If you love, adore the moon. If you rob, steal a camel.




Stories for the Long Silk Road

Sunday, December 16, 2012

KJ Hannah Greenberg: Defense

Honorable Milktoe George Wallibun II, Regional Magistrate,

Last week, Ducky Earl, owner of Galactic Leveraging and Landscaping Service of The Milky Way, gave me an estimate for some work. Mr. Earl said it would cost Intergalactic Standard 245.00 to subdue four specimens, and an additional Intergalactic Standard 174.00 to move them, plus any other species (up to 1 rocket’s worth), to Bode’s Galaxy from my home in The Virgo Cluster. Mr. Earl also said it would cost Intergalactic Standard 262.00 to reintegrate those specified beasts. Last, he quoted me an additional cost of Intergalactic Standard 40.00, per man-hour, for subduing and transporting any additional large species and an additional 29.00, per man-hour for subsequent, but less skilled ,work. I agreed to those terms and paid him a deposit of Intergalactic Standard 500.00 on June 1.

On June 6, Galactic Leveraging subdued the four indicated specimen. The work took longer than the Mr. Earl had estimated. As a result, Galactic Leveraging only subdued three of the seven hydras I had wanted transported, citing that the company lacked time to subdue more. As a result, my large red pyrohydra, my colony of cryohydra, and others of my mature specimens, were left behind. In about half of an hour, Galactic Leveraging loaded, onto two of their rockets, all of the available reintegratable materials, both what Galactic Leveraging had subdued and what a neighbor’s teenager had subdued prior to Galactic Leverageing’s arrival.

Once in Bode’s Galaxy, Galactic Leveraging interned the four large items. Galactic Leveraging did terminate two chimeras in order to do so and did move one chthonic water beast away from its destined location. Meanwhile, since Galactic Leveraging had such a long haul, I had the star cluster’s best ethnic restaurant restock their galley and I shipped them classic Coke from my own personal larder.

Galactic Leveraging interned nothing else for me during that span since Mr. Earl said it was imperative for his team to go home. Thus, three of the precious hydras of mine, that had been transported, were left uninterned. All of the other members of my menagerie, which made transport, too, were left uninterned (and remain that way to this day-I have lost thousands of Intergalactic Standard units on dead and dying specimens). Meanwhile, I gave the Mr. Earl another 500.00 and suggested we figure out the balance when he returned to reintegrate the remaining hydras.

His people did not return until June 20, after many pulse messages from me, to reintegrate the hydras (are a large variant of the species, about eight Galactic in circumference). Galactic Leveraging interned them where there was no room for any further hydras to grow. Mr. Earl acknowledged that he was aware that one of the hydras would suffer stunting given the location in which he had had his men locate it. So I asked them to rereintegrate all of the transported hydras, never dreaming they would charge me for correcting their error.

While the men were working on the hydras, the Mr. Earl and I sat down to discuss billing. We agreed on: the Intergalactic Standard 245.00, the Intergalactic Standard174.00 and the Intergalactic Standard 262.00 charges (see above) to a total of Intergalactic Standard 681.00. We did not agree on the Intergalactic Standard100.00 extra Mr. Earl asked me to pay for the second rocket.

As a negotiation strategy, I asked Mr. Earl to estimate the actual time it took his crew to subdue, to transport and to reintegrate the three leftover hydras, to terminate the two chimeras and to make hash out of the small, but lethal, gelatinous blue flying quip that Mr. Earl found when his men interned the three hydras.

Mr. Earl asked for eight and one half extra man hours, en total:
* one extra man hours for loading;
* one extra man hour for unloading
* one and one half extra man hours for terminating the chimeras and the gelatinous flying quip
* three extra man hours for working with the hydras
*two and one half extra man hours for miscellaneous fees, including the time involved in rushing a worker to a galactic hospital
For a total of 8 ½ extra man hours beyond Galactic Leveraging’s initial estimate at a cost of an additional Intergalactic Standard 681.00

In sum,
At Intergalactic Standard 29.00/hr, 8.5 extra hours =Intergalactic Standard 246.50.
At Intergalactic Standard 40.00/hr, 8.5 extra hours=Intergalactic Standard 340.00.  Intergalactic Standard 681.00 + Intergalactic Standard 246.50=Intergalactic Standard 927.50;
Intergalactic Standard 681.00 +Intergalactic Standard 340.00 =Intergalactic Standard1021.00.

I told Mr. Earl we could settle the tens of Intergalactic Standards later, when he finished reintegrateing my smaller specimens. He already had Intergalactic Standard1,000.00 of my money in the form of a deposit.

In answer, Mr. Earl fumed and fussed about the hours that his crew had used to subdue and to reintegrate the above listed specimens. He said that the work had taken two or three times what he had estimated.

I acknowledged that, in hindsight, he had underestimated, but offered to pay him no extra for that error. I would not have hired him had I thought it would cost twice what his written estimate had stated.

I had to leave my new Bode’s Galaxy home to conclude some business in The Virgo Cluster. When I returned, rather than finding others of my specimens reintegrated, I found Mr. Earl, his men, their rockets, and their tools gone.

On June 29th, I received a statement from Mr. Earl claiming that I owed him an additional Intergalactic Standard 1,046.00. He also mailed to me official paperwork, which he wanted mailed back to him, claiming that his work was a capital improvement and therefore not subject to tax (form enclosed).

On the statement, the Mr. Earl charged me for the labors that I had executed myself or that I had hired a neighbor’s kid to complete. What’s more, Mr. Earl charged me for many more man hours than he had orally specified in our conversation of June 20, i.e. for twenty-five man hours of unloading specimens, rather than for the half hour he had originally claimed. He charged, too, for “consultation with customer on reintegration placement.” That latter business was nonsense since I, myself, had made the drawings of where each species was to be placed in my biological gardens, including the destined locations for the specimens Mr. Earl had failed to subdue or to move for me. Finally, Mr. Earl also meant to charge me for relocating the last three hydras even though he, himself, had admitted that he had botched that job.

I was shocked at that letter. First, Mr. Earl hadn’t even tried to contact me via pulsing channels. Second, the nature of the letter amazed me. “Audacious” seems a polite term for Mr. Earl’s behavior.

On the advice of a friend, I waited to sort out my sentiments before responding. Thus, it happened that I received a second copy of Mr. Earl’s June 29’s letter on July 24 and he had heard nothing from me.

Again, I was counseled to wait. On August 19, I received a third copy of his letter with a warning attached that Mr. Earl would be seeking legal remedy.

Today, Sept. 22, I received a certified letter (having received a fourth, uncertified, copy in today’s mail). Those letters summon me to small claims court. Mr. Earl thinks I should pay Galactic Leveraging and Landscaping Service of The Milky Way the additional Intergalactic Standard 1,046.00 that he has “documented” in his series of mailings, plus that I should pay his Intergalactic Standard 16.00 court filing fee.

I think I should pay Galactic Leveraging Intergalactic Standard100.00 for the extra rocket, only. If there are other fees to be adjudicated, it’s the case that Mr. Earl owes me. Many of my specimen collection was neither subdued nor shipped. In addition, my zoo called for the reintegration of all seven of my hydras, not merely for the three that he chose to subdue on his second trip to Bode’s Galaxy. Even those three fared poorly, having grown impossibly wild during the weeks between their arrival and their internment.  I believe that Mr. Earl needs, as well, to reimburse me for the specimens that rotted in his crates when left at the star port.

Please advise, at your first convenience, a suitable remedy. My garden is destroyed. I do not want that bandit to have the pleasure of ruining my pocket money, too.

Sincerely,
Clarence P. Snickleberry

Monday, December 3, 2012

M.N. O'Brien: Mr. Bennett's Holes

Robert Bennett arrived in Jefferson some years ago, wearing a navy blue suit and round red spectacles. He had purchased a sizable plot of land of twelve square acres in the remote part of town, south of the railroad. Since his arrival, Mr. Bennett had caused quite a stir of gossip in the small New England community. It was not his high-end attire that caused the commotion, though it likely accumulated some ill will towards the man at first; the town was quite poor economically, and such a well-dressed man is bound to be observed with tempered speculation. The main concern of the town involved Mr. Bennett’s use of the land he acquired.

The plot of land was fertile and ideal for farming an impressive array of crops. As various planting seasons came and went without produce being grown from Mr. Bennett’s land, the townspeople came to wonder why a lucrative investment opportunity was going to waste. Then one day, Mr. Bennett walked out upon his land in denim overalls and red flannel shirt and started to dig.

The townspeople quieted down for a respectable amount of time, rationalizing that Mr. Bennett was finally going to put his land to good use. After several weeks had passed from any ideal growing season, Mr. Bennett continued to dig holes all over his property. Rumors spread across town as to the reasoning behind Mr. Bennett’s holes.

Theories grew across town from both sides of the tracks. Mrs. Williston hypothesized Mr. Bennett was digging holes for graves for a future apocalyptic war or famine. Harold Bridges son, Jack, thought Mr. Bennett was trying to dig for oil. Dr. Jamieson, the dentist, believed that Mr. Bennett was constructing a minefield. Some people thought Mr. Bennett was digging for fossils, others thought he was some sort of geologist, and conducting a study of the area, for some scientific reason. The townspeople became divided into schools of thought in regards to the purpose of Mr. Bennett’s holes.

