Of Spandex & Sorrow
by Clem Flowers
"I'm sorry, but this is taking forever."
"Yeah, just search something else."
"Nononono, just a few minutes more. I promise it's worth it. It's so good."
"Are you sure they used Placebo?"
"I'm sure. And it's awesome. I mean, I think it's a cover they did, but still, it is fucking awesome."
My high school friends, now enjoying the pleasure of being able to legally buy booze, sat around the scattered seating in the basement at our rich pal/unspoken group leader's family home, tipsy & taking turns showing weird/ funny/ bizarre things found on the primordial video sharing site known as YouTube. A far- too- expensive projector screen bought by her garbage stepfather to try to gain her mother's warmth for another day served as the canvas for each of our curated selections of music videos and weird local commercials for group enjoyment.
Then came my turn.
Please understand, these were my best friends on the planet at that moment. They'd helped me come out of my shell and put behind memories of a childhood filled with illness, sadness, and the deep lonesome woes that tend to manifest themselves when you've spent so long in the hospital your classmates in second grade make cards for you.
These folks helped me discover that deep in my iron- lined closet was a bisexual, hedonistic rascal dying to get out and meet cute dudes; moreover, from them, I got how to dress cool and be introduced to new worlds of music, movies, and all sorts of pop culture ephemera. In return, they were delighted and fascinated by my deep running knowledge of TV, movies, and music of a bygone era. (Thank you immune deficiency.)
They were wonderful friends, with no judgements.
Except one- I adored pro wrestling.
They did not.
I tried on numerous occasions to articulate that which I loved about the medium- the pageantry, the drama, the morality tales, the athleticism, the rare moments to see good triumph, to see justice in an unjust world- not to mention, the kick ass fireworks that usually capped off all big pro wrestling shows.
My snarky, Hot Topic- loving friends considered it the TV show for close minded, homophobic knuckledraggers.
Considering we'd lived through the late 90s, when wrestling was at the apex of pop culture and seemed to be baptized in blood and casual misogyny, it was hard to dispute them.
Many attempts were made on my part to try and explain why I loved it (as many of them were huge glam rock fans, you'd figured the costumes would've helped a bit.)
It was a non- starter.
Just eye rolls and barbed remarks any time I brought it up.
Thus, it became my secret shame.
At least, until Placebo came into the picture.
Quick primer- Placebo is a British indie/ alt band that specialize in shimmering, moody songs dealing with drugs, sex, and a plethora of angst.
Which is to say, utter catnip for those who mostly dress in black.
Watching one of the weekly WWE shows one night, I saw a video package hyping an upcoming match for the company's biggest show of the year, Wrestlemania.
And there it was.
The weak, primordial Wi-Fi finally pulled through enough to finish buffering the video.
I shushed my slightly annoyed friends & took my seat as the video started.
What unfolded was a masterpiece.
The typical soliloquy of a wrestler (in this case, Shawn Michaels, a legend in the medium) licking their wounds over a loss and vowing revenge soon gave way to something unique.
As the tribal drums of the Placebo cover of the timeless Kate Bush classic "Running Up That Hill" came rolling in like waves on a rocky shore, what commenced was not a highlight reel of wrestling.
This was Michaels being swallowed whole, his world ripped to shambles by one thing everyone can relate to:
The desire to fix a mistake.
In the previous year's Wrestlemania, Michaels had come closer than anyone before him to ending the storied undefeated streak of The Undertaker, a ghoulish phantasm made whole in the wrestling ring.
But a bit of carelessness and the dream was crushed.
Michaels then received a storyline award for the match, which sent his mind to replay the match in his head, as it had clearly been doing for every day.
"It doesn't hurt me/ You wanna feel how it feels"
The song began in earnest.
I got caught up in the video for a moment before realizing something, something there hadn't been all night in the room:
Everyone was watching.
"If I only could/ Make a deal with God."
Denied a chance to "right the wrong" at seemingly every turn, Michaels fell into the clutch of madness; attacking innocents, friends, idols- anyone who he deemed a threat to his one wish.
"You don't wanna hurt me/ See how deep the bullet lies."
Finally, after weeks upon weeks of chaos, The Undertaker agreed to the rematch. With a condition- if Michaels failed to defeat him again, then Michaels had to retire from wrestling.
Michaels replied: "You don't get it. If I can't beat you at Wrestlemania, I have no career."
A bit of a heavy handed line to end on, and one I was certain my friends would roast instantly.
But there were no laughs.
After a few moments, one of the group offered a summation of my friend's reviews of the piece:
"Shit. That was good."
Murmurs of agreement followed.
After that, someone cued up a highlight reel of weird infomercials and we had a good laugh.
Now, do I think I converted any of them to wrestling fans that night?
But, none of them ever ragged on me if they saw me in a wrestling shirt again.
Clem Flowers is a queer, soft spoken Southern transplant living in the colossal shadow of a mountain range in Utah. They enjoy cooking, watching old films, and making many trips to a local bird sanctuary. They live in a cozy apartment with their wonderful wife and their sweet calico kitty Luna. They can be found on Twitter at @hand_springs777.
Chorus Blog is our opportunity as the team behind Meow Meow Pow Pow to share our interpretation of the themes we ask writers to submit work for. Here is our Chorus Blog on... "Bees."
Charming - Marie Marandola
I said, look at the bees
in my yellow-flower tree,
and he said, a single tree
is just a pollinator rest stop
and your bees cannot be saved.
I said I was thankful for the sunrise
and the singing birds, the roof
above my head, and he said,
not everyone is happy.
Don’t be so brazen with your gratitude.
I said I’d like to cook
a meal for him. And he said,
But that’s not the way
my mom makes it.
I said, Here,
I wrote this love poem for you,
and he said, why
would you use such a cheap word as love?
