Yesteryear’s Silicon Jukebox “Do No Evil” World – Gerard Sarnat MD

SAN FRANCISCO, AP, April 21, 2005 — Google Inc. is experimenting with a new feature that enables the users of its online search engine to see all of their past search requests and results, creating a computer peephole that could prove as embarrassing as it is helpful…

Doing my parking lot homeless medical clinic today, there’s
old Wild Ray root ‘n toot’n folks to sign his petition banning
the growing identity theft crisis. Somethin’ ’bout the
gov’ment stealin’ three of his eight multiple personalities.
Which he damn well wants back, and pronto, please.

The late Erik Erikson first used the now common phrase
“identity crisis.” When his biological Danish dad split before
his birth, he was adopted by his Jewish stepfather and took
the name Erik Homberger. But because of his blond-and-
blue-eyed Nordic look, Erikson was rejected by his Jewish
neighborhood. At grammar school, on the other hand, he was
teased as a Jew. Feeling that he didn’t fit in with either
cultural world, Erikson’s own identity crises fueled his career’s
work. Not needing a weatherman to know which way the wind
blew, he left the Vienna Psychoanalytic Institute and
immigrated to the United States in 1933.

In 1935, Monk Eugenio Pacelli Pacelli, speaking of the Nazis,
told 250,000 pilgrims at Lourdes, “It does not make any
difference whether they flock to the banners of the social
revolution, whether they are guided by a false conception
of the world and of life, or whether they are possessed by
the superstition of a race and blood cult.” Four years later,
this hybrid Monk committed identity theft, evidently no
identity crisis for this hypocrite, when he oxymoronically
renamed himself Pope Pius XII. For much of the war, he
piously maintained a public front of indifference and
remained silent while German Holocaust atrocities
were committed. He refused pleas for help on the
grounds of neutrality, while making statements
condemning injustices in general. Privately, he
sheltered a small number of Jews and spoke to a few
select officials, encouraging them to help the Jews.

Homeless Squirrel Girl shows me her very own hybrid
Munk, a mixed-breed pet chipmunk squirrel she’s raised
since birth as her baby girl. Now looking like an overfed
rabid rat, the fat rodent slithers from her shoulder down
her blouse, crawling up her skirt. How ’bout that.

Looking for a place to stay, Milo’s back from a short
unsuccessful vacation in Waikiki. “Turned out to be
Disneyland corporate Amerika, a tourist companytown
scam, too many regulations, too high a cost of living.”
Sniffing his unmistakably sweet smoke, I’m inappropriately
asked if I want a toke. Nope. “But by the way, Doc, will
you renew my San Francisco City and County Volunteer Medical
Cannabis Card that Hawaii won’t honor”…for nonexistent
chronic hepatitis B?

Now a middle-aged Stanford dropout, Shady Slim sidles
over with a new story about an old identity. “Once upon a
time, I was a horse trainer until my partner died. A year
ago, I was surprised when his son contacted me with an
offer of 20% equity if I taught him all I knew. We got lucky
getting a horse runs good down in Southern California. Now
Consolidator’s rated fifth of the ten that’ve qualified for
the Kentucky Derby next month. Four-time Derby winner
Wayne Lukas’ training him. Got new duds to wear back there.
If he wins and goes to stud, I’m a rich man, wish me luck.”

Hard to hear under the boombox’s Iggy Pop and Bessie Smith,
Suzanne, a Native American with congenital alcohol syndrome
stutters, “P-p–lease g-g-ive me s-s-ome p-pills to s-s-stop
my piss.”

Vicious truth sees into metal, making it melt: President
Tru Man spoke of the White House as a jail cell. Same time,
in a woman’s parallel outlaw universe outside the usual soupy
gumbo political rain, Billie Holliday sang about Strange Fruit.
Today, a middle-aged Lady Day lookalike and stranger to the
Urban Ministry, there she is in her full black glory. So demure
and sexy, sitting there on a folding chair, strangely unnoticed
and alone, rubbing oil slowly onto calves lifted above green
socks under brown high top boots. Mother Mary full of grace,
I long to kneel before and anoint you. Rings on every finger,
black garbage bag backpack covered with wilted red roses,
busted guitar case held together by fraying bungey cords.
Short gray dress above the knees, with sparkly white specks
peaking out like stars on a cloudy night. Chartreuse and
purple silky head scarf tied in front like a beautiful serenely
freed non-Aunt Jemima.

Jimena, Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and Northern
Africa, among today’s forgotten refugees. Thinking he’s
helping by wielding a broom to the ceiling’s corner to clean
out a nest of spiders, a new volunteer is booed by all for
making fellow creatures homeless. Even if you don’t
have everything you want, be grateful for the things you
don’t have that you don’t want.

The radio blares a Marketwatch Bulletin: Google profit
rises fivefold as revenue tops target.

