Nicole Matos can be examined in her corporeal form as the skater Nicomatose #D0A with the Chicago Outfit Roller Derby. In textual form, she has appeared in such journals as Callaloo, Small Axe, La Torre, and Rhizomes.
So it all started with the Robin Hood proposition — was there any way, if you were a dedicated citizen who really, truly wanted to be a good person, you could take from the rich and give to the poor?
Our first initiative, wholly self-styled, was to purchase several $1 pair of “gold” earrings from the Dollar Store, then take those earrings to the jewelry counter at Macy’s, where I would then try on real gold earrings, Noah admiring and distracting the salesclerk, and in the process return the cheap ones to the salesclerk and the real ones to the rack at the Dollar Store. A poor person would unwittingly triumph, a rich person would be cheated. It worked perfectly, though I sweat bullets the entire time.
Next we decided we’d be cookout fairies — like tooth fairies, or fairy godmothers — which meant that Noah stole some nice cuts of meat from the market, something people did all the time, frozen steaks stuffed in their jackets and down their pants. We’d drive around looking for poor people, offering to trade them our better meat in exchange for hot dogs and hamburgers. Neither of us yet had our learner’s permits, but we did have the Datsun Noah’s brother left us when he went to Colorado, when he went to jail, and anyway we knew how to drive just fine, so we drove around carefully until we came to a ratty apartment building with people grilling outside, a child’s birthday party. We couldn’t see very clearly from the road, and only once we were fully committed and walking up through the yard did we realize everyone at the party was black. From the way the group was watching us I had the sense it wasn’t going to work, but Noah decided to sing out a great big confident, “Hello!” like we’d all been friends for ages, and strode forward, buffeted by purpose. He promptly launched into his explanation, his voice too loud in detailing the whole theory behind the meat exchange.
“Sorry, we must be lost!” I interrupted. “We’re looking for his cousin!” Almost too quickly the tension broke, like they were all so glad for a reasonable explanation as to what we were doing at their party with gifts of meat, and furthermore they laughed. Meanwhile, I’ve got Noah by the arm, dragging him backward to the car, pissing him off for aborting Mission No. 2 prematurely.
Our final mission unfolded like this: we’re rummaging through stuff Noah’s sister got in a charity basket from the church. We come across a meal voucher for the country club in our blasted-out unscenic shell of a city. Noah starts to rail against the institution, and the more he talks the more it seems possible that this country club, our very own, could in fact be a locus of evil. So our plan is this: we’ll dress up as poor people, take the gift certificate to the country club, and see how they treat us. If they treat us OK, we’ll eat and leave without further action. If they don’t, we’ll become continue our activism, reveal our true identities and launch a counteroffensive.
Dressing up as poor people is surprisingly easy — we can pretty much do it with the things we already have. The trick seems to be just to try too hard, too earnestly — overapply that eyeliner, that hairspray, do it like you really mean it, shine your cheap shoes. So we hop in the Datsun to find the country club, a lodge-looking building wedged in between the landfill and the industrial park. There’s a golf course and everything, but we walk through a mirrored hallway into the restaurant proper, and it’s a huge disappointment — the place is dark and nondescript and the only other people are the one waitress and a cook watching TV. Of course, everything goes wrong. Noah talks too loud, making too big a deal about our ignorance and our poverty and our charity certificate, and the waitress is rolling her eyes and nodding, but it’s also clear she isn’t really listening and doesn’t really care. She’s probably poor herself — oldish and grey-toned with brown teeth. Noah radically mispronounces soup du jour and finally that brings a kind of smirk — a look of, yes, superiority. And I can just feel Noah click into gear, he got it, it’s starting to work, we’re going to get to turn the tables and have our battle. Have our war.