I said, let’s share a home, a life,
and he said, Life?! I thought
this milkshake was enough.
And then he hit the spoon
out of my hand.
I said that I was leaving,
and he said--
Let’s try again. I mean,
we were so perfect for each other.
And I said, you know?
The slipper never really fit
as well as I pretended,
it was only ever made of glass.
Reaching Detente - Brennan DeFrisco
I am not at home when she speaks
to the small workers harvesting lavender,
preparing pollen for alchemy,
a hundred million year old recipe
secreted in the tips of flowers.
I am not home when she requests
safe passage, a visa to remove weeds,
hive minds think alike, so, when she speaks
the whole apiary hears her voice--
she notices the sibilance in symbiosis,
wonders if buzzing is just an s
vibrating at a high frequency.
I am not home when she enters
an empire of lilies, threat of venom,
elegy for allergies, each stinger
a splinter in death’s fence
along which, my affections require
a twist & a steel tip driven
into her soft thigh.
I am not home
when she reaches détente
moves through their airspace
like a game of Operation
& pulls a jade spike
from its wiry roots
Flight - Alex Simand
The best part of being high
is how honey tastes
traveling back in time
from blossom to pollination
how it captures valleys
like landscape painters do
so you can hear a brook
chasing itself through moss
or how rain goes bounding
through birch leaves
how mushrooms sprout in shade
Earth convening its pores
how wildflowers aren’t pretty
not for us never for us
but for themselves
and for bees taking who give
beating bodies into trunk
disappearing like ash into bark
bark into boulder
Bees. There is no other creature on the planet that is more emblematic of growing up than the bee, to me. I don’t mean in the way the bee works, or flies, or eats, or stings, or lays eggs, or makes honey. It is how the perception of the bee changed over the course of my life.
As a small boy I would stop my mother from killing bugs all the time. Sunday School taught me that I should not kill. Therefore no one else should either, correct? Also, there is the golden rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you? I don’t want to be killed; therefore I won’t try and kill anyone else, including bees. As my mother rolled up a newspaper or a magazine I would rush and place myself – standing somewhere around her kneecap – between the bee and her. I would raise up my arms, palms open, fingers outstretched and should, “No mommy! Don’t kill it.”
My mother would put down whatever killing tool she had in her hand and watch as I ran to grab my step stool, race back to the bee and climb the tiny ladder. With nothing but my bare hand I would lead the bee – or the ant, the spider, the roach – into my other hand, cup the creature and place it outside in the grass. I knew bees liked flowers, so if the bee did not fly away, I would pluck one from the garden and engulf the bee in the pedals. Almost always the bee would do its work and take off. I suspect my mother would hide the bees that did not make it from my eyes.
As I entered kindergarten, and grade school, I learned of bee allergies. Having no allergies in the whole family I’d never encountered the concept that someone could potentially react poorly to something else. But on some Tuesday in November of First Grade – I remember because it was Turkey Tuesday, where we traced our hands and, well, you know the rest – a bee flew in, evidently avoiding the blistering cold.
My friend and one other classmate were excused from the classroom. I asked why, and our teacher had to explain that they were allergic. The classmate who sat next to me said, “Yeah. They could die.” What a horrid thought. My friend dying from what? A sting?
The vice principal came down and tried to smash the creature to smithereens. I got up to save the little winged fuzzball but the teacher ushered me back to my seat, saying it would be safer if the bee died. I wept silently as a thwack sounded in our room, and my teacher gave the thumbs up as the Vice Principal left.
After this experience, bees equated to fear. Bees could sting. Indeed, I got stung once in the third grade where the stinger stayed lodged in my bicep and the skin started to heal before a neighbor took tweezers to it. Every time a bee entered my vicinity a dread would hit me in my throat and cascade down into my heart where each beat felt like a stab.
And yet, as life moved forward, so did my understanding. I had been taught the old mantra that “It’s more afraid of you than you are of it.” Yet this did not stick until a biology course, a college education, and a manual labor job passed me by. The biology course taught me the incredible significance that bees have as one of the main pollinators in the world. The college education, specifically as a sociology major, taught me to observe power dynamics. And the manual labor job put me right in the midst of bees on the daily basis.
I worked on a property that housed senior citizens and worked as a gardener for a summer internship. There I weeded the flower gardens every day. In the sunlight, I would step deep in between the flowers and immerse myself in what amounted to a beehive, just without the hive. This took a bit of praying and a breath to get myself to do. The honeybees flew all around me. They landed on me. They tickled my ear. They walked on my beard. They’d sandwich themselves between the fingers of my gloves.
It took the wisdom of the grounds keeper to get me to see everything. He didn’t say that much either. The man, who looks much like an American Hagrid, simply walked up and said, “They won’t hurt you. They don’t want to. Look, they’re surrounding you.” Imagine the benevolence of such creatures. Here I stood, a walking giant capable of bee genocide if I wanted, and all the bees would do is fly around me, and occasionally act on their curiosity.
Any fear of bees left after that summer. They’re such a beloved creature in my home that when I, or my wife, see them we watch for half a minute or more as the bee’s buzz around. When one comes in my home, I usher it out gently, but still don’t feel quite capable of putting it into my bare hand. But boy, do I want to. And that’s pretty much what adulthood feels like to me. An attempt to realize how baseless your fears are and try to get back to the unimpeded innocence and joy of childhood.
Pine Honey - Cassandra Panek
August. The Pine Barrens. Alarmed flyers warn of the invasion of the Spotted Lanternfly. Pictures showcase its vibrant red and spotted wings. It’s pretty. If seen, it should be killed, bagged, reported. I take a nature walk and make pine needle tea.
July. Penn Campus. Twisted shells on the pavement, still identifiable as spotted lantern foe. We don’t bag and report them anymore. They’re already here. Everyone knows. The flyers didn’t mention they were fast, leaping, hard to kill. Nothing wants to eat them yet.
