Unsold Stories Writing Competition
Encouraging the Voice of Underground Artists
For a very long time there was a concept named “Capitalism in Art” that has been dominating the art industry. The concept reveals how art is based on the demand of the audience, thus it is surely directly related to profit. Many artists chose to go with the flow, and follow the current dominating trend or “fashion” of art and produce what the audience demands, and many others chose to create their own art.
Underground Artists have proven the powerful magnitude of their new ideas. Audience surrounding them and following them were further proof that the “market” demands new ideas, new trends, and art-lovers demand evolution rather than stability.
Sherine Elbanhawy the CEO of Rowayat Publishing and Mahmoud Mansi the CEO of The Forgotten Writers Foundation collaborated together to create the “Unsold Stories” writing competition. Both organizations launch their own writing competitions but the message behind their collaboration is that people and even companies with the same cause should cooperate instead of compete.
The idea of the competition is to write a short story (fiction or non-fiction) ranging from 1500 to 5000 words about an artist who tends to be concerned about making a difference, delivering a new message, expressing new feelings, and inspiring people, rather than one who is concerned about making profit and fame. Moreover, this competition is not merely created for writers. On the contrary, it is done to encourage different individuals in the world of art to experience the power and glamor of writing.
Rowayat offers the 1st winner EGP 2500 monetary prize and his/her winning story will be published in the third Issue of Rowayat, published on Jan 25th 2015. The 4 runner ups will be published online on the Rowayat website.
Have you ever though which is more beautiful, the artwork or the artist? And who shall be the true artistic reader, the one who contemplates the output or the source? This competition and the production of the winning stories will surely give a hint about that.
1st Panel Jury Members: Keith Borg (Malta), Elizabeth Mastrangelo (USA), Gintare Laurinaviciute (Lithuania), and Mahmoud Mansi (Egypt).
Detailed Guidelines: http://www.rowayat.com/competition/
Welcome everyone to October’s issue of Synchronized Chaos Magazine. This month our contributors bring us thoughtful pieces which strive to reflect authentic experience.
Ann Tinkham’s travel memoir “Ode to the Archipelago” conveys a realistic sense of island travel through a plethora of sensory details.
Charles Schneider’s novel A Portrait in Time, reviewed by Bruce Roberts, details a quest for the truth behind the origin of several nineteenth century masterworks, with time travel as a literary device. If only historians could all talk with visitors from the past!
Tony Longshanks le Tigre relates the dreariness of homelessness in the first installment of his story “The Crystal Unicorn.” The small details of the narrator’s struggle to adapt to day-to-day life on the streets give readers a way to identify and empathize with him. He’s a person trying to get by, keep his office job and find a place to sleep, not a melodramatic pitiable character or a statistic.
Michelle Chouinard’s piece “The One that Got Away” also pulls readers into the character’s story through specific events, making them feel the pain of her strained family relationships. The complex details make the character an individual, so people can relate to her, while the abstract name reflects how her experience is common to many more people.
Thomas Cannon’s short story “How to Hold a Lesbian Engagement Party” uses the format of an instruction list for party planning to work in humorous observations on human nature. As in Choinard’s piece, the details make the story memorable and authentic.
Ryan Hodge explores how video game developers learned how to create an authentic sense of fear in a simulation in his monthly column Play/Write. Kayne Belul evokes a sense of abasement through a simple, graphic image in his poem, and Matt Pasca comments through descriptive poetic prose on the way certain experiences linger in our minds, remaining with us sometimes for years as we process them with greater layers of depth and meaning.
Elizabeth Hughes reviews, in her monthly Book Periscope column, along with a variety of suspense novels, a nonfiction book from Dr. John Berger on the potentially dramatic effects of climate change. The natural world is a complex system where things continually change and where we must stay aware of the consequences of our actions.
Human societies also reflect the effects of their members’ values and behavior, and poet Philip Fried’s new collection Angry Love, as reviewed by Christopher Bernard, reawakens the prophetic voice to decry the ills of secular society.
Another ‘prophet’ here, William Jefferson, looks at the videos the ISIL group in Iraq has produced of their recent murders, and suggests that messages are powerful, for good or evil. So, we need to recognize the impact of our words and choose to use them for positive ends.
Luke Usry’s poetry expresses a vague sense of visceral and psychological pain, along with dissociation and detachment. Neila Mezynski echoes and builds upon that sense of loss and impermanence by pairing an experimental prose poem evoking the sensation of restless hurry with a piece reminding us poignantly through an old woman’s small treasure that nothing we strive for lasts forever.