Several more bold speculators inquired Mr. Bennett as to what he was doing. Jeff Higgins would stop by every few days, lean on the rickety old post-and-rail wooden fence that bordered Mr. Bennett’s land from the road and shouted inquiries and offers to aid him in his task. Higgins would jokingly ask Mr. Bennett if he was trying to get to China. All the inquiries went unanswered by Mr. Bennett. Though the townspeople were frustrated with the man, it was only when Mrs. Everett came home from the supermarket one day when anyone from the town felt threatened by Mr. Bennett’s peculiar actions.

Mrs. Everett had finished putting her groceries away and was about to call her son Bill to get ready for dinner when she spotted him in the backyard. Bill was digging a hole. When asked by his mother what purpose he had digging a hole in the backyard, Bill replied, “Why not?”

Soon, several of the children of began digging holes in their parents’ lawn. The trend caused such a significant outcry from members of both the church and the PTA, that the town had a meeting at City Hall to discuss a possible solution, and cast blame on the responsible party. Mr. Bennett was not in attendance.

Mrs. Howard, head of the PTA, told members of the council in a firm voice that Mr. Bennett was having a negative impact on Jefferson's youth, as well as Jefferson’s image by ruining the town’s aesthetic quality with a bunch of holes. Several uproarious citizens shouted in agreement. One person shouted the suggestion that the whole community go over to Mr. Bennett’s house and fill all his holes. This created laughter among the children who were in attendance, but the adults found the laughter more reason to dislike Mr. Bennett. Another concerned parent asked what right Mr. Bennett had, keeping his head underground all day.

After several more outbursts, the committee issued a cease and desist order to Mr. Bennett. The order forbid Mr. Bennett to dig holes that were not going to be used for crops. In addition, Mr. Bennett was to fill the existing holes on his property. The order was delivered to Mr. Bennett’s house through mail, as none of the local authorities wished to confront Mr. Bennett, as curious as they were to witness the man’s reaction.

Within two weeks of receiving the order, Mr. Bennett filled the holes on his property and sold it back at a fraction of the price. It was presumed that Mr. Bennett had returned to where he came, though it is unknown if he knew the reason why he was ordered to fill up his holes. The citizens couldn’t care less. The town of Jefferson returned to its life without any holes.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

David Weisberg: Salt

What had he done? Something bad. What had she done in the dark room? Something bad with her eyes closed. Something bad with her mouth open and he hurting her and she letting him. The next morning my elbow didn’t hurt and the bed was wet and Mama was frying bacon and he was gone.

He walked back in with a cigarette paper stuck by sweat to his palm. Thumb and forefinger pinched the tobacco, rubbing together like a cricket’s legs. Brown and black, dry, he rolled it in the paper with one hand and lit it with the other. Mama was on the couch but she got up and grabbed him. It was hot. The fan wasn’t working. The windows stuck shut and they shut the door behind them.

I watched through the crack. Mama’s pale skin thick with veins, her legs curled around him. Outline of his body pressed against hers, she moved backward when he moved forward; that when her back arched his body bent too; that if her head fell back his mouth fell to her neck, or if it bent forward his chin rested on her shoulder.  They never asked each other if they could. I didn’t ask if I could watch either, because some nights they waited for me to go to sleep, or because some nights Mama sent me outside to get wood when he got there, or because some nights when he got there he touched her in the living room and I saw and she looked at me and bent her eyebrows like she was angry and then sent me to bed like it was me who done something wrong.

But sometimes she’d sit us down and fixed up some chicken legs, or some steak, or a bowl of pasta, or some fish. I didn’t like fish— she gutting it first, then scaling it, then washing the body but leaving the head because he liked to eat the eyes. Some salt on it wet quick and disappearing. Then she’d dash some pepper, I could count them all but didn’t know if I could, all the black and gray specks. Fish on the pan jaw stuck open waiting to die again, and I thought he was trying to scream, or maybe just trying to sing a long note, or maybe got some salt in its mouth and trying to clear his throat.

She was on the couch most nights sweating, legs together, hands on her lap, eyes moving from the TV to the door. Her hairs stuck to the side of her face and crossed over each other like the vines on the tree behind the house. I used to watch her pick at them, pull them off, press them back against her head. I’d ask her what she was waiting for and her lips would purse and her chin would tremble and she’d tell me to go back to my markers, to bring over the laundry, to get some more meat from the freezer in the shed and set it in water to defrost for the morning. Sometimes she’d forget to tell me to come inside from playing and I’d come in from the dark and her eyes would be wet and she wouldn’t even notice. But lots of times Mama’d be in bed already and I’d be watching TV with the lights off and he’d come through the door in his gray jacket and hang it on the hook on the door and all the light through the window from the porch lantern as he bent to remove his boots. 

He came as the night coming, passing over the trees and the lawn and the car and the windowsills and into her room—his teeth like a slice of moon, beading stars down his shoulder,  the whites of his eyes when they were open and watching her like the lights of a car behind us when we’d drive home late from town. Or like animal eyes in the dark that I watched through my window. Or like the time I poured pepper all over the fish when she wasn’t watching so you could barely see the flesh anymore but kept the eyes clear because I knew Mama’d get mad. I thought she’d like that but she just threw it out and microwaved some chicken nuggets and sent me to bed.

And when I watched I always thought that’s not Mama, that’s just the night making noises. That’s just the wail of the cicada and the growl of the coyote. That’s just the hoot of the owl, the purr of the mountain lion. That’s just the sound of the chicken clucking in the barn, or the snake that bit me in the field, hissing in the dark. That’s just the fish if it jumped right out of the lake, oiled and peppered in the pan, waiting for the oven, singing.




Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Jim Ethridge: Let ‘er Rip

It was the spring of ’53, and we were preparing for our end of school program.  I believe all schools did this back then, and it was a big deal.  We prepared for it diligently.

The 3rd grade was to sing several songs, and I remember one I was especially taken with, “How Much is That Doggie in the Window”.  Patti Page made this song very popular in ’53.

We were all lined up ready to rehearse on the stage for the first time.  I was front row center and could not wait to share my talents and my zeal for this song with the others.  Mrs. Kennedy cued us, the music started, and I began to belt out, “How much is that doggie in the window, the one with the . . .”

“Stop, stop, just a moment.”  She approached me in her kindly manner.  (I deeply loved this teacher.)  She said she thought it might sound better if I moved back to the middle row.  I gladly obliged, knowing she knew more about music than I.  We were all in our new positions and began again.  “How much is that doggie in the window, the one with the wagglely tail . . .”

I belted out even louder to make up for being one row back, when again dear Mrs. Kennedy said, “Just a minute, please.”  She approached me and whispered in my ear.  “Jimmy, your voice is so powerful I don’t think the other parents will be able to hear their children.  Would you mind moving to the back row?”

“Sure,” I thought, “with my powerful voice, I carry this group through this song.”  And again we began.  Now I really had to let ‘er rip because I was all the way in the back.  “How much is that doggie in the window?  The one with the wagglely tail.  How much is that doggie in the window?  I do hope that doggie’s for sale . . .”

“Just a moment,” came from Mrs. Kennedy.  As she approached me and laid her hand on my shoulder I was beaming.  Then she whispered in my ear as she led me aside, “Jimmy the other children’s voices just don’t seem to be able to blend with yours.  Would you mind just standing in the back row and moving your mouth like you’re singing, but don’t let any sound come out?”

Even at nine years old, I had not just fallen off a turnip truck.  That was my awakening.  I could not sing.  Mrs. Kennedy tried to be as nice as possible, but she must have known had she not intervened, the kids would begin to make fun of me.  (And they would have; kids are cruel.)  I’m sure in her mind she could envision my family in total embarrassment at the program.  Thus ended my public singing for these fifty-seven years.

Eight years later, in the spring of my junior year, I met a special girl.  Again back in those days and perhaps even now, when a boy and a girl felt that special magic, that tingling feeling all over, and the butterflies in the stomach, when that kind of relationship occurred, almost always they danced at sox hops or played the juke box at the corner drug store or listened to the car radio on a country road until the battery ran down.  They would pick a song, and it would be “our song”.  Like no one else could hear it or enjoy it.  It was their song!  It did not matter if you broke up at the end of the summer or loved blossomed and you were together for a life time, wherever you were years later when you heard that song, the miles and the years did not matter.  Your thoughts would return to that special time and place, and those special feeling would return for just a moment as they played “our song”.

Our song happened to be “The Twelfth of Never” by Johnny Mathis, and I was lucky that my feelings survived not only the summer of ’59 but for fifty more summers.

As I’ve grown older some things seem less important to me.  Christmas does not excite me as it once did.  It’s mostly for children.  As I have advanced in age, birthdays have almost become a time for mourning.  I’ve never been good at anniversaries or valentines.  What are roses and candy?  Only wilt and flab in a few days.  But unique gifts are rare and long remembered.  A few years ago as Valentine’s Day approached, I happened to hear “The Twelfth of Never” on the radio, and the old thoughts returned that had so long gone dormant.  So I came up with what I thought was a very unique gift for my wife.  I looked up the words to “The Twelfth of Never”.  I practiced it a few times.  No sense wasting a lot of time.  Mrs. Kennedy was right.  I got out the tape recorder and without accompaniment of any kind I just began to sing.  “You ask how much I need you . . . must I explain . . .”  And finished with “Un-til the twelfth of nev-er and that’s a long, long time.  Eat your heart out Johnny Mathis.  Love you, Jim.”

I just laid the tape and the player on her bed and said nothing.  That night when she went to bed, I could hear the tape through her closed door.  When it finished she did not come out, so I gently peeked in to see my wife of many years wiping the tears from her face.  I know the singing was bad, but it was not the bad singing that brought out these tears.  It was the thoughtfulness or the look into the past that prompted them.