 

GERARD SARNAT MD’s authored HOMELESS CHRONICLES (2010), Disputes, 17s, Melting Ice King (2016). Gerry’s published by Gargoyle, Oberlin, Brown, Stanford, Main Street Rag, New Delta Review, American Journal Of Poetry, Poetry Quarterly, Brooklyn Review, LA Review, San Francisco Magazine, New York Times. Mount Analogue selected KADDISH for distribution nationwide Inauguration Day.   gerardsarnat.com

Image via Pixabay

 

Cabinet Of Heed footer logo

The Drink – Christine Brooks

It was the first time I surfed wearing my little bone surfboard pendant with my mother’s initials carefully carved into the back – MJCCB, the first time I dared enter the cold, fall Rhode Island water alone when the tide roared, and the first time my paddle out didn’t necessarily include a paddle in.

Covered in Neoprene from head to toe; boots, wetsuit and gloves, I made my way over the slippery rocks of my favorite break, Deep Hole, and tried to let the rip currents, the thick fog, and the low bellows of the distant lighthouse, distract me from the fact that my mother was going to die. Surfing had diverted me from the struggles of life before, but this time was different. This time, the water could not wash away my thoughts, cleanse my nightmares, or offer me the peace the waves had brought me before, in happier times.

Belly down on my longboard nicknamed Blue Betty, I made my way through the soupy white froth that tried to push me back to the safety of the shoreline, now just a cloudy, thick gray memory.

Ignoring all the signals of impending danger, I paddled out farther and farther, towards what I knew to exist, the safety of the thin blue line.

Wave after unseen wave would rock me, occasionally dumping me into the blackness of the drink. Resting only briefly, treading water holding onto my board, my mind waged war with the keeper of the tides.

Fuck you. No one would hear me yell. Fuck. You.

Dangling over Deep Hole, clinging to Blue Betty, I thought maybe I could just stay there, or maybe, I could just let go.

I thought of that little pendant tucked safely under my black wetsuit and of Mom, fighting a battle with pancreatic cancer that she would not, that she could not win.

The lighthouse in nearby Snug Harbor now sounded more like Noooo Chris than the groans it had just recently expelled warning sailors of the rocks and surfers of the danger of the thick fog.

My nostrils now filled with gallons of salt water, and my arms noodles from paddling against the incoming tide warned me that it was time to paddle in.

Even though my muscles and lungs begged for rest, my heart still needed time. Time out in the frigid Atlantic Ocean on this late October day to come to terms with what was to be, and my heart knowing it was boss, threw my arms out again and again, over and over, into the liquid darkness.

Farther and farther towards Block Island I went, Blue Betty teetering unsteadily beneath me. I couldn’t see it as I usually could, but I knew it was out there, as well as potentially boats, and other surfers.

If anyone was going to die, I needed to scope out the battlefield first. I needed to know and see, what was already written. Her obituary, carefully worded by her to include everyone, had been written days before, and her new light blue sweat suit from Walmart that she wished to be buried in, was carefully placed in her top drawer, until her death. No doctor could save her, no Whipple surgery to prolong her life was possible, and now, not even chemo was an option.

Cancer was a guest that had come before, but this time it would leave with my mother’s laugh, her smile, and the light in her eyes, and all I could do was paddle harder and farther, not knowing if I could have the strength to paddle back in.

Noooooo Chris. The fog moaned.

Exhaustion had set in. Panic did not.

In the darkness of the heavy fog, I could not see the giant wave building, or have any way to prepare for it, or, let it take me under. Before I could decide, before I even knew, this wave, with a plan and a mind of its own, threw me into the air and left me no choice but to paddle in.

Pmpffff. I landed on my belly and paddled in without the option of breathing. The toss had knocked the wind out of me and left a bump on my head that was already pounding and bleeding profusely.

As I sat on the rocky coast with thoughts of paddling back out, I listened to the lighthouse, to the surf, and the fog that although silent, spoke to me. They whispered what I knew to be true. Four months later she would take her last breath while in my arms, and exhale to the face of God.

It was time to go home.

(Mary Joanne Celina Comeau Brooks February 15, 1941 – February 12, 2011)

 

http://www.christinebrookswriter.com

Image via Wikimedia Commons, Vicki McKay [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D

Leetspeak – Sanjeev Sethi

I seal liabilities of loneliness
with maud of meter to create
hygge of vicarious happiness.

I peruse from mavens of mortal play
the trick is to transfer emotions.
Marinating in a bleak headset
is to break within.

The way out is to change the gear.
No one can jockey you out of it.
Chauffeur your car.

 

SANJEEV SETHI is the author of three books of poetry. He is published in more than 25 countries. Recent credits: The Poetry Village, Amethyst Review, Bonnie’s Crew, Selcouth Station, Picaroon Poetry, Laldy Literary Journal, The Sandy River Review, Packingtown Review, Otoliths, and elsewhere. He lives in Mumbai, India.

Image via Pixabay

How Fairy Tales End – Mileva Anastasiadou

Hypothetically speaking, I’d meet him again the day after tomorrow. He’d offer to buy me coffee and I’d accept the invitation. I’d be comfortable and cozy, sitting gracefully inside the bubble. He’d ask me about the weather and I’d politely reply it’s either too warm or too cold for the season.

