Poem by Melissa Castro

Melissa Castro

Cardboard

One lonely man, all alone in the cold.
His story is like many, that too often go untold.
His tiny cardboard house the only place that he could lay.
Nobody told him he’d end up this way.
He remembers childhood, and how he’d had it so good.
His dreams were shattered, now he’s misunderstood.
A prisoner of famine in this cruel society.
His aching body bears the scars of poverty.
Twenty below and tears roll down his face.
He knows his cardboard house will be his final resting place.

Short Story by Clifford Kurt

Clifford Kurt

Living Ten Days on $1.83: A True Story

I’d finished swimming a half-mile at the local pool, a great swim in warm, sunny weather. I went to the men’s locker room and changed, dried up and dressed to go home. As I started toward my car, I reached into the pockets of my shorts and found a $5 bill! “Wow!” I shouted to nobody in particular. But a lady near me saw my exuberance and chuckled.

Yes, I was excited. It was the day before payday and I was down to my last $10.  This unexpected find of $5 increased my net worth by 50%. (My girlfriend will point out this is wrong – my “net worth” is actually much healthier than $10. I have a car that’s paid off and a no-longer chunky 401K IRA; however, her logic doesn’t write as well as mine.)

So I off-handedly told the lady that I’d just found $5 and was happy to increase my net worth by 50%. And I went on my way.

Life didn’t change much when I increased my net worth 50%. I still made the same dinner when I got home and watched the same two episodes of Judge Judy. So, you see, I can honestly say that if I ever get a job at AIG and become the recipient of undeserved multi-million dollar bonuses, I won’t change much.

I was now down to my last $15. No big deal. It’s been worse. I was once down to $1.83, which I had to live on for ten days. It was an interesting exercise, and I blogged it. But that was at a time when I was in the dating pool, and I didn’t want anyone from Yahoo Personals to google me, find my blog, and learn I was dirt broke. So I removed it.

I’m no longer dating, no longer trolling Yahoo Personals. And my girl Shelley – she KNOWS I have bouts of being dirt broke and she still loves me. So I reposted the original blog, fearlessly and confidently.

Here is how one can stretch $1.83 for ten days:

How it came to be that I had to make this happen is not relevant. I suppose it may the more interesting topic, but suffice it to say that this occurred through no fault of my own – no poor planning, no reckless spending elsewhere.

Nonetheless, $1.83 it was, and the forced experiment began six days prior, with four days to my next payday.

How many foolish times I’d seen a dime on the floor and walked right past. Or I’d round up an already generous gratuity an additional eighty-five cents. I thought the concept of being “nickel-and-dimed to death” was an antiquated one, something only the older generation could relate to, having lived when nickels were the equivalent of today’s dollars.

But in the midst of my desperate poverty, I was elated to find a quarter underneath the seat of my car. (No, I wasn’t looking for errant French fries. I wasn’t that desperate – yet.)

The first trick to surviving ten days on $1.83 is to become creative with the food staples sitting around the house. I never knew I had such a way with making meals out of seemingly nothing.

If one is very careful to spread the Goobers pb&j a bit thinner than usual, one can actually double the life of the jar. And speaking of which, Goobers isn’t just for bread anymore. It goes great on hamburger buns (especially when there are no hamburgers to put on said buns), hot dog buns, even the saltine crackers you get for free at Wendy’s.

Spaghetti sauce is a great thing. It’s cheap, it’s healthy, it has lipolipids or whatever those things are that are supposed to be good for us. And when you mix 4 parts sauce to 1 part water, you’ve gotten an additional 2o% life out of a jar.

When cooking the pasta to go with the sauce, give it an extra 2 or 3 minutes in the water to plump it up more, thus requiring less actual product to make a meal. This stretches the box of spaghetti some.

Bottled water is a luxury. I’ve learned the art of finding good tap water (my office) and recycling those bottles to keep an ongoing supply of drink.