Ayokunle Adeleye continues his series on the medical system within Nigeria, examining the relationship between doctors and consultants and highlighting the role of and need for fully trained physicians in handling crises such as the Ebola epidemic. In another essay, he also calls for Nigerian elected representatives to put the needs of the country and their constituents above their own desires for power and money, to demonstrate authentic servant leadership.
Virginie Colline contributes a short piece on Paris’ Sacre-Coeur, expressive in its simplicity. Her writing points readers to look at the cathedral themselves, rather than attempting to reproduce it in words.
Anthony Langford’s poetry expresses the strain of living through constant, subtle injustice, staying where you don’t fit. Sean Lynch’s poetic speakers also seem alienated from the world, arguing with others and disappearing into drink, yet find solace by observing scenery through a window.
Dr. Debra Trock, in a lecture at Oakland’s Chabot Space and Science Center reviewed by Cristina Deptula, relates how flowering plants and animals who pollinate them have evolved together over time and specialized to meet each other’s needs.
Finding one’s own niche, one’s own place to belong, and then adapting to that niche, can be a useful survival strategy. The challenge is, then, to find ways to live authentically within a niche available to you. We hope that the works in this issue provide guidance and insights on how to make that happen.
Contributor Announcement, from William Jefferson:
Now Open: Essay contest on the characterization of Lucifer, from William E. Jefferson. Send in a 300 word essay about the Devil, and have a chance to win a whole assortment of awesome prizes, including a Kindle and an Amazon gift card! Jefferson is the author of the Estillyen series, a thoughtful meditative novel where a young couple find peace and meaning on a fantasy island where they help monks restore and illuminate old manuscripts and bring an old recluse back to humanity after a terrible accident. More info here: http://www.estillyen.com/lucifers-speech-essay-contest/
Commercial announcement from our magazine’s partner, software developer Rui Carvalho:
If you are a writer or a poet and dream to show your work to the world, then we believe we have the best of opportunities to share with you.
For a small donation you can have your book presented as an e-book app for Windows Phone or Kindle.
Details are the following:
Windows Phone or Kindle with up to 40 poems – (donation 40 USD)
Rui M. Publisher ISBN – (donation 10 USD)
Annual maintenance – (donation 10 USD per year)
Revision of the text – (donation 50 USD)
Part of the funds will go to Rui Carvalho and enable him to continue the work he does creating apps for health and environmental nonprofits, and the rest will go to Synchronized Chaos Magazine.
A Portrait in Time by Charles Schneider
Gustav Courbet is a talented 19th century French painter, born in 1819. Edgar Degas is a talented 19th century French painter, born in 1834. Besides attracting artistic labels such as “realist” or “impressionist,” and the esteem of the art world, both painters spent a portion of their eminent careers painting nudes–very sensuous nudes.
Now these would remain simple facts in art history, unless one reads A Portrait in Time, by Charles J. Schneider. Schneider has taken these simple facts and spun them into a wonderful web involving time travel, a mysterious death, a mysterious theory, and beautiful women who love to pose nude. The M∗A∗S∗H TV character, Radar O’Reilly, once said, “Nudity makes me nervous.” This is not the book for him.
Susanne Bruante is the Assistant Art Director of the Musee de Orsay, one of several famous art museums in Paris. Still beautiful, in her younger days she worked as a nude model, and glories in her remembrances.
Nicole Bruante, who turns out to be Susanne’s great-great-grandmother, looks very much like her–gorgeous. Mysteriously, she is found nude and unconscious inside the museum, beneath Courbet and Degas paintings, The man next to her has had every bone crushed, sending the gendarmes into a tizzy of whodunit.
Lucky coincidence though, allows Nicole to escape the museum and the police, and meet up with Susanne. With the help of Susanne’s sensible Uncle Henri, and modern DNA testing, her family connection is revealed, as well as her role as the model for both Courbet and Degas. Except she claims all the paintings are Courbet’s.
This sends Susanne into a tizzy, because it proves a theory she’s been exploring, a theory she’s convinced will elevate her standing in the museum art world—that the Degas nudes are actually Courbet’s. Finally, she has the proof, yet she’s torn between valuing Nicole for enabling this breakthrough, and envying her historical role as the world-class beauty who is the sensual nude focus of some of the art world’s great works.
This conflict, coupled with the fanciful belief in Time Travel that explains Nicole’s sudden appearance in Susanne’s world, brings this tale to an amazing climax.
