’d hung up our daughter’s painting—the words “rainbow” and “sun” crayoned above each thing—so when she ate her morning bagel she saw it hanging on the wall and beamed.
     On the way to the airport, we were quiet, accustomed to the rhythm of these steady departures. Quiet, too, I’m sure, from all the tired. Just before sleep finds me, I imagine my husband, frequent flyer that he is, reclined in first class, an hour outside of Anchorage, sipping a stiff whiskey. The poor man can’t sleep on planes, so he is wiped, I know, and maybe the drink will help him doze a little. As he drinks, he flips through the photos I’ve sent him today—the girls smiling in the tub, petting the cat, dancing in the kitchen. In the morning, I will wake to a video he has sent us, telling us he hopes we slept well, but for now, the plane runs even with the summer sun in a land so far north its soft light won’t fade. There he is, the alcohol sharp on his tongue and hot in his belly, hanging in the solstice light, tired but far off from sleep. And thirty thousand feet below, I am in repose, body at last stopped, save the too-hard pounding of my chest. 

—Bethany Maile

Bethany Maile's essays have appeared in The Normal School, River Teeth, Prairie Schooner, Essay Daily, High Desert Journal, among others. Twice, her essays have been included as notable selections in the Best American Essays series and once in the Best American Nonrequired Reading series. She teaches writing and hangs out with her husband and two daughters. This is a happy arrangement. She also watches a lot of premium cable.


The lights of highway 62 wash over the car as I head east toward St. Paul. I had been catching up with Opera Andy, an old college friend, in town for six weeks—we had beers, ate pizza, played cribbage. He’s playing a smuggler in a local production of Carmen. Zappos sent his summer kicks to the wrong address but he found them anyway after they had already sent another pair. “I think I might sell the extra pair,” he says, “give it a week or two, see what happens.” Smuggling, I think. Andy moved to New York City last August to pursue opera and he’s been busy ever since between hustling tables at Monkey Bar and getting opera gigs around the country, singing in some competitions, dating around. He looks you in the eye when he talks and gives you his full attention, which is rare. I doubt I achieve this most of the time. Christ, it’s late—I check my watch, a battered, wooden number my wife gave me for my birthday last year. I love it. It’s after midnight, which qualifies for this essay. Andy and I make plans for the weekend.
     Get home. Brush, beta blocker, bed. “I left the window open for you,” Rachel says, rolling over in her sleep. Time: 12:42 AM. Or so.
     Had scattered dreams about my father belittling an old friend. Don’t remember much. I still dream vividly, and the beta blocker-—Metoprolol, for bad blood pressure—often makes me hallucinate. The fan, a starfish on the ceiling; the house creaks, intruders. I keep an old Louisville Slugger under the bed, and on Sunday night these beta dreams led me around the top floor, bat in hand, fully conscious but also aware this is a result of your prescription, asshole. It’s strange. It doesn’t happen often, and it’s not quite an out-of-body experience, but close. I am compelled to investigate, sometimes, and there’s not much to be done about it. Few items feel as good in your hand as a wooden baseball bat.
     Toast and banana for breakfast with Rachel and Stella. Bad coffee. Stella is almost two years old and recently had her ureters disconnected, reconstructed, and reinserted into her bladder. Jesus Christ. “Knucks,” she says, or tries to say. It sounds more like “nuss!” Rachel taught her this. She reaches out a hand, fingers fisted. I hit that shit. I understand it may be the best part of my day, for which I am thankful.
     I drive to work, which I hate—usually I bike and/or take the light rail from St. Paul into Minneapolis. But I’ve got a Little Free Library® to pick up and it’s not so little but it was free, so into the trunk of the car it’ll go (a bonus of my job—occasional readymade projects for the home. Last summer the publisher built me a shed for Black & Decker Complete Guide to Sheds, 3rd Edition. Check the sick bike shed, brah). Looks like I’m installing a library this weekend.
     It is a beautiful day—the sweltering summer humidity of the weekend (100-degree heat index!) has left us. On the radio, MPR plays a bluegrass rendition of Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer” rag. I think of Paul Newman in The Sting, the President in my hometown (Duluth) last night, chicanery, charlatans. “Always cut a mark with gin, kid,” Newman tells Robert Redford. I hope to use this line in a podcast I’ll be recording tonight. I hope our guest drinks gin. I park in Ramp C. MurderRamp. Look it up.
     8:34 AM—attempt to find smuggle in the OED, see I need a paid subscription. Consult The Google. Check it out: smuggle’s roots are “low German, late 17th century,” from smuggelen, “of unknown ultimate origin.” I find the MPR playlist, note the classical guitarist—Giovanni de Chiaro. What a name!--and find him easily online. Guitar fills my ears.
     Work passes uneventfully. I am an editor at a large publishing company. If you’ve got a hobby, I’ve edited your book—books on how to brew beer, raise bees, build decks. Books with pseudo-celebrities, niche-hobby specialists. Straw bale gardeners. New England restaurateurs. Australian Lego master builders. Favorite author: Colonel Rich Graham, USAF, test pilot of the A-12 before it became the SR-71 blackbird. The SR-71 flew from London to New York in just under three hours, from New York to LA in 58 minutes. Can you imagine? Rumor has it that Colonel Graham has the last working SR-71 simulator at his ranch house in Texas. I’m still waiting for an invite.
     My job is enjoyable and mundane in equal parts. I learn a lot. It doesn’t feed my soul.
     It is just after 2:00 on Friday the 22nd. This essay is a smuggelen—one never knows how the day will go—and something of a struggle. My day was broken into three distinct parts with a brief denouement. Yesterday was fast without much time for intense observation, or much to even observe. After work, I meet a buddy at his office just over the Mississippi River to the north to interview Rich Ruohonen, one of the nation’s best curlers. Kris and I have a curling podcast—StoneCast—and Rich is something of a local curling celebrity among many. He is affable and bald and approaching fifty years of age and wildly successful as both a local lawyer and international athlete. We shoot the breeze and record for a whopping three hours. He tells us some inside-baseball/curling stories that won’t leave the room. Kris wasn’t able to get the gin he wanted, so he bought sherry and some decent cheese, prosciutto, and bread to go with it. He asked me to pick up some beer. Have you ever had tea-infused beer from MKE brewing, out of Milwaukee? It’s called O-gii, as in OG, as in Original Gangster. I don’t think anyone would ever describe me as an OG. O-gii is odd at first, but it doesn’t coat your teeth like tea will do. It’s better ice-cold. I also bought Pseudo Sue IPA out of Decorah, Iowa—hometown of Luther College, my alma mater—and it is delicious. Dig that neon Tyrannosaur on the can.
     We drink it all. I go home. Rachel washed Stella and put her to sleep hours ago, and I am sorry to have missed it—bath time is when Stella is at her best, playful and a little bit tired. It may be when I’m at my best, too, for much the same reason. After the late night with Opera Andy, I am exhausted. Rachel goes to bed after a brief hug—not much to report from her night as she charted for several hours. (She’s a nurse practitioner. They work hard.)
     I head downstairs to the basement, fire up the TV without any real goal. I turn on the PS4 and spend twenty minutes as a pilot and mech in Titanfall 2 blowing up other pilots and mechs. It is unfulfilling. I think I also intended to masturbate, which happens most every day, but I couldn’t muster the stamina. I do remember saying, “What am I doing?”, turning off the TV, shutting down the PS4, and heading upstairs around 10:30.
     Americone Dream. Rachel bought me a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Americone Dream (vanilla ice cream, caramel and chocolate swirls, graham cracker) for Father’s Day. I am a slave to lactose, particularly as it exists in ice cream and milk, and I love my cruel master. I dig out a few spoonfuls of the rich ice cream and enjoy every bite. Sometimes—every couple of months, say—I like to go to bed without brushing my teeth. This might seem appalling, but is it? I have delicious graham cracker ‘n’ chocolate breath. I’ve found this is a problem with late-night Oreos as well. Sometimes, in the morning, I wake up and unearth a macerated chunk of chocolate cookie from one of my molars, working around it with my tongue until I can crunch it a bit more between my central and lateral incisors. The chocolate flavor remains, and a fleeting whiff of cookie aroma wafts up to my nose as I roll toward the day, blinking myself awake, reaching for Rachel or at least her pillow. It is scrumptious. I do not feel bad about it. 