Hot dog chili sauce doesn’t have to be saved for hot dogs. One can of the stuff can make a nice, hot lunch. If you’ve exhausted the hot dog buns by use of Goober’s, cut a hot dog or two into the bowl for an extra treat. If you have enough hot dogs.

And now a word about friends…

God bless people like roommates. A roommate can be a very good cook and generous with his provisions. Luckily, during this trying time, my roommate treated me to several scrumptious dinners – leg of lamb one night, pork steaks another night, roast chicken a third. And scrumptious is an understatement. Roger is a killer cook – he should open a restaurant!

Then there are the friends one has been generous with in the past. Got a pastor who you regularly treat for lunch? Invite him to lunch but let him know it’s his turn to pay the bill. This works especially well if he’s handsomely salaried and has attempted, unsuccessfully, to pay for lunch several times prior. (Hint: go to Wendy’s where you can score a handful of saltine crackers for free.)

Are you doing a favor for someone at work? Lightly say, “I’m happy to turn this around for you in an hour. But it’ll cost ya some pop tarts from the vending machine.” Chuckle. Then act surprised when he brings them to you. “Oh, hey, I was just kidding. But thanks!” Voila!! There’s a meal.

This next hint is a bit embarrassing, but what the hell. Look around your home for unopened store purchases. Wal-Mart is perfect for this. I found a package of pillowcases and some razor blades I hadn’t opened. I took them back to Wal-Mart and scored a gift card with $6.41! That bought more Goobers, a loaf of bread, a can of spaghetti sauce and spaghetti noodles. 3 dinners and 4 lunches!!

Oh, when you’re down to your very last $1.83, forget about driving anywhere. The car is history. Save the last quarter tank of gas for an emergency. Walking isn’t all that bad.

Lastly, the best thing about making $1.83 stretch is the weight loss. So far, it feels like I’ve lost ten pounds. This is a great way to start a diet and get over the most tempting first few days. One certainly can’t sneak a bowl of ice cream or a pack of Reese’s peanut butter cups when all one has is $1.83.

Six days into this experiment and I’ve spent a bit of my $1.83. I am down to .71 cents. Unless I find another quarter and I increase my total net worth by 33%.

 

Poem by Wayne Lee

Wayne Lee

Dick Click

His life
is like his name
Click
Dick Click
quick
as a done deal
slick
as patent leather shoes

Click
always a smoke
in one tar-stained hand
dropping ashes
like dandruff
on his three-piece
polyester suit
always a cup
of cold black coffee
sloshing splotches
like liver spots
on his office rug
always on the make
always failing to negotiate
the cup
the butt
the yellow light
the T-bar shift
in his jet black Corvette

Click
he stops
for a bite
at the nearest dive
Click he’s done
off again
powdered donut crumbs
in his beard
like snowflakes
on his overcoat

Click
he’ll bet a ten-spot
he’ll bank his very next sale
don’t take that bet
you know he needs
another pack of weed
desperately

Click
his eyes flit
around the lobby
like fireflies
his fingers twitch
for a Camel straight
he speaks in clichés
his voice thick
as smoke
from burning tires

I’m the kind of guy
he says who’d go after
Moby Dick in a rowboat
and take along
the tartar sauce

Click
Dick Click
his middle name
is Bottom Line
the deal is done
in double time
your fate is sealed
before the ink has dried.

 

 

Personal Reflection by Mark Dannog

Mark Dannog

Aloha

When I ultimately decided that I wanted to be a lawyer, I planned on being a corporate lawyer for either a company or law firm back home in Hawaii. I will not deny it lest I fool myself: the amount of money that could be had was appealing to me. The lawyers of some of Hawaii’s most prominent and prosperous companies and law firms can make hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The money element sounded nice and I knew what I wanted to do with it. I do not consider myself selfish when I can succor someone with money but when it is there—and a lot of it—it is too tempting to not over-indulge to satisfy ourselves. This, inevitably, is what leads to deeper problems.

