How to Unlearn the Words

you have to check their pockets, their shoes
make sure there are no scraps of paper
with reminders of what they need to forget
scratched on with broken pencil leads
held tight between dirty fingertips. you must also

 

check under the beds, be diligent
in searching dusty corners and windowsills
for lingering signs of words of protest
wiped quickly away.
even single, isolated letters
are dangerous and to be forgotten.

 

you have to check the dusty paths
leading past the buildings, make sure
the children are not writing in the dirt
with pointed sticks, that their parents
aren’t teaching them to write
the old words in the mud.

 

finally, check their bodies, their skin
for scraped etchings of phrases, the alphabet
any attempts to keep the letters alive.
these efforts
are not to be tolerated
and can and should be completely removed.

 

© 2014 Holly Day

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She Drives Me Crazy

Her big bright eyes catch my attention from across the street. She’s beautiful. Rays of the hot sun stream across her tan body. Every curve is formed with such sleek and sexy definition. I hurry inside and plant myself on my knees at the living room window. While I struggle to free my dick from my pants, I stare at her and imagine all the things I’d do to her. My eyes are fixated on her smooth body and I’m dreaming of how it would feel against me. Tugging on myself vigorously I think of having her from behind. As I orgasm, I form a seal around the tip of my cock with my free hand to catch the come.

I wash my hands in the bathroom sink pressing the lemon scented soap into them deep, as if I am able to wash the shame of what I’ve just done down the drain along with my ejaculate. Not my shame, but societies’ shame. The shame that has been forced into my brain through years of being told by the media, and government what is “normal”. I don’t care about being normal. I care about being me and doing what makes sense to myself, not others. Which is just too hard in such a judging world so I keep my thoughts and fantasies to myself. As I finish up drying off my hands, there is a knock at the door. I walk out of the bathroom and through the living room, fixing the curtain on my way. Opening the door I see my neighbor from across the street.

*Hey, how’s it going neighbor? He asks as he prepares his hand for a shake.

*Not too bad. What can I do for you? I grasp his hand and wonder if antibacterial hand soap works well enough that I haven’t just given him a handful of DNA.

*Well, I kind of have a favor to ask. The wife and I are heading out of town for the night, and I completely forgot about it being my night to do rounds for the neighborhood watch. I was wondering if you could cover for me tonight and I’ll do yours tomorrow.

*Of course. Will the dogs be okay or do you need someone to check on them? I ask.

*My daughter will be home. She just got her license. I figure if she’s old enough to drive then she can probably handle a night of dog sitting, he says.

*I thought I saw a new car in the drive.

*Yes, sir. We just picked it up today. He turns in the direction of his house to look at the new car.

I look across the street. There she is again. Just in front of my neighbors’ house. She’s beautiful.

*Nice car.

*Got it for a steal really. The mileage is relatively low and the interior is in great condition.

I can’t keep my eyes off of her.

*It definitely looks in good shape.

*Yeah, it’s only had one owner and it was an older lady that pretty much just used it to get to the market and back.

I’d like to take her to the market and back.

I break my gaze as he turns back around.

*Well, I’m glad to hear you got a good deal. Have a nice night out with the wife.

I have to have her. The thought is becoming obsessive; it refuses to leave my head. I could have her. Tonight is perfect, she is unprotected. My biggest hurdle would be the dogs, but they know me well enough not to make too much ruckus.

It’s 11 o’clock, time to go out for the neighborhood watch. I grab my flashlight and head out the front door. I’m not doing my rounds tonight. I am doing what I need to do to get rid of this feeling. I will have her tonight. The anxiety hits as I step onto the neighbors porch. My heart is racing and I’m starting to sweat, but I am not turning back. I root around the plant where I know the spare key is hidden and use the key to enter the front door. Being as quiet as possible I make my way through the living room, sneaking past the sleeping dogs undetected, and to the door at the end of a small hallway.

Behind this door is the one I wake up and think about every morning and fall asleep fantasizing about every night. Now all there is between us is a piece of wood. I grab the handle and pull up on it and towards me so the door won’t creak as it swings open. A concentrated ray of light from the hallway cuts her in half as it enters the room through the open door. I stand and stare at her a moment. She is so still, so peaceful. I love everything about her. And now it’s just the two of us, alone. Alone to share a night that I have been waiting so long for.

I shut the garage door behind me and turn the light on. Then I walk over to her and run my fingertips lightly across her cold steel frame. While gently kissing her, my lips make their way across her hood and back to the driver’s side mirror. When I am close enough, I reach to test the door handle. She is unlocked. I climb inside of her gliding across the smooth leather and see the key in the ignition. Could this get any better? The girls’ room is across the house. She’ll never hear the purr of the engine from that distance. Turning the key I feel her start to vibrate underneath me. I slide my zipper down and pull myself out. Staring at her beautiful interior I spit in my hand and stroke my dick making it erect. I lean the driver seat all the way back until it is lying flat and roll over so I am belly down on the seat. Then, I use my spit to wet the space between the bottom of the seat and the back before I slide my cock between the two parts. She is so tight. Thrusting myself deep into her gives me goose bumps. Climbing back out of her I make my way towards the trunk feeling her perfect body along the way. I spit on her back bumper and start rubbing myself against the beautiful glossy paint. Grasping the rear end tight on both sides I rock her so that she will slide back and forth against me. I can feel myself nearing orgasm. I start rocking her harder and harder to bring myself closer to climax. As I start to exert more force I realize that I should have cracked the garage door before starting her up, but I am so close. I go harder so that I can finish because I am becoming dizzy. The lack of oxygen is scary and enjoyable at the same time. Everything looks brighter. I wouldn’t change a thing about this moment… besides the pain in my chest. I go harder still pushing myself into her as firmly as I can. I blow my load and vomit synchronically as a calming darkness takes over me.