Hypothetically speaking, he’d hold my hand, walking me home. He’d then confess his undying love to me. We’d go around exploring that new-found land of bliss, where Icarus never fell, because the sun didn’t burn his wings, Robin Hood didn’t steal, because he didn’t need to, Snow White didn’t get lost, because the Queen wasn’t evil, the wolf didn’t eat Red Riding Hood, because they were friends.

Hypothetically speaking, he’d ask me what sounds I find mostly annoying. ‘Real or imaginary?’ I’d ask. Imaginary he’d say, for imaginary sounds are more disturbing than real ones. You can’t close your ears and avoid them. Ghosts playing guitar, I’d say and he’d understand. He’d laugh, for he also mistook a centipede for a ghost once. Yet bursting bubbles are more annoying, he’d then say and I’d nod.

Hypothetically speaking, we’d never fall from the clouds. It gets tiring, falling from the clouds all the time. He’d never teach me the lesson I don’t want to learn: how fairy tales in real life. I’d be the queen of denial, conveniently sitting still in my fairy tale, high above in the sky, looking down to common sense. It’s not denial after all, if you close your eyes, not being aware of what you deny. He’d caress my hair, my face, my body, until his hand would merge with my skin, his soul inside mine. Until that heavy blow that’d bring awareness. That hit that’d separate us, forcing me to open up my eyes and look ahead. I’d even feign blindness for a while, but not for long.

Hypothetically speaking, reality would never burst my bubble, a shape-shifting enemy invading my pink colored bubble all the time, this time with his words. It’s not you, it’s me, he’d say, the usual combination of words, an arrow straight to the heart. Of the bubble. Or to my heart. Or to the bubble I keep inside my heart. And I’d deflate like a balloon. For breaking up is like falling. Standing up is hard after sitting comfortably in the bubble for too long. Standing up gracefully proves an impossible task.

Practicing reality is a game not easily mastered.

 

MILEVA ANASTASIADOU is a neurologist. Her work can be found or is forthcoming in many journals, such as the Molotov Cocktail, Jellyfish Review, Sunlight Press (Best Small Fictions 2019 nominee), Ghost Parachute, Gone Lawn, Ellipsis Zine, Queen Mob’s Tea House, Bending Genres and others.

Image via Pixabay

Recycling – Cath Barton

I never liked those garden seats you bought. Anyway they’re rusted now. They clank against other people’s junk as I heave them into the recycling bin.

When I turn away there’s a black Labrador at my feet, looking up at me expectantly.

“No way, old son, oh no,” I say, examining his collar. No tag. I’m laughing, I don’t know why. What kind of bastard abandons a defenceless beast at a municipal tip?

As I drive away I see the dog in my rear view mirror, sitting by the bins, watching me go.

Back home I load the car again, my thoughts spooling. Thoughts of, maybe, getting another dog. A companion. I shake myself and the thoughts scatter, like water drops off the back of a dog after a dip in the river. This won’t do. I’m trying to clear stuff out of my life, leave myself free.

There’s a post-lunch queue of cars at the tip now. I shut my window against the ammonia smell of used cat litter, watch as a couple struggle lifting what looks like a perfectly good table. As the wood splinters I hear him snarl at her. At least there’s no sign of the Labrador.

Finally I get to the head of the line. As the detritus of five years of wasted love crashes into the metal bin I feel a kind of emptying of myself. All done apart from a couple of old radios. There’s a hut in the yard where there’s usually someone to ask about where to put electrical stuff. Feeling the sun on my neck on my way over there, I think about looking on-line for places where it shines more reliably.

There’s no one in the hut. Leaving the radios by the door, I stroll back to the car and slam the boot shut without looking inside.

“Uh oh! And where did you spring from old son?” I say, home again and opening the boot to fetch out my empty bags, thinking about sitting in my sweet-scented garden with a cool glass of wine. The black Labrador is lying there gazing at me and my heart turns over at his panting.

When he’s had his drink I find an old tie to use as a lead and take him to the vets. He has no chip.

“If he isn’t claimed within 48 hours we’ll have to send him to the dog pound,” says the receptionist. “Unless you…”

“No,” I say. “No, no, I can’t.”

But he’s sitting there, my black Labrador, looking at me. You don’t choose your loves. We both deserve a second chance.

 

Image via Pixabay

Conflagration – James Lepak

The pizza boxes we had accrued
Almost hit the ceiling. There were no dorms
With more collegiate hygiene.
The diet, the order, the sloth of bright
And horny teens bled out
Into our idealized décor.
What better sacrifice to make
Than this monument to the cusp
Of adulthood? We burned it all
In a pyre that excited solely
Because of its novelty,
And that it was our waste,
Our waste of health and time
And privilege underused.
The burning of our eyes in heaving smoke
Was joyous, as only the illusion of freedom
Can allow. Rob shouted,
“Fuck pizza!” and echolalia ensued.
You weren’t much in the spirit, Scott,
But you dutifully repeated,
And that chain of brotherhood
Was not broken by solemnity.
Pat was most aware
Of the nihilism we celebrated
And was therefore the happiest.
I saw the fire’s reflection
In all their eyes and loved
This projection from hearth
To man to world,
And did not care
The order in which it truly came.

