Tuesday, March 14, 2006

A MOVEABLE FEAST

Secret: Intercontinental Miniature Swords & Daggers Society

TIMELINE:

Page 58 - Saturday, March 18, 2006

Page 140 - Saturday, March 25, 2006

Thursday, October 06, 2005

The Continuing Saga of Chris Love, Success Story

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."

I'm back in Pastor Jak's office for the first time in almost two weeks, not since he told me about his mom's accident. "We've missed you around here. How have you been?" he asked with the sort of sincerity that demands more than my usual monosyllabic response. I must not be a true Christian in the sense that he opened up to me at a difficult time in his life, and I went running.

"After everything you told me in your office, for some reason it made me nervous to see you again. I'd come by the church, and, like, the first time I came back I heard your voice from around the corner and I literally tried to hide myself. I raced out and it's like I wasn't even thinking. I don't know why I'm such a coward." I don't know why I'm being so honest with Pastor Jak. I'm never this honest when I think it might hurt the person's feeling. I prize honesty, but I'm no good at brutal honesty. I usually make up some half-truth which might even be factually correct, but is nonetheless sugar-coated; or else I say something which is factually incorrect, but is nonetheless in the spirit of the truth. For instance, I do this all the time with my on-again off-again girlfriend. (Truth be told, she's becoming more and more like my permanently ex-girlfriend. Why? Our telephone conversations have been lackluster, and since she lives in Texas and I live in D.C., I mean, what's the point of a lackluster long-distance relationship? It's the stupidest thing in the world. But what do you care? I haven't told you anything about Leslie yet. We started dating at the end of freshman year, so she's been the most important contemporary in my life for about three and a half years. You really should meet her--she's so kind and generous and compassionate and smart and beautiful--and I promise I'll introduce you to her sometime, okay?) Leslie accused me of not being in love with her anymore. She said this at a very emotionally frought point in time for both of us, but especially for her. (Consequence of our deadly irresponsible love and my lack of gusto.) Our relationship was on the rocks, someone's life was in the balance because of us, and she was all by herself (spiritually, not literally) in Dallas, Texas. All this is the context and she whips it out, about forty-five minutes into our conversation: "I don't think you're in love with me anymore."

Monday, September 12, 2005

"Visionary Rasiej" for NYC Public Advocate

Have you heard about Rasiej's "Wi-fi NY" plan? He wants to utilize the city's existing infrastructure to create a wireless network that will allow millions of New Yorkers to connect to the internet, free of cost, in libraries, parks, subways, all around the city. Furthermore, he wants to make high-speed internet affordable for all NYers (this wireless network would provide access to the web for $10-$20 a month; currently, Time Warner, Verizon, and Cablevision are the only high-speed internet providers, charging $50, $40, and $60, respectively). While internet access might seem to be a mere luxury, Rasiej argues that bringing underpriveleged people online will serve to enfranchise and empower people who are not reached through conventional channels of communication. Furthermore, Rasiej argues that Hurricane Katrina proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that the existing communication infrastructure is inadequate in the face of an emergency. When phone lines and cable lines fail, people are left in the dark, literally. Rasiej's wi-fi plan will lay the groundwork to bring government response to emergencies up to par with 21st century technology. A firefighter would be able to use a simple laptop device to download the floor plan of a burning building while enroute; a paramedic would be able to download a victim's medical history on the way to a hospital; government's would be able to send text messages to people's cell phones in the event of a catastrophe; these are just a few of the many possibilities. Andrew Rasiej's plan to create a wireless network in NYC (it should be noted that Philadelphia, and other tech-savvy cities across the world, already has such a network in place) is the necessary first step toward bringing this great city into the 21st century. The primary is this Tuesday: vote Andrew Rasiej, Democrat for Public Advocate.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

ANARCHY IN THE PERSIAN GULF COAST

The dead bodies pile up in New Orleans, Sadr City, Biloxi, & Baghdad. Let's blame all of it on our fearless cowboy-in-chief! The W. Bush Administration's aloof, crony-corporate leadership cost thousands of souls their lives. More tragically, these deaths could have been avoided.