Jordan Wiklund

Jordan Wiklund is from St. Paul, Minnesota. His work has appeared in Pank, Fourth Genre, Brevity, Blue Stem Review, Hobart, and elsewhere. He co-created StoneCast, the best podcast about curling you’ve never heard. He is a graduate of Hamline University with a master’s in Creative Writing. 


In the morning, my wife and I finished unpacking our suitcases. We’d returned from Sarasota the previous day, after a five-day trip in which the main purpose was to sink her father’s ashes into the Gulf of Mexico. There is a company that embeds the ashes into what they call reef balls, essentially 3-foot tall concrete domes that act as artificial coral reefs. The domes are transported to a location a couple miles from shore, and the families watch as they are lowered to the ocean floor. The remains of your loved one are then given a purpose, in which they support new life, rather than just being carried away by the wind and eventually swept up as dust. As my father-in-law’s reef ball was descending, my 6-year-old niece asked, “Is Pop Pop really dead now?” And I said yes. She asked, “Can he breathe under there?” and I said I don’t think that’s particularly important now. She asked, “If he’s in heaven, how can he be in the ocean too?” And I said that’s a good question, I don’t know, maybe go ask your parents.
     He died in March 2017, and I didn’t know what to expect from the trip, whether it would feel real, if it would even be possible to dredge up the emotions we’d all processed last year, but a few days later, we both still felt a melancholy we couldn’t shake. The Summer solstice was his third favorite day of the year, and when he was alive, he always texted on the morning of the 21st to remind us what day it was, to urge us to enjoy the extra sunshine. We were unpacking and it was the longest day of the year, and there was a void we did not discuss.
     I spent the rest of the morning and most of the afternoon alternating between watching the World Cup and reading about the criminal Trump administration. The soccer was good and the news was bad. I don’t understand the part of my brain that makes me keep clicking and scrolling in search of more bad news, even when I already know how bad it is, even when I’m only learning slightly different reasons to hold these people in contempt. It’s as self-destructive as the part of my brain that in the morning tells me I shouldn’t ever drink again and at night has me ordering a third beer and saying things like, “It’s so nice out today, it would be crazy not to have a few drinks.”
     At night, there was a Summer solstice festival in my South Jersey suburb, a town full of young families that used to live in Philly but then moved once they had kids. (The whiteness of the crowd was a little overwhelming, even for a Jersey suburb; later, a friend, a black man, would text and say, “I’m standing by the tent that’s selling Blue Lives Matter flags and I’m a little nervous”). We got there early because my wife likes to get to places early and because the plan was to sit for about an hour, eat dinner at a food truck, and head home. I had writing to do and she had homework for her graduate classes, so it would be good to get home at a reasonable hour. We sat by ourselves at a small table, watching people hug one another and greet everyone who passed by, and it felt like we were the only ones in town who don’t know anybody. We’ve lived here for over six years, but we don’t have kids and we no longer have a dog, and we’re not involved in any community organizations. We used to belong to a gym before it shut down, so I recognized some people, but had never spoken to any of them. There’s a guy who works in the produce section at Wegman’s who must at least think we look familiar. “How do you even make friends?” my wife asked. The answer is: you have kids, and then you’re forced into the social structure of all the institutions that dominate your kids’ lives, and you bond with other adults through some kind of weird inertia. Or: you grow up in a town and never leave that town, and eventually everybody knows you.
     One of my good friends grew up here, teaches in the schools here (just like both of his parents did), and is almost seven feet tall, and so he can’t walk more than a few steps without having to talk to someone. He’s nicer than me, and better at small talk, and it seems nice to have so many well-wishers in the community. But also it looks awful. I think about going to an event like this in my old neighborhood in Philly, and how much I would hate having to see the same people I knew when I was 12, feeling the moldy weight of that old relationship, and the meaninglessness of pretending we’re friends just because we happened to be born around the same time in roughly the same place. I know I’m missing something but not really being integrated into the community, but one of the best things about my life is that I have the luxury of being able to disappear.
     This is why we don’t have more friends, I know. Because we don’t want them, and we don’t like talking to people. Though maybe one new friend would be nice.
     I ended up drinking five or six beers despite having told myself that I wouldn’t have any, and we stayed until 9:30 because my wife’s brother showed up with his wife and kids, and then we met our one other friend by the Blue Lives Matter tent. I ate a meatball sandwich and petted several friendly dogs. I regretted not getting ice cream, but the fuzzy mental calculations I conducted told me that you can’t indulge in both beer and ice cream at the same time. We overheard some older Jersey natives reminiscing about how they used to run behind the mosquito trucks and play around in the DDT mist. You can be nostalgic for anything, but especially if it’s toxic. It felt good to be responsible. At night, I poured myself a glass of bourbon and watched an episode of a Norwegian TV show on Netflix. With every sip I told myself that what I was doing was bad for you. That my whole life is bad for me. We’d all drank a lot in Sarasota, staying up late and pouring ourselves just one more glass (and then one more), and then it was okay because it was vacation and we were mourning. Now it was okay because it was the longest day of the year and because mourning knows no bounds. Tomorrow, it would be okay because I would be doing a reading and author party, and I don’t know how to mingle without holding a drink in one hand. It gives me something to do. My life would be better in almost all measurable ways if I stopped drinking. I said that sentence out loud for the first time recently, and it frightened me to say it. It embarrasses me to see it on the page right now. We all have bad habits that are killing us, but that doesn’t mean you have to hold on to them.
     Before I went to bed, I checked Twitter again. I was looking for updates on the NBA Draft, but I also wanted to see the bad news. I wanted it all in my head. I wanted to feel as bad as possible. It felt like punishing myself for my bad choices, for my comfort, for all the ways my life is insulated from real danger. In the morning it’s the first thing I see and at night it’s the last. The world I know, the one I want to believe in, is crumbling, and in between outrages there is soccer and there is basketball and there are town festivals to help fill the void. There is always a new distraction. Even the outrage is a distraction. I went to bed close to midnight assuring myself that tomorrow I would do better.

—Tom McAllister

Tom McAllister is the author of the novels How to Be Safe and The Young Widower's Handbook, as well as the memoir Bury Me in My Jersey. He is the co-host of the weekly podcast, Book Fight!, and nonfiction editor at Barrelhouse. He is on Twitter @t_mcallister


He Wasn't There The Next Day

I work on the 6th floor of a building in downtown Syracuse, with a window overlooking Salina Street. Across the street there is a very small park with a paved plaza area that is sort of decrepit, but the people use it in spite of its neglect. Here are the people I saw from my window on June 21, 2018:

7:23 a.m.
     Mostly people walking to their offices. Lunchboxes, suits, business casual. "Business casual" at this time of the year means cropped pants, a loose plain t-shirt (often decorated with sequins or glitter), and a loose cardigan.
     A homeless man crosses the plaza diagonally right to left (northeast to southwest). He is a familiar character, elf-locked, mostly harmless except when he's psychotic. He disappears beneath some trees and reappears at a far corner, heading toward a neighborhood of restaurants and shops. I wonder if one of the restaurant workers helps him out with breakfast.
     A woman with black hair and a dog unlocks a door and enters.

8:35 a.m.
     A woman in an orange turban goes into the bank. She is carrying a shopping bag.
     A guy in pale jeans and a t-shirt with long raglan sleeves sits on one of the concrete cubes that serve as makeshift seating in the plaza. He opens a plastic clamshell container and begins eating what is in it. After a couple bites he looks at his phone, looks around, and stands up with the clamshell still open in one hand and the phone in the other hand. He moves off east, carrying both thus. Who texted him? Is he in the wrong place? Is he going to work today, and if so, what sort of job?