May. A patio. I’ve been spraying nymphs with neem oil. Right in the face. They don’t leave, they just frown. Will this interrupt their life cycle? It’s certainly not killing them outright. I murdered the first adult yesterday, squashed it with my phone, left the body as a warning. Two wasps are cannibalizing it.
September. A doorway. They alight on screens. They sound big like locusts. I startle and swear. They sucked the sap from my blackberry canes and flourished. Foliage is covered in their leavings; honeydew is secreted by aphids, psyllids, and spotted lanternflies. Bees collect it when nectar is scarce, often early spring and late summer, culling from fungus and scale and oak dew too.
When collected instead of floral sweets honeydew produces ominous cells of shining black nectar. It transmutes from insect waste to a dark, heavy-flavored substance through bee alchemy. Called forest honey, çam balı, miel de sapin, names to highlight region and obscure origin, honeydew honey boasts varied flavors of malt or mint, tastes sweet or spicy, and is suggestive of sap. Its nuances are as varied as the countries where it’s more common than the mono- and polyfloral varieties favored in the eastern United States.
October. A pandemic. I trapped a lanternfly under a candle globe and now I have a perfect deceased specimen. They’ll all be dead in a few cold nights. The bees are growing sluggish. I’ll be bold. I’ll peek in the hive, consider the combs, scour for oil-rich cells. Then I’ll hunt the woods for egg masses to scrape down and destroy.
Killer Bees - Jane-Rebecca Cannarella
for Jumpin’ Jim Brunzell and B. Brian Blair
Bewilderment was once black and yellow stripes, high flying initially, and independent eventually. Stings took the shape of multiple Mashed Confusions; all men in the square dressed similarly from flyers to referees and puzzled opponents with the zigzag shadows of every man as a masquerade: dancing with bounced step. Achieving victory in the before days, duos of bzz eliminated their opponents, and royalty came in the form of mass bodies in competition. The insects faced survival among more complex predators, but were hacked from a perched branch. Stocks slipped, two cards once in a row shuffled out of order; the stinging was unsuccessful in later years. Final days were spent feuding with leather straps. Everything confusing ultimately gets demolished. Out of the eyes of others, the team tore apart. Driven from a crowned queen and honey in the hive: entwined entities shifted to singular preliminary bodies: as fragile as larvae broken from the brood. The stinging stopped; and it marked the end of the black and yellow days of Bees.
I once lived in the state of Utah, which is known as the Beehive State. Its state emblem is the beehive and the state insect is the honeybee. All the good Mormons were supposed to be like worker bees, working towards a common good. That's what the beehive was supposed to represent—industry. In fact before Utah was called Utah, it was named The State of Deseret by the followers of Joseph Smith. Deseret in the Book of Mormon means bee. Another interesting fact: There's even a small newspaper there called The Mormon Worker that's all about mormonism, pacifism, and anarchism. Whooda thought there was such a thing as Mormon Anarchists?
Last week, a honeybee stung my daughter. We were at my mom's house in Hood River, Oregon. The bees stung my mom too. They were ground bees, which I didn't know were actually a thing. No, that's not true, ground bees once stung my wife. They came out of a dead stump in our driveway. It's strange because I myself have never been stung by a bee in my entire life.
Top 5 People WHo Have Played Bees ON TV - Hub
in no particular order...
B. Brian Blair
A woman, a wife, a widow named Ramona, carried half a dozen yards of lace over her outstretched arms. Even though it was black — freshly dyed and washed once for starch — it looked dull in the sun. Gray and ashy like her skin.
The summer heat played along. The liquid from the washing tub had sizzled against the backyard rocks, but the light itself pale. Limp and lifeless.
Ramona swallowed a lump - the sensation painful and unsatisfying.
After 1,275 steps, she arrived at the gate to the apiary.
It, too, played the color game, she noticed. It’s bright red looked muddy and sad. It looked like old blood staining the barnyard floor. The hinges creaked as they opened, and even though Ramona flinched at the metal scream - the keeper didn’t seem to notice the protest.
“Be calm,” he said. His voice low, sweet, and slow like the jar of honey back on the breakfast table.
She nodded and entered the precious space and walked over to the large hive.
She cleared her throat.
The man snuck up and tapped her shoulder, shushing when she startled. “They’ll listen.”
Ramona bent down low, grimacing at the sound of the little wings, the sight of the pale yellow bodies. Their black was dark, though — rich, which surprised her. “I’m here to tell you…” her voice caught, but she didn’t want the keeper to touch her again.
“I’m here to tell you that the master of the house has passed,” she whispered. Her breath filled the air between her and the bees, and she swore that they slowed down to listen. “I have your veil to help you mourn,” she said, and after a long moment, she finished her errand, “and hope that you’ll stay with us.”
In the silence that followed, Ramona found her shoulders sliding downward. The tiny buzzing creatures did not respond to superstitious voices, but they were soothing in their own busy way.
by J. Sam Williams
noun: insurrection; plural noun: insurrections
a violent uprising against an authority or government.
"the insurrection was savagely put down"
In the early hours of November 10, 1898 a fire grew on the grounds of The Daily Record in Wilmington, North Carolina. This fire signaled the start of a coordinated attack by a mob of white men who targeted The Daily Record due to it being a prominent black-owned business. Alexander Manly, the owner, had been told to destroy the paper and get out of town, or the mob would do it for him.
By the end of the day 60 black residents were dead, the newspaper building had burned to the ground, and many black citizens had fled for their lives. The attack was a coordinated effort by white supremacists to remove black influence and retake political power for Democrats, the conservative party of the late 1890s, and which represented the values of white supremacists. The leader of the attack, Alfred Moore Waddell, was a former member of Congress, and would go on to become Mayor of Wilmington.