The more I explored my career goals and learned about the companies or law firms where I wanted to work at, I learned that some of them are a part of the problems of over-development, natural resource depletion, and environmental destruction which Hawaii face today. These corporations prospered and are prospering at the expense of the land and people who are powerless. I realized that working for these companies would mean a compromising and eventual departure from my values, convictions, and, above all, my aloha for the land and for the people who inhabit such a paradise. Though I may be happy and ambitious working for Alexander & Baldwin, one of Hawaii’s largest and wealthiest landowners, in the beginning of my career, I believe that I would ultimately lose my joy and passion.

I have not entirely dismissed working for corporations such as A&B in the future; actually, I think that it would be great for someone like me to work for them to ensure that they abide by the laws and make prudent decisions in the interest of the future of Hawaii. Nor do I deny that money is important. But what should and must be more valuable in a career is one’s happiness and passion. When we compromise ourselves for the sake of money at the expense of causing harm to others, we lose what is most valuable in life—things that money never bought or ever could buy, things that money could never augment its worth, or things that money could never satisfy. Money comes and goes; it can be earned and lost. It is our character and what defines it that remain with us throughout life. An honorable one requires steadfastness to maintain; a tarnished one is hard to repair.

It is my goal and dream to one day be a happy, passionate, and successful land use lawyer. I would like to work for the public interest, ensuring that the laws which are intended to protect, preserve, and perpetuate the life of Hawaii are obeyed and that prudent decisions are made which would ensure a paradise for future generations.

Money cannot preserve the paradise that I seek. In fact, it endangers it. Rather, it will take myself—my values, my convictions, my aloha—to realize the life that I want to live.

Short Story by Katherine Memmel

Katherine Memmel

Incognito

He didn’t have a bicycle, but he wore a helmet anyhow—bright blue with white trim and flecked with scratches and dirt. The strap, frayed in some spots and crusty in others, was fastened under his chin with a clip so worn out it barely snapped anymore. But he still kept the helmet on at all times, even when sleeping, because he had become quite clumsy lately and it proved on several occasions to be a literal lifesaver.

“Gable’s gotta be around here somewhere,” the man said to no one in particular.

Gable was his lone confidant on the street. They slept on the same block, but Gable wandered during the day—sometimes as far as the beach, sometimes as near as the bus station around the corner. He always came back before sunset, though, and the sky was just beginning to blush. The man paced. He thought about going to find him. But wherever Gable was, he would be difficult to spot. “They all look alike. All hair and filthy layers.”

The man desperately needed something from him. “It’s been months since he said he could get it. Months.” While Gable had proven trustworthy, he was still a flake, which, to his credit, was a rather common trait in their community. “Gable’s community, not mine. I don’t belong here.” Once his accomplice finally delivered, the man would be free. “Free to get out of downtown, out of these rags, back to my life. Back to Maureen.”

Maureen was his beacon. The very thought of her carried him through his misfortune and guided him to the sliver of sunlight visible in the storm. Every day, without fail, he wrote poetry for her in a notebook he once found in the gutter. “Brand-new, probably never even opened—it was fate, or divine intervention, or something.” For the first six months, he wrote about their connection, scavenging through the English language to craft every possible metaphor for how he felt. During the next six months, he wrote about her—the way she smelled, the way she smiled, her various hair styles, her collection of shoes. “I have to so I don’t forget.”

He often wondered if she forgot about him. Or if she simply figured that he abandoned her and was never coming back. “It’ll all be over soon. As soon as I get that stuff from Gable, this is all going to change.”

He got a tip. A teenage runaway said Gable was hanging out under the 10th Street bridge, too drunk to stumble back to the block. The man gathered his things and set off with a slight zip in his step, hopeful that after asking every day for months, Gable would finally have it. “I’ve got a feeling this time.”

The underbelly of the bridge was a gallery of hoodlum art, with phrases and symbols interrupting each other in too many colors to count. In stark contrast, huddled in a monotone heap, Gable swayed side to side, humming a tune he probably made up.