9:35 a.m.
     Two city guys in flourescent yellow shirts are putting up cones in the middle of the street that runs along the north side of the park. Whatever they're doing out there has been going on for at least two months, and it shows no signs of abatement. Every morning two or more vans with ladders and lights park at that corner, blocking not only the vehicular traffic but also any pedestrian trying to skirt the north side of the park, and then the city guys disappear into a manhole. I imagine their Civil Service titles are DPW Trogolodyte I and DPW Trogolodyte II.
     A guy in a brown suit shambles across the plaza. He carries a soft-sided leather briefcase. Whatever he is going to does not bring him joy.
     The food trucks are beginning to set up. One is a southern cooking place run by a woman in dreadlocks who spreads a table in front of the truck with a black cloth featuring a lion painted in red, yellow, and green, the colors of Africa. She puts down a rug and puts up an umbrella and the whole thing looks very cozy. The other food truck is a hotdog stand run by a guy in a baseball cap. It's like the polarization of the nation in food truck form. I would go cast my vote but someone told me never to eat from a food truck because, where do they wash their hands? Also I brought my lunch from home because I am frugal.

11:55 a.m.
     The lunch crowd is starting to crowd. Under the trees to the south a small ensemble plays bongos, acoustic guitar, bass, and banjo. A woman in a maxi skirt leans against a bike rack with her phone, filming them. The bongo player sits on a folding chair on a rug on the concrete surface.
     Across the street at Jimmy Johns two sad sack women sit at one of the sidewalk cafe tables, eating their sadness.
     Also across the street at Original Grains three women sit in full sun eating their nutritional lunches. I hope they are wearing sun screen.
     A woman in baggy orange pants, baggy blue shirt, and sandles leans against a tree listening to the bongo/banjo band. She gets done leaning against the tree and moves to one of the concrete blocks and sits with her legs crossed. Waggles her head in the manner of a person attending an outdoor Blues Traveler show in 1996. Ah, to have a youth that one believes was misspent. Where does she work?
     There is a rival band on the north side of the park, in the grass -- this one has a rug too. I never saw people so attached to putting rugs down outdoors, but it seems to be a thing here. On the rug is a trap set, and a stand-up bass lies in the grass on its side. A crowd of grubby youths sits crosslegged in the grass nearby. A guy in a canvas crocodile dundee hat sits at the trap set and begins to make a racket.
     A woman with short hair dyed bright red, wearing a very blue skirt, walks across the plaza diagonally, northeast to southwest, eyeing all musicians with suspicion.
     I am hungry watching all the lunchers.

2:10 p.m.
     A guy in a cowboy hat eats something from one of the food trucks. The musicians have stopped playing and are tearing down but the banjo is hanging around in the sun talking with someone in a desultory manner. Where does he work?
     A gentleman in an old-fashioned cabbie cap walks with a cane from northwest to southeast toward the southern cooking food truck. He is not in a suit but he manages to make his sweatshirt with polo collar and creased slacks look more refined than anything else in the park. To be fair, it is not a high bar. I'm looking at you, baggy orange Blues Traveler pants.
     A little girl has gotten hold of the crocodile dundee hat. She spins around and around and jerks her arms aimlessly as bored children do. Another girl, larger, less lively, possibly older (who can tell?), engages unenthusiastically with the the crocodile dundee girl. Sticks close to the grown-ups.
     A man sits very still on one of the anti-bum benches on the corner of the street. The anti-bum benches are only large enough to hold one person and are made of a series of metal bars that would be difficult to tolerate if one were trying to sleep on them. They are painted orange. The still man holds a 24-oz. can in his hands. It is not bringing him any joy. He sits very still, hunched but watching. His stillness is a crack in the brightness of the street.
     A person I know slightly is sitting near the banjo, speaking animatedly. I know him slightly from an arts organization that I vaguely joined but found disappointing. Also he occasionally waits tables at the Irish restaurant. I believe his name is actually Mike, although I may have him confused with another Mike I know slightly. I have just realized that a large proportion of the people I know slightly in the world are named Mike. In any event, "Mike" or whoever he is has ruined my last line, which was going to be "I don't know any of these people."

4:00 p.m.
     A woman on one crutch with her left leg in some kind of brace crutches east on the sidewalk. I did not realize how many people limp.
     The food trucks are tearing down.
     A very skinny family (mom, little girl, littler boy, something in a stroller) rolls swiftly across the park, northeast to southwest.
     A woman with a glorious afro wearing a blue shirt dress walks into the bank.
     Several groups of revellers in shorts. Where do they work? Why aren't they there now? They don't look down and out. Where do they get their money?
     The man on the anti-bum bench is still there. Sans can. Still still.

—Sarah Ruhlen

Sarah Ruhlen lives and writes in Camillus, NY.


I wrote notes all day on little pieces of scratch paper. Then I put them in my backpack and went to the local cafe to pull them out at random and type up.

Realized I didn't have my wallet when I went to check the code for the therapist's door. She loaned me all her cash—$8 in singles.


City robocall: Gay Pride Parade Sunday, with info on traffic and parking. Mechanical voice put emphasis on PAR, while real people say Gay PRIDE Parade.


Eating R's leftover tofu rolls for breakfast. She is at E's after her hand surgery. She panicked yesterday and called our other house guest, J, who was with her own father, just moved to hospice. J was getting ready to leave the hospital anyway and gave R a ride here.


My elbow itches. Could be eczema but not worth worrying about now.


Bought calcium chewies, frangrance-free shampoo and coconut water at Whole Foods. We switched our checkout line because L said he didn't like the first cashier. He remembered her as being unfriendly and dour.


L used the Tile to look for my wallet but couldn't find it. He looked on and under the couch and in the kitchen and my office


We walked to the bike path and Whole Foods. 6.16 miles in all, today. Heel hurt. I had to stop because I felt like throwing up. Boring boring reflux.


I didn't call back the specialty pharmacy because I need the results of my blood test first. Rather, A the hematologist needs to in order to decide whether to change my prescription.


So so tired. took a nap for more than an hour. I didn't have caffeine today because of the reflux. Dreamed something about exercising.


Had to get blood work to see how the lowered dose of Jakafi is affecting my polycythemia vera. I was checking my debit card account on my phone (because of lost wallet) when they called me in from the waiting room. A phlebotomist named R took two vials. I didn't want to seem like one of those people always on her phone.


J came in just as we were about to eat. Her father was unresponsive but when she left him tonight he opened an eye a little. She said she wanted to pull it open more but didn't.


At home R was eating two ice pops--one soothing her hand where she had surgery yesterday. After she finished the pops she ate a Dilly bar from Dairy Queen. She eats so badly and sleeps all day but is not our kid. She is our stray. Our pretend daughter (but real, unlike the pretend son in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf.


I figured my wallet was at home somewhere so I wasn't that worried. I walked in and there it was, under the dining room table.


The post card of Kafka stares at me while I eat a nectarine. he's on the window sill next to Bunny, the small pink stuffed animal that L found in the alley years ago.


Rain rain rain and worried since last night whether we will row today. There's no room for us to row indoors because it's community rowing night at the Park District building next to the river.


When we were walking I said let's go to our plot (it's the Park District's but we maintain it and I satisfy my weeding jones there) and I promise not to touch any weeds. I wanted to see if what I thought were phlox were really phlox. I'd discovered yesterday that they have matching leaves. Meaning they are set in pairs on either side of the stalk. We went to the plot and I kept my promise to not pull weeds there. But I pulled some elsewhere. And the possible-phlox was indeed phlox.*
Terry Gross with Kushner biographer from Vanity Fair—the lengths Charlie Kushner went to to threaten his brother-in-law who was testifying against him—sent a prostitute to him and made a sex tape.


Cousin B emailed that her 99-year-old mother died two days ago. Her grandson M (B's son) died at 44 this spring and the family decided not to tell Aunt R. I went to M's memorial service and I will go to Aunt R's.