Mrs. Kennedy was right, and what she did was motivated, I’m sure, by her kindness to me, my family, and the other children.  Having said that, I believe there is still a time to just let ‘er rip.  So here goes.  You people are so lucky this is the written word and not an audio version.

“How much is that doggie in the window?
The one with the waggely tail.
How much is that doggie in the window?
I do hope that doggie’s for sale.
I must take a trip to California . . .”

“Oh, Jimmy, Jimmy.  Just a moment . . .”

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Donal Mahoney: Rural Princess

Gloria Gompers' first husband died from a stroke on the third day of their honeymoon. It was a terrible inconvenience for Gloria, having to bring his body back from Hawaii to New York so her husband's parents could hold a funeral. Had it been up to Gloria, cremation in Honolulu would have sufficed. 

"I would have brought the ashes back in a nice urn," Gloria told her mother. "But his parents wouldn't stand for it."

She said that Max's parents, Hyman and Maxine Stein, had a big living room with mahogany woodwork and that she had found a lovely urn the exact same color. It would have looked nice, she thought, in the middle of the long mantel. She described the urn to the Steins by phone the day Max died. But they didn't care if it was a good fit. 

"It would mean Max would be with you forever," Gloria told Mrs. Stein, who was crying and not impressed.

Gloria understood Mrs. Stein had had to have time to mourn but decisions had to be made. Max was dead and getting colder by the minute. 

Eventually, Mr. Stein got on the phone. 

"Be nice now, Gloria," Hyman said, " and bring Max back to New York. We'll take care of everything." 

There were Jewish burial rites that had to be observed, Mr. Stein explained. Gloria didn't know what to say. She knew a little about kosher food but nothing about Jewish traditions. She had been trying to learn how to say Rosh Hashanah. And her in-laws were dismayed when she asked at dinner one evening if Yom Kippur was a fish. Max had worn his "beany," as Gloria called it, only once--at their marriage ceremony under a tent in the Steins' big back yard. 

"It was more like a park than a yard," Gloria recalled. 

And stepping on that glass after the ceremony really befuddled her. 

"It was a very nice glass," she told her mother later. "Why break it?"

On the night of their engagement, Max had told Gloria she was a "rural princess" and not to worry about what his parents said. They had never met anyone like Gloria and she was as mysterious to them as they were to her.
 
"Give 'em a little time," Max said, "and they might come around."

Mr. and Mrs. Gompers hadn't attended their daughter's wedding. They decided to remain at the family home in Sleeper, Missouri, rather than take the Greyhound bus to New York. They told Gloria they couldn't find anyone to milk the cows. And three old hens were still laying eggs. 

It was just as well, Gloria thought. Her parents and the Steins probably wouldn't have had much to talk about. Her parents liked beer in the afternoon and sometimes into the evening. The Steins were fond of different colors of wine at dinner but didn't drink at other times. Gloria had never seen white wine before and she hadn't eaten much fish except for the sandwich they sell at McDonald's. She liked to order that once in awhile back home.

Gloria finally gave up on the urn. She was able to get the funeral home in Honolulu to ship Max to the Steins' mortuary in New York. The Steins paid for everything. Gloria had to admit the funeral was impressive. She had never seen anything like that in Sleeper. 

Back home, the pastor and family members would gather at the gravesite, say a few nice things about the deceased, and then the casket would be lowered slowly into the ground. One time, however, the straps broke and the casket dropped in a hurry. Everybody jumped and groaned, Gloria recalled, but the lady was dead anyway. 

Butch Clinton, a high school classmate of Gloria's, worked at the cemetery. His job was to open the grave, stand in the background during the ceremony, and cover the casket after the mourners were gone. Apparently Butch was pretty good at his job because he had been doing it since graduation. 

Actually, Butch was more than Gloria's classmate in high school. She and Butch used to date, if you could call going on hayrides and to the movies dates. Some girls would like that kind of thing but not Gloria. She had been on enough hayrides with Butch to know he wasn't going to take her anywhere in life. She had a far better future in mind for herself. 

After Max had been dead two years, Gloria decided to leave New York and go to Chicago. She had heard nice things about Chicago and she thought she would like it there. This time she traveled by train, not by Greyhound. Once she arrived, it took her a little time to settle in. She found a good bank to manage the proceeds from Max's estate. And then she found a pleasant job selling perfume in a nice store on Michigan Avenue, even though she didn't really need to work. Max had provided for her very well in his Will. She never knew he had so much money. She knew his parents lived high off the hog, so to speak, but she didn't know Max had been that rich. It was a pleasant surprise.

A few months later, after work, she was walking down Michigan Avenue and met Kevin O'Brien, a very nice man with bright red hair. It stood straight up like a tall crew-cut, as they called that style back home. His sister, a co-worker, introduced them. 

After a short courtship, Gloria married for a second time. As it turned out, however, her luck hadn't changed. Kevin died from a heart attack one month shy of their first anniversary. It was a complete surprise. Kevin had been a track star in college and still jogged two miles a day. She told her mother how Kevin had died and Mrs. Gompers wanted to know why Kevin bothered to run when he didn't have to. 

"It wasn't like someone was chasing him," she said.

This time Gloria didn't have to make any immediate decisions about the remains. Kevin had died at his desk in the office. The body was taken directly to a funeral home at the behest of his company. She had to drive to the mortuary, of course, and make an official identification of the body. 

"He looked the same," Gloria told her mother. "Like he was sleeping, except he wasn't snoring."

This time Gloria had to attend a funeral of a different sort but it was no less lavish than the one held for Max. It was a big Catholic funeral in a posh suburb of Chicago. Kevin's family chose to have a traditional Requiem Mass. It was said in Latin, a language Gloria knew nothing about.

Back in Missouri, the only church in town was the First Baptist. Anyone in Sleeper who went to church went to First Baptist. Everyone else was figured to be a drunk or an atheist or simply not quite right. She had tried to explain to Max and Kevin the difference between "not right" and "not quite right" but neither one seemed to catch on.

"Mishugina is mishugina," Max had said, trying out his limited Yiddish. Kevin just nodded and said, "You mean 'nuts' and 'half nuts.' I get it."

It was raining the day of Kevin's funeral and Gloria had to borrow an umbrella at the cemetery. What's more, she thought she looked a little out of place in her yellow dress and sun hat with the feather sticking up in back. She couldn't understand a word of the priest's prayers prior to the lowering of the casket. 

The brunch afterward, however, more than made up for the bad weather. Kevin's family had money, maybe more money than Max's family, and the O'Briens pulled out all the stops at a very nice hotel. It was buffet style and Gloria had never seen so much wonderful food. Everything from Eggs Benedict, whatever they were, to Prime Rib, a fancy name for what folks back home in Sleeper called roast beef. 

Gloria, however, was most impressed by the hash browns. She told her mother they "were better than Digby's," which was the diner in Sleeper. Digby's was open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and sometimes as late as midnight if Mr. Digby had been drinking. Everyone in Sleeper liked the food at Digby's. Some people just stopped in for an afternoon snack. His pickled pigs' feet were known for miles around. A couple of gelatinous feet and a cold beer and you weren't hungry till supper.

After Kevin's funeral, Gloria didn't know what she should do next. She was only four years out of high school and twice a widow.  She'd have to sell the nice house that Kevin had bought her if she wanted to leave Chicago. Sitting on the patio and staring at the stars with a glass of iced tea wasn't her idea of excitement but it beat hayrides in Sleeper. So when the phone rang in the middle of the night and her mother said her father had passed away, Gloria told her she'd come right home and help with the funeral. After two dead husbands in less than three years, Gloria had learned quite a bit about funerals. 

When she got back home, the first thing she noticed was that the town hadn't changed since her last visit. She had made it a practice to visit Sleeper prior to each of her marriages. The visits gave her a chance to show her parents and a few friends photos of her future husbands. 

On this visit, however, her friends were baffled. They just couldn't understand how one woman could have been widowed twice in such a short period of time. And now Gloria was back again, but this time with no new husband in mind and no photos. Would she leave again or settle down, they wondered. It was even money as to what she would do. 

Butch Clinton, though, was downright pleased to hear the news. He had never married and he figured maybe it was time to get to know good ol' Gloria again. He had quit his job at the cemetery after his parents were killed in a highway accident. He inherited the family pig farm and it was a thriving business. Butch understood pigs, having grown up on that farm, and he had the moxie to run the place right. 

"Pigs may stink," Butch told Gloria's mother, "but there's a lot of money in them. All you have to do is fatten 'em up and take 'em to market." 

Butch had stayed in touch with Mrs. Gompers ever since Gloria had caught the Greyhound and left town. And it didn't take him long to run into Gloria, since her mother had told him where he'd be able to find her. He strolled into Digby's Diner after church one Sunday and walked right over to the table where Gloria and her mother were finishing off eggs, bacon and hash browns with side orders of biscuits and sausage gravy. 

"Neither of my husbands ever had biscuits and gravy," Gloria was telling her mother when Butch walked up. He was all gussied up in a new red plaid shirt and neatly pressed bib overalls. He even wore a new John Deere cap, and it  looked mighty nice on him, Mrs. Gompers said right away. 

Gloria didn't know what to say to Butch but her mother kept complimenting him. Finally Mrs. Gompers asked him to sit down and have some breakfast.