© 2014 Phil Thomas Killman

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About the Same

She asks me for a light. I say I don’t have one, but I know I have a lighter between my sock and my Vans slip-on. I think she knows too. A radio blares somewhere nearby but I don’t see anyone around. She puts her hand in her back pocket and pulls out a box of cigarettes. Pulls one out. Asks if I want one. She removes a Zippo from somewhere, lights mine, lights hers. I take a drag and exhale the smoke.

“What the hell are we doing here?” she asks, and it takes me a moment to register the question.

“You said you wanted to come here.” I know that’s not the case, but we’re here. A breeze is coming in from the ocean, and the sun is rippling, glinting on the surface of the greyish horizon.

“You got a light?” She asks again.

“It’s already lit.”

She considers this and puts out her cigarette in the sand without as much as one inhale. And I realize I don’t know what the hell we’re doing here. I hate the beach. I’m in a pair of black jeans and a red tee, sand in all my pockets. My hair is a mess. The sun is at its peak, and I left my Wayfarers in the car. Can’t see a thing clearly. The most I can make out of Haylee’s form is the fact that she’s wearing jeans and some top. Her auburn hair brushes lightly against her face in the breeze. Though I spent most of the day with her, I didn’t pay that much attention to it. It’s the details I should remember, but I just don’t.

“Let’s go,” I say.

“‘Kay.”

Neither of us moves for a moment. We simply sit there looking out at the waves breaking in the onset of another summer twilight. The sand is warm from the summer sun, and I feel it scratch lightly on my palms as push myself up finally and help Haylee to her feet. We walk back to my Civic. I unlock the doors with a remote, and we enter on either side. I put the key in the ignition, turn the headlights on, and drive.

 

I make a left onto PCH, heading towards the 5 as the sun sinks below the burning horizon. Haylee isn’t responding to anything I say, so I turn on the radio. A mariachi band is bleeding through KIIS, so I shift stations to Star 98. Some band is singing about that movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I’m driving 30 in a 45, and cars continue to pass me on the left. I don’t see any of them, but I’m pretty sure at least one driver flips me the bird. Haylee finally speaks.

“Delia asked me about you the other day.” I say nothing, and the silence persists for another three or four exits. I’m not sure how to respond to this, but Haylee continues through my silence.

“She said she saw you at the El Rey last week. Who was playing?”

“I haven’t been to LA for a month.” I say this realizing that I may have been recent after all. At the El Rey, some amateur band ripping off the Strokes was there, and I have a ticket stub in my wallet.

“She says you were drunk out of your mind.” Though this may or may not be true, neither of us speaks for a while. But then I realize I’m confused, and it takes me a moment to ask.

“Which one is Delia?”

We exit somewhere in Irvine. Static on the radio, so I switch stations again. I don’t really care what plays. Just as long as there’s something to listen to. This new station is no better. I leave it anyway.

Almost every other light we hit is red. We sit in the car, not saying a word. Haylee reaches for the dial to change the station, and I look at the corner at the glowing light of a Blockbuster, nearly missing the change from red to green. As we drive by, I notice how empty it is. No one but the clerk. I don’t even remember the last time I rented a movie from there.

We finally turn into a housing tract somewhere off of Alton. I pull into the driveway and idle for a minute. Haylee exits and walks around the front of the car as I roll my window down. We kiss. A simple kiss. Her lips taste sweet of raspberry lip balm. Though I wish it was more, it feels right. Like this is us. Like it used to be.

“See you later tonight?” she asks.

“Mhm, tonight.”

We kiss again. I watch her make her way up the walkway to the front door, fumbling with her keys. I wait until she gets inside and pull out of the driveway. The radio has finally cleared up, and something by the Smiths comes on. I turn it down. Turn it off.

A few hours later, I’m heading north. After driving up the 5, I merge in Tustin onto the 55 towards the 405. It’s supposed to be the quickest way to get there. My car idles because traffic isn’t moving. A horn blares somewhere. The cars move forward a couple of spaces.

I’m stuck here for a while. I keep looking up at the billboards on the sides of the backed-up freeway. Mostly travel and Disney. There’s this one that says something in bold print:

ALMOST LIKE NOTHING IS THERE

I’m pretty sure it’s an advertisement for condoms or something. All I focus on is the print.

ALMOST LIKE NOTHING IS THERE

It bothers me. It shouldn’t, but I shiver a little. I reach for the power to turn the radio on. Try to drone it out. But I keep looking at it. Because it’s hard to tone out sight this way, to make yourself forget. I turn up the volume. Every part of the car seems to vibrate with the music. Other drivers are giving me dirty looks and signaling for me to turn it down. But I can’t. I can’t stop seeing it.

ALMOST LIKE NOTHING IS THERE

I finally pass the sign. I turn the music down a couple of notches. Traffic is easing up. After another ten or fifteen minutes, I make it to the 405 North. I drive for a while, but the thought is still with me. I keep thinking about how I’m meeting Haylee. I think about how I’m driving to somewhere in Huntington Beach. I keep thinking about that billboard and how it’s almost like nothing is there. And that is exactly what I’m afraid of.

“Hey, Hal. Good to see you. Where’s Hay?” I’m greeted by Brett, who’s wearing an obnoxiously neon yellow tee with the word Gentry written in a dripping spray paint style pink. I wonder if that’s the brand or if he actually knows what it means. His blonde hair is cut short for the summer, and I’m starting to think I may need a haircut. Dark hair and summer add up to miserably warm.

Any case, Brett answers the door. Which is strange. I don’t know whose place this is, but it definitely isn’t his. He lives in Newport.