The wind in my hair and on my cheeks.


Melania's trench coat message—did she know or not? My friend I is already raising money for the United We Dream Network Inc. and selling a t-shirt that says I really do care. Do u?


On the El coming back home, a guy was in the back in the little room that some of the cars have. It's a prime spot. You have to stand up, but it's like standing at a counter because there's a tall table-like thing back there. A couple with a baby in a stroller came onto the car and the guy (about 30, shaved head) left the little room and offered it to the couple. I rent it out, he joked.

—S. L. Wisenberg

S.L. Wisenberg is the author of The Sweetheart is In (stories), Holocaust Girls (essays), and The Adventures of Cancer Bitch (a chronicle). She edits


7:30 am. Boulder, Colorado. The Otis Spunkmeyer Blueberry Muffins in the Subaru service department waiting room are wrapped in some cellophane-ish covering, impervious to dust, water, germs, and gamma rays. In the movie Zombieland, Woody Harrelson’s character axes, bludgeons, bats, and chainsaws his way across the American West in search of the last remaining Twinkies. Had Twinkies been wrapped like these muffins, Woody’s quest would have been easier.

10:23 am. Boulder, cont. My request to “please check the brake noise” has been transmuted into a $922 debit against my bank account. New brakes, a power steering flush, a fixed taillight, and missing lug nut restored. Conversation with the mechanic about how many lug nuts can be missing with your wheel falling off. 60%, if spaced right.

11:15 am. Lyons, CO. The St. Vrain’s Market is a small wood-floored, old brick building, of the sort that most places has been converted in a coffee shop with mismatched furniture and a high percentage of people wearing bandanas. I have a Santa Fe sandwich made at a counter, which turns out be a turkey sandwich with horseradish cranberry sauce, as if Miles Standish had settled at the Palace of the Governors. (There is, by the way, a leather violin in the Palace of the Governors.). I get two bags of chips, a jar of queso, a jar of salsa, and an orange. 

Noon. Rocky Mountain National Park. Entrance gate. The guy in the car before me, Kansas plates, seems to be renegotiating a treaty with the park ranger. I’m ready for them to step out of car and booth, to settle things like Men. Finally, the proper deposits are transferred from the Caymens. I purchase my annual park pass, signing it with a Government Issue Sharpie. “Yep, the road to Bear Lake is already closed for the day.” 

12:20. RMNP proper. At the Upper Beaver Meadows Trailhead, it’s 80 degrees, hot for this elevation. I find an old tube of sunscreen in the bottom of my pack, and when I first squeeze it, only clear comes out. I shake to redistribute the zinc oxide, and the result is white. There are seven other cars in the dusty lot. It’s not a popular trailhead, especially for being so close to the park entrance. The Beaver Meadows trail leads up and up to the Ute Trail, rock and sand and pines. No lakes or streams or big mountain views, at least for a few miles, so this is not a place for postcard making. The day is bright blue with scattered cumulous clouds. Along the trail are sticky geraniums, yellow stonecrop, and mountain wallflowers, yellow and purple.

1:25 pm. Two miles up the trail. I break out onto a ridge overlooking Moraine Park several hundred feet below. A river cuts through the broad valley. I take several pictures; here’s one.

A string of a dozen people on horses pass by, headed and tailed by guides with cowboy hats and boots. In the middle are Kansans or Iowans or Minnesotans, looking hot and hopeful. A sixteen-year old girl wears a Bon Jovi t-shirt braless and looks to have confirmed her hatred for her parents on this misbegotten vacation. On the way back down, I step around horseshit the whole way. 

2:30 pm. Half a mile from the trailhead  Two couples stop me, middle aged. They are wearing shorts and t-shirts. One woman wears a hat. One man wears sandals. They are each carrying a 16-ounce plastic bottle of Figi water. They ask me if there is a view up ahead or if there are only trees and rocks and meadow. I size them up and reply, “No, there are no views.” I feel only sort of bad about lying to them, for making the summary judgment that they’re dangers to themselves.

6:30 pm. YMCA of the Rockies, between RMNP and Estes Park. I’m here to give a talk at a small conference of writing teachers, about 60 people. We’re absorbed among thousands of others, mostly families on reunions. It seems to be mandated that families on reunions wear t-shirts commissioned for the event: family name and logo/statement. “The Johnsons: Together Again and Always.” “The Kruse Family: The Lord is our Shepherd.” “The Kinyon Kin, 2018.” I think of the girl on the horse and the faded Bon Jovi shirt. I’m in the Aspen dining hall, which feeds hundreds of people through six buffet lines and a “Kids Korner,” which has vats of macaroni and cheese, plus hot dogs. There are open access pop machines, and adolescent boys have 5-6-7 glasses of Dr. Pepper standing sentinel on the edges of trays. 

9:30 pm. Eagle Cliff Lodge, YMCA. Talk over. The Y is a dry place (and NO MARIJUANA ON THE GROUNDS!), but they make exceptions for groups sequestered in convention rooms. 60 teachers huddle around a refrigerator with beer and wine. A table full of chips, cheese trays and relish trays. Quarts of M&M’s, plain and peanut. Fluorescent lights, half of them dimmed, in vain hopes of mood. The conference theme is “Learning to Go High: Re-awakening Hope Through Education.” We needed Twinkies. 

—Doug Hesse

Doug Hesse is Executive Director of Writing at The University of Denver, and co-author with Becky Broadway of Creating Nonfiction. He sings with the Colorado Symphony Chorus.


21 June 2018: Last Day of School

"The climate of sight changes from wet to dry and to dry from wet 
according to one's mental weather... the viewer, be he an artist 
or a critic, is subject to a climatology of the brain and eye."

—Robert Smithson
from 'A Sedimentation of the Mind'

9:01 AM

The woman is making complaints to a man. She had just lowered the lid of her laptop and swore softly under her breath. She looked across the classroom in a fuzzy way. The rain streaked down the window. She said, "That makes three for three. I was shot down again with a sabbatical request." She looked at the ceiling. "At least I have all my classes in the same room next year."
     He stood there with a hand scratching his head, another on a stack of yearbooks awaiting students to pick up. "If they didn't like you, you'd know it because each of your classes would be in a different hallway." Chin up, he nodded yes, yes?
     "That's some comfort." She sat with her elbows on a desk and held up her chin with her left hand, drummed the fingers of her right. Her pants were brilliant white, reflective.
     He was wearing khakis and a red plaid button-down and a Go Military lanyard. The man told a story. "There was a principal a few years back, a real bastard. A Martinet. Do you know what he did?" He nodded yes again.
     She tightened the right corner of her lip, focused a little more toward the conversation at hand, stopped drumming and turned her palms out.
     "The guy would tell everyone to leave classrooms in June 'as if they were leaving forever.'"
     "Nothing subtle there," she said.
     "Well, he was an equal-opportunity dictator. D-nozzle. Wanted everyone to know they were disposable. So, there was a teacher, a real free-spirit History guy who figured, since he had the same classroom for ten years, he wasn't going to pack up. In all fairness, his room was full of stuff. Masks and models and maps. It was a Sanford and Son situation. He left for the summer with all the junk still in his classroom."
     She said, "I don't blame him."
     "Well, here's what Martinet was like." The man started laughing a little as he told this next part. "History got a call mid-summer from Martinet. 'Your classroom was being moved. Come in and get all that stuff you left behind.'"
     She was surprised and shaking her head. "Petty tyranny."
     "Funny you say that. The teacher's name was Pete Tierney."
     She raised her eyebrows.
     He nodded yes, yes?
     She laughed. "Poor Pete."