Friday the First Lady and her Husband took a photo-op tour of the not so Big Easy. "Look at all these lazy Black folks just sitting around," one Bush associate was surely overheard saying. "Why can't they get off their lazy butts and help themselves, instead of whining for other people to fix their problems?"

See? The Feds are racist. If you don't believe me, believe Kanye West. You know when Kanye has something to say about something other than himself, we're in trouble. But finally George came and came again and hugged and kissed and listened and saw and promised to marshal the resources necessary to make good again.

Not to be outdone by that vindictive bitch Katrina, Laura dazzled with her
crisply tailored white pantsuit and radiant smile. She brought much-needed glamour to an otherwise forlorn scene of devastation and suffering. I didn't even see that Cindy Sheehan lady doing anything on CNN to help the poor, the tired, the huddled masses yearning to be free.

I think I must be on the liberal news media bandwagon, sharing a sense of outrage at the Federal Government's inability to take care of its own citizens, let alone the citizens of a war-torn Iraq. I always thought the U.S.A. boasted the most powerful military in the history of the world. Now I find out that we can't even control a country the size of Montana without poaching every National Guardsmen and Army Reservist that Rumsfeld can get his hands on.

Why couldn't the authorities establish law and order in a Goddamn sports arena? Why couldn't the police protect women from being raped and pillaged? Because all the people who are supposed to provide back-up for the police are too busy getting blown-up by roadside bombs, fighting the insurgency in Baghdad.

Meanwhile.... Halliburton is getting rich off all that. But don't get mad. Bush's tax cuts have minted more billionaires than ever before. You've heard of "trickle down" economics, right? To all the poor suffering souls who have lost loved ones and livelihoods and everything you hold dear: sit tight, relax. Someday you'll be rich, too.

Monday, May 09, 2005

AME Zion Sunday service (2/27/2005)

The Cross Street AME Zion Church is a stone, single-story “ranch style” building, painted a nondescript beige, with a dark brown peaked roof. A driveway to the right of the church leads to a parking lot in the back, filled with middle-class, mid-sized family sedans and SUVs. I felt apprehensive walking up the handicap accessible ramp, despite the sign out front proclaiming “Wesleyan Students Welcome”. I worried that my presence in the all-black church might be distracting, or even worse, profane. As I entered a small vestibule, the men’s choir – dressed identically in black suits, white shirts, and red ties – was making its way from the basement into the sanctuary. I nodded deferentially while waiting for the procession to pass; one man paused and cheerfully told me to “go ahead and find a seat.”

I found the interior bright and airy. Two sections of light-colored wood pews were divided by a central aisle of crimson red plush carpet, with matching red seat cushions and Holy Bibles. The walls were painted white and the ceiling was white stucco. Three contemporary-style ceiling fans circled lazily. Windows were stained-glass, with simple and unpretentious designs, such as a dove, a chalice, a hand reaching down from the clouds, etc. The light shone so brightly through the stained-glass it seemed the sun were shining on both sides of the building.

My entrance did not cause a stir. Only the teenaged ushers (whose uniform consisted of black slacks and white dress shirts with white gloves), and the four or five other youngsters in the church, seemed particularly intrigued by my presence. Throughout the service, it seemed the young girl a row up was making eyes at me; more likely, her attention was directed toward a small cluster of older boys sitting behind me on the other side of the aisle.

Older men wore suits while the younger men wore loose-fitting button-downs and slacks in black or earth tones. Youngsters were clad in pale, Sean John- or Phat Farm-style gargoyle sweaters and khakis; girls wore traditional Sunday morning dresses with white stockings and black pumps. For the women, different color skirt-suits, silk blouses, and tweed-knit blazers. Hairstyles varied from a manicured afro-poofs to braids to curls.

The service opened with a woman, dressed conservatively in a dark green skirt and blazer, kneeling on a step before a Bible in front of the stage, praying to Jesus. Randomly, people in the audience began to call out as the Spirit moved them: “Praise Jesus” “Amen” “Praise God” One man who was in the choir hollered “Amen” quite often and he had a nice, deeply resonant voice which made him seem perfectly suited to the role. Later, when the preacher began his sermon, this same man in the choir would echo the preacher’s phrases, performing the role of a church ‘hype man.’