“She should be on her way.” He accepts this, and we walk in and he introduces me to some people I think I’ve already met. One is this girl who goes to Cal State Long Beach. I don’t know why I know this. We start talking. The doorbell rings, and Brett heads across the room to greet the newcomers, but I still don’t get why. This isn’t his house.

“So where do you go to school?” she asks me, and I know I’m talking, I can feel my mouth move, I can hear myself laughing and smiling. But I don’t know what I’m saying. I don’t feel anything. She continues asking me questions, and I answer. But I still don’t know what I’m saying. Like I’m not really the one talking. Like I just don’t care about who this is or what she says or why I’m supposed to care. I’m bored, maybe about to panic, but my face doesn’t show it. I am probably smiling like an idiot.

My phone vibrates. I pull it out of my pocket and skim over the texts from earlier, the newest text is from Haylee. She isn’t coming tonight. I’m supposed to have fun without her.

The living room is filled with people, and the girl has gone off to talk to someone else. I head into the kitchen where there’s a keg and a chrome fridge filled with beer. I open a bottle and drink. A guy comes up to me and shakes my hand. He seems to know me.

“Hey, Hal. How’ve you been?” It’s always the same questions with these people. I try to act somewhat polite. “Well. How about you?”

“About the same.” He asks how Haylee and I are and where she is, and I almost feel like I can’t give him a decent answer. She’s on her way. We’re fine. Whatever I say, he seems satisfied, and I’m somewhat relieved that I don’t have to explain. He says see you later and asks if I’m free for lunch or something sometime this week. He joins the crowd back in the living room. I feel a tap on my shoulder.

“Hey, Hal.” It’s some girl I think I actually know, except for her name. I keep talking to her, this girl I guess I’m supposed to know. She tells me something about school. She’s in Art or Dance or Ceramics or some other nonsense like that. I try to pay attention, but I can’t. My mind continues wandering off.

I wonder if she would be jealous. If I did this, would she know? Would she do anything about it?

The girl in front of me doesn’t notice. She keeps talking, and I catch one sentence:

“So, what do you do now?” She asks, interested.

“I’m in school. I’m…” I can’t remember what we were talking about just a moment ago, and I lose my place in our conversation because I wasn’t really paying attention anyway.

“I’m…” I stutter. Then I feel bored. Like this conversation is meaningless. “I’m…”

I’m over it. I walk away without finishing. I’m sure she’s upset or sad or dejected. Some adjective should suffice. I’m sure whatever I was going to say or was supposed to say doesn’t matter. And I’m sure whatever she feels or says is just as unimportant.

Brett comes up to me and asks about Haylee again. I start to wonder why he keeps asking.

“She’s not coming.”

“Why not?” He seems utterly disappointed.

“Didn’t say.” And that’s the best I can do. Brett keeps trying to make conversation, but I’m not very responsive. I don’t know why I’m here. I don’t even like these people.

I stay for another hour. It’s not late. I’ve had two or three more beers, maybe four. A girl and I are talking again, another one, and she’s flirting with me. I think I’m flirting with her. We step outside on the patio and continue talking. I’m not paying attention to too much of what she’s saying. So I nod. Just nod.

She kisses me. I don’t even look at her when I kiss her back. We start drunkenly making out. There’s no one around. Her lips taste sweet of raspberry lip balm and guilt. We keep at this for about five minutes, and I try to act interested, but my mind wanders back to the billboard and to Haylee and to how it’s almost like nothing is there. I thought there was something but I guess the billboard knows better. Maybe Haylee knows better.

I don’t even know her name. She doesn’t know Haylee’s. She asks me if I want to go to her place. I say no. She laughs nervously. Asks again. I say no. She walks back to the party; I walk to my car.

My phone vibrates a third time as I’m exiting the freeway. A couple of unread texts, a few voicemails. I open the first text:

YOU BASTARD!

The number isn’t in my phonebook, so I don’t know who this is. Or what this person is talking about for that matter. I wonder if someone told Haylee about the girl. Shit. I just turn the radio up and drive.

© 2014 Michael Frazer

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The Art of Vibration

I am burnt sand,

unformed and

dropped

on your bed. You amplify

me like a speaker. I shiver

into

almost disastrous

forms

and

angles. Pushed to the e

d

g

e,

I am sure I will break

at first touch. Preparing myself

for the punctuation

of f

a

l
l
i
n
g, I find I have

a better grip, a stronger foundation

than either of us imagined.
© 2014 A.J. Huffman

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OVERCOMING INERTIA

It occurred to me, as I gasped for breath, that there were worse places to die than on a cliff in Acadia National Park (Detroit, for example). I staggered up the steep, rock-strewn path, grabbing every possible branch for support and, just when I thought I could not go on, the sky opened up like a giant blue parachute. With one last heave, I stumbled forward and collapsed. I lay splayed on my back, staring into the wild blue yonder, certain my husband would find me dead. Yet in my stupor, I heard birds twitter in the lofty trees and waves batter Maine’s rocky shoreline. I tasted the salty breeze that teased my curly, sweaty and tangled hair. I heard a tour bus grind its way up the winding mountain road, and smelled the toxic fumes spewed in its wake.

It was surreal.

As it turned out, that June day in 2013 was not my day to die—although, as far as near-death experiences go, I’d give it a solid nine. I’ve read about people who had near-death experiences, and some of them said, “My life flashed before my eyes.” I get that, because as I lay sprawled in the dirt, inhaling the lingering bus exhaust, a slide show of my own life flickered through my head. Regrets rose up like spirits from ancient graves. I should never have married that chef in Minneapolis. I should have finished college or joined the Peace Corps. I should have square-danced more, protested more, risked more. Biggest regret—I should have exercised more. Uncle Joe—God rest his soul—had been right. It’s hell to get old.