I get up abruptly and go into the bathroom. I look in the mirror and I don’t know what I’m doing. I take a long piece of toilet paper and I spit on it and stick it to my sharp-heeled cheap shiny shoe, and I walk gingerly back to the table. Noah is convinced he’s heard the waitress and the cook in the back laughing at us, the soup du jow-er, and now he wants to give them a piece of our minds, right now, right away. There’s no way he’s leaving, a man on fire. The plan has unsprung some secret and terrible latch in him — and here comes the waitress, right on time with the food, and Noah carefully stands up, and it’s for all the world like he’s President Lincoln — he’s got that quiet, serious, deserving dignity, ready to speak — and the waitress halts where she is, ready to listen, and I turn and reel, in that wavery trailing-toilet-paper way, back into the hall.
At the very end, just stepping through the doorway, is a woman followed by a man in suit and tie. And I’m picking up speed and the woman is half-turned in conversation and hasn’t seen me yet, and then she does see me, and she looks, in that second I come swimming toward her face, so nice. She looks like she might be an architect, or a doctor, or a kindergarten teacher at one of those expensive Italian kindergartens. And it strikes me that she could be a grown-up me, my twin, the woman I’m going to be, after the college I’ll go to, and the professional school, the career — and she looks so kind and concerned and so possible that I just want to throw myself into her arms and beg for her to help me, to save me, to tell her I’m so sorry, so confused, so very sorry. The clothes she’s wearing are the filmy kind that come in layers, and I can see now, as I’m almost on her, that that’s the way you do it. A haircut with chunks laying different ways on purpose, and clothes that close with clasps in shapes instead of buttons.
But then I’m past her, actually running into her, partly, and her companion who gives a sharp suck of breath, and I’m hearing belatedly the commotion, Noah waving the gift certificate around and pronouncing that he won’t give the waitress a tip, but he will leave a tip, a life-tip, a tip for living — a long speech, something like that.
* * *
And years later, long after I’d gone off to college thinking we’d completely lost touch, Noah called me late one night from the Army to tell me they were kicking him out, that he started wetting the bed, or that he did something crazy with his unloaded gun — actually both, I can’t remember exactly, it was a confusing story — that he was falling apart, they called it some kind of break, they were kicking him out. And he kept crying and telling me it didn’t work, he was sorry, I’m so sorry, sorry, and I held the phone so hard it left a dent in my head and repeated that maybe I was sorry, or that maybe, if we were lucky, we could hope, there was nothing, nothing, nothing to be sorry for.
Rowan edits Untoward Magazine and has been published in (or has work forthcoming in Emprise Review, Red Lightbulbs, Everyday Genius, Metazen, and others. You can find him on Facebook if you’re looking for a friend.
“It would be better for him and it would be better for us if he no longer existed.” So had words been written in their implacable red ink, referencing the failure of an esteemed senior party member to smile. Party bylaws dictated that in order even to be considered for party membership one must always smile. One must show one’s bright teeth, which needn’t be white but certainly bright. This was the command of the general secretary, all the way at the very top.
Surgeries were granted to those in the party who worried they might be caught without an acceptable smile.
VERBOTEN! and a picture of, among other expressions, a frown were drawn to posters, which appeared around the capital city. The capital city was the city in which almost all decisions of this nature were decided. Another such decision was that party membership was required.
You were either in the party, smiling, or not and in prison, about to die or dead.
Except for one man, who was still not admitted to the party though he smiled as hard as anyone and damned if he hadn’t attempted every conceivable recourse.
He worked in a mail room at the consulate of an ambassador from a nearby state, where things were handled differently than how the party preferred. He was disturbed by the trend of differences he observed. And he continued to intercept and censor mail that went through his purview, all with hopes of ingratiating himself to the party and, subsequently, gaining entry. Instead, he was fired by the consulate.
Now jobless and penniless (he had spent much of all he had on smile-widening surgeries), he wandered the capital city as a vagabond. He remembered being told by a very old party member, when at age 19 he’d first applied for membership and been denied, “Give it time, my boy, just time. Things like this take time, and not everyone makes it on the first try. Just give it time and patience. Time and time again, that’s what’s needed, only time. Time and patience. Just realize that time is the course, proper and good. And have I yet mentioned patience? Why I remember the time I first joined the party, yes, that took time. So much time, but then it happened, in due time. Now’s time for you and I to go our separate ways, due time. I will no doubt see you tomorrow.” The man never saw the old man again, though not because either had in some way shoved off their mortal coils or become otherwise bedridden and/or detained by scheduling conflicts. They simply were not to cross paths again.