10:44 AM

She thought it was time to do some standing. Too much grading, verifying, getting irritated by e-mail. Would be good to shred some exams in the mail room and get rid of that pile of papers. The faculty mail room cubbyholes sometimes yielded blue counseling passes or pink social services passes or paychecks or fresh scantron forms and catalogs or secret snowperson-type things when the year was young and earnest. A secretary moving to Florida at the end of the month gave a cute baggy with lifesavers and a wish-you-well note to everybody that way.
     Some athleisurely gym teachers swung by to recon the quality of the lost and found clothing. Those were on a rack in the corner and would be up for grabs in a couple hours. A pass-coded photocopier sat in there, too.
     The shredder, the size of a squat, half-refrigerator, looked buff enough to handle more than three sheets of paper at once, but anyone who used it knew the truth. A Foreign Language teacher sat down at a work table to reconcile a club deposit: stack of cash, checks, calculator. Shredder told her about the gym teachers. They laughed. Foreign Language kept Shredder and her pile of paper company.
Foreign Language recalled introducing herself to a physics guy on her first day. "He asked me where I was from! I told him I was South American! The next day he stopped by my classroom with three black garbage bags of clothing for me," she pauses, pauses, "he told me, standing in my doorway, ‘to send to your family back in Columbia!!!'”
     Shredder's eyes got big as plates. "What?!"
     "I know! This teacher's name was Ben Hughes! I to this day do not know what I should have said to him."
     Shredder said, "I'd call him Hues Corporation because he was rocking your boat."
     Foreign Language was still adding up deposits and she and Shredder were still laughing when the dicing was done. The shred receptacle was overfilled, a full black garbage bag.
     Shredder said, "I wonder if your relatives in Columbia would take this."
     Without missing a beat, Foreign Language said, "I couldn’t possibly accept it, because I left my thank-you cocaine at home."
     "Hah hah hah."
     "Speaking of snow," Shredder asked, "Do you have a Tide Pen or a bleach pen? Wearing these pants was a big mistake." She pointed to a smudge.

6:30 PM

It's like the Mojave Desert. Everyone is staging by one tree at the field house, like penguins for shade. A cappella notes of petty tyranny bubble up, like a Beach-Boys 6-part backing vocal. Up, down, bide their own time. Poor Pete dead of pancreatic cancer. My friend Mary Pat uses his same classroom and is dying now, terminal, pancreatic. Martinets say nothing’s wrong. Nobody here but us 1-in-17-trillion chickens-of-a-chance. I like open windows. Need a gift idea? A paper weight. Keeps things from blowing around and, take that, active shooter. I picked a bad day to wear optic white pants. This folding chair is dirty. I got in late and they’re what I wore last night and I overslept. The graduates are all wearing sheeny burgundy gowns and caps. Allergy eyedrops, brush hair. Clay white, like a British soldier's. Leckie white. No one can resist a red wheelbarrow, a jar in Tennessee, a Tree of Tenere. What good can you spare me, God? Are you there God, it's me, Anne's sabbatical that keeps getting canned. Look at you Saint Lucy. Bless my eyes you poor girl. The Knockout roses are looking great. The birds enjoyed the cherries. What is the yucca's spear of flowers called? It's like a gladiolus. A timbrel? Funeral sprays, church keys. It is hot. The sun zeroed in. The golden hour. The light raking out snaggy old lamp-of-knowledge metaphors. The pledge was recited, Star Spangled Banner’s three-stage vocal fireworks, la-hand-of-the-freeeheeeee! cresting heavenward. There are 309 graduates listed in the program. Eleven sets of twins? Loudest applause to H**** H*****. Way beyond the usual rogue air horn. He had a contingent. Student Council president namechecked Dumbledore. I think that father from lunch reading to his blind daughter was either from Buffalo or Ohio. Those flat As. Must have married a local girl. Voice of the Class explored one voice vs a chorus. Treasurer dedicated a tree, an Officer killed in a car accident. Principal says students should choose kindness. There are 171 faculty members, sixteen in the English wing, eight of us are here. Chinese luck. Every tooth is associated with the health of a body part. I'm beginning to suspect that a root canal will kill me. I don't want some big ailment sneaking in on the coattails of some shadowy aches and pains. The Super slings platitudes. He says “these hallowed halls,” “determination and grit,” “doorways of possibility.” He says this day is sacred. Did he say sacred? He said sacred. He's always sneaking in something off-script. Keeps me listening. Diplomas get dished, alma mater gets sung, the day is flung skyward, caps a-sail singing Hail, hail! spinning Prince’s doves-cry falsetto and falling into a new person's hand. Girls with long straight hair show a crimp from the cap elastic. The Knockouts are in bloom. That book on the kitchen counter. People hear of Smithson and he's gone. He wanted everything he created to disappear, so it's hard to be close to him. St. Lucy carries her own eyeballs in a cup. He fell from the sky.

And through all the years yet coming
May thou firmer, stronger be,
Handing on the torch of learning
Guiding others, praise to thee

Hail, hail
Alma Mater hail
Hail (Your School) great and glorious
Hail, hail
Alma Mater hail
Hail Red and White victorious

—A. E. Weisgerber

A. E. Weisgerber is a 2018 Chesapeake Bay Writer, 2017 Frost Place Scholar, and 2014 Kent State Reynolds Fellow. She's an award-winning features journalist. Her fiction has been nominated for Pushcarts, Best of the Nets, Wigleaf Top 50s, and Best Small Fictions. Follow @aeweisgerber or visit 


Midway between the two equinoxes, when the sun, having reached the tropical points, is farthest from the equator and appears to stand still.

7:21am Awake. It isn’t raining but it did rain. In my neighborhood, which is the self-storage capital of Brooklyn and possibly the world, it is still quiet. From here the skyline of lower Manhattan is muddy and abstract. The Extra Space Storage facade is real. The CubeSmart sign is real milky neon. Inside my bedroom, across from the windowless expanse of the Uhaul Moving and Storage, adorned with fog lights, ablaze all night, it is always the longest day of the year. 

8:02am On my way to the swimming pool. Down the street a (drunk?) man bent at the waist considers a curbstone. He suddenly torques his body upright, staggers a few paces, and almost collides with me. Heroin. Or something worse. Paint thinner? Severe persistent insomnia? Instinctively, I round my shoulders, angle my body away from him. 

8:22am On days I swim, I get to the library where I work late, the ends of my hair still wet. There are two women in the fast lane. Red and blue speedo. Blue speedo isn’t that fast. I put on my goggles and slip into the water. Begin swimming. The leg of the girl in the next lane strays into ours on her downstroke. I am on the tail of blue speedo. I convey a silent message with my mind: yield. We get to the wall and she doesn’t. I’m not invisible. I do passive-aggressive breast stroke in blue speedo’s wake and, as we near the other end of the pool, brush her foot lightly with my fingertips. She stops at the wall and I do a flip turn, close enough to her face that she angles her body backwards. My husband calls this being the shark. I am the shark. My mind is clear. In the pool I never think much, just count the lengths. When I get to 70, that’s a mile and I get out. 

8:49am I turn the shower beside the pool to cold and place my body under the water and watch the swimmers. Now that I am out of the pool, the swimmers in their organized rows are beautiful. I stop being the shark. I’m supposed to be at work in 71 minutes.

1:29pm I walk to the Brooklyn Heights Promenade and on my way there, a overdressed teenager—an intern or a Jehovah’s witness—who looks lost, tramples my foot as I pass him. I throw my arms up and make a noise that is like a sigh but angrier. I am not invisible. A man wearing a winter coat in the 80 degree heat asks me for a dollar and I mouth a silent sorry. My jaw clenches. Most of my day is silently spent claiming space and trying to avoid contact with the bodies of strangers. The promenade hangs over a highway and faces Manhattan. I see the statue of liberty and improbably, a fleet of jet skis on the river. I sit on a bench as far apart from the people on adjacent benches as possible. How many other bodies have touched my body today? Maybe four? How many people have I seen today? Hundreds? Thousands?

2:22pm I read an essay by Claire Donato. I have a meeting soon and will not finish the essay. I read faster as though the essay will disappear. I write down a line from the essay in my notebook because it reminds me of something I want to remember later: People are people, but people are also screens displaying all of our psychological voids. I don’t finish the essay. I am late for my meeting.    