I’ve never been fond of exercise, although I love to be outdoors. My life-long theory has been that if I wasn’t overweight, I didn’t need to exercise. My rationale was based on the Federal Government’s height/weight ratio charts, like the ones taped to the wall in the nurse’s office of my junior high school. Accordingly, I’ve never been overweight. The day I confronted Uncle Joe’s truth on that cliff in Maine, however, I was so far removed from my junior high school days that I was staring down eligibility for Social Security benefits. It occurred to me that perhaps my theory was outdated.

As I struggled to breathe, chastising myself for years of inertia, I heard plodding footsteps on the path. I sat up and saw my husband, Michael, trudge into view. He was hunched beneath the burden of a 30-pound camera bag strapped to his back and another one of similar weight slung over his left shoulder. He balanced his tripod, with a camera mount the size of a bowling ball, on his right shoulder. In the tradition of “old masters” of landscape photography, like Ansel Adams and Edward Weston, Michael shoots film with old-school cameras most people have never heard of. I marveled at his ability to tote that load up such a steep incline (he and I are the same age), as well as his dedication to such an archaic art form.

Earlier that morning, I had set up the tripod for him and then hiked on to the summit, leaving him to assemble his equipment and shoot a photo of the coastline. Now I watched him struggle up the path, bent like a boomerang beneath the weight of his gear, and even in my misery, I felt a twinge of guilt—I usually schlepped the tripod. But perhaps it’s just as well I had been unencumbered by the top-heavy tripod on such a steep ascent. Things could have turned out worse. I could be dead.

When at last he reached the summit, Michael eased the tripod and his camera bags to the ground. He sat down beside me, expelled a deep sigh, and pushed his black, George Burns-style glasses back up on his nose. His breathing was labored but steady. He, unlike me, works out at the gym. I, of course, was still gasping.

Observing my distress, he put an arm around my shoulder and said, “Are you okay honey?”

“I…might…need…resuscitation,” I managed to say.

I tried to breathe deeply while Michael looked at me with pity. He knelt behind me and massaged my shoulders.

“You’re trying too hard,” he said. “Relax.”

I leaned into him and closed my eyes. “O…kay. But I don’t…know if…I can…go on.”

“Sure you can,” he said. He gave me a fond little pat on my shoulder and planted a kiss on the top of my head. “We’ll sit here until you’ve recuperated. You’re just a little out of shape. A few more days of this and you’ll be ready to climb Mt. Everest.”

He was so wrong. By the end of our vacation, my body felt like it had been run through the wringer of the old washing machine that used to sit, hobgoblin-like, in a corner of Granny’s back porch. I popped Advil like M&M’s and drank a copious amount of beer, having discovered in the course of our evening pub crawls that beer is an excellent muscle relaxer.

As we sat in a Bar Harbor tavern one night, Michael said, “Promise me you’ll lay off the drugs and alcohol when we get back home.”

“I promise. I’m also going to start an exercise program.”

We clinked our beer bottles together.

When we returned to Savannah, the reality of keeping my promise set in, and I recalled why I had avoided regular exercise in the past—I hate to exercise. Nonetheless, I moved forward with my plan. I joined Curves. The Curves program is an exercise circuit on which the exerciser alternates the use of hydraulic strength training machines with in-place low-impact aerobics. It is not all that strenuous. Curves should have been perfect for me. But after a few weeks I got bored and dropped out.

I contemplated other types of exercise. I confess, my heart was not in it. I still wanted an easy route to better health. I realize there is no such thing, but I had not yet come to terms with that reality. It was not helpful that I have a long history of avoiding physical activity. In fact, my aversion for breaking a sweat goes all the way back to my senior year in high school.

The gym teacher, Mrs. Bute (pronounced “booty,” appropriately, as I recall), caught Betsy Butler and me hiding out in the girls’ locker room during gym class. We were supposed to be outside playing field hockey. I’ll never forget the smirk on her face as she marched us back out to the field where she made us play midfielder positions—the ones that do the most running. Of course all that running ruined our Nancy Sinatra hairdos and, as if that was not punishment enough, she gave us an F on the last report card of our senior year.

I was in dire need of some guidance, so I asked a friend if she could recommend a good form of moderate exercise.

“Try Pilates,” she said. “It doesn’t involve a lot of vigorous movement.” She had heard my field hockey story.

Taking her advice, I found a Pilates studio in my neighborhood and stopped by one day to check it out. I opened the door and found two young women stretched out on mats in impossible positions. Contraptions along one wall resembled guillotines. The women seemed startled by my appearance, as if I had just landed a flying saucer in the parking lot. They gathered their wits, however, and came over to greet me. I told them about my disastrous experience in Maine, and asked them if they could help me get in shape so I could go hiking without the need for a portable oxygen canister. The young women assured me that Pilates would be my salvation.

Everything sounded good until we discussed class times. Classes were either early in the morning (I’m retired, I don’t get up early) or right after work (I don’t go to work, I go to happy hour). I said I would get back to them.

How was a person like me, whose last regular exercise had been in high school gym class, supposed to overcome inertia? I came of age during the Vietnam War, women’s lib, and Woodstock. Exercise was just not part of the ‘60s and ‘70s culture. If I wasn’t protesting something, I was getting high on something. I didn’t know one person in those days who exercised for fun, much less for health benefits. Besides, gym memberships weren’t even invented yet, unless you were into boxing.

By the 1980s, however, a physical fitness craze swept through America, thanks in part to Jane Fonda’s exercise videos. Women were buying leg warmers and exercise outfits and mimicking Jane in front of their TVs every night. I, however, had not forgiven her for her traitorous support of the North Vietnamese at the height of the war, and refused to buy into her reincarnation as a self-proclaimed exercise guru. I continued my indolent ways.