Charles Schneider has taken some genuine art history, and combined it with his own spin, a little science fiction, and an interesting cast of characters to create a well-written mystery that stretches between two centuries. Anyone fascinated with the mystique of the nude model and a love of art should read this book.
Book is available for purchase here: http://www.amazon.com/Portrait-Time-Charles-J-Schneider-ebook/dp/B00EG5U9LK/
-Ryan J. Hodge
For someone who enjoys a great story, is there anything better than a narrative that engages you from the very start? Imagine a world so rich you can almost smell the scents in the air, a delivery so clever it forces you to think in a way you never thought you would. I’m Ryan J. Hodge, author, and I’d like to talk to you about…video games.
Yes, video games. Those series of ‘bloops’ and blinking lights that –at least a while ago- society had seemed to convince itself had no redeeming qualities whatsoever. In this article series, I’m going to discuss how Donkey Kong, Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty and even Candy Crush can change the way we tell stories forever.
What Video Games Teach Us About Horror
Halloween is coming up, which means that we as a society tend to start thinking about the creepy and the ghoulish. Fake tombstones start popping up on lawns, and paper skeletons start adorning schools. What’s more; ‘horror’ movies start to fill out the box office, and readers start reaching for Lovecraft, King, and Koontz. Yes, we all like a good scare from time to time…and yet how often does that bear out?
Does a sudden swell of strings paired with a smash-cut in a horror movie truly ‘scare’ us? It’s startling, sure, but does it leave you lying awake at night? Does it haunt your nightmares? For some it may, however I’d suspect that most would dismiss it as a ‘cheap thrill’ if pressed. Getting inside people’s heads to feel dread about something that does not even exist is a tricky thing to do. A single seam in the illusion can wreck the atmosphere and transform the story from ‘horrifying’ to ‘hilarious’.
When it comes to ‘scaring’ gamers, it’s even more difficult to sell the concept of fear. We gamers battle horrors from all corners of this world (and others) on a daily basis. We’re more frightened of being robbed of an achievement than anything Fallout can throw at us.
And yet, the horror genre exists in gaming just as it does in any other narrative medium. So, how do you scare someone who’s conquered all the demons of Hell before dinner?
Well, one of the most memorable attempts came from Batman: Arkham Asylum. This title isn’t even nominally a ‘horror’ game; however one of the villains the Caped Crusader is given to battle is ‘The Scarecrow’ (whose whole shtick is about ‘fear’). Over the course of the game, the player will face off against old Doc’ Crane multiple times and while these sequences can be a little disorienting, they don’t really reach the point of ‘scary’ until the final one.
This final challenge comes from nowhere, and is executed in such a fashion that it’s impossible to not provoke the player behind the controller. The game freezes, your speakers belch horrible noises, and your screen tears and fragments with every indication of a video card crash. The suggestion, therefore, is that the player’s machine was unable to handle the game in the real world and now they’ve got a very expensive problem on their hands. As someone who has had more than one video card give up the ghost on me, I can attest that the terror –the panic- that grips you in that instant is quite real. It’s a ruse of course, and gameplay continues as normal afterward, but I bought a can of compressed air to give my machine a thorough dusting the next day all the same.
While it’s difficult to imagine how this would translate on book or film (You can’t exactly set the theater on fire after all), this was a brilliant demonstration of how hitting your audience in a personal and relatable place is ten times scarier than the most grotesque monstrosity your CGI team can make. What made “Jaws” (1975 Film) so effective as opposed to say “Sharktopus” (2010 Film) was that the idea of a particularly large Great White terrorizing a beach community is of very real concern to a beach-going audience. A gestalt of tentacles and teeth? It would be terrifying if it actually existed, but we all know it doesn’t; so it’s not that frightening.
What doubled the effectiveness of “Jaws” was that the shark was not on a rampage, like so many archetypal monsters, but behaved more or less as any shark would. He ate his fill, and once his appetite was sated; he had no interest in molesting the swimmers of Amity Island further. The suggestion here, of course, is not whether an encounter with the shark is survivable due to alertness or quick reaction time, but purely based on the whims of the creature. While John Williams’ famous score may alert us as the audience when the shark is near, Jaws’ victims are always blissfully unaware until it’s too late…just like you would be were you to venture too far from shore.