“Gable. Gable, hey!”

Gable lifted his head, opened one eye, closed it, and continued his muted solo.

“Gable goddamnit—it’s me.”

The eye opened again and fixed on the man’s face.

“Did you get it?”

Gable smiled.

“I knew it! I knew you’d come through!” He slapped Gable on the shoulder so hard it made him vomit a little in his lap.

“Well, where is it?”

Gable didn’t answer, but the man spotted a paper bag nearly obscured by layers of brownish fabric.

“Is this it?”

Gable shrugged, then nodded.

The man pressed the bag to his chest and tucked it away in his duffle. “I’ll pay you back for this—I promise.” Full of electrified joy, he turned and headed for Broadway. Fifth block. Maureen’s place. It was time.

Gable’s mission was to retrieve a cache of photos hidden in a garden shed behind the man’s previous home. “I can’t go back there myself—they’ve got the whole place under surveillance.” He wrote the address in permanent ink on Gable’s arm, and told him the story of the photos every day so Gable wouldn’t forget their significance.

“A few years ago, I fell in love with the heiress to a lawn furniture fortune. Sadly, her father was my boss, so we had to keep our love secret.” Times were tough in the outdoor décor market, especially for companies that only produced products for catalogs and upscale design studios. But his boss had an idea: offer a super low-cost version of the furniture to sell in K-Marts and Wal-Marts and a host of other marts. The problem was, even if they used inferior materials, the cost of labor would still be too high. The man suggested Mexico, but even they weren’t cheap enough to make a 75 percent price difference—labor had to be practically free.

So his boss settled on some barely known African country, built a huge sweat shop with hundreds of workers—some of them barely teenagers—and paid them pennies a day. “And all the reigning dictator wanted in exchange was a few thousand dollars and a lifetime supply of Diet Coke.” The man, sworn to life-threatening secrecy, accompanied his boss on one of his trips overseas and surreptitiously took pictures of the facility, the workers, and the dictator shaking the boss’s hand.

Everything was fine until the boss discovered his daughter’s secret relationship, and the man went from being second in command to out on his ass within a day. “He didn’t think I was good enough for her, so he tried everything to tear us apart.” After several useless attempts, the man told his former boss that if he wasn’t allowed to love his beloved in peace, he would tell her about Africa.

“And that’s when it all hit the fan.”

One day, after several hours scouting the streets for Help Wanted signs, the man came home to find a dead hooker in his bed. “I’d never seen her before, but that didn’t matter when the cops bust in.” Aside from the location of the crime scene, there was no evidence the man killed her. There was also no evidence that he didn’t. He had been alone on the streets with no alibi. No witness could confirm when he came home. He had a strong motive for being framed, but no one believed his story about Africa—they wouldn’t even search the shed for the photos. “They all saw the case as a slam dunk—even Maureen.”

After she turned her back on him, the man had to flee—without clothes, without money, without even the photos. But he was determined to reinstate his good name and get Maureen back one day. “I stayed in town, but hidden. Hidden in plain sight.” Technically he was homeless, because he could never go back to his home. “So it was only natural that I dress the part.” While immersing himself in transient culture, he sought out his own second in command, someone who could retrieve the photos that would restore him to his previous life. “Maureen would never turn her back on cold, hard evidence.”

And now he had it.

Less than a block away from Maureen’s apartment building, the man hid behind some ornamental bushes and waited. Town cars and limos came and went, and finally, out stepped three-inch black heels, followed by a trim burgundy pantsuit and chestnut hair pulled up in a loose twist. His heart sighed. “She hasn’t changed a bit.”

The man knew he had precious little time, so he skittered over and grasped her shoulder from behind. “Maureen…”

She turned around and recoiled. “Bernie, Bernie—” she called to the doorman, who was, at the moment, trying to free a resident in a wheelchair stuck in the revolving front door.

“I’ve got the evidence, Maureen!”