Now, at long last, I’m ready to get healthy so I can go hiking with my husband. I’m not talking about hiking the Appalachian Trail—which is 2,100 miles long—but I am inspired by that notion. I recently read A Walk in the Woods, Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson. I think Bill and I have a lot in common concerning our attitude about exercise, except that he reformed and actually did hike the AT. When giving serious consideration to such an arduous undertaking, he concluded that, “It would get me fit after years of waddlesome sloth.” I knew just how he felt.

Motivated by Bill’s trek through the wilderness, I began walking the 1.5 mile trail around the lake near our house. The trick was to time my walk before the blistering Georgia sun rose too high, and before the odious gnats that plague us here on the coast began to swarm. Walking the lake’s shoreline was tolerable, even enjoyable, but I knew I needed something more—something that would engage more body parts than just my legs—but what?

A true southern gentleman, Michael tried to help. He convinced me to go to the gym with him three mornings a week. Because Michael’s intentions were good, I rose zombie-like at 6 AM, swilled down a cup of coffee, and arrived at the gym by 7 AM, three days a week. It was grueling. I thought perhaps Pilates would have been a better choice. But I love my well-meaning husband, so I persevered—until I injured my shoulder on the weight-lifting equipment.

I won’t lie. It was a relief to have an excuse to quit. I hated the gym, and not just because the workout made me break a sweat, although there was that. My main aversion to the gym was psychological. Savannah is a military town, and the gym was patronized by men and women in the armed forces—and let me just interject—for whom I have the greatest admiration and respect. However, not only were they all military-fit, almost all of them were at least two generations younger than me. I felt like Grandma Moses. I had to start seeing a shrink.

My quest for the perfect exercise continued. In the garage, Michael resurrected the bicycle pump from beneath an avalanche of old garden hoses and fluffy pink insulation and inflated my bicycle tires. I like riding my bike—in cool weather. By this time it was August. In Savannah the heat is as thick as jelly. Michael hoisted my bike back up to its hook on the garage ceiling.

Against my better judgment, I tried Zumba. I didn’t last long. Halfway through the first class, hot stabbing needles of pain shot through my knees and I was sent hobbling to the sidelines—yet another discouraging reminder of Uncle Joe’s proclamation.

Then one day during happy hour, one of our friends, we’ll call him Georgio, said he had recently taken up yoga and had been encouraged to stand on his head in the first class. I was speechless. I had not realized that Georgio was a stand-on-your-head kind of guy. Besides, he isn’t much younger than I am. His wife, we’ll call her Claudia, said she also did yoga and that it had done wonders for her flexibility and strength. I was intrigued, but I was not about to be pressured to stand on my head.

I found a power yoga studio online that advertised “silver” yoga classes which, to me, translated to “senior,” which equated to “easy.” The word “power” puzzled me, but I thought it was a reference to yoga making one feel powerful. Also, the website specified that they did not turn on the heat during silver yoga. It was still August. In hindsight, I should have asked some questions. Instead, I bought myself some yoga pants and headed over for the next silver yoga class.

Indeed, the heat was not on, but neither was the air conditioning, although ceiling fans whirred at top speed. Several young women strolled in, as well as a few “silvers,” and even a couple of men, one of whom, to my amazement, proceeded to stand on his head. I was stoked, but I did say a prayer that a headstand would not be required. I rolled out my mat and psyched myself up for an hour of revitalizing stretching.

I thought I was going to die. Who knew yoga could be so strenuous?

I don’t remember much about that class. It’s all a blur. I do know that it was hard. I had not expected yoga to be hard. Just as I was about to faint, we went into cool-down mode. By then, I felt like I was on life-support. As we lay on our backs breathing deeply, the instructor handed each of us a cold, damp cloth. I could have put an oxygen mask to better use. I lay on my mat, catatonic. Time passed—I might have passed out. At some point I realized that everyone was putting their gear away. I staggered to my feet, rolled up my mat, shoved it onto the shelf, and stumbled outside into the sweltering heat.

In the car I collapsed and turned the air conditioning to the arctic setting. The cold air revived me and, to my surprise, a feeling of triumph crept over me. I had pushed myself through to the end of the class (no headstand), and no one had to call the EMTs. I decided I wasn’t quite ready to give up on yoga. One thing was certain, however—I had to find a yoga studio with air conditioning.

This time I did my research. I found a studio that advertised the “mind, body, and spirit” benefits of yoga. I liked the holistic sound of that. I called the instructor, I’ll call her Jen, and had an informative conversation with her. It went something like this:

“Is your studio air-conditioned?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said.

“Do you turn it on?”

“Of course.”

“What’s the temperature?”

“Whatever temperature is comfortable for you.”

“Is it power yoga?”

“No, I teach Eastern yoga.”

“How is that different from power yoga?”

“Let me put it this way, the word ‘power’ has no business being placed next to the word ‘yoga.’ Yoga is not boot camp.”

“So I don’t have to stand on my head?”

“Absolutely not.”

“How large are your classes?”

“I teach private instruction.”

“Sign me up,” I said. If I passed out, she would be the only witness.

Eastern yoga turned out to be just what I needed to complement my nature walks, but it’s not easy. Even so (and I cannot believe I’m saying this), I enjoy pushing myself a little farther each day. I feel stronger and my joints are more limber. I even have more confidence. It also beats playing field hockey.

The other day at the studio I picked up a copy of Light on Yoga by B. K. S. Iyengar. It was like looking at a copy of Ripley’s Believe it or Not. The man demonstrating yoga positions in the photographs was a veritable contortionist.

“There is no way I will ever be able to twist my body into one of those positions,” I said to Jen.