The band consisted of grand piano, an electric organ, a drum kit, and an electric bass. Two rows of seats for the choir were positioned behind a railing. There was a podium, center stage, where different women would come up and read selected passages from the Bible.

Reverend Moses Harvill welcomes everyone. After that the first forty minutes of the service are a real team effort. The band jumpstarts the service by playing a processional called “We Have Come This Far By Faith.” The drummer, sporting a shaved head and goatee, set the tone with an uptempo beat that had the whole church rocking in their seats. After sitting quietly self-conscious in my pew I suddenly lost myself in the rhythm, my eyes shut, swaying unashamedly to and fro. Peeking now and then, I saw that only the most stoic of men were able to keep still. Everyone settled down and another middle-aged woman took to the stage and led the invocation and litany, which began conventionally enough, but soon surprised me by its contemporaneity. [The following is excerpted from the program.]

Leader: We thank and praise God for these named movers and shakers, and hundreds of others, in religious and general educational history, in industry, health care, the arts, sciences, politics, and entertainment for the wealth of knowledge and character they have shared.

People: In thanksgiving and anticipation, O God, we thank you for the gift of these lives and for the blessings of remembering.

After the litany, the organist led the choir in the Hymn of Praise, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Then two old women read passages from the Bible. I notice that many parishioners brought their own Bibles. The first lady, bless her heart, struggled through a passage from Psalms in the Old Testament. The second lady read from Hebrews in the New Testament. I only know this thanks to the program: she put her head down and read the whole passage quite inaudibly, and didn’t look up until the final “Amen.” The majority of the service was patterned in this way: a prayer of some sort was then followed by music and singing, followed by another prayer, and so on.

Pastor Harvill introduced the next hymn (“Tis the Old Ship of Zion”) as an old spiritual honoring Black History Month. (“Which we celebrate every-day,” he added in an aside, provoking another round of “Amen” from the congregation.) Following the hymn, the teenaged ushers convened at the front of the church, prayed together, and then passed the silver collection bowls down the aisles. Big signs on either side of the pews encouraged people to denote money toward the construction of their new worship center on Long Lane (catchphrase: “Moving from Vision to Victory”). To continue the theme of giving, a few representatives from the “Ministry of Kindness” (a sub-group within AME Zion) presented gifts (in shiny red wrapping paper) to four distinguished members of the congregation, “who walked every single day the path of Christ.” No one knew who the recipients were until their names were called, just like an awards ceremony!

Once the gifts were presented, Pastor Harvill walked to the podium. “Now it’s the time for us to introduce ourselves to one another. May all our visitors this morning please rise.” Throughout the service I had considered myself a mere fly on the wall. Briefly my friend Tom and I exchanged a look. Should we? The idea of not standing was clearly absurd. “Hi, my name is Chris. I’m a student at Wesleyan University,” I said, adding: “And this is my first visit.” Other visitors spoke more extensively, describing their churches back home, and sharing enthusiasm and respect for AME Zion. The Secretary of Commerce for the State of Connecticut introduced herself as a visitor and Pastor Harvill even brought her up to the podium.

Members of the congregation walked around the church, personally welcoming us visitors. “Bless you.” “Thank you for coming.” “Nice to meet you.” One by one people came over and shook our hands with a warm smile. The round of introductions made me feel more comfortable visiting the AME Zion Church than when I visit the Unitarian Church of All Souls, the house of worship I’ve been attending for almost twenty years. (On the other hand, it is the second largest UU church in the country.)

The meet and greet left me overwhelmed: primed, as it were, for the long-awaited sermon. Pastor Harvill started at the podium on stage right. “Today … today I want to tell a story. Not just any story but God’s storrr-ray.” Initially he read from a prepared text but soon he was bouncing around the stage, speaking off the cuff with sticatto passion(almost casting about in search of the Spirit). He spoke about God’s desire to liberate mankind from slavery and oppression. “I’m talking about where we are today, and it’s because somebody paid the price. Voting rights. Housing rights. Fine houses. Fine cars. Because somebody paid the price!”