This ‘grounded’ horror can be very effective, however, this is not to say that ‘cosmic’ or grotesque horrors cannot be effective at all. In the realm of gaming, one of the most famous examples of this is Dead Space. While it borrows many of its elements from “Alien” (1979 Film) in its cramped corridors and lonely atmosphere, Dead Space changes the combat formula of gameplay after a fashion many users weren’t expecting. In most games, a creature’s head or center of mass are primary player targets. This coincides with our very terrestrial notion of which areas of a given body, regardless of morphology, will house the vital organs. Not so in Dead Space. In order to defeat the horrific ‘Necromorphs’, players must strategically and systematically target the limbs or other segments of their opponents. However, this isn’t merely a matter of ‘swapping one target for another’, as successful dismemberments will actually change a given creature’s behavior (changing its method of locomotion, spawning new enemies, etc.).
The Necromorphs do not react to dismemberment the same way terrestrial creatures do. To them, losing a limb is more an inconvenience than a life-defining event. Their ability to constantly and unpredictably adapt sells the inscrutable ‘cosmic horror’ of it all. What’s more, the onus is on the player –the audience- to decide how to react to react to the creature before you in a very limited time. The challenge is no longer about who is fastest on the draw, or who spots whom first; but recognizing what quickly skittering limbs need to be cut first, then executing against that plan. Whether that particular stratagem will work is unknowable until tried, but certain death and horrific transformation into the scuttling horde shall be the result of failure.
A pervasive sense of ‘unknowable malevolence’ has been a staple of cosmic horror. H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Colour out of Space” (1927) tells the story of how a mysterious meteorite forever changed a small farming town. When the meteor hits, the land itself begins to change; yielding oddly colorful and yet bitter fruits and vegetables. While the effects of the impact initially strike the audience as little more than a trivial curiosity, increasingly treacherous and terrifying events begin to unfold; from madness taking hold of the farmhands to strange lights appearing in the boughs of dead trees. As the denizens of this small community struggle to comprehend what is happening, they don’t realize until it is too late that there is some intelligence at work. Whether it is sentient or purely instinctual, we can never know; we can only wonder what will await those who forget -however many years later that may be- that ‘Arkham’ was abandoned for a reason.
In this way, we see how developers and authors play with the deep-seeded fears of their audience on a macro scale. They show us things that we know we should be afraid of, and things we can’t even begin to fathom how to be afraid of.
However, fear is also a deeply primal thing. As panic sets in, a person’s decision making becomes more reactionary and geared more toward self-preservation than long-term planning. Motor functions decay and situational awareness suffers. Panic, therefore, can be a challenging thing to get right as an author as it requires an otherwise intelligent character to become momentarily stupid.
One game that does a fairly good facsimile of panic is Telltale’s The Walking Dead. Instead of presenting itself as an action game or first-person shooter (as one might assume for a Zombie Apocalypse scenario), The Walking Dead opts to be an ‘adventure’ game. This means that rather than an arsenal, the player will only have an extremely limited inventory; and must solve situations based on the tools in that inventory.
When combat unfolds, however, not only is the player forced to fight with whatever is on hand, but the game itself will actually work against him. His cross hair will jump and jiggle as unsteady hands tremble, the camera will zoom uncomfortably close on an approaching ‘walker’; making it impossible to plan how to cut through the rest of the horde, ammunition will drop to the ground as players struggle to reload, and bladed weapons must be physically wrenched from the corpses if sunk too deep.
All of this stands in stark contrast to the machine-like precision that normally accompanies player input commands in games, but it humanizes the player character far more. Dropped ammo and unsteady aim sells his inexperience with firearms. The tunnel vision and sluggish movement, impresses his apprehensive mental state onto the player. While even in Dead Space, a Necromorph encounter can become routine after a while, The Walking Dead takes great pains to make each engagement its own contained scenario. As such, it forces its audience to react and adapt within a very brief time window while never getting stale.
In addition to fear’s primal nature, it is also extremely personal. For instance, my most intense nightmares often involve being perched precariously just above a murky plane of water with vague yet sinister shapes barely visible beneath the surface. It comes as no surprise, then, that the most sweat inducing levels I’ve ever played have been against underwater adversaries. Included among these are:
The Great White from Ecco the Dolphin (DOTF)…
…And the Albino Crocodile from “Indiana Jones and the Emperor’s Tomb”
While neither of these are horror games, having your own deepest fears thrown back in your face is, perhaps, the most terrible things that can be done to a person. While these events were simulated, this theme is explored further in Sphere (Michael Crichton, 1987). In this story, the characters are assailed by their own ‘manifestations’: creatures made flesh by their own imaginations. As the plot unfolds, who is imagining what becomes a subject of great concern and paranoia among the characters; making each of them simultaneously a hero and villain in their own story.