“No, probably not,” she said, “but it’s enough to aspire to that. Yoga is a process.

Indeed. Kind of like writing.

So, with Bill Bryson and the India Rubber Man for inspiration, I’m walking 1.5 miles around the lake several times a week (good for the heart) and practicing yoga (good for everything else). I can now work through a simple yoga routine without collapsing. I am hopeful that my next hiking experience will prove less difficult than the last one. At the very least, I’ll know what my limitations are.

I still work to overcome my aversion for sweating (and gnats). But, who knows? People change—sometimes a lot, sometimes a little, and sometimes change is “a process,” like yoga—and writing. So while this is not a Hollywood story of an underdog’s heroic transformation into a crowd-pleasing winner, like in the movies Rocky and Seabiscuit and Breaking Away, one thing is for sure—my years of waddlesome sloth are behind me.

© 2014 Sharyn Ellison

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Backburner

My friend Michael has a theory. Guys always have several burners going at once. Sometimes you’re on high heat up front and sometimes they move you to the back to simmer and bubble up slow. They never focus on just one dish, cooking eggs, bacon, and spaghetti sauce at the same time. Occasionally they gander, stir, and test the temperature but mostly they’re saving you for later. For when they are ready, for when the fry pan up front gets crusty and cools down.

I’m definitely on the backburner. I can feel it. I got shifted up front for a split second. It gave me enough incentive to stay engaged, but it was like the flash of a summer firefly and now I’m back on low behind the large soup tureen. Besides who really wants soup on a hot summer day? It’s just an appetizer before the main course.

I try to sip my Mudslide, but the consistency is so dense that it cakes up the straw. I remove it and take a gulp of the creamy tannish liquid. Chocolate streaks line the glass and it’s chilly and lumpy as it travels down my throat. Mandy convinced me to come to Liars tonight. I wanted to stay home swing on the hammock and feel sorry for myself. But here I am listening to her drunk as hell singing Sheryl Crow.

“Tip your fucking bartender,” she chimes in after she screeches out a lyric. You would think it was a line to the song because she yells it out every other minute.

I have been reduced to Friday night karaoke at a dive bar in Montauk with the legendary local lesbian. We met Mandy last summer at Liars where she insisted that we had hung out the previous year. We didn’t. But she was just nuts enough that we went along. She told me I had great cheekbones and that Harry had a fantastic sense of fashion. She wanted to discuss the Israeli Palestinian conflict.

“Do you follow it,” she asked.

“Yes,” Harry replied.

“Bullshit. Hey you’re pretty handsome. High five.”

She smacked his hand hard, did a shot of bourbon, and went up for more Sheryl Crow.

“Tip your fucking bartender!”

It was like her anthem. The bar smelled like sea salt and beer and the dark wood was scratched up and sticky. There were wall-to-wall people. The summer season had just begun and all the Upper Eastside douche bags had begun to arrive. Well, they don’t usually come to Liars, but still it was quite crowded. Montauk makes me miss the east coast. It’s like the real world with genuine live people. Not shiny, blonde tan humans with bright white teeth. There’s grit, fisherman, loud Brooklyn accents, and beer bellies. You know where you stand. It’s not like swimming in a murky sea of unknown intention and phony sentiment.

It’s nice to sit in the real world, even if it’s only for a few days. I can smell the rain too. Everything is fresh and green and I’m not thinking much about my backburner status. I’m calm, I’m comfy, I’m present.

“Rach, c’mon. Lets do some Go Go’s. If I hear Mandy squeal out one more Sheryl Crow I’m literally going to lose it.”

Elisa was facing away from the bar starring at Mandy and attempting to drink her Mudslide. She’s guzzling it down in thick chunks like it’s ice cream. Mandy moves her hips back and forth and jumps up and down as she screams into the microphone. Her short blonde hair bounces and her acid washed jean jacket looks a tad yellowish underneath the dim lights.

“I mean she’s not even in tune and making up half the lyrics.”

Elisa was right, but Mandy was having a great time. You could see it in the way she danced, and frankly she didn’t give a shit what anyone was thinking. She closed her eyes and smiled. The expression on her face said it all.

I visit Montauk every summer to see my old college roommate Elisa and her boyfriend Harry. They live in Brooklyn but come to Montauk on weekends to escape the sweaty city and scent of rotten hot garbage. It’s different out here. It makes you forget. It’s serene and smells sweet. It reminds me of the Cape. All the cedar shake houses and lilac bushes, lobster rolls, clambakes, and families peddling along on bicycles. It’s quaint and Norman Rockwellish. It’s certainly not Los Angeles. An ocean of traffic jams, smog, and botoxed flakes. The sun always shines like its Groundhog Day. Nothing changes. Montauk makes me feel whole.

“I found ‘we got the beat’.” Elisa says. “I signed us up. There are a million people in front, but who cares.” She slams her empty glass on the bar. It skims the surface and knocks over a saltshaker. Tiny granules sprinkle across the jagged wood like delicate snowflakes.

“Cool.” I nod. Thankfully we’ll never sing. The queue is too long and if I know Elisa and Harry they will get sick of waiting and want to go to 7-11 for late night pizza and hot wings. Mudslides always give her the munchies.

I click my phone. No messages. It’s been a week. I don’t know why I care. Its not like this is the first time I have been shifted to the backburner. I got sucked in with sweet words, promises, and three months of daily messages. We were going to surf Lower Trestles and have fish tacos, go to a Kings of Leon show at the Bowl, and wine taste in Santa Barbara. I wanted to believe because what was the point? Why say it if you don’t mean it? Meanwhile, he likes my vacation photos on Instagram. See backburner.