Two days prior to the coup d’etat the local government had been elected, and the Republican party, the liberal party of the era, was largely in control. Upset with the circumstances, Waddell and his mob decided to take matters into their own hands. Rather than respect a free election, they decided their values were more important. They imposed their will by force, and succeeded.
Last week we witnessed the echoes of history on a massive scale. A mob formed, masked to the world as protestors. They listened to President Trump and other conservative politicians. They heard about how the election had been stolen. They believed in lies, and spurred on by carefully worded hints and nods the mob moved towards the Capitol building. The symbol of American freedom, American dreams, American ideals.
“What happened today was an insurrection incited by the President.” - Mitt Romney
Upset with the election results, and with Democrats, America’s liberal party, taking full control of the Presidency, the Senate and the House of Representatives these criminals rushed police and broke into the Capitol building to stop the confirmation of Joseph Biden’s Presidential win, convinced that the election had been stolen.
They battled with the Capitol Police, injuring at least 56 police officers, and killing Officer Brian D. Sicknick. Four members of the mob died, one shot by the police, the other three from “medical emergencies.” Video and photos showed mobsters being maced, having guns drawn on them. Separately officers were spotted taking selfies with the criminals, helping them down the steps of the capitol building, and observing as the mob walked around casually.
Bombs, guns, destruction of property, videos of a lone officer running as the mob rushed him - these are the acts, the symbols, the definition of terrorists and terrorism. Domestic or not, white or not, the people who attacked the Capitol were terrorists. They stormed the seat of government of the United States with the intent to overthrow the outcome of the election. Holding onto the words of a false god, thinking they bore the torch of righteousness, these terrorists tried to stage “a revolution” as one maced women said to a camera.
While many have tried, there is no comparison to the protests we have seen in relation to social issues like police brutality, or the rights of citizens based on name-a-category. While people may disagree with people exercising their freedom of speech to burn American Flags, or block highways, that can’t be compared with breaking into a government building. To those who try and compare the destruction of private property to an attempted coup - the literal attempt to overtake the government - may I introduce you to the False Equivalence logical fallacy. Someone throwing a brick through a Costco window is not the same as halting the Presidential certification to keep President Trump in power.
Apples to oranges doesn’t cover it. Apples and oranges are at least pieces of fruit. There is no similarity here. The opposition to a free and fair election is the stuff of freedom’s nightmares. To keep a President in power, even after losing an election, because the President pretends to hold onto the values you hold is not what the US Constitution protects. The Constitution upholds a government that elects representatives to make laws for us, a democratic Republic, a government that protects, in theory, the right for us to have our own religion, our own values. For citizens to rise up and attempt to force their values on other citizens by violent means is a theocracy. And as much as some Americans may want a theocracy, America, as set up by its founding documents, is not one.
The difference between someone shouting, “Black Lives Matter!” and rifling through elected leader’s offices, leaving threatening notes, breaking windows, and swapping out the American Flag for a flag that says the name of one man, is so vast that only the severely indoctrinated won’t be able to spot the contrast.
What’s worse is the President of the United States knew that this protest was scheduled. He knew that he had stirred the hearts of many to believe that Democrats were stealing the election from right under all our noses. He had access to all the information possible that indicates that such diversionary tactics, such a drive to nationalism, to the extreme, causes violence. Instead of ensuring proper methods of security to protect the presidential certification, he denied multiple requests to mobilize the National Guard. Eventually his Vice President had to take charge when the violence escalated.
Then, and only after President-elect Biden demanded it, Trump put out a message to “quell” the terrorists.
“I know your pain. I know you’re hurt. We had an election that was stolen from us. It was a landslide election, and everyone knows it, especially the other side.
But you have to go home now. We have to have peace. We have to have law and order. We have to respect our great people in law and order. We don’t want anybody hurt. It’s a very tough period of time.
There’s never been a time like this where such a thing happened where they could take it away from all of us — from me, from you, from our country. This was a fraudulent election.
But we can’t play into the hands of these people. We have to have peace. So go home. We love you. You’re very special. You’ve seen what happens. You see the way others are treated — that are so bad and so evil. I know how you feel, but go home and go home in peace.”
Trump’s message was essentially, “Not like this. Your hearts are in the right place, but this isn’t the Law and Order I campaigned on. Go home. For now. We’ll get these evil-doers later.” Trump has cast Democrats and their supporters as evil, dangerous, he’s created a scapegoat out of Americans that don’t support him, cast politicians as devil-worshipers for if they don’t support him, god, then they must support the devil, not-Trump. These attacks on the beliefs of anything other than what Trump thinks his base values are directly tied to the attacks on the Capitol.
Trump has encouraged terrorists.
Even in the midst of the terrorism he did nothing to address the cause, only the symptoms. Did Trump even condemn the terrorists? He did not. He called them special. He told them he loved them.
When Trump’s presidency started to become more of a reality, many of his would-be voters would ask this question, “What can he really do though?” We’re sitting with the fruition of his decisions as the President. We all stay inside to avoid a disease that has caused nearly 400,000 deaths in less than a year. And while we all stood still when nearly 3,000 died on 9/11 and attempted to find an immediate solution, we can’t be bothered to even believe there is an issue when over 3,000 die a day. We all watch as Americans rush fellow Americans, call them un-american, prepare to take fellow Americans hostage and fly the flag of the Confederacy, a dead and defeated enemy state of the US that tried to keep one of the most ultimate evils alive.
This is the man that so many American’s voted for. A man who leveraged division, and the misplaced anger of so many to win power for himself. And for what? To help pay his debts? To make more money for himself? Americans chose a mouthpiece for values that the man doesn’t even hold. Trump works for himself, and he said whatever he needed to grab power, to put himself in a position where he could, well, name a selfish action. The office didn’t change him. The responsibility didn’t make him a better man. There was never a magical solution for electing a narcissist who can’t accept consequences. This false god has been exposed as the biggest loser in American history. Unfortunately, what he’s rekindled won’t die with the end of his Presidency.