“Go away,” she said as she backed up. “I don’t know you.”

The man looked himself over. “Oh, well of course you don’t recognize me. I’ve been hiding. Incognito, you know?”

“Please…”

“But I have the photos now, of Africa! Now you can believe me—you can understand why I was framed.”

“Bernie, goddamnit!” Bernie didn’t hear, bombarded as he was with squawks and yelps from the wheelchair.

The man dug around in his duffle for the paper bag, which was crumbled and stained with grease. He pulled out the contents and brandished them in her face. “See?”

In his hand were three oversized playing cards with naked ladies posing on the back. The man looked at them with devastating disbelief. “Gable!” He must have given him the wrong bag.

She turned and started down the sidewalk, fast.

“Wait, don’t go yet! I have something else to show you!” He followed and held out his poetry notebook, hoping the sincerity within would be enough to keep her attention.

But the book, filled to the margins with one-of-a-kind endearments only hours ago, was now just wordless scribbles—doodles and spirals and several pages of heartbeat zigzags.

She glanced at it and quickened her pace. “It’s a conspiracy!” He called after her. “They’re trying to keep the truth buried!”

She began to run as fast as her heels would allow. “I didn’t kill that hooker!” He shouted, falling farther and farther behind. “Your father should be in jail!” He finally stopped and heaved over, still holding his hand out to her, beckoning. “We’re soulmates…”

But she was gone, around the corner and down another street.

“…aren’t we?”

 

Short Story by Richard Jennis

Richard Jennis

The Good Life

It was a bright, sunny, perfect day. Of course it was; it was always a bright, sunny and perfect day. Daryl lived in San Diego, California, and as far back as he could remember there had never been three consecutive days of lousy weather. Sure, a thunderstorm here and there, the occasional blink of wintry winds and then (and he knew it) the inevitable return to sunlight and warmth.

Once when he was twenty-one, Daryl went to see his cousins in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and stood shivering in the frigid Minneapolis Airport garage while his eldest and most scatter-brained cousin absent-mindedly ran her fingers up and down the length of her car keys and turned every which way looking for the car.

“I could have sworn it was Row K, or was it row L? I do recall it was a letter near the middle of the alphabet.” No reply was given from the man now trembling, arms wound tight around his waist, breath visible in the air, nostrils freezing up and consolidating in such a way that he never knew possible.

No, Minnesota would never do, nor the rest of the Midwest, nor even the chilly East Coast, for Boston Winters were far from welcoming. Most of all, Daryl hated snow and the inconvenience of removing it and driving over it and frequently he wondered why everyone didn’t move to southern California or Miami or somewhere deep down south.

But Daryl was no longer concerned with matters of winter, or the people who had to suffer through it, or the people who couldn’t afford to come down to San Diego to visit him. Daryl had a second date to catch down at the beach. It was the middle of February and Daryl was heading for a date down at the beach. He smiled to himself. He toyed with the idea of calling one of his cousins. Isabel maybe. Just to say, “Hey, I’m heading to the beach, just thought I’d give you an update, oh and have you cleared your way out of the driveway yet? I just checked the Minneapolis forecast and it says you were hit with another foot and a half.”

Daryl did not call Isabel, nor did he call her younger brothers, but he did pile some belongings into his Mercedes Benz, including a beach blanket, an umbrella, and a cooler full of refreshing beverages. While he waited for his date to arrive he sipped on the root beer. It refreshed him, and as he rubbed his tongue to his satisfied pallet he thought about the housing market in San Diego.

His date was stunningly attractive, of course she was, they always are when you’re a multi-millionaire at thirty-one. She greeted him with a quick hug, grabbed a drink, and lay flat on the blanket. He noted with satisfaction the radiant way her bright green one-piece bathing suit caught the sun.

“Green’s my favorite color,” he told her conversationally, and when she opened one eye to give him her attention, he quickly pointed to her swimsuit. “My cousin’s in fashion, she advises which brands to get and even has a say in the colors, she’s always very well attuned to what’s in, what’s daring and what’s new.