 

JAMES LEPAK is an ESL instructor who enjoys reading and writing poetry in his spare time. His work has appeared in Isacoustic and Songs of Eretz Poetry Review.

Image via Pixabay

Rosner & Rhodes – Alan Swyer

Pulling up in front of a nondescript apartment building in a sketchy part of Hollywood, a guy in his early thirties did a double-take before checking to see that he’d reached the correct address. Puzzled, he climbed out of his dented Toyota and walked toward the front door, then climbed to the third floor.

Finding 3-D, he took a deep breath before knocking.

Footsteps were heard before the door was opened by a sleepy-eyed man in his late 70’s with a goatee and an ancient Brooklyn sweatshirt.

“I’m Barry Pearl,” announced the visitor. “Doing an article for a magazine called ‘Blues & Rhythm’?” When no response was forthcoming, he added, “You and I spoke Monday and set an appointment for today at 10?”

“Right,” said Flip Rosner with an absence of certainty. “C’mon in.”

Leading the way into a living room filled with an eclectic mixture of CDs and vinyl, plus takeout food containers, vintage photos, and a dazzling array of gold and platinum records, Rosner cleared some newspapers off an armchair. “You okay?”

“I-I didn’t expect –”

“To find me living in squalor?”

“To catch you off-guard. Sure this is a good time?”

“As opposed to when my music meant something?”

“The songs you wrote will always mean something.”

“Co-wrote,” Rosner corrected.

“I’m someone who focuses on lyrics.”

“And once-upon-a-time they mattered.”

“To me they always will.”

“To me, too,” acknowledged Rosner. “Get you some coffee, tea, water?”

“I’m fine.”

“Nonsense. Wait till you taste the green tea somebody brought me from China.”

“Okay if I tape our conversation?” asked Pearl, pulling a small tape recorder out of his pocket.”

“As if anything I say matters,” answered Rosner dismissively.

“To me it does.”

“So you’re still trying to reconcile a string of hit records with a dump like this,” Rosner said five minutes later while handing his guest a cup of tea.

“Well –”

“Try four disastrous marriages with painful settlements. Want to know why?”

Pearl nodded.

“I like wedding cake. Add time I spent feeding my nose. Plus some rotten investments and a cockamamie belief the hits would keep coming forever. So, want to talk music? Or simply cut to the chase?”

“Which means?”

“How Flip Rosner and Claudia Rosen of Brooklyn became the team of Rosner & Rhodes before one rose to stardom while the other faded away.”

“I wouldn’t call the song you went on to write for Gladys Knight fading.”

“Co-wrote.”

“Which is no different than Leiber & Stoller, Goffin & King, Mann & Weil, Pomus & Shuman, Barry & Greenwich, Sedaka & Greenfield, even Bacharach & David.”

“Somebody knows his shit.”

Barry Pearl’s response was a shrug.

Driving home after a nearly two-hour session which ended when Flip Rosner grew weary, Pearl ran through his mind the topics the two of them had covered. First was the innocence of the era in which Rosner… then Rosner & Rosen… and finally Rosner & Rhodes carved their niche. It was a world of singles – 45s – played on jukeboxes, at sock hops, and on AM radio, a time in which the aging pioneers of rock & roll – Ike, Chuck, Bo, Fats, Ray, and Jerry Lee – were largely succeeded by the Manhattan-based record biz, with “Maybellene,” “Hey, Bo Diddley,” “I’m Walking,” “What I Say,” and “Breathless” replaced on the charts by “Poison Ivy,” “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” “Uptown,” and “Save The Last Dance For Me.”

The songs were birthed in a place called the Brill Building (and neighboring 1650 Broadway), where white songwriters – plus the talented Otis Blackwell, who penned “Breathless,” “Fever,” “Handy Man,” and “All Shook Up” – churned out future classics which, unlike their Rhythm & Blues predecessors, were designed for a burgeoning youth market.

Rosner also confirmed what Pearl had always assumed, that there was no sense whatsoever that the records would last, or that one day there would be something known as the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame.

The genesis of the hits, Pearl learned, varied significantly. Often, with the Drifters, the Shirelles, Chuck Jackson, or someone else scheduled for a recording session, songs would be solicited from writers, or occasionally written on the spur of the moment. Then there was the time Atlantic’s Jerry Wexler spotted Goffin & King walking down the street and yelled, “Give me a song with ‘Natural Woman’,” yielding a smash for Aretha Franklin. Pearl’s favorite tale, however, was how “Save The Last Dance For Me,” was inspired by the emotions stirred within polio survivor Doc Pomus, who wasn’t able to foxtrot with the bride at his own wedding.

“Anyone ever tell you you’re weird?” Pearl’s on-again-off-again girlfriend Libby asked that evening as the two of them were chowing on a Hanoi-inspired dish called Cha Ca.

“I get the feeling you’re about to.”