And contrary to what the old man had said, everyone was granted membership after the first attempt, because by law you must be in the party or in prison, and few chose the latter of these options. The man and only the man was left lingering on the outside, like a clerical error smiling brightly and, even, whitely.
But it had been no clerical error. Something that could be described as sinister was in play. The general secretary wrote this of the man who wished to be in the party, repeating a phrase which had now become his usual refrain in such circumstances: “It would be better for him and it would be better for us if he no longer existed.” It was one of the general secretary’s few good lines, and he liked to make use of it whenever he could. It was furthermore all he had written regarding the matter of the man’s party status, which was plenty enough to seal the man’s permanent partylessness. There was little made public in the way of why.
But if one investigated a bit more deeply one could easily determine why the man had been singled out. Despite what the man had thought to be the case, the case was that he — like marginalized groups of previously extant totalitarian regimes, Jews, Bourgeoisie, intellectuals and so forth — was at heart the single cause of the state’s various economic, social, cultural, historical, philosophical and political woes. He was the lone scapegoat to which all problems of every nature were indefatigably yoked. It had been routinely stated that he refused, on principle, to smile — no matter how hard beatings were meted as consequence.
And slowly his rights were removed. Anti-vagabond laws went into effect, and he was thrashed with truncheons as a matter of patriotic duty by those with whom he crossed paths. The saddest of all of these thrashings was one delivered by an old woman who much resembled the man’s grandmother, and against whom he wouldn’t have attempted to defend himself regardless. She thrashed him most spiritedly of all.
The man, whose name was Abe, subsisted on nothing and gradually grew sallow and gaunt. And soon he finally died. He died in a gutter, while someone urinated on him as he clawed listlessly for help. And he was conscious of the warmth of the piss stream, which was the most warmth he’d ever experienced in his short miserable life. But let’s not allow such qualifiers to lessen the fact that he was definitely pissed on whilst he died. He expired in a puddle of urine, at which point, at least, he presumably felt nothing, and hopefully that was an improvement.
Abe wasn’t missed. In fact, some opined that he may well be alive and in need of doing away with yet. They searched for him up high and down low, and in so searching, killed probably more than a few innocent people.
Meanwhile, the secret police continued disappearing people, which included the general secretary, whom no one had seen in a really long time.
We’re happy to announce that All Hands On contributors Lauren Pretnar, Heather Palmer and Michael Zapata will join novelist Brigid Pasulka for an event of the Chicago Sunday Salon series on, well, a Monday. Details follow in the press release, but a big thanks goes out to the organizers for keeping this series going. Pick up a copy of the book there, or order here.
Event Moves to Monday this Month
In its ongoing efforts to showcase outstanding local literary organizations and publications as well as writers, Sunday Salon Chicago dedicates September’s reading to THE2NDHAND, a Chicago/Nashville literary magazine. Three writers featured in All Hands On: THE2NDHAND After 10, will read at this month’s event: Heather Palmer, Lauren Pretnar and Michael Zapata. And, to celebrate the return of school here in Chicago, novelist and Whitney Young teacher Brigid Pasulka will also read.
Sunday Salon Chicago is a monthly literary reading series featuring local and national authors.
When: Monday, Sept. 26, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Katerina’s, 1920 W. Irving Park Rd.
Heather Palmer, author of Complements, Of Us and contributor to THE2NDHAND.
Lauren Pretnar, contributor to THE2NDHAND.
Michael Zapata, co-founder, MAKE magazine, editor at ANTIBOOKCLUB and contributor to THE2NDHAND.
Brigid Pasulka, author of A Long, Long Time Ago and Essentially True.
For more information, visit http://www.sundaysalon.com/chicago-salon.
Founded in Chicago in the year 2000, THE2NDHAND’s literary broadsheet and online magazine has been in the business of publishing fiction writing in various forms since the year 2000. This year, THE2NDHAND celebrates its first decade in existence with the publication of All Hands On: THE2NDHAND After 10, a reader including a large amount of unpublished work as well as previously published writing.