However, the story of Sphere is only so long. Gamers know that if they want to gaze into the depths of self-abusive madness, they pick up Silent Hill 2. As James Sunderland, players find themselves in the eponymous monster-filled town at the behest of James’ thought-to-be-deceased wife. As they explore the fog-blanketed town, they discover that not all monsters act alike. While some are decidedly deadly, others are benign if a bit disturbing. At length, the player will come to realize that these monsters are representations of James’ shattered psyche; the buxom, faceless nurses –for example- being a manifestation of his own guilty lustful desires as his own wife lay dying in the hospital.
Players have also interpreted the main antagonist, ‘Pyramid Head’, to be James’ suppressed desire to be punished when it is revealed that Mr. Sunderland had actually ‘euthanized’ his terminal spouse rather than allow her to linger with her illness. All of this, of course, unfolds at the player’s own pace. Rather than having it explained in exposition, it is often left to the audience to join these dots themselves.
It can be difficult to simply ‘show’ something scary to someone and expect them to be scared. Particularly when you may not be sure what scares yourself and how you’ll handle it when confronted with horror. But games will be more than happy to thrust the controller in your hand and demand that you act when all you’d like to do is flee. So insert the disk…if you dare. Who knows? It just might make you a better writer.
Ryan J. Hodge is a Science Fiction author and works for Konami Digital Entertainment US (His opinions are his own). His latest book, Wounded Worlds: Nihil Novum, is available now for eBook & Paperback.
Batman: Arkham Asylum (2009) d.Rocksteady p.Warner Bros. -multiplatform
The Colour out of Space (1927) H.P. Lovecraft, Amazing Stories
Dead Space (2008) d.p.Electronic Arts -multiplatform
Ecco the Dolphin: Defender of the Future (2000) d.Appaloosa Entertainment p.Sega –Sega Dreamcast
Fallout 3 (2008) d.p.Bethesda –multiplatform
Indiana Jones and the Emperor’s Tomb (2003) d.The Collective p.LucasArts -multiplatform
Jaws (1975) Universal Pictures
Silent Hill 2 (2001) d.p. Konami –Sony Playstation 2
Sphere (1987) Michael Crichton, Knopf
The Walking Dead (2012) d.p. Telltale -multiplatform
we are, grass in the cracks
of the asphalt,
existing as a byproduct
of the human negligence
of the human pavement scheme,
and being stepped on by the gum
applied to human feet by human
inability to follow through with
the environmental protection phase
they went through, and the absolute
processing of it all, gum shoes
Modern Mama’s Blog:
How to Hold a Lesbian Engagement Party
February 14, 2014
So your daughter has decided to tie the knot with her partner and you want to throw an engagement party to celebrate? We here at Mama’s Blog have the following advice that comes from having given such a party:
Consider the guest list-
Not everyone will be supportive of the engagement or believe that it is not a mortal sin against God. The going thought on this is to invite only those that approve of alternative lifestyles. However, we recommend using the invitations as a way for your daughter to come out without direct contact. Be careful, however, as Uncle Sidney comes from a time when Whitney was a boy’s name and will get visibly upset as the party slowly unfolds. The good news- he will leave in a huff and refuse to come to the wedding. The bad news- it will take him several minutes with his walker and swear like a sailor all the way to the door. The further bad news is you will have to drive him home and listen to his Eisenhower era rants.
When your daughter’s future mother-in-law arrives off her meds, have a plan to divert her to the den. Not the kitchen as “Babs” (as she insists on being called) will grab a knife and threaten to hurt herself. If this happens, be supportive. Don’t yell “Go ahead and do it already!” as that will turn her anger to you.
He only sleeps on Wednesdays, in a bed of nails and glass and
root canals. He times his sidewalk strides to beat breaks
and harvests gravity’s bounty from the cracked concrete,
wet and flowing like a shattered hydrant or an open wound
into a gutter, golden at the end of the refracted parabola.
He folds origami ships from his own suicide notes and sends them
floating into the sounding sewer. He is the worm in Adam’s apple
pie paradigm parade – think McDonald’s, not grandma.
He spirals like a butterfly born into a wind tunnel, taking
selfies at the gates of hell and smiling in all of them.
His brain was built from the shards of false prophets,
his synthetic soul fed by plastic prayers and Formica faith.