4:43pm I make a sign with a piece of cardstock and a sharpie that says Immigrants Are Not The Enemy and use a pencil to poke two small holes near the top of the sign, through which I thread rubber bands. I am sneaking out of work early. As soon as I leave the safety of my office with all my belongings I see my boss. G’night I chirp.

5:09pm I put the Immigrants Are Not The Enemy sign on my bike and make my way to the Manhattan Bridge. People I pass look at my sign and then at my face. I am less aggressive than usual in the bike lane through Chinatown as I dodge possible-immigrant jaywalkers. I head west through Soho and when I get close to Broadway, I get on my bell. Bike lane bike lane bike lane. I yell. The bell on my bicycle chimes. I am not invisible.

5:34pm Outside the ICE detention facility we are supposed to be Biking Against ICE and For Pride but the crush of Holland Tunnel Traffic means we mostly use our bikes as a defensive barricade against traffic. Other people’s arms touch my arm and other people’s bikes touch my bike. This week is the anniversary of Stonewall and there are lots of rainbows. Airhorns. Wigs. One guy in a pedicab is playing the national anthem on a clarinet. Reverend Billy of the Church of Stop Shopping in his white suit and white alligator shoes stands with a megaphone in front of an enormous canvas sign that says Go To Hell Jeff Sessions. The ICE officers, gloomy and heavily armed, stand outside the building looking bored. One of them wears mirrored glasses, sports a crew cut, and smirks—asking for it. We chant. Abolish ICE. Shut it down. Reverend Billy says. Go To Hell Jeff Sessions. Go To Hell Donald Trump. Amen, we say. 

5:49pm Reverend Billy’s voice is hoarse but he’s still working the megaphone, occasionally passing it off to other people we can’t hear. The exhaust fumes from passing trucks coat my skin. The line between me and everything else blurs. I used to work in this very building, a few flights up from the ICE holding cells, at the National Archives, which has since moved further downtown. I imagine myself now, 12 floors up, looking out the window of the reading room, down onto the protest, into the void of time.  

5:59pm Some of Billy’s parishioners want to head to Washington Square Park but the anarchist kids on the fringes of the crowd are heckling the ICE officers and want to stay. Occupy. Take the Streets. They yell. One of the anarchists says, there’s literally an SS on your shirt to the smirking ICE officer. The smirking ICE officer says, I don’t know what that means and smirks harder. The anarchists start a new chant. Quit your job, Nazi pigs. Reverend Billy tries to redirect the energy of the crowd. Brothers and Sisters, he says. And some other things that I can’t make out.

6:19pm On my bicycle, the sun at my back. On my way home I hit a one-way that funnels me onto the Bowery. The city is frozen there, in traffic, inside the solstice where the earth stops spinning. There is a bike lane but cars are in it. A garbage truck. A mini-van dragging its muffler. I follow a moped weaving in and out of the center lane. My bike makes a noise that I worry is a flat but it’s only the Immigrants Are Not The Enemy sign rubbing against my front tire. I squeeze between cars and angle my body to avoid hitting side-view mirrors. I try to get left for Grand Street but can’t. I am not the shark. I am the blue speedo. I make my way to the sidewalk and wait at a crosswalk in front of a puddle full of garbage with a dozen people all talking at once on their cell phones. The light turns green. 

—Nora Almeida

Nora Almeida is a writer and librarian. Her essays are have appeared in Entropy, The Offing, Essay Daily, Ghost Proposal, The Normal School, DIAGRAM, and other journals. She lives in Brooklyn, works at CUNY, and volunteers at Interference Archive.