Harvill asks us if we’re with him. “Amen!” the people shouted. He claps his hands and nods, walking down the aisle into the first few pews. “I’m talkin’ ‘bout the blood–” he jumps up and down, strikes his hand out “–of Jesus.” He bends his whole body with the effort: “Of Jeez-us!” Members of the congregation leave the pews, packing tightly around the stage (the program calls this “The Invitation to Discipleship/Altar Prayer”).

“Jeez-us bled!” the reverend shouts with all his being. Two women become caught up in the Spirit. First a younger woman in her thirties or forties, wearing sunglasses and long, fake, pink lacquered nails, yells “Thank you Jesus!” over and over until she is reduced to tears. The second lady, older, probably in her sixties, praises Jesus in increasing intensity until she is literally wailing, leaning on a middle-aged man for support. Pastor Harvill’s sermon reaches a fever pitch culminating with the band kicking in behind him. We all stand with bowed heads in a moment of reflection, while the two women calm down from their states of ecstatic rapture. More song and prayer follow, while Harvill continues to preach and clap along with the band. The service concludes with a Benediction, after which the preacher dons a white silky garment over his robe. He stands at the front door shaking hands or bestowing hugs and kisses as parishioners leave the service.

I eagerly shake his hand. "Thanks so much for your hospitality." (Total elapsed time: approximately two hours.)

[excerpts] "Darling's Madness"

This story is dedicated to my mother,
Linda Lake, for twenty-two years
of unconditional love and encouragement.

I am gratefully indebted to my thesis advisor,
Professor Kirk Davis Swinehart, for his generosity
of spirit, meticulous line editing, and keen insight.

Honorable mention goes to my writing master,
Paul La Sharpe, before whom I am but a grasshopper.

May the good Lord smile upon
My “regular” adviser: Professor Sean McCann
The dean of American letters: Professor Anne Greene
My friends: the Home Avenue gangster clique
My guru: Martin Love
& My love: dear sweet Leslie Marie

Poor Mom: driving her little heart out. Our rental Ford Explorer floats across the smooth campus boulevard. Spread between my hands is a map of Wesleyan University. I shake my head in frustration. “How queer, I just don’t see the Castle anywhere on the map.”

Mom stops the car outside the front entrance. “NEWCASTLE CA. 1985” is embossed in the stone arch above the entrance. “O Chris, can you believe it?” she fairly shouts, her body dwarfed by the massive stone blocks. The Castle appears impenetrable to enemy forces. I dart from the Ford, breathe the seasalt air. Tilting back my head, I marvel at the upper stories—strangely pale and iridescent, soaring up to the heavens. Mom squeezes my hand. “It’s a real-life castle, sweetie, just like you’ve always dreamed.”

Entering the hockey rink, I ditch Cat as courteously as possible—after all, I don’t want to hurt the girl’s feelings. The floor of the rink is smooth concrete, iceless, polka dotted with round banquet tables. Filling the arena to capacity, six hundred of my classmates are eagerly engrossed in conversation. I see the others from my dorm, the line of kids snaking through the tables. Walking amidst my brethren I feel a kinship, like we’re the chosen few at the beginning of a long journey. So much excitement and enthusiasm on everyone’s faces. Smiling boys and girls from all different walks of life. Outside the means streets of NYC I’ve never seen such diversity: so many unique styles of people all trying to talk at once! I grab a chair across from Jordan.

“—some kind of coordinated attack. It’s possible that other planes have been hijacked. I know that many of you are from the New York area, as well as Washington. If anybody needs to make a phone call, please....”

Two students leave the room. One girl cries that her dad works at the Empire State Building and asks, tears bursting, if she can borrow someone's cell phone. Cutler cancels the rest of class. “I’m going to lower the projection screen and tune in the television feed, if anybody wants to stick around.”

On the screen, there’s a live shot of the World Trade Center, each tower crowned by dark, billowing smoke and orange flames. A large red, white, and blue graphic at the bottom of the screen pronounces AMERICA UNDER ATTACK. The anchor, Peter Jennings, describes the action over continual replays of the second jetliner crashing into the tower. The camera zooms-in on the debris falling from the tower: it’s not debris at all. The shot cuts away to a reporter on the street, then, abruptly, to Peter Jennings in the studio. A split-screen displays an aerial shot of the Pentagon and a skyline view of the World Trade Center.