“Preferring stuff by mainly dead guys? I mean your taste in music and in film –”

“Whoa! Aretha doesn’t outrank Beyonce? Ray Charles and Bobby “Blue” Bland aren’t 100 times better than Jay-Z or Diddy?”

“I didn’t say that –”

“‘The Big Sleep,’ ‘Ninotchka,’ and “Once Upon A Time In America’ don’t put away ‘The Avengers,’ the ‘Harry Potters’, and ‘Fast & Furious 47’?”

“That’s not how I meant it –”

“Pick one you’d rather attend: Coachella or Woodstock?”

“Barry –”

“If I’m weird, I’m proud of it. I’m also happy to prefer food from China, Ethiopia, and Vietnam over kale and quinoa. And not to live in fear of glutens.”

“Finished?” teased Libby.

“Just getting started,” replied Pearl with a chuckle.

“Then you don’t want me to ask when you’re going to start focusing on your career instead of on all the writing you do for free?”

Barry Pearl took a bite of his fish and noodle dish, then frowned. “Exactly.”

“Gonna spend your whole life reading mediocre scripts that’ll make movies you don’t want to see?”

“As opposed to getting indigestion while eating my dinner?”

“I’m only thinking of you,” said Libby.

“And us?”

Libby sighed. “So,” she said, “what do you think of Rosner?”

“Sad, lonely, and talented as hell.”

Tossing and turning that night, Pearl found himself dwelling on the most painful of Libby’s questions. He had arrived from New Jersey with the dream of making a mark first as a screenwriter, then as a director. But the more he learned about the film business, plus the kind of movies that by then were getting made, the more disenchanted he became. It wasn’t “Casablanca,” “Citizen Kane,” or “The Maltese Falcon” that were sought by the agent who signed him, or by the producers and studio execs to whom Herb Klein and his partner Gene Broder introduced him. Nor was it “Petulia,” “McCabe & Mrs. Miller,” or “Annie Hall.” Instead it was what were termed franchises, tent poles, and branding. Cringing at the constant refrain of remakes, re-tools, sequels, and prequels, as well as new spins on superheroes, Pearl segued from writing scripts that earned him pats on the head – but zero offers – to doing what’s called coverage, first for a small agency, then for one of the larger ones.

Free to read scripts and write synopses at home in shorts and a t-shirt, with a work schedule largely of his choosing, Pearl channeled his creative energies into his other great love: music from eras he preferred. To his surprise, the articles he wrote were happily embraced by niche magazines both in the US and Britain, which then clamored for more. His first published piece posited that Rhythm & Blues began on LA’s Central Avenue after World War II. The next dealt with the fact that the term Soul Music was created by Atlantic’s Jerry Wexler because the great Solomon Burke, who was a minister as well as a soulful vocalist, couldn’t have his records in a category – R&B – that was considered by black clergy to be the devil’s music. The third dealt with Ike Turner’s career after his breakup with Tina then a stint in prison.

The fun for Pearl was the rush from seeing his work both in print and online. The downside was that the fees – when there even were fees – did not cover his bills.

“I bet somebody wants to hear about Claudia,” Flip Rosner stated when he opened the door for Barry Pearl three days later.

“Only if you’re up for it.”

“C’mon, admit it.”

“Admit what?”

“That you’re a starfucker like everybody else.”

“Only for lyricists like Frank Loesser –”

“‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ and ‘Guys & Dolls’.”

“Willie Dixon –”

“‘My Babe,’ ‘Wang Dang Doodle’, and ‘I Just Wanna Make Love To You’.”

“Jerry Leiber –”

“‘Hound Dog,’ Yakety Yak’, ‘Kansas City’. And me?”

“And you.”

“But,” said Rosner, “it’s Claudia who became the star.”

“Funny how I don’t have any of her records.”

Rosner shrugged, then pointed to a chair before heading into the kitchen to make some tea.

“So whatd’ya want to know?” he asked when he returned with a cup for each of them.

“What do you want to tell me?”

“Not a single bad word about her.”

“I’m not looking for dirt.”

“If there’s dirt it’s about me.”

“So how did you two meet?”

“She was an aspiring songwriter who reached out at a time when I was disenchanted with my writing partner.”

“And?”

“Since I’m about as good at the piano as I am a ballerina, instead of just talking, I put her at the keyboard. Pretty soon, instead of being mentored, she was coming up with the melodies.”

“And then what?”

“One song we wrote found a buyer. Then another. Then another. And when my first wife started getting jealous –”

“Yeah?”

“I suddenly had a new partnership in more ways than one.”

In what proved to be at times a conversation, and at others an interrogation, the two men chatted for a while longer. Then suddenly Rosner stood. “Want to indulge me?” he asked.

“How so?”

“There was a time when I cheated on my wives. Now it’s on my cardiologist. Up for some cholesterol?”

As the two of them were led to a booth at Langer’s Deli, Rosner turned to Pearl. “New York may be the pastrami capital of the world, but it’s nothing next to this place.”

Once their sandwiches arrived, Rosner watched with approval as Pearl took his first bite. “Hand-sliced,” the older man stated with pride. “On double-baked rye.”