His date shrugged but smiled a little. Her red lips looked fuller with the lipstick. Her blonde hair caught the sun perfectly; he half expected it to catch fire any second, it seemed to be catching so much light. “When I was young I wanted to do something in fashion,” she confessed, “This was when I was twelve or thirteen, so really young. Then I went into retail. It blew; they paid me $5.75 to pack bags for a bunch of very ungrateful people. My boss called me toots, not once but twice, and a customer once asked me to bed in the middle of the order.”

Daryl tested out his new laugh, a light twofold chuckle he once used at a friend’s party, and thought sounded pleasant and carefree. “I never worked retail.”

“I’m not working retail again,” she assured, and ran her long, thin fingers through her sunlight hair. “I haven’t worked in thirteen years and it’s gone perfectly well for me.”

He pulled himself a little closer to her and waited a minute, staring off into the mild waves and watching several young teenagers flailing about in the water, one of whom tackled one of the others. He waited for them to resurface.

“So what I’m wondering, and you’re probably wondering the same thing about me, is how does someone who doesn’t work, who won’t work again in their lives, afford this kind of lifestyle? And I’m not judging, mind, Christine, because I’m in the exact same boat. I would never live in a climate where it hits forty degrees, and I’d never settle for one of those warm but unsafe environments like New Mexico, Arizona, or the bad parts of Florida. So it makes sense I’m here, and I’m sure it makes equal sense to you that we’re here, that this date was able to happen.”

She looked up sharply at him and wrinkled her brows. She did not understand.

“It’s not everyone who gets to live like this,” he concluded. To further his point, he gestured out toward the clear blue water, the cloudless sky, the fancy little restaurants visible in the distance that served twenty-five dollar pizzas and fifty-five dollar lobsters.

“My grandfather died when I was sixteen. I have no brothers or sisters, and he didn’t particularly care for my dad. There was nowhere else for the money to go but to me.”

Daryl suddenly became conscious about his looks; he no longer had the upper hand. He hesitated and decided against asking for figures, he didn’t want to know if he would be the financial burden in the relationship. He desperately wanted to believe he would be the reason fancy dinners and plays and trips to Hollywood would be possible, not that he was a mere contributor.

“Fifty-seven million dollars,” she spat out, monitoring his face for signs of expression, but his lips remained one tight line and his eyes never widened even a little. “CEO for most of his life. A good man.”

“You must miss him terribly,” Daryl sympathized, but his date was already looking out toward the water.

“I’m ready to go in,” she told him, “but first I’d like you to answer the same question.”

He became relaxed. He lay back so his head was touching the blanket; he scratched at his carefully trimmed beard. “It’s investment,” he explained. “The first stock I ever bought was some penny stock you’ve never heard of, a little company headquartered in Cincinnati that sold batteries. Just batteries. And at seven cents a share I was able to afford 100,000 shares. That’s seven thousand dollars worth of stock. Imagine my surprise when it jumped to twelve cents in ten days time. Well, I sold, made an easy five thousand dollars just sitting on my ass all day and watching the Chargers blow another playoff opportunity, and I thought to myself, this is something I can do. Boy, you would not believe the effort I put into this; I bought books, I consulted so many brokers, but none of them seemed competent enough. Finally I invest in a little stock called Apple.”

He took the time for her to make a little exclamation of shock, but she did not. She merely indicated that she owned some apple technology herself. He continued.

“I was a millionaire in two months flat, a multi-millionaire in under four months, and though I probably should have milked that cow for all it’s worth, I stopped when I hit five million. That’s a little promise I made to myself. Now I check it every day, and I’ve considered re-investing. I do think there is the unfortunate possibility that my wealth may run out before my life does, so to speak. Living here and all. My cousin, Isabel, says that in Minnesota I could live like a prince until I was 200 on that money. But this is San Diego.”