"We are getting a report, as you look at these pictures of the Pentagon and the World Trade Center…. Part of the building appears to me, well, it may be that something fell off the building. And these pictures are live at 9:59 Eastern. We have a report now of a third explosion at the Trade Center. Don Dahler, our ABC News correspondent, is down in the general vicinity. Don, can you tell us what has just happened?"

"Yes, Peter. I'm four blocks north of the World Trade Center. The second building hit by the plane has just completely collapsed. The entire building has just collapsed. It folded down on itself, and it’s not there any more."

President Bush, dressed smartly in a dark suit, blue shirt, and red tie, is speaking live from Barksdale Air Force Base.

"The pictures – of airplanes flying into buildings, fires burning, huge structures collapsing – have filled us with disbelief, terrible sadness, and a quiet, unyielding anger. These acts of mass murder were intended to frighten our nation into chaos and retreat. But they have failed. Our country is strong. Make no mistake: the United States will hunt down and punish those responsible for these cowardly acts. Terrorism against our nation will not stand."

Beneath his head the pool of blood expands, flooding the avenue, swelling up to my breast. Johnny floats just below the crimson surface. His face is vacant, robbed of life and vigor. Gently, yet with immense power, the red sea lifts Johnny from my arms, bearing my grade school light to fathoms deep.

The vision fades. I am back on my knees on the asphalt of Central Park West. My hands soaked in warm, sticky blood, bent in prayer. “Ch-Chi-ris.” Weak and tiny: Johnny’s voice. “Johnny? I’m here, I’m right here.” “Am … so….” He whimpers. “Si-sorry.” “Don’t be sorry.” My heart pounding. “Forget about it Johnny! Just stay with me.” “D-doh … nt … think ... I.…” His voice trails off. “Please, Johnny, stay with me. Talk to me….” “C-Chri … ahmmn … ni … na … gone … to … may.…” “Johnny, please!” I pat the ground, my eyes closed, hoping to conjure him by touch alone. “Johnny?” “…kit.”

The sirens won’t stop. They’re rising like the tide: I’m drowning in a sea of sirens. I sink deeper, the pressure mounting….“Chris!” I peel my eyes open and see stars. Constellations of stars: the glow-in-the-dark stickers with which I decorated the roof of my bunkbed. “Chris, shut it off.” I turn onto my side, reach over, and slap the top of the alarm clock. Mom appears in the doorway. “Good morning, Sweetheart.” She’s wearing a pink bathrobe draped over her white nightgown. “What time is your train?”

The warm shower is cozy in the crisp morning air, but I don’t have much time. I towel off, hoist my jeans on, button the fly, slip into a blue and white striped polo, stuff my feet inside too-small brown Wallabees, and follow the scent of hickory-smoked bacon into the kitchen. Mom waves her spatula in the air. “How does a bacon-egg-and-cheese sound?” “Yummy. Thanks.” “Do you want it on a bagel or toast?” “Do we have any rolls?” She opens the freezer. “Yes we do!”

We pull into the Emergency Room driveway. Medics in yellow scrubs with masks over their faces surround the car. Quick hands pull me onto a stretcher and strap me down. I scream and thrash against the restraints. The masked medics whisk me into a room with bright burning lights. Rough hands stick wires up my nose, stuff tubes down my throat, slice my clothes off, and stab needles into my chest and forearm. The nightmare fades to white.

I’m naked now, except for a flimsy gown with blue polka dots. The bed linens are thin and coarse. A clear plastic tube protrudes from my forearm. Mom sits in a chair beside my bed, knitting quietly below a small window. Her short white bangs form a halo over her face. A small shaded lamp atop the bedside table casts a warm glow across her hands. The gilt-framed poster of a sailboat in choppy water hangs on the wall opposite my bed.

“Evacuation procedures!” A young black man in pink scrubs hurries into the room. “Are you able to walk?” He asks, calmly extracting the IV from my forearm.

“I think so.”