“So when did you sense,” Pearl began after taking a sip of iced tea, “that Claudia wanted to be more than a songwriter?”

“I should have known when she announced she was changing her last name. She said Rosner & Rosen sounded like a Jewish funeral home. But that didn’t stop Sammy Cahn & Jule Styne. Or Leiber & Stoller. Or Sedaka & Greenfield. Or Yip Harburg. From Day One I should’ve realized she had her eyes on bigger things. But I was too worried about coming up with words that rhymed.”

“So what do you think about Claudia’s records?” asked Pearl as, with stomachs full, they walked toward his car.

“More importantly, what do you think?”

“They’re what I call sensitive.”

“Give me that in English.”

“You won’t get pissed?”

“Only if you bullshit me.”

“Compared to the originals done by black artists –”

“Yeah?”

“They’re pretty wimpy.”

“You’re tough,” said Rosner.

“But wrong?”

Rosner smiled, then shook his head before climbing into the passenger seat of Pearl’s Toyota.

As they pulled out of the Langer’s parking lot, Pearl spoke again. “Even though there’ve been some pretty good ones, for the most part I’m not big on cover versions.”

“I get it.”

“But if you want to know what really drives me up the wall –”

Rosner nodded.

“It’s people who think rock & roll started with Elvis,” Pearl said. “Or the Beatles. Or Springstein.”

“Forgetting Chuck, Bo, Clyde McPhatter, and the Drifters?”

“Exactly. I call those people Rockists.”

“Which,” said Rosner, “must really piss ’em off.”

“I sure as hell hope so.”

The next day, as he again sat across from Rosner, Pearl asked, “So what do you think of singer-songwriters?”

“Overall, are they as good as Cole Porter? The Gershwins? Willie Dixon? Leiber & Stoller?”

“Or Rosner & Rhodes?”

“Not for me to answer. Look, early Dylan was talented.”

“Before he got boring?”

Rosner nodded. “Early Joni Mitchell, too. But what I can’t handle is autobiographical stuff that’s first and foremost whiny.”

“James Taylor?”

“And Neil Young.”

“So, do you have favorites?” asked Pearl.

“Lou Reed for one. Van Morrison, especially that first album. Plus that guy who once had a voice but now sounds like a frog.”

“Tom Waits?”

“Yup.”

The following morning the Q&A continued. “How did a song come to life?” asked Pearl after accepting a cup of tea.

“On assignment? Or one I generated?”

“Either. Both.”

“With an assignment, the key was who was it for. For someone who could preach – say Solomon Burke, or Chuck Jackson – you wanted there to be a life lesson, or maybe a sermon. So you’d start with a phrase like Life can be tough, or My heart is aching. With me?”

Pearl nodded.

“With a girl group,” Rosner continued, “it’d be something wistful, like I’m hopeful, or If only. Still on-board?”

Again Pearl nodded.

“But with something fresh, something on spec, in those days everybody had a go-to thing. With Bert Berns, often it was crying: ‘Cry To Me’ for Solomon, ‘Cry Baby’ for Garnet Mimms. There was one guy who, whenever he was stuck, or blocked, or frozen, would break up with the gal he was going with. Want to know why?”

“You bet.”

“Invariably he would hear something – Where has our love gone? Or I thought we had it all or I’m broken-hearted now that we’ve parted – that he could turn into a song.

Pearl chuckled. “And with you?”

“With me,” said Rosner, “it usually begins with a phrase, or a word I heard somewhere. Or something that pops into my mind while driving, taking a shower, or watching TV.”

“Such as?”

“Without you. Or maybe Beware. Or Sometimes I’m lonely.”

“And then?”

“You play with it. Sometimes I’m lonely, sometimes I’m blue, sometimes I find myself thinking about you. Follow? You start with a spark, then milk it.”

After two more sessions with Rosner, Pearl had pretty much all the information he thought ne needed. But even as he moved from organizing the material to thinking about a narrative, then starting his article, he found excuses to reach out periodically by phone, and even to lure the songwriter out for a Thai lunch one day, an Indian buffet another.

Then one Tuesday night Pearl woke up with a start as a question surged into his head. Unable to fall back to sleep, he fidgeted for an hour or so, then read an Ian Rankin detective novel until the first rays of sun appeared.

At 8 AM, having already done three sets of push-ups and crunches, Pearl at last called Rosner. “What’re you up to?” he asked.

“You tell me.”

“Okay if I come by for a cup of tea?”

“So what’s this curiosity at the crack of dawn?” Rosner asked as he opened the door for Pearl.

“There’s one question I never asked.”

“Want to ask it before or after I pour the tea?”

“How about I ask it now, then you answer while you’re pouring?”

“Fire away.”

“Are you still writing songs?”

“That’s a ridiculous question,” Rosner barked as he headed into the kitchen.

“And that’s not an answer,” replied Pearl as he followed.

“Why in hell would I still be writing?”

“Because it’s what you do.”

“Without a writing partner? Or a deal? Or anything going on?”

“Are you or aren’t you?”