Since Butch was single, just like Gloria, Mrs. Gompers had a right to hope for the best. If Gloria would marry Butch, she’d probably stay in Sleeper. And Butch wouldn't be dying any time soon. He was one strong fellow. Taking care of pigs seven days a week is no job for a weak man, especially when sows had piglets. Butch needed a wife, Mrs. Gompers thought, but she didn't know how Gloria would fit in with the pigs even if she caught a hankering for Butch. 

The breakfast reunion went well, Butch thought, so he was happy to hear that Gloria planned to stay in town for a while to help her mother adjust to widowhood. Butch had made it a practice during Gloria's absence to take Mrs. Gompers to dinner once a week and now Gloria could come along, too. 

Mrs. Gompers did most of the talking whenever they went to Digby's. Gloria didn't have to say much. In fact one night, after Butch had taken them home, Gloria told her mother that it was too bad Butch was so young.

"The two of you seem to get along real good," Gloria told her, underscoring the obvious. 

It was then that Mrs. Gompers suggested that Butch would make a fine husband. Gloria was dumbfounded and told her that there was more to life than pigs and Butch. But as time went on, and the dinners continued, Gloria began to see a side of Butch that she had never seen before. He was nice to her mother and nice to her. And he wasn't any fancy pants like Max and Kevin. He ate biscuits and gravy just like she and her mother did.

It took a full year before Gloria would let Butch take her to the movie in town. They went out for a drink afterward. He ordered beer for both of them. Gloria had never really taken to wine with Max, and Kevin's whisky just about knocked her over. But she could handle beer real well. One night Butch, after three beers and a couple of hard-boiled eggs, came right out with it.

"What say you and me get married, Gloria? I make a good living. I got hired help. You won't have to mess with no pigs, and we can even get some lady to handle the laundry. My overalls stink somethin' terrible. Your mother can live on the second floor so she won't be lonely. I'll take real good care of both of you."

Gloria didn't say no and she didn't say yes. She told Butch she'd think if over. She really didn't need him to take care of her with all the money she had inherited from her two husbands' estates. She had never told Butch about that money. Her mother knew she had a few bucks but had no idea of the actual amount Gloria had in the bank. She just knew it was a big bank in a pretty big city and that Gloria did all of her business by phone, usually when Mrs. Gompers was taking her afternoon nap. The bank sent Gloria statements and a banker would call to get her okay on any new investments.

“He likes to move money around," Gloria told her mother, “to keep up with market.” Mrs. Gompers didn’t know what she meant but agreed that made a lot of sense. 

Three months later, urged on by her mother, Gloria surrendered. She told Butch she would marry him. He bought her a nice ring, half the size of her other wedding rings but bigger than any ring she had seen on any other woman in Sleeper. 

A month later, they had a beautiful wedding at the First Baptist Church. Pastor Jones had baptized the two of them in eighth grade and now he was marrying them. Gloria's mother sat proudly in the front row and bawled all over her double corsage. Mrs. Gompers was happy she had helped to arrange the marriage. Now maybe Gloria would stay in Sleeper. You can live better with your own kind, Mrs. Gompers had told her a number of times. 

Mrs. Gompers turned out to be right. Butch lived for another 30 years and Gloria gave him six children, three boys and three girls, all with the right number of fingers and toes, although two were cross-eyed. She had never been happier. But she still kept her "Max and Kevin money," as she called it, in that bank in the city. She never did tell Butch or her mother about it. She figured if Butch ever took to drinking too much or cheated on her, she'd leave him and hop the Greyhound to Atlanta. 

A magazine Butch had bought for her said that Atlanta was a very nice city. After looking at the magazine, Mrs. Gompers had agreed that Atlanta looked like a nice place but so was Sleeper. A couple of months later, she died of a brain aneurysm. Gloria took care of the funeral since she had experience in that area.  

Now it was just Gloria and Butch at the home place, as Butch called it. All the kids had grown up and moved off to big cities of their own selection. Four of them had married and had children and the other two were still prospecting. So Gloria decided to sit tight and keep an eye on Butch to see what would happen. Since she had that money in the bank, she could stay in Sleeper or live anywhere she liked. 

If Butch died first, she would move to Atlanta. She didn't care how old she was. She was very healthy and planned to keep it that way. She had quit eating fatback years ago although Butch still wolfed it down with pinto beans and cornbread. But she had to admit Butch and his pigs had provided a nice living for her and the children. She never had to touch her savings. 

Gloria certainly would miss Butch if he died, but if he did, she wouldn't be surprised. His father had died young. His arteries were all clogged up, according to the medical reports. He liked his fatback even thicker than Butch. And he wouldn't say no to a nice hog jowl now and then.

Every Sunday at church, Gloria would thank God for Butch and his pigs. She'd get him all cleaned up on Saturday night so they could sit in the front row, which was informally reserved for folks who tithed. After services, it was off to a nice table in the back of Digby's.

Even though Mr. Digby had died, his children were running the diner and the biscuits and gravy were as good as ever. You wouldn't find anything that good in New York or Chicago. But with Atlanta being in the Deep South, there had to be pretty good biscuits and gravy down there. She figured if the biscuits were fluffy, and if they put enough sausage in the gravy, it might not be such a bad place to live. She'd keep that in mind just in case the fatback caught up with Butch. 
 
 
Donal Mahoney has had work published in various print and electronic publications in North America, Europe, Asia and Africa. Some of his earliest work can be found at http://booksonblog12.blogspot.com/


Sunday, August 19, 2012

Audra Ralls: Good Conversation

She entered the hole-in-the-wall bar with a look that dared anyone to approach tonight.  Glancing at her watch, Kyra wasn’t sure 4:45 p.m. was technically considered ‘night’.

“The usual?” the bartender asked as she slid onto the stool.

“Make it a double, Rob."  Her body relished finally getting off its feet.

“Your usual is a double.”

“Two times two. Figure it out.”  A twist of sarcasm was mixed with good-natured teasing.

“Kids givin' you a hard time today?”  He fixed the drink without looking at the bottles.

“Like you wouldn’t believe, and I hit construction drivin' to this ghost town.  And to top it off, I have to go in early tomorrow to show some newbie around.”

She felt good to be somewhere they knew her only on the surface and waited on her for a change.  Thursdays were her 'escape the world' days.  No carpools, no little league, no ballet classes, and the kids went to their dad's house for the night, allowing her a little time to recoup and face the world again.  Plenty of things still needed to be done at the house, but she'd indulge herself for an hour or two;  Sipping her drink, her eyes closed to let the poison work its magic, just taking the edge off.  Rob left her alone; he knew the routine.  Kyra would be flashing that amazing smile, and her cerulean eyes would become twinkling sapphires in no time.

“The next drink's on me.”

She hadn’t even noticed the dark-headed man sitting a couple of seats to her right.

“Look, thanks, but I’m not interested . . .” Kyra began her usual refusal.  Rob hid his grin from behind the bar; he knew this play by heart.

The man, undaunted, got up and walked over to Kyra.  Holding out a well-manicured hand, he introduced himself.  “Jason Rice.”

Kyra rolled her eyes as she shook his hand.  “Ms. Fox, I mean, Kyra.  Kyra Fox.  And honestly, I’m not in the mood for this song and dance, so save yourself the trouble.”

“Not searchin’ for trouble, just a little conversation.”

“Whatever.  Sit.  Maybe Rob’ll talk to you.”

“You know, Ms. Fox, your words could blister a man’s heart.”

“It’s Kyra, and I have higher aspirations in life.”  She didn’t even look at him.

“So . . . . Kyra, what’s got you in such an agreeable mood this fine Thursday?”

“That’s your best line?”  She raised an eyebrow, but at least she finally met his eyes.  She softened a little, unsure whether it was the alcohol taking affect or the look in his deep green eyes.  “Just a rough day on the job.  No big deal - tomorrow’s a new day and all that jazz.”

“Understandable.  What kind of work do you do?”

Rob’s ears perked up.  This was his favorite part.  She always made up a different job and lied with such ease; it never ceased to impress him.  She once confided in him that it was because if she heard the same old teacher/student fantasy line again, she might literally kill the man.  And apparently, jail wasn’t a goal of hers.  Another part of it was privacy.  It was the same reason she drove twenty miles to a hole-in-the-wall town to have a drink.  Teachers are held to a certain level of standards, and even if it was just an innocent drink, it wasn’t smart to partake in the same county you teach, especially in the Bible Belt of America.

“I own a pig farm north of here about thirty miles,” Kyra answered.  Without missing a beat, she continued.  “The market is down, and the cost of feed is up.  Can’t find good help to save my soul.”

Jason stared at her while he sipped his drink, trying to get his mind around the image of this petite, beauty of a woman slopping pigs or whatever it was they did on a pig farm.  He let his mind wander, picturing her in a Daisy Duke outfit running the ranch.  The smile on his face was impossible to hide, even if he wanted to.

“Well, I guess we know who brings the bacon home at your house.”

She couldn’t help but laugh at the stupid joke.  “You know . . . Jason . . . It's okay when you have such an absurd idea to keep it as an unexpressed thought.”  Her sarcasm bit, but her laugh overrode any malice.

“Seriously, can I buy you another?”

The tension was waning, and she was enjoying having some adult conversation for a change.

“No, thanks.  One’s my limit, but feel free to stay and talk.  I’ll try to be nice.  What do you do for work?”

Jason paused, caught up again at how lovely she looked.  Not perfect, but so real and with a spirit she didn’t try to squelch.

“I’m an architect.  Just in town for a couple of days finalizing a project in the city.  I decided to do some sight seeing, check out the history of the state, and somehow the road led me here.”

“Well, I hope you enjoy your stay.”  She sounded softer, actually sincere.  The stresses of the day were wearing off.