Chicago-based Heather Palmer (illustrated here by Rob Funderburk) is the author of Complements, Of Us, out in 2011 from Spork Press; her work has been published in a variety of magazines. In 2010 THE2NDHAND serialized her novella “Charlie’s Train” at THE2NDHAND.com, parts of which were excerpted in All Hands On.
Lauren Pretnar, who first contributed to THE2NDHAND in 2007, lives with her family in Chicago, where she remains hard at work on a book-length domestic horror. Past work in the Chicago arts community includes extensive experience in theater.
Michael Zapata is a writer and educator living in Chicago. He is a co-founder of MAKE: A Chicago Literary Magazine and works as an editor for ANTIBOOKCLUB. He is also a 2008 Illinois Arts Council Fellowship recipient for prose. Currently, he has been nominated for a Puschart Prize and is working on a novel entitled Children of Orleans.
The descendant of Polish immigrants, Brigid Pasulka spent most of her childhood in a farming township in Northern Illinois, population 500. In 1994 at the age of 22, she arrived in Krakow with no place to stay, no job, no contacts and no knowledge of the language. She quickly fell in love with the place, learned Polish, and decided to live there for one year. Brigid is still a frequent visitor to Krakow; she has also worked, studied or volunteered in Italy, Germany, Russia, England and Ukraine. She is a graduate of Dartmouth College, the Program for Writers at the University of Illinois at Chicago (MA) and currently teaches at Whitney Young Magnet High School in the Chicago Public Schools. A Long, Long Time Ago and Essentially True is her first novel. It won the 2010 Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award and was a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection.
Find Chicago writer Pine’s second story for THE2NDHAND below. For more of his work, visit his site.
He’d be dead before lunch, if the mark showed up. But there were all sorts of cops in the Loop: on bicycles, on dune buggies, in squad cars, on horses, on Segways — a clash of transportation eras, downtown, at least when cops were involved. The mark was late.
The sun fell between buildings in milky strands and the air was cool, which gave the day an autumnal feel, although this happened in early spring. He wore sunglasses, a windbreaker, and carried a folded Redeye. He paced, trying to look like he wasn’t pacing. Intermittently, he took pictures on a disposable camera of the buildings he thought might appeal to tourists. The camera was out of film, but he continued to raise it to his eye, align the viewfinder with glass window grids, and press the button.
He was looking for three officers traveling on foot, two men and a woman, career friends to all appearances. Most days they walked out of the pedway beside the cultural center, laughing, twirling billy clubs, walking three abreast and entirely dominating the sidewalk. If he’d done any more planning, he’d have learned the cops’ names — or maybe he wouldn’t have, because that’d’ve meant getting close enough to read their nametags, and they might’ve read the look in his eyes, and that’d’ve spoiled everything.
But he knew their routine — hopefully that was enough — how nearly every day for lunch they cut over to Jewelers Row on Wabash, beneath the El tracks. One by one, they filled the doorway of a diamond shop, where in the back the owner maintained a falafel counter. Many times he’d watched them order three lentil soups, three chicken shawarmas, and three cans of Diet Pepsi. The male cops were white, with matching push-broom mustaches and large guts that squeezed from their bulletproof vests like frosting from Double Stuff Oreos. The female cop was also white, with a lesser gut and a fainter mustache. Most days, they took lunch between 12:45 and 1:30. But then some days they never came, and he didn’t know why, and there was no pattern to it. It was 1:35. Most days, they came.
He waited, and for a change, he was lucky. Real lucky, because just as the three cops came out of the Pedway, huffing from the double flight of stairs, a Brown Line train approached overhead going north, and a Green Line train looped overhead going south. This was too perfect! This was great luck! he thought, as he threw away the sunglasses and disposable camera. He took an X-Acto knife from his pocket and slipped off the safety cap. He crouched beside the door to the diamond shop.