He lowers the railings of my bed and helps me to the floor. “All clear!” he shouts to a middle-aged woman holding a clipboard. I follow the crowd of senior citizens clamoring toward the Emergency Exit. We march down the dark, smoke-filling stairwell. Teams of firefighters mount the stairs in twos and threes, flashlights strapped to their helmets, oxygen masks over their faces.

I’m borne through the Emergency Exit by a stampede of patients and hospital workers. The hospital roars. I’m smothered by an avalanche of smoke and debris.

“Chris.” Her voice is small, faraway.

I push my arms against the ground, lift one leg, and then the other. I gasp for air. My leg buckles, slamming my head into the ground. I can hardly breathe through all the smoke. Mom needs me but I am not strong enough.

The final apparition: a colossus in thick black armor emerges from the haze. Stripes of yellow and silver cross his mighty chest. His heavy boots tremble the earth with each step. He kneels beside me and with one hand scoops me onto his shoulder. “Please, will you save my mommy?” I whisper into his ear. “She’s all alone.”

“Where?” he asks, his voice deep and powerful.

“Chris,” she moans, barely audible.
We reach her in two broad strides. Mom lies on her back, plastered with gray soot. Her face clenched, fingers laced in prayer. He plucks her gently from the ground, bearing us over the rubble and through the haze, into clear daylight and the refuge of an ambulance. She looks at me, her eyes dim. “Chris,” she skims my cheek with her gray hand, “I’ll always be with you.”

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Terror Alert: Sheikh Osama bin-Killa!

Sheikh Osama bin-Muhammad bin-Laden, his lanky bod draped in white cloth, sits cross-legged on the carpet. He studies a dossier prepared by one of his top lieutenants, Abu Masab al-Zarqawi. An aide-de-camp enters the chamber bearing a message. "Sir, Ibrahim al-Mahsi has arrived from Nazareth. With his wife and daughter."

A murmur circulates among the old men standing round the room.

"Bring me Ibrahim. Escort his kin to the library."

"Yes, sir." The aide bows respectfully, takes his leave. The husband is escorted into the dimly lit room. Freshfaced with but a wisp of facial hair, the man appears much younger than his 34 years. He prostrates himself, touching his forehead, nose and palms to the ground in Sudjood. "Subhaana rabiyal Allah," he cries. Glory to my Lord, the most high; Ibrahim repeats the phrase twice more.

A blackbearded man steps from the shadows, dressed in a floorlength black robe. The sheikh bellows: "Bismillah ar-Rahman ar-Raheem, al hamdu lillaahi rabbil Allahmeen." In the name of God, the infinitely compassionate and merciful. Praise be to God, Lord of all the worlds.

Solemn greetings aside, Ibrahim remains on his knees before Osama. Nine months ago Ibrahim and his wife swore their allegiance to the Jihad. Nine months to win an audience with the Sheikh Osama.

Ibrahim: "At your mercy, divine prophet, I swear my everlasting allegiance!"

"Ibrahim Al Mahsi, tell me. Why have you not come alone, as I instructed?"

Ibramhim's voice quivers. "For, martyrdom in the Holy War."

The assorted advisors and body-guards erupt in excitement. How deadly this affluent young family would be in a suicide attack, with dirty bombs stuffed in knapsacks!

One hand caressing another, Osama smiles. He summons the wife and daughter, who enter the room silently. Osama motions to the girl, who steps forward, her eyes radiant beneath a veil.

"Why are you here?" he asks.

"I am here so that I may serve the Jihad," she answers in a monotone. "In the name of Allah."

"Are you prepared to die in the name of Allah?"

"Yes," she responds too quickly. "I seek to cast terror and fear into the hearts of the oppressors."

The cynical souls standing along the walls inside the chamber understand perfectly well that this young girl has been brainwashed by years of fundamentalist indoctrination. Osama peers at the girl over his wire-rims. "You would have your mother and father sacrifice themselves?

The girl acknowledges her parents. "I would not sacrifice my family. I love my family." She speaks with a conviction far surpassing her age. "In truth, I would only sacrifice myself." She meets Osama’s steady gaze with no hesitation.

"Allahu Akbar," Osama rejoins quietly, disengaging with a sly smile. "Ibrahim, you are a very blessed man. Your daughter has a heart unmarked by fear or doubt. Her faith is pure."