Talk continued easily.  Everything from childhood to politics was fair game.  Rob watched as she charmed the stranger without trying.  Some innocent flirting sparked, but it meant nothing to either of them.  Tonight the conversation was enough; it was what they both needed.

Kyra smiled at the realization of the change in her mood.  She found it remarkable that a few laughs, good conversation, and a strong drink could do a lot to improve the day.

“Kyra, doll, it’s almost seven,” Rob said interrupting her thoughts.

“Oh gosh!  Thanks, Rob.”  She leaned over kissing him on the cheek.

Her attention turned back to Jason.  “Rob's so good to me.  Always reminds me not to keep the pigs waiting.  It’s hell to feed them in the dark.  Again, I hope you enjoy your stay in our neck of the woods.”  She shook his hand this time with friendship instead of disdain.

Both men watched her waltz out of the bar.

“So, what’re you building in the city?” Rob asked while wiping down the counter.

“Huh?  Oh,” Jason chuckled.  “I’m not really an architect.  I actually just got a job in a small town about twenty minutes from here.  I hate telling women I’m a teacher.  Somehow in their eyes, it’s not a noble profession for a man.”

A look of confusion came over Jason’s face as Rob could no longer contain his laughter.


Audra Ralls is a middle school teacher who grew up in on a 165 acre farm learning about hard work, good morals, and setting high expectations for yourself and others.  Writing is the outlet that keeps her sane.


Thursday, July 5, 2012

Donal Mahoney: Looking Out for Mrs. Ruff

Opal Ruff, at the age of 83, had been sitting in the same corner of the red vinyl couch in the tiny lobby of the New Morse Hotel almost every day for the last three years. Her eldest son, Herman, a bachelor in his sixties, had brought her to the hotel shortly after her husband, Noah, had died of a heart attack on Christmas Day, 1969.

"I don't want to go there," Mrs. Ruff protested at the time, but Herman had responsibilities of his own and insisted that she pack up and move into the hotel.

The New Morse was more of a warehouse for the aged than a hotel. It was not the kind of place Mrs. Ruff would have selected for herself had she been able to get around without a walker. Old folks signed in and many of them never signed out. Funeral home attendants would carry them out. Relatives of the deceased would come by and carry out their belongings in brown paper bags.

It's not that Mrs. Ruff thought she was too good for the New Morse Hotel. It took a couple of months but eventually she adjusted to her new environment. Now she lived with ash trays in the lobby rather than doilies in her living room. It took a while to get used to a major change like that.

The other residents, most of them elderly males, had gotten used to seeing her on the couch two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon. She would sit in her corner of the couch saying the rosary in silence, lips moving, her hair in a tidy bun, her long dress down to her ankles. She could easily have passed for the mother or grandmother of the woman in the famous painting, "American Gothic."

While Mrs. Ruff said her rosary, the male residents would take turns sitting in the uncomfortable easy chairs, reminiscing and trading tales about when they were young and randy and not limited to the lobby of the New Morse Hotel.

Considering the nature of the men's conversation, it was fortunate Mrs. Ruff was stone deaf and never wore her hearing aids in the lobby. She had worn them in her first few months but now she left them in her tiny room so she could pray and not have to hear the men discuss their lives in pursuit of women. Mrs. Ruff had nothing against sex. In fact, she had presented Mr. Ruff with eight children, four boys and four girls. All of them lived in other states now, except for Herman, who was busy rearing six children of his own without the help of his wife who, for some reason Mrs. Ruff didn't understand, had unexpectedly committed suicide.

"Noah and I had a good marriage," Mrs. Ruff would occasionally say if someone inquired politely about her life before moving into the New Morse Hotel. "He was very healthy for his age and no one expected him to have a heart attack. But he hit the floor with a thump and never moved. I knew he was gone when his water broke and it soaked the living room rug."

Poverty was the one thing most of the men who lived in the hotel had in common. But there were also a few retired gentlemen who had small pensions as well as Social Security checks they could count on. They chose to live in the New Morse because they appreciated the Ashkenaz Restaurant, which was located on the floor beneath the hotel and was known throughout Chicago for its Jewish cuisine. Most of the dishes were favorites of the Ashenazi and Sephardic Jews who lived in the neighborhood, some of them survivors of Auschwitz and Buchenwald as tattooed numbers on their forearms would always attest.

Harris Cohen didn't have a tattoo. He had been born eight decades ago in America. He liked the matzoh ball soup and the knishes and kishke that he could order at Ashkenaz. Every month, on the day he received his retirement check, he would celebrate with a pastrami sandwich on rye, loaded with mustard.

"I have never eaten better pastrami," Harris would often say, "not even in New York."

He had eaten these specialties all his life and that is why, after retiring from the railroad where he had worked 40 years as a conductor, he chose the New Morse Hotel as his residence. Every morning, unlike most of the other men, he would shave, put on his short-sleeved white shirt, a nice tie, and the navy blue pants he saved from his days on the Century Limited, where he had patrolled the aisles making certain the needs of the passengers were met in a timely fashion. He usually worked the trips from Chicago to New York and back again, which took 16 hours each way and involved sleeping berths for some and at least two meals per trip for everyone on the train. Passengers expected good service for their money and Harris provided it, not because of the occasional tip he would receive but because he liked to do a good job.

"No one ever had a complaint in one of my cars," Harris would announce in the lobby at least once a week. And no one ever bothered to argue with him.

Harris Cohen treated Mrs. Ruff with great respect. Although he was unfamiliar with the rosary, he knew from his own religion, Judaism, that prayer beads, as he called them, were important. That is why he would never interrupt Mrs. Ruff while she was praying. But as soon as he saw her make the final Sign of the Cross, he would ask after her well-being. She would always assure him that she was fine and then inquire about him. Harris and Mrs. Ruff had mastered the art of pleasantries and each was very polite in dealing with the other.

In fact, Harris often sat at one end of the couch and Mrs. Ruff at the other. After he had paid his respects to Mrs. Ruff, he was free to read his newspaper and strike up conversations with the other men who took a seat in the lobby while waiting for the clerk of the day to materialize behind the desk and give them their mail. Sometimes they had to wait until the ancient switchboard lit up with a call. If no clerk was available, Ralph Doogan, the manager, would come roaring out of his office behind the board to find out what had interrupted his day. Often he had the remains of a gigantic ham sandwich in his hand. Every once in awhile, Doogan would offer Harris Cohen a bite of his ham sandwich and Cohen would always decline. He was not a religious man, but he had been bar mitzvahed as a young man and he did not want to give Doogan the satisfaction of getting him to eat something forbidden to the Jewish people.

"Doogan can keep his ham, " Harris was known to say. "I like my pastrami."

The hotel had only one maid, Rozelle Johnson, who took care of 16 rooms on the second floor and another 16 on the third floor. Her rounds took all day. A good Baptist, and a lovely woman in her early forties, Rozelle had long ago put the lechers in the lobby firmly in their place. They knew she was not available at any price.

"Leave that woman alone," long-term residents would advise any new man who checked in, and they levied that warning with good reason. One of their own a few years back, big Bruno, had paid a great price for grabbing Rozelle's buttocks as she wheeled her cart down the narrow hall. She hit him with her dustpan on the top of his bald head and then whacked him across the face, breaking his nose. There was blood everywhere. None of the men of the New Morse Hotel tried to get next to Rozelle after that.

As a result of this incident, Rozelle talked regularly with only two residents among those she encountered on her daily rounds. She spoke with Mrs. Ruff when she was in her room and had her hearing aids in place. She admired the spirituality of Mrs. Ruff even if she wasn't a Baptist like Rozelle. She knew that Mrs. Ruff had accepted Jesus the way Catholics do and if that was good enough for Jesus, it was good enough for her.

She also liked to talk with Harris Cohen, not because he tipped her a dollar a week but because the man was always clean and well-shaven and wore a tie. In the lobby, Harris had the good sense to modify his language when Rozelle was passing through. When she wasn't there, however, he would advise the other men who sat down what it was like during the Depression. According to Harris, the going price for the company of a woman as fetching as Rozelle was $2.00, not a penny more.

"The ladies were happy to get the money," Harris would say, "and I was happy to help out. Times were tough."

Not knowing Harris and his attitude toward women, Rozelle always thought she might be able to fix him up with Mrs. Ruff despite their religious differences. She thought the two of them might be able to keep each other company. And if they eventually got married, the hotel did have a few apartment suites that Rozelle thought would suit them as a couple. Whenever one of these little suites, as the hotel called them, became available, Rozelle would amplify her praise of Harris while cleaning Mrs. Ruff's room. For months, Mrs. Ruff listened politely and agreed that Harris seemed to be a gentleman. After all, she had never heard his tales of feminine conquests in the lobby because she sat there without her hearing aids, quietly saying her rosary.

One day, however, Rozelle's lobbying in behalf of Harris got to be too much for Mrs. Ruff. After making the bed, her final duty in the room, Rozelle was preparing to leave when she decided to take a chance and tell Mrs. Ruff that she thought Harris might like to take her to lunch in the restaurant downstairs. Rozelle didn't know that Harris Cohen, despite being the same age as Mrs. Ruff, had always liked younger women and had savored enough of them over the years, especially when times were tough. Mrs. Ruff, on the other hand, had loved her husband throughout her marriage and had no interest in any other man. But Rozelle had a point to make.

"Mrs. Ruff," she said, "I wouldn't suggest your having lunch with Harris if I didn't think he was a gentleman. He might even ask you to marry him at some point."