He is all the king’s horses and he is all the king’s men and he is walking on
eggshells. He buys a KitchenAid crown and scatters seeds from forbidden fruit,
his chin wet and sweet. It is time for him to feed and rest and metamorphosize,
so he is growing a new home to crawl inside of and permeate
with webs of tenuous tunnels that will collapse against your teeth
like mineshafts. He will strike your head inside his rotten-core chrysalis
and you’ve never felt so alive as when you take a bite and find him
bisected there between your lips and spit him into the dirt like a curse.
THE CRYSTAL UNICORN
by Tony Longshanks leTigre
So there I was in the parking lot, homeless for the first time, and clueless what to do about it. It was the beginning of June, 2011, two years into my increasingly desperate attempt to carve out a livable niche for myself in San Francisco, and my worst-case scenario had become reality: unable to make rent and without a support network, I was out on the street. My life, it seemed, might be headed for an early, and dismal, conclusion.
All I had with me at that point was my sleeping bag and backpack; I’d packed everything else into a storage closet rented a few days before. The storage building was only a few blocks away and was accessible from morning to early evening every day of the week. At least my material possessions were safely stowed, for the time being, even if I was not!
Clothing filled the bulk of my storage space: a veritable hillock of vintage clothes, brought down from Portland with me, and added to ever since: the fruits of a sartorial obsession and overweening fondness for thrifty shopping that had plagued and pleasured me from time out of mind. While still living in the flat on Bryant Street, I’d started an Etsy boutique and tried to sell clothing in a desperate effort to remain solvent, and did sell a few things, but not in the volume required to make rent—not in San Francisco in the 21st century.
I chose the parking lot because it was close to the flat I’d just lost, and I’d noticed homeless folks sleeping there before when I walked by. It seemed that whomever managed the lot was mercifully tolerant of vagrants so long as they left by 7 a.m. or so in the morning and didn’t return til evening time. The lot was situated beneath a freeway overpass, which meant shelter from rain, but also the noise of traffic directly overhead that never let up for more than a few minutes, even during the reign of midnight and her darkest daughters. I realized I’d made an error in my selection process, as I had to wear earplugs the first few nights, and even so had a hard time getting to sleep, until I started to acclimate to my noisy new surroundings. Whenever a large truck drove overhead, the vibrations ran down the pillar and into the cement block upon which I lay: a nerve-racking sensation that kept me constantly on edge.
Strong tremors gave me a moment of panic, that they might be the preamble to an earthquake!
A few nights into my parking lot residency, I was unrolling my sleeping bag in its usual spot, debating whether to spend the few remaining dollars in my pocket on booze or food, since I didn’t have enough for both, when a man in a fluorescent green vest approached. I stiffened like a snake preparing to strike; no doubt he was a parking lot attendant coming to tell me I couldn’t sleep there any more: the free ride was over. I was tired, hungry, and in no mood to move; my muscles tensed as if for a fight. They were going to have to call the cops and drag me out, I decided.
Then the man asked, “Hey, are you hungry?” and held out a paper bag.
Inside I found a sandwich, small bag of chips and a juice pack. I took them wordlessly, too surprised to react with gratitude. But as I sat on my sleeping bag and ate the sandwich, I found myself moved by this unexpected act of kindness, to the point of having to rub my eyes a bit to clear them of unfallen tears.
I had been ready to throw a punch at a compassionate stranger. Easy there, cowboy. There is a lot of kindness in the world still. Or should I say, already?
Life took on a surreal quality during those first couple weeks, as I had a temp job at Wells Fargo headquarters in the financial district obtained for me by my employment agency. I got in the habit of waking up early each morning and walking to my storage space, picking out my outfit there, then changing in the restroom, where I would also sponge-bathe, wash my hair, and shave, to the best of my ability, without pissing off the next person waiting to use the single-occupancy toilet. I emerged after 15 minutes or so like a homeless Clark Kent transformed into bank-office Superman: combed hair, blazer, tie, slacks, slick black dress shoes. Then I went to work for the day, rubbed shoulders with professional bank employees, and came home afterward on the crowded rush hour bus to my humble cinderblock cranny beneath the freeway.