Through the open window, the cry from one of the neighbor’s cows wakes me up. 
     It doesn’t bother me though; yesterday’s storms tamped down the temperature enough that, for the first time in weeks, I could sleep past seven. 
     A few months back, my right ear started going deaf whenever I lay down at night. So I stick a finger in my there and wiggle my jaw. The idea that I’d get up one morning without being able to hear anything at all has gotten less and less scary with routine. 
     It pops. 
     Stiff from the short sleigh bed, I get up with a series of quick motions punctuated by  less-quick pauses. I’m still naked. Most of my clothes are still packed, so I put on the shorts from last night. 
     I’ve been less and less inclined to stay in bed for very long. Not just because it’s too small for me, but also because I recently learned that it’s the same one that my parents spent their wedding night in. I know it doesn’t matter, but it reminds me of the problems I have communicating with my dad and how connected my mom feels to a lot of things that she has no access to.
     The stairs lead down to a half stage. I turn right, opting away from the steep four-step flight that goes into the kitchen for the carpeted set of stairs that goes slowly into a foyer-now-storage-space. 
     But I step too close to the stair and something, a nail probably, cuts the back of my heel. I’m up to date, I think, on my tetanus shots so I don’t bother to treat it. However, I decide to wear socks and shoes instead of sandals. 
     In a hurry to get into town and check my messages, I don’t bother to eat breakfast. I take an indomethacin to help me walk, throw on a shirt and some overalls, grab some dvds to return to the library, and start driving. In the car, I grab my grandmother’s old knit cap to hide my ridiculously uncontrollable hair.
     My car only has two gallons of gas, so I go left, a 15-minute drive towards the interstate. And no matter which way I go, I’ll pass at least one house flying the confederate battle flag. 
     This route takes me past a brick house that flies the battle flag by itself, without any other flags to accompany it. Plasterco Church’s signboard usually uses puns to criticize people for not attending. They had a new message, something about sinburn and suntan lotion, but I didn’t realize they’d changed it until it was too late to read it. The signboard at the Glade Springs church still reads “FEELING LIKE AN ALIEN WE HAVE SPACE FOR YOU” which might also be a pun. And yep, the flag’s still out at the brick house.
     At the gas station, the pump forces me to listen to some loud voice excited about something that I’d rather not hear about. For the first time, I notice that the station doubles as a vape shop. A woman stops her car perpendicularly to the parking spaces and sends her daughter inside. Before she come back out, I leave.
     State troopers are waiting in their usual spots near exits 26 and 22 of I-81. A little after exit 19, my phone starts to buzz with all the alerts from the past day. I wait until I get to the main branch of the Washington County Public Library before checking it.
     On Instagram, a store liked a photo I’d posted of a steeple sitting on the ground. My pokemon had been kicked out of the gyms they were defending.  Messages my girlfriend texted last night from across the country come through. “Lol yeah!” and “Mmmmmm.” And a friend who’d I’d recommended Haunting of Hill House had texted me to talk about how much she loved it. 
     My dad was supposed to visit yesterday but we rescheduled. No messages from him since.
     I put another pokemon, a cute little flower thing called vileplume, into the gym near the Abingindon library and go inside. I return copies of She’s All That, Inside Amy Schumer Season 3, The Princess Diaries, Devil’s Playground, Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected Season 4 (nearly unwatchably boring), and White God (a movie I picked up because it looked like it’d have a lot of dogs in it). I checked out Predator, Meek’s Cutoff, Inside Llewyn Davis, The Witches, another dvd of Tales of the Unexpected, and Emma.  
     Last week, Ligia, the librarian assisting me, had mentioned the new Jurassic Park movie. I ask if she’s excited to see it. She is.
     She also mentions enjoying The Greatest Showman—a film starring Zac Efron. A friend of mine had been writing poems about Efron for years, so I tell her about my friend’s work. 
     She does what anyone should do when faced with the awkwardness of being told about a stranger that writes poems; she was nice about it and switched subjects. 
     I pick up my movies, go to a counter work-space, pull out my laptop, and check the news. Things were still happening in places.  
     An old friend had emailed about the newest issue of his literary journal, Under a Warm Green Linden, so I visited the link. He tends to like delicate poetry, and I was surprised to come across one from the writer I’d just mentioned to Ligia. 
     The journal included a poem my friend had written it in  response to Dirty Grandpa. It has a stanza that I love for its quick turns: “Lord, even the priest drank after the sermon. / Along a road, I traced Spring’s torso, / like a virgin.” I reread it a few times, then text him. 
     I try to start working but I’m feeling gross and nauseated. I decide to drive forty-minutes back to Saltville to get deodorant and food. On the drive back, I pass a church signboard in Abingdon that always reminds people to spend holidays focused on god above all else. This one still reads “THIS FATHER’S DAY REMEMBER OUR ETERNAL FATHER.” 
     I pass a house with a few military vehicles outside flying a confederate battle flag on the same pole with the bright-yellow “Don’t tread on me” Gadsden flag. Whenever I pass his house, I look for an old black sports-car with purple racing stripes that had the phrase “BLACK BETTY” stenciled on the trunk. It hasn’t been there since Memorial Day. And it’s still gone. The house scares me; I’ve never been able to wrap my mind around what that car was supposed to mean.
     For the rest of the drive I think about the guy I saw on the property one time, carrying around what I think I recognized (from video games and movies) as a combat shotgun.  
     I pass a skunk that’s been dead in the road for a few days. But even when I first saw it, it never smelled very strong. What if every time I thought I smelled a skunk, I actually smelled a predator that’d gotten into trouble with a skunk? I decide to drive through the well fields instead of going through town. 
     A sign proclaiming Saltville: Salt Capitol of the Confederacy appears across the street from an old salt-works set-up (a series of shallow bowls connected by pipes that’d be heated to evaporate salinized water and leave behind the salt). 
     A pair of cyclists wave me around them on a turn, but I wait until I can see what’s coming before I pass. I’ve seen them a few times—an older couple that I think I like simply for the reason that they’re doing things together. But, like most interactions I have here, I’m afraid that if I ever talked with them they’d hate my un-churchliness and my discomfort with nearly everything American. 
     I tried to talk to a lady at bingo and we’d gotten along pretty well. Then she asked “oh, you’re from around here? who’s your family?”
     “The Crabtrees in Meadowview and the Taylors in Glade Springs.”
     She said “Oh. I know them” before turning away and ending the conversation.  It’s hard not to think of that when talking with people in town. A docent at the Museum of the Middle Appalachians told me how hot he thought my Aunt had “the most amazing gams” when she was in high school. After a lot of encounters like this, I’ve shied away from getting into conversations in town.
     At the grocery store, I check for a cell signal in the parking lot. No luck. A kid pulls up on a Frankensteined scooter-moped-thing. On a wire sticking up from behind the seat, he’s attached a small, vinyl-looking confederate battle flag. 
     Inside, I look for deodorant. The spray deodorant is kept in a separate aisle from stick deodorant. 
     Wandering around reminds me of how simultaneously familiar and foreign everything here is. Peppermint chews in the candy aisle. Toast’em Popups always on display. A cardboard holder with cassette tapes from the eighties as an end-cap for one aisle. Another with bags and bags of X-treme Sour Smarties. And they’ve sold me expired canned goods more than once (I check now).
     When I go to pay, I ask the cashier how it’s going but she looks away. The drive-in where I’m hoping to get lunch only takes cash and local checks, so I ask for twenty dollars back. She hands it to me without saying anything, keeping her hand on the furthest edge of the bill. 
     Best I can figure, she remembers me buying beer from her a few times and has a moral issue with anyone drinking alcohol. 
     I definitely remember her, for sure. Each time I’d buy beer, she’d looked at me like I was going to go drink it in the parking lot, spend the night driving drunk, and not make it to church on Sunday morning. 
     I drIve the half-mile through town, past the cemetery and elementary school. As far as I know, Buck’s Drive-In has never ever posted regular hours, so I feel lucky when I make the turn and see cars in the parking lot and the cardboard ‘open’ sign in the kiosk’s window. 
     This place always makes me feel food-nervous; as if each time I get to eat there will be the last time. Which is another way of explaining that I tend to overeat whenever I come here.
     As I’m walking up, I glance at the menu-board’s years-long misspelling of ‘oinion rings’ to see if it’d changed. It hadn’t. I’m glad it hadn’t. The woman inside slides the window up and asks for my order before I can even step up to the counter. In case my fear’s right, I order two cheeseburgers with everything but tomato, a corn dog, and chicken nuggets.  
     Driving back home, a big maroon SUV tailgates me for a few miles. It starts to rain as I pull up into the yard and drive up the hill and park my car in front of a thick old tree. 
     I didn’t tell my friend who’d read Haunting of Hill House, but the novel had been on my mind because I think of its final scene whenever I go home.  
     I eat a cheeseburger while watching an episode of Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected. A cheating husband tries to blow up his wife but a power outage causes him to accidentally dynamite himself instead. There’s no tomato on the cheeseburgers, which makes me smile. None of it feels surprising. People expected different things in the eighties. I also eat, in the following order: the nuggets, the corn dog, and the other burger. I feel gross.
     My teeth aren’t sharp enough to open the wrapper around the deodorant. I find a pair of safety scissors on top of the microwave, open the two-pack, then use my teeth to remove the little protective cap on one of the deodorant sticks. 
     On the way back to the library, I get stuck behind an old man who brakes at the slightest turn. He’s going 15-20 miles under the limit and driving in the middle of the road. The drive takes forty-five minutes. It scares me because nearly everyone takes this road down the middle rather than staying in a lane.
     I pass the black betty house. I pass a pasture where I saw a deer wandering around a few days ago. I pass a dog who ducks through a fence to get off the road. I pass a cat that waits for the car in front of me to get close to it, then runs and impossibly leaps onto a hill beside the road. I pass the spot where a deer died on the side of the road and had been decomposing yesterday. For a second, I imagine that it got up and walked away. I just wondered: was it the deer I saw in the field? 
     I pass a machine that has six copper-looking wheels on it, all raised into the air at different heights. I’ve seen these machines around here a lot, but I’m not sure how they work. Looking it up later helps me identify them as a type of mechanized hay rake. But I still don’t know how they operate.
     At the library, I work on my C.V. for a bit then play around with a game-development package called Unity. My girlfriend texts me a picture of her dog, Freja. It makes me happy but Freja’s hair is so different than when I last saw her—she looks sharp, like a lil’ fluffy wolf. It ends up reminding me of how far away I’ve been from everything.  
     From the library, I go to the nearby brewery. There aren’t any bar-bars within an hour’s drive of me, and I like to read and drink in public. 
     I walk in around the same time that the train goes past. The tracks run directly beside the brewery, separated by a chain link fence. Would that affect the brewing process at all? 
     It’s difficult to get into the building since a band’s unloading their equipment in front of the door. After slipping through them, I notice that the bartender’s the one bartender there who doesn’t seem to like me. 
     I had hoped Ben would be working.  He’s polite to me and took the time to introduce himself after I’d come in a few times. He has that nice balance of being friendly without trying to be friends.
     The bartender working tonight is the type who asks “How are you doing?” but refuses to acknowledge the question when it’s asked to him. 
     Last time I came in, he grabbed my growler from me so hard that the cap flew off the bottle and into the wall behind him. He started interacting with me differently after a busy night when I’d come in. There was a much younger, desperately drunk kid celebrating his birthday alone whose last name also happened to be Crabtree. My best guess involves that kid doing something, becoming a story, and the bartender thinking it was me. I hope that he’s confused us, but it’s perfectly reasonable to think that there’s something about me he hates.  
     He gives me a beer; when I ask him to keep it open, he corrects me: “You mean start a tab?”
     I read through a sample of Prudence Chamberlain’s book on fourth-wave feminism that addresses the idea of positioning feminism temporally instead of conceptually. The full book is prohibitively expensive, but I’m curious to read it. 
     An older white couple ask if they can take the chair to the right of me. Then they ask the guy sitting a seat down to my left if they can take the other one. The band starts up as I finish the sample. For some reason, the lead singer does a sound check for her vocals as a way to start the performance. It seemed less like a sound check than like an excuse to sing unaccompanied by her band.
     I text a friend who’s getting married in a few months to check in and switch to rereading a book by Hiroki Azuma about the effect of post-capitalism on the perception of narrative and character. 
     Only a few pages in, the band goes into a clean, funkified version of a Muddy Waters song.  I hate it. My friend’s texting about dealing with his dad’s uncomfortable politics. How he was raised in a house without conversation so it’s difficult for him to confront his dad when he makes heartless facebook posts. I remember him telling me about a day in his late teens when he had to explain to his dad that he wasn’t seen as white, and how his dad was shocked by the realization. He already knows the issues so there’s not much for me to say, other than to ask questions.
     The light-skinned band start into a jam version of Feel So Good. The predominately (if not exclusively) light-skinned audience nods and watches. It reminds me of an episode from season two of Eagleheart titled “Blues.” 
     I want to keep texting but I hate this music and want to get away from people. So I finish my beer, go back to my car, retrieve a growler, walk back in, and ask for it to be filled and to close out.
     The bartender says “I can fill this as long as you don’t drink it here,” which, I have to admit, is a pretty smooth way to insult someone.  
     I stare at him, and slowly respond “Yeah.” 
     “I know.” 
     His tone changes; he begins filling the growler while claiming that he’d tell his own parents the same thing. That they get a lot of new people on Thursdays. That he has to tell everyone (I usually buy beer here; if they’re supposed to say that, then very few of them are doing their job). And I don’t really care. I’m just glad that he’s trying to backtrack. Honestly, it feels like progress.
     I close out, tip well (because it takes a lot of work to fill a growler, especially if it’s busy), and start driving home.
     On the way back, I get stuck behind another maroon SUV. It has at least ten stickers in its rear window. When it finally turns off, into a farm, I see that it also has a battle flag sticker above its gas tank. 
     At home, I walk behind the smokehouse and pee like I used to do when I was a kid (because we were supposed to pee there instead of wasting water in the house). I don’t hear the frogs and I don’t hear any cars on the road for a while out.
     Inside, I pour a beer into a green plastic cup that my cousin probably left here for his kids. I sit in my dead grandfather’s recliner and read for a while. It’s finally starting to get dark but the fireflies aren’t out in the same numbers they usually are.
     When the sun finally sets, I decide to walk down to the creek. At night, hundreds of fireflies gather there. You can’t see it from the road and the sounds of the water are nicer than the dogs across the hill who panic for hours every night. I like doing the walk without light, though it inevitably means I’ll eat at least once spider web and I’ll have to pick dead insects off my shirt.
     Putting on sandals, I start up towards the barn to get a glimpse of the moon. There’re a few fireflies out—yellowish colored and high up in the trees. The ones at the creek are usually a little green-ish. Still not as many as usual, though. 
     I like seeing them, but they remind me of my girlfriend’s sister who, while researching a firefly named after her grandparents in LA, was told that the firefly archive wouldn’t be used again until there was money in researching fireflies.
     The old stone’s slick from being old, and stone, and mossy. I walk parallel to it, in the grass. My heel doesn’t hurt too badly; it’s just an occasional sharpness. My toes get a little wet. It’s nice until I start worrying what insects are crawling up my legs. I saw a spider as big as my hand two weeks ago sneaking out of a hole in the smokehouse. 
     Before I get to the fence between the barn and the house, I hear something weird call from up in the orchard. It sounds bird-like, but heavy. 
     I try to think back to recordings I’ve heard of bobcats but I can’t remember what they sounded like. For a minute, I stare up, into the silhouette of a cinderblock structure, looking and listening for motion. I hope my mom’s doing ok. I try to think of things to say to my dad for whenever we finally get to talk. 
     When I shift my weight and start back up the path, I hear the thing call again. Was it doing the same; listening for me? 
     I’m dumb, but I still decide to go back inside. I don’t have a flashlight, a gun, cell service, or health insurance. Instead of making the long, dark walk down to the creek, I figured I could play Dark Souls.
     It’s too hot to keep drinking beer, so I grab a gallon jug of discount distilled water out of the refrigerator and drink directly out of it.
     In the video game, I manage to defeat a few bosses. I take the box of frosted mini-wheats out of the refrigerator (to keep it safe from sugar ants) and eat some with my hands while walking around in the game. 
     I like this game because I spend more time watching things, studying how they move, than mashing buttons. But I’m getting sleepy. 
     I close the downstairs windows and go upstairs. I fall asleep with my laptop beside me while trying to watch The Last Picture Show for the fourth time. I dream something. I wake up a little while later and turn it off. 