Ibrahim nods. "Thank you, sir."

"I see within her the potential to lead the next generation. I would like to see her grow and mature." Osama observes the surprise in Ibrahim's eyes. "Rejoice, Ibrahim, for Allah smiles upon your sacrifice and devotion. You and your wife must devote yourselves to the girl's development. When she is older, she shall return and establish her position within our Organization."

With these remarks, Ibrahim and his family are escorted to a company sedan and driven home, their love renewed, love hearth in their hearts.

The Rude Retirement

Escorting Günter Sykes to his Queensbridge retirement party, nay, an underdog in a dangerous world. The scene: Queensbridge University. I’m escorting Dr. Sykes: a legendary figure on campus, a worldreknown spiritual guru and gross deity. Distinguished around campus by his lanky gait, silverwhite ponytail, threepiece suits, and imposing demeanor: yep, that’s Sykes: playing life by his own rules, playing on his own turf. A brilliant mind.

Who am I, narrator? I’m me, your narrator, excavating my feelings in a symbolical switcheroo, especially as it pertains to how I felt standing next to Sykes when he gave the nod to Prof. Maxwell Scarborough and Scarborough’s phony fucking façade: Maxwell’s phony personality. Sycophantic Scarborough. Watch Scarborough prostrate himself, watch him with his own tears and necktie polish Sykes’ wingtips.

Everybody at the party is staring, the scene embarrassing, such blatant bootlicking. Scarborough is waging his tongue, licking sloppily the old man’s feet, then his ankles, shins, allthewayup to his inner—

“Relax Max, you’ll be carrying this department well into the 21st century,” says Sykes, his thick hands grabbing the bald, spectacled, junior endowed History professor by the jacket collar, now standing of his own accord.

“It’s just that you’ve been carrying me for so long—I, I don’t know how I’m going to manage,” Prof. Scarborough stammers. “You open my eyes everyday.”

Sykes shakes his head. “Maxwell, Maxwell. You have one of the best minds working today. Realize this, realize that my retirement is your opportunity to shine.”

He says more but I tune it out, my cheeks burn with humiliation. All the most important professors and administrators are here, staring at Scarborough, at Sykes, at me standing so close to them. Burning, burning, I can’t meet eye contact with anyone. This was supposed to be my showcase. Now it’s ruined. Scarborough's hogging the limelight, forcing it, making a fool of himself.

* * *

After an unbearable period of time, Sykes embraces Scarborough, casts a fleeting glance my way, a gentle smile playing on his lips. I turn away, and spit in disgust. Immediately I regret it! but it’s too late, everyone saw me do it, they hate me. A poor sport and a loser. Leave. I can’t leave. Social etiquette dictates I say something!

“Ahem.” I manage only to clear my throat.

“Hear, hear!” someone shouts from my left.

The chatter quiets, whose faces are blank and stern, except for the University President, Brenda Washington, who is smiling patiently.

What now? Maybe I still have a shot. “To think it’s been seven years since I accepted my diploma on this very lawn. Three years ago I came back to teach, at Dr. Sykes’ urging, and thanks to his patronage, I’m already tenure-track! That’s right, I plan on sticking around for awhile.” I look round the assemblage, cordially acknowledging a few recognizable faces. “Queensbridge is not going to be the same without you, Dr. Sykes. I do want to note, however, that your departure is going to create a lot of opportunity. I think I’m ready to step into a position of leadership.” I study my audience: I’m not sure if they’re quite on board yet. “Just wanted to throw that out there.”

I look helplessly to Sykes, positive the whole room hates me.
“Ah, youth.” Sykes steps forward confidently, laughs goodnaturedly. “Your showcase? You have to earn a showcase, son.” He motions with his hand the baskets of cheese and crudités.

Weakly I smile as my eyes water, my immaturity exposed. I back away humbly into the crowd looming behind me, out of the limelight. Anonymous with my thoughts among the wallflowers, in relief I exhale loudly, relaxing for a moment. I drift around, drift around quiet as a mouse the perimeter of the party. Lurching awkwardly, I bang into one of the foldout banquet tables, clothed in clean white linen. The table is given over to presents. Of course, I’m an idiot, I can’t believe I forgot!