She seemed unimpressed as she put her drink back in the cooler and started to rise. He quickly stood up first and gave her a hand. He was careful to assist her with only one arm and in an extremely nonchalant way, revealing his strength and leaving his right bicep slightly curled even after she was up.

Daryl was a good-looking man, young, spry, with a hairy chest and bright green eyes. He looked good in the water too, and could do a back-stroke like no other, and could hold his breath for a good forty-five seconds. This sort of versatility was why Daryl thrived: even when he wasn’t at parties, even when he couldn’t let his fancy suits and impressive possessions speak for him, he still had his body.

A good date, he concluded, as he watched Christine ride the waves and imagined that the feather—light shape of her body gently swaying in the water and being ridden by each consequent wave was actually a hundred dollar bill, snatched up in a San Diego Breeze.

The date went well, but afterward Daryl had very little to do (he wouldn’t invite her back to his house until the third date), so he decided to call his favorite cousin, Isabel, and see how everything in Minnesota was coming along.

While he did this he stood out on his patio, admiring his wide backyard and watching the squirrels flitter up and down the long oak trees.

Isabel had a soft and gentle voice and seldom articulated properly, so a lot of phone calls involved Daryl asking the same questions over and over, ear pressed to the phone, volume cranked up to the maximum. Today was no exception.

“Daryl,” she answered, “it’s good to hear from you. I was just shoveling.”

He laughed. “You should come down to San Diego some time.”

“It’s been five months of this, I think I can handle the last few weeks. Besides, San Diego isn’t exactly within my price range.”

“Naturally I’d pay for the expenses,” Daryl reassured. “And if you ever wanted to come live here, I’m sure I could pay for at least the first year of an apartment.”

“Don’t do that,” she said, “you’re always doing that. It makes people uncomfortable. It’s like my mom always said, it’s not healthy.”

Daryl’s aunt Rhoda was a peculiar and stern woman. Standing at just under six feet with menacing black hair and tight lips, she used to scare Daryl when he was young. The unflattering words Daryl’s father spoke regarding her sister didn’t do much to help.

When Daryl was ten and living in New York, he once volunteered to help his aunt with the grocery shopping. He dutifully ran up and down the long aisles, collecting items and piling them into a little basket. When the basket was too heavy, he’d run around the store looking for his aunt, who took the groceries from him with a curt nod, added them to the cart, and told him where to look next.

Back at home, she left her wallet for him on the kitchen table and told him to take a few dollars while she went to talk to her brother.

Slowly, Daryl eased open the section containing the money. There were many bills neatly piled together in sequential order. First a crisp fifty, and then the twenties, all the way down to the puny ones. Gazing in admiration, he took all the currency out and spread it out on the table. He failed to hear his aunt’s footsteps coming down the stairs and reverberating softly in the uncarpeted hallway. Slowly, reverently, he leaned over and smelled the fifty. He thought it smelled like a unique flower. He pressed his nose closer to it.

“What is wrong with you?” his aunt immediately scolded. “I said take a few dollars, don’t go scenting all my money!” She shoved a couple of singles into his hand and quickly stashed the rest back.

“It’s just paper,” she added in a harsh undertone, as a scared and confused Daryl gazed forlornly down at the powerful pouch of leather.

“This fascination with talking about money,” Isabel continued, “It’s ever since you were young. I know you’re proud and I know you earned this, but Daryl…”

He took his ear away from the phone. He walked slowly, thoughtfully around the patio and gazed at the cloudless sky and thought about the tedium of work and commitments and cold and mortgage payments and the eternal nagging nuisance of having to worry about money. Life was good. More than that, life could not be anything else, because Daryl took specific steps to eradicate anything that might pose a burden.

He put his ear back to the phone. “Thanks for your honesty,” he said simply.

She spoke some more but he was not listening. He felt the breeze ruffle his hair; he stood with his arms raised high. He imagined he was a king.