Trader Joe’s was across the street, which was another factor in my choice of parking lots. I need only cross the road for affordable food and booze, my everyday staples. Drinking was part of the reason for my downfall into the zero-class zone. Now that I was unhoused, alcohol helped me cope with my depression. So I told myself, anyway; in truth, it helped my depression more than it helped me. TJ’s kept me crooning the blues with flotillas of drinkable (though slightly diluted, to my taste) wine that cost $2.99 a bottle. Every evening, until the cash tap ran dry, I’d buy a bottle or two of Three-Buck Chuck, then cozy up in my sleeping bag to read and drink til I faded beneath the traffic-laden freeway, whose steady pattern of sounds made by passing vehicles gradually ceased to grate on my ears and became gray noise, actually helping me get to sleep.
Circumstances aside, my reading life has always been rich. My body may waste away, but this brain will never starve. At that time, I was retreating from reality into Tolkien books—a place of refuge since the early teenage years—as well as a philosophical memoir by old-school San Franciscan Mark Bittner, The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, recommended by a friend, which made a big impression on me, and about which I shall have more to say later.
It occurred to me that I was pathetic: a young able-bodied man in the prime of life, drinking til I passed out under the bridge like a grisly old drunk. But years spent in close company with the hooch goblin had me hooked, lined and sinking at a rapid rate. I’d found it difficult to abstain when I had a life, a home, friends and creative outlets galore; how would I find the strength to stay dry now, when the whole world had collapsed around me like a house of (cheap, dollar-pack) cards? Future days stretched endless, like a desert, before my mind’s occluded eye. Already at the age of 30-something I had experienced blackouts, morning-after shakes, court-ordered treatment, week-long binges of continuous drunkenness, and hangovers so dire they lasted not hours but days and even drinking more didn’t fill my tires all the way back up with air again. How low could I go?
Being new to the street beat, I stuck out most awkwardly at times. For instance, I brought a puffy pillow with a brightly striped pillowcase when I first hit the pavement. I noticed none of the other parking lot dwellers had one. The gutterpunk girl who slept nearest to me in the lot laughed as I walked by carrying the pillow one day. I’ve always had a morbid hypersensitivity to cruel laughter from other people, at times amounting to paranoia. It may have been so in this instance, because this girl had impressed me as definitely mentally ill the first night, chattering & shouting belligerently to herself for hours as I attempted to read Tom Shippey’s J. R. R. Tolkien: Author of the Century a few yards away. Sometimes she would strike herself on the head and scream “SHUT UP!” over and over again.
So, she may have been laughing with, or at, one of the voices in her head, but I took it as ridicule of myself. Then I noticed that none of the other parking lot dwellers were stylishly dressed in hipster clothing, or had a big special pillow amongst their measly possessions, which were clear to see as they lay heaped in shopping carts, torn tents and makeshift hovels behind pillars and police barricades on the perimeter of the parking lot. Suddenly I saw myself through the world’s eyes: a big froufrou dork, visibly clueless, cartoonishly homeless. Would I soon trade in my threadbare sleeping bag for a queen-sized down comforter adorned with rainbows and kittens?
The next morning I stuffed the opprobrious pillow into a garbage bag, carried it to an ugly, unwatched alley, and left it in a dark, shameful corner. I recalled reading an old jailhouse tip that a shoe makes a satisfactory head rest in a pinch. That night, I placed my Converse sneakers where the slain pillow had been, covered them with a folded jacket, and slept like a dignified hobo. I had a lot to learn about street life; luckily, there appeared to be no shortage of time in which to learn it.
Late one night I was rudely awakened by a tremendous, staccato crash. When I regained my senses, I saw an empty oil drum lying a couple yards away, rolling on its side, then coming to rest. Evidently it had been someone’s idea of (potentially murderous) fun to throw it over the ledge above.
“This is not working,” I told myself, as I attempted to go back to sleep.
Next morning I slept through my cellphone alarm and was wakened by a parking lot attendant urging me to collect my stuff and skedaddle a s a p. I’d broken the unwritten rule of disappearing from sight before the patrons came in to park their cars in the morning. Parking lot vagrants, appearing in the minds of mainstream folks like the rapacious zombies of Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, were bad for business.
And parking lots, I had decided, were bad for sleep. But what to do? There was the public shelter option, but I’d ruled that out from the beginning, based on horror stories I’d heard from others and the intuitive surety that staying in one would entail a loss of freedom and privacy, at the very least. At this time of writing, I’ve been homeless for more than three years, and have never spent one night in a shelter. I’m glad they’re there for the people who need them, but from all I’ve heard, there’s certainly room for improvement.