Jamison Crabtree

Jamison Crabtree's recent work appears in Cartridge Lit, Fence, and Reality Beach.


What happened is that I woke up well before the sun and commuted the ten feet to work. I sat at the dining-room table and switched on my laptop and taught English to seven Chinese children for four hours. I have worked with children for much of my life, and I’m good at it. But my health is not good, not good enough for 40 hours a week in a brick-and-mortar, not good enough for 15 hours a week of bus commuting, not good enough for parents to scream at me in a shared language. When that was my life, it nearly killed me and left me with a diagnosis or two. So now I sit in my dining room and the children come to me from thousands of miles away via Google Fiber.
     What happened next is that I fed my parrot (a tiny rosy-faced lovebird) some peas and carrots and green beans, some pellets and a sprinkle of seeds, a daily blueberry because he is picky and I can count on him eating the blueberry. I fed myself a bowl of Aldi off-brand raisin bran and returned to bed, my dining-room table unsuitable to dining as it is always covered in whiteboard markers and flash cards and empty iced-coffee bottles. Last month I scooted my Ikea twin bed up to the window that looks out on the skyscrapers of Minneapolis so I can sit next to an air conditioner insufficient to cool this sweltering century-old brownstone studio. It is the first day of summer, that is, the first day of shortening days, and, eventually, cooling days, so as to mitigate my Reverse Seasonal Affective Disorder, another diagnosis but not one brought about by my prior employment. I so long for October.
     What happened after I downed the cereal and skim milk is that I drifted into a fitful nap in which I dwelt on how I lost a friend earlier this week. We debated how best to fight the current regime, or not-a-regime, I think he thinks, and in the process he called me “morally bankrupt” for not being as outraged at Obama’s more nefarious policies as at Trump’s. (Yes, I’m oversimplifying the debate; no, there’s little reason to fully reiterate.) But I cut him out because he deemed me morally bankrupt, and why should he keep me as a friend if he deems me so evil, and why should I keep him if I can’t trust him to fight for those most threatened right now, including some of my other friends? I so long for two years ago, five years ago, ten years ago.
     What happened after I awoke is that I searched around online for furniture to purchase over the coming months, before the student-loan deferment ends, the loans incurred to sustain a master’s degree abandoned because my health was not good enough, a degree I don’t need to teach Chinese children living thousands of miles from my home. I’ve eyed a mid-century-style tufted purple velvet loveseat, somehow both depressing and gaudy, which describes pretty much everything these days. I keep trying to talk myself out of it. The money could go to immigrants and refugees. I could just sit in my bed like I do now. Yet to furnish my apartment in this moment, to furnish it with something sturdy and stable and lasting, feels like a form of protest, a reminder that the current regime will one day end, and the purple velvet loveseat could outlast it.
     What could happen next, though, in two years, five years, ten years, is that I’m sent off to twenty years’ labor to “pay off” my student loans, me sitting on a phone, at gunpoint, a script in hand encouraging people to donate to Ivanka Trump’s campaign for her third presidential term. But unless it comes to that, or I’m gunned down aiding a refugee, or something similar, I will remain in the brownstone studio with my blueberry-eating rosy-faced lovebird and my depressing, gaudy purple loveseat and my online English students and some faint sliver of hope.

Whittier Strong

Whittier Strong is an essayist, poet, and educator. His work appears in The Rumpus, QDA: A Queer Disability Anthology, and elsewhere. He lives in Minneapolis.

Check back for more dispatches from June 21, 2018 tomorrow. —Editors

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