Carrick is a native Chicagoan, and he studied under Bill Knott and John Skoyles during M.A. work at Emerson College in Boston. Currently a senior editor at the University of Chicago Press, artist and new dad, Carrick also digs “trying to cook foods that are delicious,” he says. Check out some of his artwork here.
It was a Mission Hill mid-rise, tired and white, with bad natural light—the artificial light inside was worse. The kitchen was the size of a minute, and cars wheezed down the Riverway all day. Good thing Boston beds down early: There were few night cars, and it is within the deep night when the most important decisions have to be made.
My preliminary sketches were in order. Our apartment building had a wooden roofdeck, and this is where I had spread out graph paper during mid-March afternoons, when the starlings returned, and made the initial calculations. I used blue pencils and black pens, for the sky and for the skeleton. It could be no other way. On a late-April evening I began to build my martyr machine.
I lost a finger during the construction, but it was a very small price to pay for the salvation of your soul. The ropes would be of nylon and arachnid, and woven in the chill just before dawn, when the web slept; they would, of course, be five in number, and each would have to be secured, on one end, to an iron kettle. The space needed for the kettles initially caused me much anguish, because you always need a good and free pendulum, but I made a remarkable discovery on the day that green (spring) was reborn. The starlings had ascended from the arms of the oaks, revealing the gap. I would build upward from the deck into the twittering black that will always, if we wait too long, turn back into blue.
You received a religion from the chocolate racecars, a Valentine’s Day gift from a boyhood boyfriend who died. I thought that was sweet. I also thought you mascara-stamped the epitome of cool on my collar when you cried for the Bactrian camels, who survive on dry grass and salt water. But you were not sincere, as it turns out, and there would of course be consequences.
There was a system of pulleys and a seat cushion that needed to be measured and installed, but I am unable to communicate the explanation without using numbers, so I am going to have to ask you to trust me. You deserve nothing but mathematics, but today is an unusual day — I am in a verbal mood and unable at the moment, in this fury of release, to jeopardize the whole affair by fussing with the numbers. It did not involve a composite number. That is all I can say.
Finally that day came, in late July, when you took me by the hand and led me to the roof, the source of the heat. The sky was the color of liquid silver as you settled into your seat. I began to attach the ropes to your waist and limbs, and a single starling alit on the steel shore of your slander. You reached for the wrong ropes, fed up, and completed the movements that the machine was going to make anyway, despite you. You couldn’t find a word. You may smile, but you are now tied in golden knots behind my back.
THE2NDHAND’s 10th-anniversary collection is out and available — for ordering info, check out the books page.
Drive twelve hours straight puffing log after log. KC, Nic, Jer, and T in tow, followed by Germy, Mom, and Hee. Spend the majority of the time locked in the master bedroom burning through a couple ounces while Mom reclines outside reading Danielle Steel. Toss beer bottles off the balcony.
To impress everyone I poop in a pizza box and heave it onto the patio below. The only time we leave is to go play Lasertag stoned to the bone. To the tune of Welcome to the Jungle we beat the shit out of each other midst smoke and blacklights.
Every other Saturday
Grocery shopping at Becker’s requires Mom to make a list of every meal she will fix for the next two weeks. Each plate must contain a meat entree and two color-coordinated vegetable sides. After she grabs a cart Hee and me run off to flip through teen magazines.
I do not kill my animals
No, no, no, hey, I got it. I got it. The boys yap as they surround me. I stick my glove up in the air with all the others and come down with the ball winning the 1989 K-Town World Series at Barry Elzey field. That ‘s about all I do that day besides spilling Big Mac sauce all over me at the afterparty. For my heroics the coach’s son gives me a carnival goldfish he won.
They die in a couple of days anyway, so you can keep him.
Well, mine doesn’t. I call him Sarge and put him in a cereal bowl filled with tap water. Cats keep dipping and he keeps flopping out so I cover the bowl with netting.
Since he lives longer than expected and stinks up the kitchen he’s exiled to Marion’s goldfish pond, where he’ll be with his friends, Mom tells me. I visit and try to pick him out of the murk, but they all look the same.
Mom later confesses to flushing him down the toilet.