Finally, we get a break from Sheryl. A tiny preppy red head starts rapidly rhyming Kris Kross “Jump”. She’s actually pretty good. She knows every word by heart and doesn’t even glance at the monitor. The words zoom by so fast I can’t even read them. The Liars crowd cheers and claps noisily. The French couple next to me starts to hug each other tight and do some weird dance where they are tangled and hopping. It looks like a potato sack race. Good thing she fixed her shoe with duct tape five minutes ago. She propped her foot on to the bar and wrapped six large pieces around the tip of her sneaker.

“It fixes anything.” She said and lobs the roll back to the bartender. “Merci.”

Mandy stands to the side bobbing her head, waiting patiently for her next opportunity. The little red head’s rendition is quite catchy and I tap my sandal against the base of the stool. How does she even know the words? It looks like she isn’t old enough to have been born when the song was top of the charts. Besides those Kris Kross kids rhyming was pretty complex and dope.

“Rach, stop checking your phone. Who cares about that guy? Not even worth a second thought.”

“I wasn’t checking.” But she knows me better than that. I dot my pinky finger into several salt snowflakes cleaning up some of the scattered flecks.

She’s right, but the worst feeling in the world is to be ignored, disposed of, replaced. It makes me feel empty and worthless. Hollow like a rotting tree stump. Like something’s wrong. Why didn’t I get chosen? I know its not me, but there is that little voice deep down. That nagging nasty alter ego. The glass half empty me. The one that says yup, it is you. I’m not sad, I’m not heartbroken, but it stings a bit. Almost like a pesky mosquito bite.

“Hey there hot stuff.” Mandy is now pressed up against the bar and has her arm draped around my shoulder. Her face is two inches from mine and I can smell a combination of smoke and cream on her breath.

“Check out the cheek bones on this fox.” Mandy points above my head. “Mudslide for Mandy.” And she bangs a twenty onto the bar.

Elisa has moved on from Mudslides to Coronas and is now sitting on Harry’s lap in the corner. Her legs dangle and don’t quite reach the floor. She’s pretty drunk and incessantly flips her dark hair and giggles. Harry squeezes the back of my neck, shrugs, and then continues to watch the hockey game. He looks pretty worn out after spending all day laying sheet rock in the laundry room. He’s still got smatterings of white dust on the cuffs of his jeans.

Elisa and Harry take care of me and treat me like family. We don’t talk all the time or see each other more then once or twice a year, but when we re-unite it’s like we were never apart. We don’t skip a beat.

“Mands, tell Rachel to forget this west coast asshole and his real housewife girlfriend.”

“Forget em. You got me. Besides who has cheekbones like you? Who could pass that up? What an idiot. I’ll fix you up with a real man. What about that hunk in the lobster shorts.”

Mandy nods her head in the direction of the dock where a tall guy with salt and pepper hair chats with friends. The boys are deeply sunburned under their eyes and wear various pastel shorts with scattered random objects. Crabs, tennis rackets, whales, and strawberries to name a few. Ray Ban pilot glasses top their heads like shiny golden crowns.

“Thanks, but no thanks Mands.” The last thing I needed was Sheryl Crow’s biggest fan to be my wingman.

“Suit yourself. But I got game.”

Elisa and I both glance at each other and try not to laugh out loud. I take a large gulp of my Mudslide. I mean Mandy is the best. You couldn’t make it up if you tried.

“Thanks lady. You sure do.” I clap her on the back. Her jacket feels a bit damp. She flashes me the hang ten sign before heading back up front to bully someone into letting her do more Sheryl.

I think I’ve come to terms with my backburner status. Maybe it just wasn’t meant to be? Maybe I’m one of those people who is destined to be alone? To be the rainy day option when it doesn’t work out with the playboy bunny or cheerleader. Fuck that. I’m not waiting around for when he comes to the realization that the shiny new object is insane. I’m good with it, yea. Montauk has fixed me again. Reminded me of who I am. It tugged at me deep down and said.

“Hey, you’re an east coast girl at heart. Embrace it. You’re real, you’ve got spunk, you’ve got me. Remember my pinky orange sunsets, lumpy steep sand dunes, and pebbled rocky shores. My decadent ice cream filled summer and daily Ditch Plains surf sessions.”

I glance at the front and see Mandy trying to convince the little red head to do a duet. She’s selling her everything she’s got. She’s making loud gestures and flashing her best “Mandy smile”. The bar is still loud, but through the muffled chatting and piercing Journey song I can hear a foghorn in the distance. The moon is a tiny golden sliver and the sky is clear enough to see some twinkling stars. It almost time to drive Harry and Elisa home. I can tell she’s close to craving those hot wings.

My phone buzzes and slides across the salty wooden surface.

“Hey Girl! How are you?!?! ;)”

I study the energetic text and silly emoticon for a minute and without hesitation press delete. I take a deep breath, my shoulders relax, and that thick twisted stomach knot loosens. I let out a slight chuckle.

“Hey, can I buy you a cocktail?” Lobster shorts is now standing next to me and smiling. He’s pretty cute, even with his Ray-Ban crown at ten pm. His eyes have tiny creases underneath and his pink shirt is buttoned all lopsided.

“Sure.” I say.

Mandy’s back to Sheryl again. This time she’s playing a little air guitar and has removed the acid washed jean jacket. She stops, points at me, and winks before going back to shouting into the microphone. You would think she was playing Madison Square Garden.

“Cheers” Lobster shorts says.

“Tip your fucking bartender!”

© 2014 Michelle Blair Wilker

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Situation

What do I do in this situation?

It seems like a little thing but it’s not a little thing.

I’m pretty sure it’s not.

Stop and look at it a minute. Be willing to entertain another notion.

This is a decision.

These items are the same price. Within a single cent they are the same price.

That might be important; it might not.

But they cost the same amount.

OK; that’s one thing. And they’d be traveling basically the same distance, no matter which one I choose. It’ll take each one the same amount of time to get here.

And, even if it doesn’t, the length of time is not a factor, for me.

These aren’t pacemakers I’m looking at.

I don’t have to have the thing as soon as possible.

My well-being, my livelihood don’t depend on it. It’s just a thing I want.

It arrives when it arrives.

So that’s another thing.

One’s “in great shape.”

One is “factory sealed.”

But they’re both new. They say so.

So aren’t they both in great shape, too?

Shouldn’t they both be factory sealed?

If one isn’t, does that make it somehow less new?

You can take something out of the box and take all the packaging off of it and it’s still new.

When does the newness end? When you use it?

Ideally, I would want the new-est one, of the two.

Right?

The newest one for the cheapest price. That’s the idea.

“Newest” and “best” are the same thing, here. “Highest quality.”

So if I had some way of knowing which one is the newest. Like, which one was made first.

Which of the two was literally created earlier in the day.

Then that could, potentially, answer my question.

Maybe.

Maybe if they offered pictures.

I could decide based on a picture. I don’t think that would be irresponsible.

But then a picture isn’t the thing. It’s just what the thing looks like.

Say the person who took the picture is a terrible photographer.

His camera’s old.

And then my equipment, on this end, also isn’t state-of-the-art.

Well, that’s foolish. A bad photo isn’t a bad product.

Or a bad person. I can’t punish a guy for taking poor photographs.

What makes it okay for this decision to be meaningless?

I get to sit here and push a button and a thing comes to my house.

In a padded box.

That’s a big deal.

This isn’t lesser than any of the “important” decisions I make.

It shouldn’t be okay for me to decide in such a quick and thoughtless way.

Just because these things cost almost the same amount of money. And have about the same distance to travel.

And are frivolous.

It would be almost reckless, to act like that.

No: I’ll say it. It is reckless. It’s a reckless decision on my part, to not put the right thought into this.

It’s not a huge, overwhelming deal. But, it’s also not no deal.

You can’t just look at it and go “OK–that one.”

Somebody distinguished it for a reason.

And it’s not about the penny either. I’m not sweating the one extra cent.

Well, what about the price difference? It’s so small.

You might not even notice it.

You pay the extra cent one time and it’s no big deal. You do it a few times—you don’t even remember them.

The thing comes in the mail and you go “Oh. I got that last week. Look: it lights up. Isn’t that interesting.”

Instances…do add up, though.

Well. If it doesn’t matter, then it doesn’t matter. But if it does matter, then I don’t want to form a habit.

I don’t think someone’s out there trying to take advantage of stupid me.

Everyone can see the higher price. It’s right there. The seller with the higher price knows his price is higher.

So he must think the difference is negligible, too.

But if a penny is negligible, then why does he have a higher price at all, though?

Doesn’t everyone buy the cheaper item, always? Everything else being equal?

Is it that there isn’t a difference, and it doesn’t matter which one I get; or, is it that you always get the cheaper of the two, even if the difference is just one cent?

If the more expensive thing was a day closer in the mail, I’d get that. Sure. I’d pay a penny for a day.

That seems reasonable enough.

Maybe the seller with the higher price has the superior product. That could be.

It might have hidden features.

These descriptions say they’re identical but maybe the guy selling it is inept. And he doesn’t know about the hidden things he could be advertising.

It could be a Japanese version, or something.

Or maybe the cheaper one just looks cheap to the guy selling it. If he doesn’t know what they’re supposed to look like, he might think his looks wrong.

That’s also a possibility.

Maybe–maybe the cheaper one is being sold by someone with a better heart.

They’re the exact same product, and the person selling for a penny less does it because while he’s still making a profit, he sees no reason to be obscene about it.

That’s not impossible.

How important is a penny?

I don’t know anything about these people. I can’t tell who I’m helping and who I’m not.

All I’m getting is my own enjoyment.

I’m going to be fine. If I never get this thing, my life will continue to be just fine.

So since everything else about these items is almost exactly the same, then why not buy based on who’s a better person?

I think it makes the same amount of sense as any other process.

It could be that the person with the cheaper item really needs the money. Couldn’t it?

He needs a, his aunt is having a kidney transplant, or something.

He’s selling off everything in his house.

But it’s a tight budget. He can’t afford to go any lower. So he’s stuck hoping I’ll trust the sacrifice he’s already made.

Or maybe the cheaper one isn’t being sold by a person at all.

Maybe it’s just a company, and the company runs a program that checks to make sure it has the lowest prices on all its items, and the program adjusts those prices all the time.

That doesn’t sound like that hard a thing to set up. I bet a marginally talented person could do that in an afternoon.

Now, that’s fun.

It would be fun to cheat that program. I would get a big kick out of manipulating it.

I could strike a quiet blow for humanity.

They expect me to buy the cheaper item. But I buy the more expensive one, and thumb my noses at them while doing it.

Wouldn’t that be a self-righteous little thrill.

Maybe I should contact each seller. That couldn’t hurt.

I could ask how they arrive at their prices. How they maintain them.

I could say, “Does anyone in your family have a terminal disease, and is it because of the costly treatment of that disease that you are selling your product at the price you chose?”

As opposed to some other price.

No–they’d think it was a joke.

I wouldn’t know what to say anyway.

This is becoming a little ridiculous. I can admit that.

It might not really matter.

Not much.

Eventually I’ll decide.

Still. I wonder.

It can be hard to get what you want. That much is true.

I don’t want to be so dismissive about what I want. That wouldn’t be good.

To me.

What’s the protocol here?

I’m kind of at a loss, here.

© 2014 John Brown Spiers

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