Surveying the assorted, multicolored wrapping papers, a plan of action coalesces in my mind. Surreptitiously, I browse the attached cards until I come across a blank one. I unsling my scribe and write in fluid cursive, “Dear Sykes, Enjoy the sunset, you’ve earned it, but take life one day at a time, you never, ever know. You could die tomorrow, or later today, or live to be one hundred. God bless you. –Chris Darling” I cap the Mont Blanc fountain pen and slip it back into my pocketprotector.

* * *

Scanning the crowd, I zero in on Sykes holding court near the open bar. I approach him confidently, mutter an apology as I accidentally move too close, his ear hairs tickle my lips, then the real reason for my advance: “Sykes, leave now before it’s too late! They’re going to kill you. Look: see the Provost, standing near the roast beef, fingering that cleaver?” My hands reach forward caressing Sykes’ face, our breaths mingling. I'm fighting back tears. “Trust me on this, I love you like a father. You’ve been more than a father! Please, Günter, leave now!”

Too late. Once observed, his presence noted, the Provost sprang into action, gripping the meat cleaver above his head, screaming with primal intensity. Leaping into the air, he slams down upon some poor soul swiftly the cleaver, with a dull thud. Horrified, I dare not look away. Mutely I observe the murder, detached, recording my observations in light of future testimony in the Court of Law. The Provost darts madly, eyes blazing, until he is wrestled to the ground by the Man of Honor and some of his buddies from the Athletic Department.

The Unredeemed Captive

Pony’s door’s ajar. Pony is naked except for cutoff armysurplus cargo shorts. His skinny chest slick with sweat. His black shoulderlength hair unruly. With a shriek he jumps off the desk into a roundhouse, springing onto the radiator. Shoulderblades and elbows pressed to the windowpanes. “Whore you get out!” Pony screamed and that’s when I backed out of the room into the hallway. And quickly to the stairs. Of course the hall was desolate when all I needed was to see a face, any face. I never heard his approach. A hand slipped around my mouth. His hot breath on my neck.

* * *

Christina Darling passes through the double doors of Olin Library quickly and anonymously as possible up to the third floor stacks. Finds a quiet desk in the corner, the better to soothe her angst, the better to reflect over what the hell happened back there in Pony’s dormroom, anyway? Such feebleness, such humiliation: and yet after the assault I walked willingly back into his room! I let him persuade me: “Im sorry okay? Please dont leave. Come with,” he says to me, says it was just Sycorax, this new drug he’s never tried before and it’s making him act funny.

* * *

Christina Darling, alone amid the books on the third floor of Olin Library, fishes a pen and a sheet of lined paper from her backpack, unsure of what, she intends to write. Why did I go back with him? Because he asked me to, he apologized and walked me back to his room and would I still pose for him? “Its this drug i never tried before usually i experiment, i take drugs while i paint because then i feel more tuned in and creative but never tried this one before and now im so far gone i dont remember what i did but i see you shaking.”

* * *

Pony sits Christina Darling on a stool facing the easel. Pony’s room is cramped because he replaced the regulation twin mattress with a queensized futon, sprawled in the corner opposite his makeshift studio. Pony adjusts Christina’s pose. Walks behind the easel wherefore he removes his shorts, exposing his commando style. “Dont mind if i paint in the buff?” he asks sweetly, plucking a paintbrush from its holster. Pony examines me up and down and up. “I love the steel determination of yer eyes, the nobility of yer carriage.”

* * *

“Dear Father,” she writes on the lined sheet, under the shapes and lines of doodle. “Though I don’t know who you are and never will. My Mami is so strong. So frail. When I am scared, who will help me? Mami sacrificed her whole life for me. For me. I let this boy treat me like scum.”

* * *

Pony swirls the brush around the premixed fleshtones. To the canvas he applies the oil paint in practiced, deliberate strokes. “If you are so fatherless, tell me about yer mother.” Pony’s eyes shifting between me and the canvas. “For someone to have a daughterlike you, wow, she must be very special i think.” But Christina Darling won’t share her mom with Pony, and so the portrait is finished in silence.