Nationalism, White Supremacy, Manifest Destiny, the usurping of American Patriotism, this is part of American History that we all must reckon with in order to heal, and to build a better future. Our country started with slavery as a major economic resource to help build our infrastructure. Any country that starts out this way must do some real reckoning. There are so many mistakes to see. We must take off our blinders and stop putting new ones on our children. We must learn about events like the Wilmington coup, the Tulsa bombing, the lynching in the 1920s. We must see the correlation of how the end of slavery led to the mass incarceration of black men and women to keep them enslaved legally, how this has led to a history of police brutality towards black people and a deep seeded mistrust. We must see the relation to today’s social movements, where black people are asking that we just value their lives as much as anyone else, that we can say the simple sentence, “Black lives matter.” Where is the lie in that phrase if we truly value all life? We must see the double standards when protestors gather to expose police brutality and are met with force, while white people can break in to the Capitol Building and, in the words of Michele Obama, “...once the authorities finally gained control of the situation, these rioters and gang members were led out of the building not in handcuffs but free to carry on with their days.” Can we not see the evil in this? These people committed egregious crimes and were led away. Over this summer we saw mass arrests. Where were these mass arrests on Capitol Hill?
Trump has virtue signaled White Supremacy right back into the forefront of society. Supremacists have such strong convictions that they felt like they could start a revolution and not face consequences. Largely they did not. They marched on Capitol Hill and left Capitol Hill. Four casualties is a light price to pay for actual revolutions, just ask any revolutionary in Europe whose head lies in the bottom of a basket of revolutions past. Time will tell how many of these poor excuses of revolutionists are arrested.
We will be dealing with the repercussions of the Trump presidency for decades. White supremacists, domestic terrorists, they have this figurehead to assign a twisted form of martyrdom too. They see this as the forces of evil winning. Why? Trump told them so. And unfortunately there are so many whose faith has been usurped by the idea of Trump. Somehow Trump has convinced many Christians that Trump trumps Christ. Republicanism for some has become an idolatry and those in power have become gods. And these new gods have the ability to convince the masses of obvious lies, providing “alternative facts.” A new form of politics is born and it is here to stay. Look at the certification of Biden’s win. A handful of politicians still went through with challenging the election even after witnessing first hand what undermining a free election does.
The ideas that Trump trumpets will survive without complete condemnation. Fraudulent elections, evil democrats, fear for losing an America that never existed; these ideas will be echoed on a major level due to the failure to respond. Trump was allowed to continue being the President. He resided in the White House, he held command of the Armed Forces. It was a small amount of time, granted, but what kind of message are we sending if a President can inspire insurrection and remain in office, one command from accessing nuclear codes? Our government is sending the message that it is too hard to remove such a dangerous presence, and that even when the embers of a civil war spark, political wins in 2022 are more important for the GOP than condemning the leader of their own party, the man who is responsible for all of this.
To the citizens who voted for Trump because he supports conservative values, this is a moment for you to reassess your priorities and reconcile your perspective on life. Insurrection, violence, death, the tearing down of American ideals for one man, is it worth it for whatever policy you wanted? Is it worth it for stacked courts? For harder immigration? For tax benefits? Think on this, because you who voted for Trump enabled this.
Our politicians have a moral duty to remove a dangerous man. They failed in the immediacy. Neither the 25th amendment or a second impeachment trial came to fruition in the appropriate amount of time. There is hope that a completed impeachment trial will lead to Trump being disqualified from ever running for President.
Our citizens have a moral duty to speak up and demand the removal of dangerous ideology from our government. It is so important that we squish this insurrection as firmly as possible. This is a moment where we can pursue both sides of Machiavelli’s recommendation. We can rule by fear by squashing all manner of white supremacy, spoken or unspoken, removing the means to messaging ideas of hate, condemning it at all levels, while also ruling with love, by listening to legitimate concerns of wealth inequality, drug ravaged communities, and a future that will continue to abandon blue collar work. We cannot forget that our students are watching, the young minds being molded by every moment in this debacle. If we allow the ideas Trump spewed to live on, if we cannot be intolerant of intolerance, if we allow politician's mottos to be “all is fair in love and politics” then we will face waves like this again and again, as we have since the inception of this country.
We must reconcile what happened at the Capitol. We have an opportunity to see America for what it is, to see the duality between white people’s experience and POC’s experience. This is not a moment to let past, to allow true evil, lies, deceit, selfishness, to run back to its layer, yelping from a slight slap on the wrist. We must weed out what allowed the insurrection to occur. We must work to eradicate the intolerance and animosity of White Supremacy, because it is unsustainable to live in country so divided.
The Return of Raven, The Acid Bath Princess of Darkness
It’s two thousand and eight, you’re a teenager at Hot Topic, and you love nothing more in this world than Gerard Way.
When I was a kid, there was a cable network called The Family Channel. One program they showed was reruns of the 1960s version of “Batman,” a character that debuted in Detective Comics in 1939. There was an episode called “The Bloody Tower” where Batman’s sidekick Robin (real name: Dick Grayson) stumbles over a clearly marked Death Bee Beehive Trip Wire set up by the villainous Lord Marmaduke Ffogg. Ffogg’s daughter, Lady Prudence, stands over Robin and mocks him coolly, advising him to stay calm or risk being stung. So, this bee, I don’t know if it was made of felt or paiper-mâché or what, but it was about the fakest thing I have ever seen. I have a distinct memory of watching this show with my sisters, my parents having given us vanilla ice cream with hot fudge on top.