However, that does not concern the present story. What does concern us is the fact that that morning as I was lugging my stuff, still sleepy-eyed and bed-headed, out of the parking lot and meandering through the gray and gloomy industrial alleyways of SoMa seeking a place to resume my unsatisfactory sleep, I suddenly stopped stiff and rubbed my eyes in disbelief, wondering if in fact I was still dreaming. For there in front of me, at the far end of a narrow dark alley perfumed with the urine of street urchins, stood a black horse with a horn of crystal protruding in elegant spiral formation about a foot and a half from its upper forehead. Its translucent crystalline horn caught a ray of sunlight and refracted it, prism-like, onto the adjacent warehouse wall.
It was my first sight of the Crystal Unicorn, and it froze me in my tracks.
As I watched, flabbergasted, the unicorn turned its slender, shapely head toward me, so that I saw a glint in the obsidian pools of its eyes; then, as if beckoning me forward, it turned again and strode ahead, around the corner at the far end of the alley and out of sight.
When I turned the corner, it was already far ahead of me and continuing at a gallop I could scarcely hope to match, burdened as I was with sleeping bag, backpack, etc. Nonetheless, I felt a sudden urge to follow it. The sun had just penetrated a thick blanket of fog and shone warm and golden on the cracked concrete. In a moment I’d gone from feeling like a gremlin in a blender, hung over and underslept, to superhumanly inspired, born aloft on a surge of vigor. I looked around as if noticing my dolorous surroundings for the first time. What was I doing moping and guzzling myself into a stupor in this imaginary asphalt prison cell when all around me lay a vast playground of puzzles and treasure waiting to be solved and explored? All at once, the City lost the aspect of hostile, alien terrain and became something far more fascinating, and fabulous.
“A lot is a good start, but it won’t be nearly enough,” I whispered.
Despondent thoughts that had weighed me down for weeks, of life ending early in this nowhere/nothing void of tar and car exhaust, dissolved in a flash, and I started bundling my stuff up into a more compact package. Ten minutes later, I waved “goodbye and good luck” to the land of the lost and the island of misfit souls still stuck there, and set out at a brisk pace, following the path of the unicorn, to see what better options awaited the neophyte nomad.
White On Brown
All dolled up, lookin good enough to wait, make ready to think stew spin wheel in place.
Answer comin up one minute now or then resume the hunt for gold as soon as nudge jolt
torpedo or grieve. They’ll leave soon enough peace to move breathe mouse quiet then,
don’t nobody look can concentrate then, no worry lookin good enough to wait , think, stew.. funny lines, sag, bag, hair on white.
Square one back to white , waiting for Godot or something else that’s heavy: baggage, gold boat. Got an idea no more no less white on brown tree, chair, anything that don’t move fast enough, paint. Plastered.
Blue green pink 92 yr old tells the story of unloved unwanted copper things that sit in a corner but now they burn a hole in her sorely unsafe pocket so dear they are. Blue green pink lady she misses that.
Mother of Montmartre
Mother of pearl
Paris is your oyster
Black waves at your feet
In your heart
Crawling like lice looking for a way home
I was crawling along a suburban road
With other metal entombed insects
With frowning faces
And pantomime hands
No angels in this queue.
I saw Satan
In a BMW
He was an advertising exec
And his legion of horned helpers
Were real estate agents
Happily extract your soul
With a handshake
And a business card.
The music played
God bless it for trying
But it could not drown out
The urban frustration
Scattered like lice
Each seeking the perfect follicle.
Ebola and the GORGONS
Diseases can be terrible; how much more epidemics? It was barely a week ago that I came down with fever, malaise and highly disturbing diarrhea. It was just after I’d (unsuccessfully) treated malaria with drugs of questionable originality; they had been much cheaper. So my first differential was of course relapse. Then I realigned my sentiments with prevailing public opinion and arrived unquestioningly at Ebola (note the capital E; na respect be that). And I automatically began a rather paranoid contact tracing in my head…
All these before I remembered that I had made a warm culture of anaerobic organisms, don’t ask me how, and swallowed it, don’t ask me why. Suffice it to say I was not recolonising my gut, I do not have pseudomembranous colitis. It was a mistake. Mistakes happen, even with the most careful and most experienced of doctors. That is why God made PPEs, personal protective equipments, to discredit our paranoia as much as we’d allow.
“ι ρυт ση му ησкια ρнσηє тσɗαу αηɗ тнє тωσ нαηɗѕ ʀєƒυѕєɗ тσ ѕнαкє. ι тнιηк тнєу αʀє αƒʀαιɗ σƒ євσℓα.”