He grew up poor. Daryl would never ever admit it, but he grew up on an impoverished street in a rundown apartment in Queens, with his constantly bickering parents. His mother only went shopping when there were sales, and every day he saw the coupon book on the old stained coffee table.

Daryl resented his parents. His father for being a college dropout, his mother for being a domestic wife, and both of them for never instilling in him the proper thrift necessary to succeed.

Granted, in the end, all he needed was mathematical prowess, a marked interest in the patterns and fluctuations of the stock market, and maybe (and he shuddered to admit it), a little drop of luck.

His mother died at sixty of a heart attack and his father retired to a tiny town in Nowhere, Idaho, where he purchased a couple of horses and worked as an unsuccessful carpenter.

Daryl went no further in describing his background, and when Christine asked if he was a happy child, he usually told her he thought he was happy but that was only because he did not yet know what happiness was.

“I thought happiness was a state of mind. I was ignorant. Happiness is a quality of life. It’s proportional. How much joy I stand to derive from tomorrow stems from what I’ll be doing tomorrow. And I can tell you I’ll be at the beach again, here with you.”

Because they were two free souls, Daryl and Christine began to spend all their time together. He reached the point where it was okay to show up at her house unannounced and for his birthday she bought him a massage chair, and for Valentine’s Day, he bought her a diamond necklace. She sparkled with her necklace on, and sometimes, when she was in the right mood, she’d sit on his lap and he’d massage her shoulders while the chair vibrated rhythmically beneath them.

He concluded this was what life was meant to be, and if this wasn’t life, people were doing it wrong. Occasionally he thought about Aunt Rhoda, his mother now rotting six feet under in an unattended graveyard somewhere in Queens, his father tending to his acres of fertile grass, and his cousins stuck in the flat and frigid tundra of Minnesota. He did not pity any of them. They picked a life ill-suited for happiness. He picked the good life.

Because Christine was the only relevant person who lived near him, he thought of her most, and wondered if the commitment and tension of marriage might rip his easy world apart. He worried that learning to love her would not be worthwhile.

In late October, on a rare fifty degree day when Daryl was forced to close the windows in his house and turn up the heat in his car, Christine unexpectedly called it off on the drive back to her house after dinner. She told him curtly that the responsibility was too much, and she didn’t think she had the ability to focus on someone else as much as herself. She kissed him on the forehead and asked him to please understand that there was no fault on his part.

He did not cry, nor did he feel bad about it. A minor relief set in. He went to sleep that night smiling.

He woke up alone and cheery to another seventy degree day, and as he opened all the windows, played music, and made his way down to the beach, he was whistling.

Somewhere in the world the miserable and the deprived and the unmotivated were huddled in their unfulfilling lives, doing things they didn’t want to. Making sacrifices for the future, making sacrifices for other people and here he was…

It was another bright, sunny, perfect day in San Diego, California.

 

 

 

 

 

Poem by Dionysus DeVille

Dionysus DeVille

RISE

I’ve been asleep for far too long
Distant from the world where I belong
Buried in my own broken glory
I open my eyes to rewrite my story

It’s time that I rise from the grave I’ve dug
And kill all of my fears; unhook the plug
Shatter my cage and shake the system
Electrify your minds with a brand new dictum

Change your views with eclectic engineering
Start a new movement without fear interfering
Break the barriers and undress basic understanding
Open your eyes and show the change I’m commanding

Rise above your convictions; the lies you’ve been sold
Dispel normalcy; the stale truths you’ve been told
Become the change that you see in your dreams
Tear your reality apart; rip it by the seams

Stand taller than you ever did before
Shake yourself loose of the labels that you wore
Dare to be strange, queer and unconventional
Make the mere idea of conforming contemptible

Let us rise and bring about a new age
A time of love, free of hate and rage
An era of acceptance and unity
A world void of religious bigotry

Wake up and walk with me toward a brand new day
Let’s make a new nation from a united mound of clay
Let’s re-envision each other with love that stretches the skies
All you have to do is let go of your fear, hold my hand and RISE