Ranking the Characters of “The West Wing” by Punk Cred
I have been on a rerun binge of NBC’s “The West Wing,” drawn in partly due to the HBOMax reunion special, but also because I genuinely enjoyed the show during its original 1999-2006 broadcast run. Martin Sheen’s “President Jed Bartlet” is often held up as the Commander-In-Chief people wish we had, especially in these uncertain blah blah blah. He failed to disclose his multiple sclerosis and covertly had a rogue Middle Eastern minister of defense assassinated - these misdeeds feel quaint in the wake of unprecedented lying, bigotry, and suppression from the current crook in the Oval Office.
Note: The following is based on a dream the author had a few years ago, and while generally you should not write out your dreams and/or nightmares, the author decided to try anyways and make something coherent/cognizant/meaningful out of it. You can decide if it works. if you dare...
City of Terror
We found ourselves in this small mountain town filled with floating castles and ancient-looking buildings—museums, churches, capitols, old houses—each historic and antiquated monument floating atop its own individual mountain, like a dozen acropolises. We’d spent the morning visiting each one, gallivanting around with the other tourists. The city itself was in a large valley made up of the small hills and cobblestone streets that wound around these edifices. White snow topped the green mountains on either side of us.
The sun was bright, but you could barely feel it as the narrow valley and hills and many buildings had a tendency to slant its rays and keep the sun from penetrating totally in the street of the city. The whole town looked as if it were painted as a chiaroscuro. Light. Dark. Light. Dark. In some parts, particularly down low, the cold air and dark shadows felt as if they were emanating from the earth itself.
We were on vacation in this small, fairy-tale-like-town for, as they call it, a “Babymoon.” Particularly special for us because we’d spent several years navigating the hellscape of miscarriages and infertility treatments, with visits to doctors’ offices becoming more frequent than meals eaten out.
As evening encroached, my six-month pregnant wife and I soon found ourselves in line with all the other tourists to go to a famous ball put on by the locals. The waiting area sat atop an inclined street that led to the base of a small castle. The entire city and valley stretched out on either side of us. A 360-degree view but for the stone structure right in front of us. Pink snow topped the green mountains as dusk approached.
They said the city began as a refugee camp, some years, long ago. A different time, but the same world. These residents walked and lived in camps at first. All borders shut. Some of them lived in cages. There was no room at any inn they stopped at along the way. So, one day, they made their own way to a part of the world no one cared they’d occupy. Somewhere in between Greenland, Wyoming, and Azerbaijan. They built a city for themselves. Because no one else would. Some of them were architects after all. And doctors. And city planners. And philosophers. And lawyers. Those that were still living.
My wife and I were tired. The tiredness that hits the bottoms of your feet and lower back, exacerbated from walking around on cobblestone all day. My wife was not feeling good. She sat down next to me as we waited in line for the doors to open.
After thirty minutes or so, people began grumbling amongst themselves. It was a strange noise to hear after walking about this town all day and hearing nothing but laughter, joy, and curiosity coming from folks—both us tourists and the locals alike. That’s when I first felt that something was not quite right.
Perhaps it was because there was a man in line I didn’t like the sight of. He looked like he was concealing a weapon but it couldn’t have been, for weapons were outlawed, no, not outlawed, didn’t exist.
In fact, the more I thought about it, I realized that this entire fantastical little city existed without a single unit of police or military. There were not even jails for there were no need for them. A guide had told us this as we toured the largest castle on the tallest peak—it’s location right behind the smaller castle in front of us. It was strange for us Americans, who were so used to guns and men in uniform patrolling the streets. So used to violence and the unpredictability of men.
Night started to descend while we waited in line, and as the lights of the town flickered on, everyone’s phones started to ring and ding, one by one, with the sound of text messages and call alerts. People began picking up, unworried at first, and then more so as they realized that it was not just their phone going off, but everyone’s, and something of this nature could only be an emergency alert.
My wife stood up with one hand holding her stomach, the other on her lower back. I grabbed her left hand to help her rise. The sound was far enough away and unexpected enough that most of the looks the other tourists’ faces were ones of shock and confusion. Were they bombing the ski resort up above us for avalanches, perhaps?
We all rushed down and around the cobblestone street leading up to the castle and over to her so we could see what had caused her to scream. And that’s when we saw it as we wound around to the right of the small castle to join her: The large castle crumbling and falling off the side of the hill. Another explosion punctured the air. We all flinched. More of the castle crumbled away. Distant screams.
Then, other sounds. Closer, deeper, faster, and more shocking. Right behind us. The sound of a gun, I think. The sound of bodies suddenly flapping against the cobblestone next to us.
I grabbed my wife and we rolled down a small knoll in the street to the left. I pushed her down hard, harder than I should have for a woman carrying a child. The shots continued.
“Let’s go!” I whispered to my wife.
We got up, crouching, and began running down the street that wound itself down the hill like an ice cream cone.
“We have to get down and get out of this city,” my wife said. I nodded.
We jumped a small guardrail and I caught my wife as she jumped and then tumbled on top of me into the sweet, green grass that covered the hills in between the switchbacks of the road. Grass so green and fertile you could nearly taste it in the cream and milk at restaurants and coffee shops.
I pushed her down beside a small bush and lay flat. The trucks drove by above us, the men wearing Viking masks. We heard them stop. Doors open. More sounds.
Pop pop pop. Pop pop pop.
“Down with the imperialists!” one said. Or was it tourists?
I nodded at my wife to keep moving and she nodded back. We moved straight down the grass this time, slowly, my wife huffing, and when the road came up again below us, we paused, looked right and left for signs of anymore trucks, dashed across the road like the chipmunks and squirrels had done all day, and began moving down the next stretch of grass between the winding-ice-cream-cone of a road, always crouching. Staying low.