Rosner frowned as he poured two cups of tea, then turned to face Pearl. “So what if I am?”

“That’s exciting?”

“Why?”

“Because you’re a great songwriter.”

“Was.”

“C’mon –”

“And I’m not so sure about great.”

“I think you are.”

“Forgive me for saying this,” sad Rosner sadly, “but in the scheme of things, who the fuck are you?”

Two days later, after spending an unpleasant morning writing coverage first of an Asian knock-off of “Get Out,” then a “Lord Of The Rings” ripoff set in outer space, Pearl switched gears.

Re-reading his almost-finished article about Rosner, titled “The Last Lyricist Standing,” he replaced a comma with a semi-colon, then made a couple of tiny tweaks. Gritting his teeth, he hit Save, created a pdf, and sent it off to Britain’s “Blues & Rhythm.”

As a reward to himself, he laced up a well-worn pair of Air Jordans, then hit a playground to shoot hoops.

That evening, at an Italian restaurant well beyond his price range, to which he had taken Libby for a birthday celebration, she smiled as the two of them toasted with glasses of Pinot Grigio. “So,” she then asked Pearl, “did he ever answer your question?”

“Better than that. He showed me a couple of new lyrics.”

“And?”

“I don’t think they’ll ever make it on the Hip-Hop charts.”

“That figures.”

“Or be recorded by Bruno Mars or Ariana Grande.”

“But?”

“I’d love to get ’em to somebody who’d see how good they are.”

“Like?”

“John Legend? Steve Tyrell? Maybe Dolly?”

“Or Claudia Rhodes?” asked Libby.

“Now that would be interesting.”

As both of them took another sip of wine, a bearded guy pushing forty did a double-take while passing by their table. “The cult writer who never phones,” the newcomer exclaimed while approaching.

“So as not to have my calls returned?” countered Pearl, who then turned to Libby. “Libby Saks, say hello to Herb Klein.”

“As in his beloved agent,” explained Klein, who studied Pearl. “So when am I gonna see something new?”

“I haven’t been writing scripts.”

“But knowing you, you’ve been writing something.”

“He just finished an article,” Libby interjected.

“About?”

“Nothing you’d be interested in,” stated Pearl.

“Which makes me want it even more. Email it to me.”

“It’s not even published yet,” said Pearl.

“It’s got a publisher? Now I really want it!” With that, Klein turned to Libby. “Pleasure meeting you.”

Libby watched Herb Klein amble off, then shook her head. “Am I wrong, or is he a cartoon figure?”

“No dispute from me.”

“Ready for this?” Herb Klein exclaimed the next afternoon when Pearl answered his iPhone.

“Depends what it is.”

“Three meetings, bro! Three face-to-faces with the hottest of producers.”

“To discuss?”

“Your new story, dude.”

“You read it?”

“C’mon, man! A story this good you don’t even have to read.”

“Herb –”

“That’s a joke, Barry. Remember those?”

“But it’s not a story. It’s an article in a niche music magazine.”

“Niche, schmiche. I’m calling it ‘A Star Is Born’ meets ‘The Sunshine Boys.'”

“You’re kidding.”

“Do I sound like I’m kidding? We’ll email you the where-and-whens.”

“Whoa!”

“Why whoa?” asked Klein.

“What you’re billing as a story has no story. It’s about a songwriter who’s been put out to pasture.”

“Not with the ending I came up with.”

Pearl’s stomach sunk. “And what might that be?”

“When what’s-his-face is dying of cancer –”

“Flip Rosner –”

“Whatever. Anyway, his ex-, who’s now a superstar, adds music his words.”

“Lyrics, Herb. And that’s not what happened.”

“But it’ll play like a motherfucker on-screen! So how do we close? With the concert to end all concerts before what’s-his-face dies a happy man. Killer, huh?”

“Herb, one question –”

“What kinda question?”

“Did you actually read it?”

A moment passed before Herb Klein spoke again. “Isabelle did.”

“And Isabelle is?”

“My new assistant, who graduated from Brown last month.”

Begrudgingly, Pearl went to the first meeting scheduled, where a producer named Tina McGuire told him with a straight face that she could envision Beyonce and Bradley Cooper in the starring roles.

That was followed by a lunch in which a chubby guy named Mitchell Baum explained to him that his tale would be a perfect vehicle for Lady Gaga to star in and direct.

Then came meeting number three, in which Rich Graser, a prolific maker of films Pearl had never deigned to see, stated that he could imagine a marquee bearing the names Jennifer Lopez and Robert Downey Jr.

After the first meeting, Herb Klein called to express his delight. After the second, delight morphed into relentless gushing. After the third, the agent was positively orgasmic. “First I thought you were the flavor of the week,” he began. “But now you’re the absolute shit! If this were the mob, bro, you’d now be a Made Man!”

Despite the skepticism he had wore as protective armor, in off moments – while tossing and turning at 3 AM, trudging to the laundromat, or gulping at prices when he dared venture into Whole Foods – Barry Pearl found himself wondering if maybe, just maybe, Herb Klein was right.