Tired of Rozelle's efforts in behalf in Harris, Mrs. Ruff moved a little in her chair, put her rosary down, looked Rozelle in the eye, and said,

"And if I married him, what would I do--lift him on and lift him off?"

Rozelle never mentioned Harris Cohen to Mrs. Ruff again. Six months later, she had found another job in a much better hotel.


Donal Mahoney has had work published in various print and electronic publications in North America, Europe, Asia and Africa. Some of his earliest work can be found at http://booksonblog12.blogspot.com/


Sunday, June 10, 2012

Joel Blaeser: Confucius, Chapter One

It was a hot October day when the buzzers hummed throughout the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) in Talladega, Alabama, sounding out like an electric foghorn for all of the inmates to hear. Every sixty minutes they signal the prisoners that it is time to rotate to chapel, the law library, the recreation yard, the weight pile, the barbershop, the art room, and at night, their cells. The doors are closed at 9:30 pm during the week, and midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. Cells doors electronically open between 6:00 and 6:30 am. Final count is at 9:30 pm, but there are times throughout the day that all prisoners are counted. The main count is 9:00 and 10:00 pm. Movement is similar to class periods in school, although this is the school of hard knocks and criminals. Prisoners know where they need to be, and just like high school, if a prisoner needs to see the nurse or doctor, they better damn well have a hall pass. In a Level 4 Medium Security Federal Prison, guards in the gun towers or on a roving perimeter truck watch, and they are all Cracker Jack marksmen. They can and will shoot you dead if you are wondering around without a pass. If you move with a pass and it is not during “movement” time, you not only have a written pass, but you have radio clearance from the prison staff over the guards’ intra walkie-talkie system.

It was 6:30 pm, and my unit was last to eat dinner. I rose from the table with a stretched stomach. Food in prison isn’t exactly gourmet, but there is plenty of it: a lot of vegetables, rice, beans, potatoes, legumes, juice, and milk—all you can eat. Each prisoner also gets one meat portion per meal. Each federal prison has a commissary as well that prisoners can shop at once a week. Federal prison administrators were wise to allow prisoners back to the chow line for all of the sides, because I think it was Bob Marley who put it best in his song: “A hungry man is an angry man.”

As I made my way out of the chow hall, I took the hard light-blue colored plastic cafeteria tray to the dishwashers. My tray was licked clean so there was no need to empty it into the large trash bin before I put it on the conveyor belt leading into the dish room. It was steamy hot room where the prisoners were paid relatively good at $35 per month. IT was a hot day as the sun blazed away through the barbed wire surrounding the prison. It was mid-October, but was reminiscent of a summer day. As I opened the door to the outside, I took a breath of the warm dry air.

Like most of the medium security prisons, FCI Talladega is dotted with 8 or  9 structures built across a twenty-five-thirty acre plot. There are about six housing units, each with two sides to them, housing about 100 prisoners per side, per fifty cells. Scattered over the rolling southern landscape with a chapel, art center, lieutenant’s office, The Hole (a jail within the prison), indoor recreation center, weight pile, chow hall, and a law library, barbers room, all connected by a series of sidewalks, between which are perfectly manicured lawns and shrubs. A Federal prison compound is a mini city with 1,000-4,000 residents.

As I left the chow hall, I was still not sure were to go. I had worked out that day at my regular 2:00 pm workout time. I had only been on this prison yard for fifty-five days, I had made friends, but I was still learning who was who, and was just released from the hole for a huge incident with a black prison staff lieutenant.  I continued to walk towards my living unit unsure of where to go after chow. I stood about 75 yards from the chow hall in this cement circle with sidewalks coming from the recreation yard, living units, and chow hall—a flat turnstile of sorts. I could see my housing unit and I could see the chow hall. The yard was up over a hill and I could not see it unless I walked another 100 yards. It was eerily quiet, and I could see no one. I remember having quasi plans to meet Dean out on the yard to hang out. I still stood there motionless, not knowing where to go, or what to do. I was calm in my decision. I looked back at the chow hall, looked up to the hill, and then towards  my housing unit. I sat there for two minutes. Again I thought about how quiet it was. I became indecisive and uneasy. Two prisoners I had never seen before appeared out of nowhere. They were silently walking towards the law library. I decided to meet Dean out on the yard during the next move at 7:00PM.

As I turned, out of the corner of my eye I could see the conspicuous changes that stood out on nearby buildings. I noticed extra bars welded all over the glass windows on the chow hall just minutes before when I had finished eating. It was not like that when I had arrived. There were extra bars welded on the entry door and window to the prison commissary. New solid steel doors had been put up on the front of the lieutenant’s office.

Having arrived in Talladega fifty-five days earlier from the FCI in Pekin, Illinois, I had not yet been assigned a cell due to slight over-crowding in the federal prison system. I was assigned a bunk in a common area in the cell block, and my belongings were kept in a large steel locker. Prisoners in my situation waited two to eight weeks for an open cell.

I pulled the heavy steel door open to my cell block, and the silent peace in my mind was interrupted  with chaos as I stepped into a jungle of raving mad convicts and inmates. Prisoners were wildly smashing fire extinguishers into staff office windows, enraged men were ripping water pipes out of the laundry room, and still others were ripping other exposed pipes down from the ceiling. Anything that was not welded down was ripped away from its mount. Every one of the vending machines in the unit was completely broken open and emptied out.

Prisoners were screaming, swinging the cold brown painted steel pipes and bars wildly on doors, chairs, and windows, taking years of frustration out on the cold prison. The bin was deafening and surreal. I stood there in silence, watching all of this as if it was a movie. No one noticed I was there. More importantly, no one cared I wasn’t scared or exhilarated. I started to smell the faint smell of burning building, but not this building. All of a sudden the fire alarms went off, and this just added to the melee of noise and chaos as a backdrop that far from overshadowed what was going on. I looked to my left, and two large tattooed guys and one large buffed out black dude cracked a large weight bar with weight plates on it into the case manager’s office. Every prisoner in the federal prison system has a case manager in his housing unit. The office contained a safe holding all of the prisoner’s records. Each record, or jacket, contains original copies that had followed him from court, and prison to prison throughout the term of his sentence. These convicts were trying to bust the door down and burn up all the files, and hence their histories. They were swinging this bar with 135 pounds on it into the case manager’s office. Bang. Bang. Bang as It was swinging back and forth,  the end of the steel bar was hitting the steel door so hard it was sparking. I could smell the sparks, and the brown steel door was becoming dented. The smell of fire and smoke was getting stronger, but I could not see either. My adrenaline was flowing through my veins. I stepped over to help in trying to break the door open. They were taking shifts, six hands on the bar moving left to right, crashing into the door, over and over. We could not break it down.

At the end of the hall was another overlooked vending machine. We smashed the glass open by breaking open the sides. Glass and candy flew all over like a piƱata at a birthday party. I could hear the washers and dryers being ripped out from the laundry room behind me. The prison was in a violent out-of-control rage. There was not a prison guard to be seen anywhere.

Across the yard, the violence raged even more viciously. Madness erupted on the yard. Pipes cracked skulls as blood spattered in racial rifts. In other units, prisoners stacked six or seven mattresses together and lit them on fire. Snitches and rats were beaten and raped. Prison guards were tortured and humiliated.

I could see in my unit a quasi-division taking place: a group of white inmates gathered on one side of the upper tier along the rail. The units in Talladega are shaped in a triangle with two levels, stairs at each corner, and a common area in the center of the triangle, open to the ceiling. Cell doors ran along the edges of the triangle in two tiers, each about ten feet wide. The white guys were armed with knives and pipes. I came up to the second tier and was given a shank. Impulsively I ran down toward the vending machine to gather more of the candy bars that were strewn about the hallway.

“Get your ass back here,” Burl yelled. He was an older, southern white inmate, and knew I was vulnerable on my own. If I were to get into a scuffle it could mean an all-out war in our unit. “We gotta stick together up here,” he said. “You can’t be tempting the rugs like that.”

In prison, races stick together. If there is a problem between two people of different races, both sides of the entire race are involved then, riot or no riot (according to convict law).

I ran quickly across the lower tier towards the vending machine. I passed a Rug (Brother) Black, swinging a heavy metal mop ringer into a steel table bolted to the brown cement floor. His wily eyes followed me down the length of the tier. I reached the spilled candy, scooped up four or five candy bars, and ran back fast and steady. Two prisoners ran in from the front door of the unit.

“They’re coming in with guns! Get down! Get down!” he yelled.

It was now 8:30 pm, and dark outside. I scrambled up the steps to the upper tier and dove into a cell with Burl and his celly, Beaux. The cells in Talladega had steel self-locking doors, and we slammed it shut, locking ourselves in.

There was this alarm that went off through the loud speakers that was even louder than the fire alarm. Screeching sirens only added to the chaos. Hours passed and complete darkness set in. I watched outside my new cell window. Burl and Beaux were sitting on the beds. Armored vehicles with large racks of lights were starting to surround the entire prison. Someone was going over the fence right by my cell window. Gunshots echoed outside, and bullets went whizzing by the cell window. I heard a helicopter thunder above us. I knew the BOP did not own helicopters for purposes of security, so I knew somebody must have declared Posse Comitatus. The vehicles outside looked camouflaged, and were not anything like the American pickup trucks that rode around outside the prison fence for normal security. Now that the military or national guard had arrived, the prison staff burst into the units. They shot guns with tear gas canisters attached. Hot flashes from the tips of shotguns flashed just beyond the perimeter fence on the prison yard. I heard a prisoner scream off in the distance.

Prison guards were also screaming, “Lie down! Lie down!” as they came into our unit. The prison staff was clearly scared as hell. You could hear it in their voices. This was a medium security prison, and this was not supposed to happen here.

Prisoners scattered to nearby cells, or hit the deck if they were trapped in the middle of the common area. This was a familiar command that the prison guards yelled when there was a fight and they needed to gain control. Prisoners complied or were beaten while they were brought to the hole. The guards’ yells were always authoritative and loud, but for the first time, their words trembled with trepidation and fear.

Armed with twelve-gauge shotguns, the guards were dressed in combat gear (or as Ninja Turtles, as the convicts said) with full masks, padded jackets with shock plates, high-laced steel-toed leather boots, shin pads, and helmets. They fired tear gas down the hallways. We toweled the bottom of our cell door to keep the tear gas from seeping in. Outside the window you could now hear the burning of buildings, and see and smell heavy smoke being blown around the prison yard. My heart was warmed, and I was exhilarated with joy for my fellow convicts of all races and creeds. We had done this. I was proud to be a prisoner and living in this prison at this time. This was history in the making.

The tear gas started to seep through the seams in the sides of the steel door. I started to choke uncontrollably alongside Burl and Beaux. They were better off because they were heavy smokers and not in top physical shape like myself. They were not as effected by the smoke as I was. I watched out of the window at the top of the cell door as guards blasted the canisters of tear gas as convicts lay motionless on the ground. The canisters were not designed to be shot at humans, but the guards took some revenge and aimed at prisoners lying on the ground. Bones shattered as one prisoner was shot in the leg. He screamed and rolled around in agony.

Once the guards had everyone down in our unit, they dragged the remaining convicts into their respective cells, one by one, injured or not. After we were all caged, they stormed through, and yanked us out of our cells for final count.

“Your prison number,” the guard spat and screamed as he pulled me out of the cell by my collar and slammed me up against the cement cell block wall. Two other guards stood on either side of me with what looked like stun guns poised and ready. I stated my number calmly and coolly as I had before over the past thirty-five months. I was thrown violently into the cell, landing on the floor. Burl and Beaux remained outside, explaining why I was in their cell. They were shoved in a little more gently. They were southern boys (in prison for drug trafficking), and had lived in this prison for there whole bit. I was new, and a “Northerner,” being from Chicago. As the door shut, the prison guard looked in and said, “Blaeser, you can stay here for the time being.”

Six hours later, I was still awake. The prison was quiet. There was searing smoke from the fires across the compound. The wind shifted and we had to shut our window. It was 4:00 am. Burl, Beaux, and I talked a lot about ourselves. Finally, on an AM radio station, Paul Harvey mentioned something about a Federal Correctional Institution( FCI ) in Tennessee and Talladega. It sounded very innocuous, and was only a ten or fifteen second sound bite. By 7:00 am, the story had grown bigger with an interview by a young boy who said his father Langston Hughes had started the riot in Talladega because of the crack law. As soon as the story picked up momentum, it was then dropped altogether—not a peep about it on any radio station. It was as if it had never occurred. They referred to it hours later as a minor uprising, then nothing was said about it.

For the next five days, I stayed locked in this cell, an eight by ten foot cement walled room with two beds, a toilet, sink, and a window this was a corner cell on the 2nd floor, the biggest one in the cell block. Burl and Beaux were brothers busted on the same case. According to the Bureau of Justice statistics web page the federal prison system in 1995, at the time of our riot, had 106,536 people who were incarcerated in federal prison. Of those, 55,172 were incarcerated for drugs, about 53%. Today there are approximately 216,902 people in Federal prison, of which about 55% are locked up for drug related offenses. These are non-violent consensual crimes, as opposed to non-consensual crimes such as rape, murder, bank robbery, and treason. Then and now, blacks compose almost 37% of the sentenced federal prison population. Talladega was officially on lock down status, which meant convicts and inmates were locked in their cells twenty-four hours a day. It is only during a riot that all prisoners’ rights are temporarily suspended—who would have thought? We were cut down to two meals a day, brown bag lunches consisting of two bologna and cheese sandwiches, and an apple—a far cry from the chow hall food. We were not going anywhere: no shower, no recreation, no work, no chow hall, no nothin’. The three of us passed the time by playing cards, doing push-ups, and sitting around speculating about the damage to the prison.

The catalyst for the riot seemed obvious: over the past several years (1991-1995), the U.S. Sentencing Commission had reviewed discrepancies in drug laws that federal defendants were sentenced under. They reviewed the discrepancies and lessened the laws pertaining to LSD, marijuana, and L verses M methamphetamine. The Sentencing Commission recommended to Congress certain specific changes that effectively reduced these sentences and sentence guidelines pertaining to such sentences. The guidelines became more uniform as there were some major disparities before the changes. In the eyes of many, they made the law more lenient.

For example, Federal LSD sentences are determined based upon the weight of the drug, and are not supposed to be determined by the carrier medium. A thousand hits of LSD on paper is only the fraction of the weight of a thousand hits of LSD on a thousand sugar cubes. The difference in sentences is ten years. The second example, in the case of marijuana cultivation says that if you are arrested for forty-nine marijuana plants, the plants are simply weighed with the dirt removed from the roots. If you are arrested with fifty plants, even if they are seedlings, each plant is calculated as one kilogram (or 2.2 pounds). a difference of about 8 years. Each weight (for LSD and marijuana) corresponds to a number or level in the Federal guideline manual. If it is a second offense, it becomes a category two enhancement; a third offense is a category three enhancement, and so on.

Once the Sentencing Commission votes on a change, Congress can act to override the change. If they choose not to act on the change, the changes become law. These three changes (LSD, L versus M methamphetamine, and marijuana cultivation) primarily affected white defendants.

In 1995, the Sentencing Commission proposed a reform for the powder cocaine and crack cocaine discrepancy. For the most part, the general public was and continues to be unaware that powder cocaine and crack are the exact same drug. For years, the mainstream media portrayed crack as a drug that contributes more violence against society. Seemingly, a racially motivated debate, considering powder cocaine impacts white communities and crack cocaine impacts blacks. In reality, they are the same drug. Crack is simply powder cocaine cooked down with water and baking powder. Same drug, same addiction, same crime against society, vastly different sentencing guidelines. On average, crack cocaine offenders receive 5-8 times the amount of time as powder cocaine offenders for the very same weight of drugs.  After careful review, the U.S. Sentencing Commission recommended that offenders convicted of crack cocaine charges receive the same mandatory minimum sentences as powder cocaine convicts. After all, they are the same drug. The difference is primarily the drug dealer and user. Powder cocaine is the white man’s drug and crack cocaine is the black man’s drug.

Congress, who had not shown any interest in intervening in the Commission’s recommendations for LSD, methamphetamine and marijuana woke from their slumber, called a session and voted down the recommendation by the sentencing commission. They cited that crack cocaine was substantially more damaging to society and therefore required significantly harsher sentencing guidelines.

When Congress’s action was reported on television and radio news channels playing in America’s prisons, madness ensued and riots broke out almost simultaneously  in 13 Federal prisons across the country, Starting in FCI Talladega. The Bureau of Prisons’ press office worked quickly to spin the story to the American public. It was reported that there were only mild disruptions at three or four prisons around the country, and that very little damage occurred. Guards weren’t injured and the safety of the American public was never compromised. There were no reports for the need of the National Guards response to the regain of control of the prisons. There were no reports of brutality and murder. There were no reports of attempted inmate escapes.

Congress’ action that day ignited a fury in the black inmates. 35% of blacks in  Federal prison were serving time for crack cocaine convictions. The riots were a backlash of anger and frustration. Good old America, the land where all men are created equal, except if you are black. Upon hearing the news, the black inmates went berserk. They unleashed their anger and attacked guards, white inmates and prison property. In retrospect, I'm grateful that I decided to return to the unit that evening, rather than venture out into the yard. The yard was a battleground that far exceeded the violence in my unit. I might have been killed that night if I had turned left down the sidewalk.

FCI Talladega remained on lock-down status for a long time. After the second day, the guards removed all of the radios from our cells. We were locked away from the outside world, and from news and information.

I lucked out. My new cell mates had an extra mattress that they set up on the floor for me. We were cramped with three guys in the cell, but I was passing the time with two levelheaded guys, and for that I was grateful. For the most part, we sat around in semi shock.  We played poker and some checkers, and spent a lot of time vegetating and waiting. Burl had a sinus problem. He smoked cigarettes and continuously spit snot into this jar. He salivated a lot. It was gross. His problem was probably aggravated by the lingering stench of burnt wood creeping in through our cell window.

After the fourth day, somber guards started rotating three to four inmates out of the cells at a time. They ushered us quickly to an ice cold shower. We were afforded this privilege one more time a couple of days later.

During the entire week, the guards were quiet. Burl and Beaux were good old white boys who had been serving time in Talladega for years and knew most of the staff. They asked questions about what was going on, but they only received silence in return.

On the fifth day of lock down, three surly guards appeared in front of our cell.

“Joel Blaeser, you are expected in the lieutenant’s office.”

The steel door of our cell had a small slot where bag lunches and mail were passed through. The guards ordered Burl and then Beaux to stick their hands through the slot to be handcuffed. Then they directed me to stick my hands through, behind my back, and they clasped the cold metal cuffs around my wrists. Once we were all fettered, they unlocked the door of the cell. I stepped forward and a large mustached guard wrapped his hands around the cuffs behind my back.

“You understand that if you pull in any way, shape or form, that I will take that as an aggressive act and will take action against you,” he said.

I nodded and started the slow walk down the hall. As we walked down the gangplank in front of the other cells, I heard inmates muttering.

“No talking!” I heard one of the guards bellowing behind me, and he pounded his Billy club on the cell door.

The cell block was quiet, which was highly unusual. As we walked to the lieutenant’s satellite office at the end of the unit, we passed broken windows that had been boarded shut.

We arrived at the lieutenant’s office where several guards wearing full combat gear stood around his desk—riot gear typically reserved for disruptive situations where a guards safety was considered at risk. It shocked me to see them dressed this way, and my heart rate skyrocketed.

The lieutenant was sitting behind his desk. Although I had only been in Talladega for a brief time, I knew the lieutenant because of a very combative and uncomfortable run in with him about a month and one half prior.

The mustached guard who had escorted me to the office pressed me down into a chair in front of the lieutenant. A beefy guard towered over me with an enormous can of mace, which he pressed up against my face.

“Joel Blaeser, you are being charged with starting the riot,” the lieutenant sneered through over-sized clenched teeth.

The mace can remained uncomfortably close to my eyes. The lieutenant leaned forward across his desk.

“I’ve got you now mother fucker,” he said.

I didn’t say a word. I didn’t want to get hit with the mace.

Over the course of that day, all of the inmates in Talladega were given a shot. A shot is what prison officials call a citation or a charge. They were given one for bad behavior. When an inmate receives a shot, he is often sent to the hole, and can lose good time served, which can add days or months back onto a sentence. The very best behavior and you still have to serve 85% of your sentence.  My shot was a number 101 insighting a riot, this is the second most severe “shot” in prison next to a #100 for murder.  People who get these two kind of shots most always get a trip back to Federal court for a additional charge and more than likely more prison time adding onto their sentence after pleading guilty or losing there trial.

In addition to receiving shots, twenty-two inmates were escorted to the lieutenant’s office and were charged with starting the riot. Most were interrogated at length and blasted in the eyes with mace for denying their participation. I managed to escape both the interrogation and the mace. This wasn’t because I was favored, but because I sat quietly. (I was also the only white prisoner accused.) The lieutenant knew that I had nothing to do with the riot. He grouped me with the instigators in a flagrant effort to get even with me for the previous argument we had over my beloved green duffel bag I had brought to Talladega from another prison.

Back in the cell, I sat in lock down with Burl and Beaux for another day. Early the next morning, several guards surfaced, cuffed me through the door and pulled me out. They slapped on ankle shackles and walked me to the front of the building where there were a few other prisoners waiting with more guards. We were put into a lineup and each had to call out his name and prison number. The guards flanked us as we walked single file towards the front door. As we approached, the smell of soot and smoke grew more intense. A guard opened the door, and we stepped out onto the compound for the first time in a week.

It was a dark and misty morning. The sun hid behind thick fog. We walked along the sidewalks and stopped periodically at different units to pick up a handful of additional prisoners. As we collected more inmates into our lineup, we went through the count again, shouting out our prison numbers on command. They weren’t going to lose track of any of us. We continued to cross the compound and the damage became more evident. Slowly the magnitude of what happened registered. Piles of rubble lay where two units used to stand. The recreation facility was a crumbled heap of brick. There were large charred outlines on the ground where entire buildings used to be. Enormous piles of concrete and steel had been hauled away. There was a pungent burnt smell permeating the compound. Windows were blown out in multiple buildings. We marched on. The sound of our jingling shackles broke the silence. As we approached the chow hall, we picked up even more additional prisoners, which meant stopping and yelling out our numbers once again.

We passed a group of prisoners lying on the grass in handcuffs. They were attempting to sleep on the ground while guards hovered over them with guns. With two units burned to the ground, there were hundreds of prisoners displaced without cells.

We arrived at the lieutenant’s office headquarters, and were held in a waiting room. They provided a sack lunch for each of us: a bologna special at 6:00 am. We sat on low stainless steel benches bolted to the concrete floor. I recognized some of the faces. Rodney Davis was a black inmate whom I had never met, but his case was notorious. In his early twenties, he was caught by the DEA with powder cocaine. At the bust, they asked him how crack cocaine was made from powder cocaine. He cooperated  unknowing they were agents, and answered their questions. The feds rewarded him by batching some crack and charging him with that offense. Due to the crack and cocaine sentencing discrepancy, Rodney got an extra fifteen years on his sentence.

Down the line I saw jew boy sitting restlessly. He was a black guy who sold weed, but demanded every penny he could get, so everyone called him jew boy..

“Fuck those punks,” Cheap Bastard said, loudly enough for the guards to hear. “We got ‘em.”

We sat there quietly eating our sandwiches. Guards called names and each inmate was summoned to a nearby stall that looked like an office cubicle.

“Joel Blaeser,” a guard yelled out.

I rose and shuffled over to the cubicle. They were calling out names alphabetically, so I was one of the first to go through check out. The guards patted me down thoroughly before removing my handcuffs and ankle shackles. Two guards stood nearby with stun guns on hand in case I made a move.

I removed my prison-issued tan pants, brown belt, and pale tan shirt. I knew the routine well. It was the same search for contraband every time an inmate enters or leaves a prison. Talladega was my fifth prison in three years, but I had spent time in another ten prisons or so due to transfers from one jail to another.

I stripped naked and lifted each leg to show the guards the bottoms of my feet. I raised my hands high over my head and then twisted them back and forth with my fingers spread open widely. When directed, I stuck out my tongue and lifted it up and down, and then left to right. I tilted my head back so the guards could peer up my nose. I ran my fingers through my hair. Then I bent over and coughed hard as i spread my ass cheeks, coughing was a mandatory part of the routine. The guards gave me a marshal travelling uniform, which looked slightly different than the prison uniform. I put it on slowly, knowing that once the cuffs were back in place, I wouldn’t even be able to reach down to scratch my balls.

A guard secured the handcuffs back onto my wrists and wrapped a chain around my waist. My handcuffs were then covered by a black box that restricted my arm movement back and forth. I had never been black-boxed before. They were reserved for extremely dangerous prisoners and weren’t used frequently. My handcuffs were then clipped to the belly chain, fettering my hands to my torso. Finally, he returned my ankle shackles in place. Movement from here to the next prison would be extremely limited.

Normally checkout takes several hours because there might be 200 inmates moving in the prison. This time there were only twenty-two of us leaving. Normally checkout requires going through property slips and other various checks, but this time I wasn’t taking any property. It was all destroyed in the riot.

I scooted out of the cubicle, back into the waiting area, and parked my rear on a bench. jew boy stood off to the side talking loudly to several other inmates.

“I had that bitch, and man, did I fuck her up,” he thundered proudly.

Apparently he had cornered a female guard in the law library, but I couldn’t believe he was talking so openly about it. It was common knowledge that inmates that attacked guards would get serious time added to their sentences. jew boy only had a few years left to serve, and yet he was talking plainly in front of guards who could hear him.

“I pummeled her with a bat. Ripped off her clothes and beat that cunt with a mother fucking bat. I fucked that bitch so hard. Razer, that pussy, was trying to pull me off of her.” He motioned to Razer, another black inmate sitting alone on the bench. “Shit. Lucky bitch had my cock rammed inside her.”

I sat there in disbelief. I kept thinking that maybe the guards had put him up to this in order to lure other inmates into bragging about what they had done. No one jumped in. His chest puffed with ego. A nearby guard gave a cold stare.

Outside, an old prison bus squeaked as it pulled around to the front. The guards prepared us for departure. They put us back into a single file line and asked for our prison numbers. We filed outside through a gate and stopped for yet another count. The air still reeked of soot.

The prison bus was a big aluminum Greyhound-style bus from the 1980s. Inside, a thick mesh screen ran along all of the walls and windows like an iron womb. The drivers and two marshals stay up front, protected behind a metal cage. The marshals were armed with shotguns.

As we boarded the bus, a Talladega guard yelled out for a final count. We each shouted out our number in order. We piled into the bus and each took a seat. I settled into a window seat near the back. The guard handed off the paperwork to one of the marshals and stepped off the bus. The doors creaked shut behind him. The driver pressed on the gas and released the temperamental clutch. We lurched forward and drove out of the prison gates.

Curiosity consumed the prisoners on the bus. We hadn’t been told where we were being sent. For security reasons, prison staff always kept the location of a transfer a secret until the arrival. But that didn’t keep us from asking.

“Are we going to Terre Haute?” one inmate yelled.

“No. No. It’s Oxford,” another suggested.

“You guys have it wrong. We’re going to Lewisburg,” another chimed in.

“It must be USP Atlanta.” Everyone chattered in agreement that they thought of Atlanta right away.

The marshals at the front of the bus remained stone faced. I watched out the window as the bus hummed along the highway, passing exits to Atlanta and points north. Several hours into the drive, I felt horror. Images from my argument with the lieutenant a month earlier flashed in my mind. I saw his angry face threatening me.

“Marion,” I stammered before I could stop myself. “They’re sending us to Marion.”

In the rear view mirror, I saw the driver’s plastic face break into a sinister smirk. A immediate hush settled over the bus. Nobody said a word. Quiet and somber faces stared forward. A brother finally broke the silence.

“He’s right. We are probably going to Marion.”


Joel Blaeser, lover of life, is the author of soon to be published memoir "Letters From Marion".

Silk Road Mantra

by Suchoon Mo


bury me not

in the lone Silk Road

I go and go

from west to east


I go and go

from east to west

bury me not

in the lone Silk Road

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