We had moved fast. That’s what had saved us. Despite my wife’s pregnancy and the slow walking down the hill now, those first few moves were crucial. The drop and the roll down the small knoll in the street, then around to the left. Then down the street. Now the hills.
We would get out of this I thought. Whatever this was. And that’s when the top of the small mountain we were just on exploded. Tiny pieces of rock and ancient brick from the castle flew over us. We hit the ground again. Our ears ringing now. For this one was close and loud and big. We covered our heads with our frail hands. I threw myself on top of my wife. We could hear the trucks coming back down the ice-cream-cone road.
We moved down the hill and were back in the town, the city of shops and stores and restaurants and bars that spread across the base of the valley and clustered up around each acropolis. The place that earlier today had seemed so beautiful and peaceful and quiet and calm. We ran across the street, into one of those fancy touristy-yet-local restaurants that serves high-end Italian dishes alongside hand-rolled sushi. We burst in, my wife and I. Covered now in grass and rubble. Short of breath. A small trickle of blood was running down my wife’s left temple. A bruise was developing on my knee. Everyone looked up at us simultaneously. Most of them locals. Not one of them looked concerned. Did they not know? Did they not hear?
“The explosions!” I shouted. “The men, the guns! Didn’t you hear it? This place is not safe. We need to move, all of you. Now!”
They continued to stare at us in silence. The approaching steps of two men in suit jackets.
“I’m sorry, sir, but we’re going to have to ask you to leave.”
They threw us out.
Our goal was then to make it out of the city at all costs. We could survive in the woods, my wife and I. We could survive in the streams and rivers and fields and glaciers and whatever was beyond this town. It was where we were most comfortable, to be honest.
“There’s two of them there!” someone shouted, as we crept through the streets.
I whipped around to see four men with guns behind who had caught sight of us. I grabbed my wife and we barged through a door to the building on our left as shots hit the cobblestone street.
We entered what appeared to be the circular lobby of a bank or a governmental office. Everything was polished and white and marble. A large chandelier hung down in the center of the space. There was only one desk at the far end of the room, a concierge of sorts. My wife’s right arm was draped around me as she held her stomach and leaned heavily onto me. I held her around the waist. We walked toward the concierge who, upon seeing us, promptly picked up his phone and began dialing.
“No, wait!” I shouted. “She’s pregnant.”
The man seemed unconcerned.
“We have papers, documents! We’re travelers, American citizens. Do you see what’s going on out there?”
The man paused for a second, considering. Maybe he considered the baby. Maybe he considered us a nuisance more than anything, as less than, as not even something worth giving up.
“You can go out the back way,” he said. “You cannot stay here, but I can let you leave quietly. Where you choose to go from there is up to you.”
“Please, just don’t send us back out there,” screamed my wife. “We just need to get out of this city!”
“Fine. Follow me,” said the man. He was black and wearing at least a thousand-dollar suite.
He led us through the door behind the concierge desk and then another one. Each hallway was white, polished, and marble. He let us out into an alley. In one direction was a dead end. The other led back into one of the main streets.
“Goodbye,” he said. “And, Good luck.”
The door slammed behind him and we froze.
And that’s when we were rescued. Sort of. A young, muscular man in a hoodie sitting outside a door further down the alley. He looked at us for a second, then waved us over. We ran to him. We had no other choice.
The young man closed the wooden door behind us a with a small bang. It made both my wife and I flinch for it sounded like a gun shot.The young man, however, also seemed unconcerned. He was nearly apathetic and unapologetic as he sized us up. Contemplating what to do with us. As if we were a hindrance to his evening and not fleeing for our lives from the violence outside. He didn’t offer us tea or coffee. Neither did he even offer us a seat. Not even to my pregnant wife who was now bleeding rather profusely from somewhere on her head. All he said, was, “Follow me.”
We followed him through two rooms and down a small flight of stairs into a cellar of sorts. It smelled of wine, dates, figs, and cheese, was earthy and comforting.
“Here,” he said, opening a latch in the center of the floor to reveal a large hole.
“This slide will shoot you out of the city.”
“Yes, it’s an emergency slide. Should things ever get too bad.”
I was dumbfounded. “But … Isn’t this bad?”
“This is normal,” the man said. “On this day, you just happen to be the unlucky ones. We cannot shelter anyone here who was not born here. And sometimes the locals get a little bit tired of all the tourists.”
“So they shoot them?” my wife asked.
“But what about the buildings?” I asked.
“We like rebuilding things. It’s what makes this city so interesting. But then everyone wants to come and look at the things we’ve built. And sometimes we get tired of it. We do not have to let anyone come, after all. This is our home. A home we were forced to make on our own when no one would accept us into theirs. So we are not obligated to help anyone. No one felt obligated to help us.”
“But what about—”
“Please,” the man said. “You must go. I must return to my work. I have much to do.”
“Thank you,” my wife said, even though I did not feel like thanking this man.
“I must go,” he said. “Au revoir.”
I spun toward my wife. She nodded at me. Giving me strength. I took her hand and we jumped.
When I was young, I often assumed that every German living in 1940’s Nazi Germany was a full on Nazi. Or else a resister. But no, many of them were bakers, simply going to work each day, baking bread, watching the ash rise from the smokestacks and thinking nothing of it. They thought nothing of war. They merely went to work and did their job and didn’t ask too many questions. Like this man.
Or was it I who, in a past life, was the baker?
We landed on the soft earth some thousand feet below the city. A lake stretched out in front of us. My wife and I did not look back at the city above us but kept moving forward. The city in the valley with the hills and acropolises and the sweet, green grass. That city was probably red now. Red and yellow from fire. Beautiful City. City of Terror. City of No Samaritans.
Pop a mind-altering substance. Maybe a cup of warm cider. Or a soft wool blanket. Or the semaphore of a cat who sits just out of reach. Is an edible available? Sure, that works. Or simply rub your entire torso against a wooden fence until your neighbor buys a shotgun and brandishes it at you. Next, take out your pen and stab yourself with it, like a Super Solider™ preparing to go into battle except the battle is the act of laying extremely still in a purple meadow surrounded by swaying trees. Birch and Elm and Oak and Willows and every conceivable genus of Eucalyptus. Trees. Those woven sinews snaking between now and next, up and down. Sit and smell your invention. No don’t write, you dummy, that’s how the ink spills out and ruins the meadow. Don’t sully your imagination by pressing it against these soft, sweet trees. You little Longhorn Beetle. You fruit of rot. You inadvertent mycelium. Holster that pen, soldier.
Parents will probably start to creep in at this point. As they do. As they will. They’ll stain the walls with bits of china and they’ll bring with them the artifacts of childhood. A watercolor of a nameless boat. Charles Aznavour records stacked to the ceiling. A Bescherelle of nonexistent conjugations. A few pets will appear. A floppy-eared dog. A cat named Magic who ran off into the ravine. Maybe a small bird will perch on your shoulder as you practice your scales. Or a rat will emerge from your sleeve with a sage piece of advice. Something about the soil in a cemetery. You should listen to it, because it’s just you in animal skin, which is the best skin, the best you. There’s a bloodletting coming, obviously. But it’s not prophetic. Just a happy splatter. A happy little splatter with your family watching proudly.
"No don’t write, you dummy, that’s how the ink spills out and ruins the meadow. Don’t sully your imagination by pressing it against these soft, sweet trees."
This piece was originally published in the Stansbury Forum on June 6, 2020. The Stansbury Forum is a website for discussion by writers, activists and scholars on the topics that Jeff focused his life on: labor, politics, immigration, the environment, and world affairs. Please be sure to check out their impressive work and support their mission. The original link to the piece is here and their website is here.
The Narrative of Change
by Gary Phillips
Trying to get a breath in a time of COVID 19 and knees to the neck.
I belong to several dues paying mystery writer associations. These groups do not have the collective bargaining power for its membership like my white-collar Hollywood union the Writers Guild of America (WGA). The WGA has a past when its members got in the face of the studio bosses and some got their heads knocked in for their efforts and others blacklisted. Different then from the WGA, these aforementioned associations don’t exact a floor for book advances, set a standard pay for a short story of a given length, or seek to establish working conditions for the writer – which in the case of prose writers as distinct from script writing; it’s a solitary undertaking. But not for nothing the Mystery Writers of America (MWA), a national board I once served on as well as past president of the local chapter, does have as its motto, “Crime doesn’t pay…enough.”
To that end the 75-year-old MWA has used the bully pulpit to advocate for a better status of genre writers, intervened in contract disputes, called to task shady publisher practices, and more than anything, provided a way for established pros to interact with first timers or those looking to get published. This through formal talks and seminars as well as bending an elbow at a neighborhood tavern or the bar in the evening during a mystery convention. And like the history of a lot of unions, the MWA wasn’t always diverse. It would be fair to say the MWA was something of a white old boys club for many a year. In fact, Sisters in Crime (SinC) was founded in 1987 by 26 woman crime writers including bestseller Sara Paretsky specifically to address the frustration they had with the obstacles they faced in publishing, and not receiving their fair share of book reviews in a field then dominated by male reviewers.
Today matters are different. There is not only diversity of gender and race/ethnicity on the board of the MWA as well as sister misters on the SinC board, the membership reflects a changed landscape of the types of writers penning these stories. While the police procedural is still told, it could be a story of cop who’s a black woman confronting departmental racism to do her job right. Or about an Asian-American private detective who not only is perceived a certain way by others but is investigating the questionable death of a suspect at the hands of the police or some other so-called authority.
No surprise then when in 2018 the MWA awarded former prosecutor turned author Lina Fairstein its Grand Master award and the membership rose up in opposition. Fairstein to many, me included, helped railroad, along with the police, five black and brown teenager into prison for serious time, convicting them of rape and beating a victim half to death in a “wilding incident” in the infamous Central Park Five case. A case where DNA finally exonerated the now grown men and the city paid out $41m in a settlement. The award was soon rescinded.
Fairstein who has a solid record of pursing justice for years in cases of sexual offenses, maintained the youths were involved in some way in the rape in an op-ed piece she wrote for the Wall Street Journal in June 2019. Really the surprise was the MWA board picking Fairstein and claiming not to know the controversy surrounding her.
Now in the wake of nation-wide protests sparked by the death of George Floyd, captured agonizingly on smartphone video, by fired Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin (now charged with 2nd degree murder), the MWA and SinC (and I’m a sister mister) have both stepped up. The organizations issued statements in support of efforts at reform of the police.
From SinC’s statement, “The murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd are only three recent reminders of the 400-year history of violence visited upon Black people of the United States.”
“Listening leads to understanding, and action leads to change,” the MWA’s statement read in part.
On a listsev I’m part of, Crime Writers of Color, various discussions fly back and forth via email among the loose-kinit group – some of whom are part of the MWA and SinC. The morning following the publishing of these statements, folks on the listserv heard of examples of pushback from the membership, and the nature and character of such was bandied about.
More importantly, reality demands that writers of color and their white colleagues have to re-evaluate what they write and how in they tell the story. There is no getting around the way in which black and brown communities are policed, be the cops white or not or a mixture as was present at Mr. Floyd’s demise. In this time of the virus that too will have to be depicted in some way in our fictions. Yet not every mystery story has to be about that (though I can imagine a story where a murderer kills someone and tries to make it look like complications from COVID) or the use of excessive force and race. But me and my fellow crime writes are challenged to consider the point of view, of who is telling the story and thus who controls the narrative…from the hardboiled to the cozy.
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