Would that, he wondered, allow him not merely to be somebody in Hollywood, but also to get out of his stuffy studio apartment on a block where gunshots were heard through the night? And buy a car not always in danger of breaking down? And maybe replace the cap on his incisor that was turning yellow?

Though it disturbed Pearl that his grandiose dreams of following in the footsteps of Billy Wilder, Robert Rossen, and Jean-Luc Godard had given way to musings about not being eternally consigned to a marginal existence, it was gratifying to have something ressembling hope.

As an aficionado of movie cliches, Barry Pearl had long considered certain ones to be favorites. I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you topped his list, followed closely by It’s not what it looks like and I wouldn’t do that if I were you.

But he was even fonder of the trite sayings used in Hollywood shop talk. A Martian wouldn’t say that he considered a classic, and the same was true of You’ll never eat lunch in this town again.

To those, after an extended period of silence, he added one that was painfully autobiographical: There’s no such thing as a bad meeting, just zero follow-through.

That was what happened… or worse, failed to happen… with his tale about Flip Rosner. For what ensued was nothing but silence from all corners. Not a word from the producers, nor even a peep from Herb Klein.

Hope of salvation simply gave way to more coverage of monster movies, superheroes, and scripts about teenagers trying desperately to lose their virginity.

Only when copies of “Blues & Rhythm” arrived from England was there any further discussion of the article that had brought him fifteen minutes of Hollywood fame. That was when Barry Pearl drove Libby and Flip Rosner down to Langer’s Deli to celebrate the publication over pastrami sandwiches, egg creams, and sides of cole slaw.

 

ALAN SWYER is an award-winning filmmaker whose recent documentaries have dealt with Eastern spirituality in the Western world, the criminal justice system, diabetes, boxing, and singer Billy Vera. In the realm of music, among his productions is an album of Ray Charles love songs. His novel ‘The Beard’ was recently published by Harvard Square Editions.

Image via Pixabay

Jessie: A Pastoral – Kathryn Kulpa

Jessie’s mother always called the cows “my ladies.” She said a cow was a soft creature, with no malice. They showed malice to Jessie often enough, kicking over the pail during milking, but it was true that under her mother’s hand they stood patient as nuns. She sang to them, and sometimes Jessie swore she heard the cows sing too, soft and secret. Jessie wondered if those cows were the softest things in her mother’s life. Years of working in the sun had made a dried apple of her face, though she said her first young man had called her his lily of the valley. So fair I was, she said.

Jessie had never known that young man, and no pictures of him existed, nor any of her mother in her young beauty. Married at 17, Jessie’s mother sailed with her husband one weeping day, left Aberdeen and its misty rains forever. But that first husband died. Jessie’s father was old, older even than her mother. He didn’t sing, to cows or anyone else. She’d never known parents who were young and carefree. She’d never seen them kiss, never saw her mother put her arms around anyone except Mehitabel the cow. Jessie was only sixteen, but she’d already made up her mind: her life would have plenty of kisses in it, and none of them from cows.

 

KATHRYN KULPA is a flash fiction editor at Cleaver magazine and was a winner of the Vella Chapbook Contest for her flash collection Girls on Film(Paper Nautilus). Her work is published or forthcoming in Flash Flood, New Flash Fiction Review, Superstition Review, and Pithead Chapel. 

Image via Pixabay

Miniature Warrior – Christine Collinson

Resting atop my enormous belly, the healing-stone feels smooth and cool, but it does not lessen the waves of pain.

Beneath me, the rush mat is damp with sweat. My lady passes me a cup and I sip the mixture, breathing deeply of its vapours. It helped at first, although that seems long ago.

I’m not afraid of pain but I’m afraid for my child. In the early months I was out walking when a storm swept across Texcoco and lightning cleaved a tree near my path. It jolts me still; the split trunk severed like a broken bone, smoke from its fresh scar rising to meet the rain.

I told my husband my fears. “We must hold to our faith,” he said, wrapping me in his arms. “You cannot undo what you saw, Tayanna.”

All night I’ve lain here and now, through the small window, first light is showing. Market-sellers and farmers will soon be toiling as usual beneath the golden sun.

Of all my labours, it’s been the easiest; I’ve three children around my hearth already. I might relax, but the image of the stark white streak doesn’t fade; shock has blighted me and buried deep, perhaps to where my child is curled.

My next pains are the strongest yet and my lady comes close. I grasp her hand. “Nearly there, Tayanna,” she says, softly. Her serenity’s a balm more than I can say.

As the sun reaches its apex, my baby is born bellowing like a miniature warrior. He’s the loudest I’ve known and I’m engulfed by relief. My lady joins in, rhythmically chanting to praise his arrival.

My heart’s pounding a beat to the sounds around me. “Thank you, Xochiquetzal,” I whisper.

 

CHRISTINE COLLINSON writes historical short fiction. She’s been longlisted in the Bath Flash Fiction Award and by Reflex Flash Fiction. Her work has also appeared in Ellipsis Zine and FlashBack Fiction, among others. Find her on Twitter @collinson26.

Image via Pixabay

Create a website or blog at WordPress.com

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: