Josh Steinbauer is an artist and filmmaker (Paper Stars, Cap’n Flapjack). His work has been seen in Heaven, Third Ward, No Moon, Gen Art, 3 Walls galleries, Harvard Art museum, American Folk Art Museum, and published in numerous culture sites like Nowhere, Terrain, Aerogram, Moving Poems, and the Times of India. He lives in NYC.
Magical realism and oral history interleave in this story inspired by 90s indie radio-show legend, Joe Frank. In five acts, “LEGACY” explores pandemic anxiety, art in isolation, Midwestern factory work, intergenerational trauma, and forgiveness, all within a quarantined apartment.
This piece features interviews with Janine Bumgarner and a soundtrack with new work from Nate Kinsella (Birthmark, American Football, Joan of Arc), Tom Assalin (Dragon Turtle, Shifting Harbor, Canadensis), Jacob Steinbauer (Every Bell And Whistle), and Kevin McHugh (Valence).
“LEGACY (After Joe Frank)”
In the beginning, it was popular to do a lot of video conference meetings, at first with coworkers, and then, friends and family. Always at some point, someone would excuse themselves to get a drink or something, and leave me with the view into their motionless, empty room. And I’d realize, how difficult it is to talk about the quarantine, without going into the disarray your home becomes, when you never leave it, and you’ve stopped expecting anyone might see it.
Beyond the frame of my webcam, for example, there are a dozen nearly empty coffee mugs they can’t see; a dune of dirty clothes at the foot of my bed; the husks of houseplants suffering root rot, mold, and infestations of fungus flies. I’m not proud of the floor that became so gritty and sticky, I covered the high-traffic areas with newspaper. Or the wastebasket with a steady population of flies in orbitals over the paper plates I eat off now to avoid the pile of dishes so high I can’t access the kitchen faucet. And the toilet brush.. may have faded into another dimension.
When they return and inevitably ask, with something approaching concern, how am I doing? I can only ever think to say that I’m fine. Oh, at first, like everyone else, I tied myself into a knot of anxious news-consumption. Because my newsfeed is an unaccredited bachelor’s degree in epidemiology. Twitter is a snuff film library of police violence. Facebook is a racist uncle’s wet meme-factory. Instagram has a lot of people making sourdough bread. And I jack-into all of it like NEO in the Nebuchadnezzar, to the ceaseless revving of leaf blowers outside which are somehow considered ‘essential services’.
And it’s thoughtful of them to ask, yes, my freelance work has dried up. And no, unemployment doesn’t even cover rent for this leaking lifeboat adrift between anti-maskers and a Congress stalling for months now on a stimulus, as my net worth sinks to a nose above water. But, for some reason I feel compelled to tell them it’s not so bad—there’s the free time, and I’ve started drawing again.
I tell them humbly about this very impressive book I’m compiling—a portrait series—of the authors of the most important books I’ve finally had the time to read. Of course it includes some icons like J.B. Salamander and Tolstoyevski, but curated alongside some unknowns and underappreciateds. I doubt, for instance, they’d heard of Damon C Bishop, but his Meatball Mystery series is a utilitarian masterclass on the post-internet human condition. Sure, he writes about a talking dog, and no one’s ever heard of him, but all the better to place him like a food truck chef’s kiss in my pantheon of intellectuals, because my book is about knowledge and knowledge is not celebrated via hierarchy.
So I drop the name of another writer who I happened to sit next to at a literature festival in western India. They probably haven’t heard of her either, but might really enjoy her latest speculative fiction about the invention of an everlasting lightbulb.
Often their screens flicker with the time-consuming intricacies of parenthood. To the eternal spring break of the childless, they offer some version of ‘time to read must be nice’. And it apparently takes a village so this is the part where I listen to them sympathetically about their children, or more often, the punishing reality of being confined 24 hours a day with them. Pruning their internment as a more selfless variety with more adult worriment.
So I assuage all guilt about their children’s excessive screen time, and say, “But I do think it’s a real missed opportunity when you dress them in messages that don’t teach anything. Simply announcing to a cynical world that they’re “awesome” or “handsome” or “daddy’s something something”. When it’s the exact age we need to start shaping social virtues. Gratitude. Humility. Compassion. Tolerance. Self-discipline. It could instead say, “Share. Leave some. Liquidate billionaires. Bullying belies cowardice. Gentleness transcends aggression. Acts of service for the welfare of others transcend solipsism. Creativity could transcend the pedestrian monoculture you’re wrapping around yourself like a feather boa from Old Navy or wherever. And do you know, a refugee woman once explained to me the importance of learning English because, quote ‘to speak is to write words on the body’?! Meanwhile, your kids have insipid words on their bodies. So you may as well give them all the screen time they want. What are they learning anyway?!
But that’s when they ask. I think video meet ups must have fallen out of fashion. There haven’t been any in a while.
I haven’t left the house or talked to anyone in several weeks now and My girlfriend, who doesn’t like to be called ‘my girlfriend’ because she says it makes us sound like we’re teenagers. She likes to say “partner”, which to me sounds unbearably business related. Perhaps a clinical sexual affiliation, sure, but with a tediously transactional ring to it—devoid of longing and intimacy.
So, whatever, my partners’s father had a heart attack, and she took off to Atlanta.
Oh, save it—that’s not part of the story—any doctor will tell you that heart-care is the crowning achievement of modern medicine. They dropped in a stent and he was home in a couple days. But that was nine weeks ago.
There WAS a phone call about a week after the hospital episode, and she explained that Georgia was a very important state in the upcoming election and as the law happens you only need to be there 30 days to register, So she was going to stay on for a while, as if to say, it’s not you, it’s the country. We both know how bad four more years with this monster would be.
It’s hard to argue with patriotism. And honestly, there were signs. A formative fight that came to be known as Yogurt Gate was an early clash of wills and world views, and I was forced to fend off several accusations of selfishness.
I had made myself a bowl of yogurt with some granola sprinkles on top and sat down to eat it. It this was apparently wrong. I had neglected to offer her any.
“If you want a bowl of yogurt,” I said, “there’s some in the fridge.”
And apparently that was not the point. The point was that I didn’t ask her, and so I said, “I thought I was a partner, not a butler. I don’t know why you feel entitled for me to wait on you.” And I probably said ‘hand and foot’.
And she said, “And I don’t know why YOU won’t ever apologize or think of me! You’re selfish. and you’re an angry person. and you upset people!’
“I don’t ‘upset’ people.”
“Even your family says so. Your brother told me. You’re not allowed to go to family funerals anymore!”
“That is NOT what he said. You’re telling the story wrong. And you weren’t even there. Monica was the one who put that fire out. That was.. FOUR girlfriends ago! And so what?! My grandfather was a cruel man!
<— interview #1:
(The sound of thunder, an elevator, a woman’s voice)
And you know, i mean i can see how that would happen. When you live a life inside a building inside a room that smells like dead chickens all day long, there’s got to be something [laughs] you’ve got to believe that there’s something more to life, and ya know, i think that a lot of people had affairs. You know what I mean? And flirtations and all the things that go with that just to have something beyond what was in front of them. Ya know?
But anyway, she started having an affair with him and that’s when she was actually pregnant with me. And so that when I was born, my dad didn’t believe that I was his.
She said she had a minute when she wasn’t paying attention and you can’t have a minute when you’re not paying attention. But ya know, the other thing is, you’re standing on a cement floor for ten hours a day sometimes for six days a week.
Basically, she got lost in thought about something else and a piece of chicken, ya know, dragged her hand into the machine and it was chopped off, and it still felt like it was there and she would reach out and touch something or pick something up and realize that she couldn’t because it wasn’t there.
So, everything is very grey and very white. Grey floors. Grey walls. Silver metal trays where everybody worked. And everybody has to wear their white uniforms with white hairnets, white shoes. And these pipes come down from the ceiling that are supposed to blow fresh air around, but it’s a cement room, no windows.
When I was [noise] my mom got me a job in the chicken factory deboning chicken. I lasted an hour and a half. Then I got so sick I started puking. I mean it smelled like.. I don’t know if you’ve smelled like wet chicken wings? They had been plucked but you could still smell the feathers, and um, the blood, and ya know, death.
And so i just, ya know, I couldn’t go back. The smell. And i think what really scared me was looking out over all those people, and ya know, good people, nice people, hard-working people. But it just, it just tore my soul apart to think that this was gonna be my life, that it could be my life.
Uh, yeah, I mean basically those were dreams of desperation. I didn’t make enough to pay for the house. I didn’t make enough to pay our bills, or even food was a stretch. We were on food stamps, and i can’t remember exactly what we got, but it wasn’t much because your dad wouldn’t pay child support.
And so, my car fell apart. And then grandpa sold me that one that they had and it fell apart after about like two months or three months. And he refused to do anything about it. I mean he just said, I’m sorry, I didn’t know it was in that rough a shape, but wouldn’t give me the money back so, I mean, I was getting down to a place where the best way to go was to go on the bus. And ya know, it drove all the way to LeSeuer so it was a couple hours there and a couple hours home and then they were twelve hour shifts.
There was somebody who got their hand caught somehow underneath the ears, and it pulled them into that machine, and it cut off the tips of their fingers. But once I got used to it, I knew how to stay away from that part of the machine.
Ya start out thinking oh my god, how did i get here? How could i have prevented this? Blah blah blah maybe i should’ve done this, maybe i should’ve done that. But, too much of that slowed you down and just made you feel heavy. So i made a point not to go into too many long thinking jags. I’m sure that there was a lot of unconscious stuff. It’s sort of like going to sleep and dreaming. You’re doing two things at the same time, but it’s like you can be asleep and still go someplace else.
//end of interview//—>
He wasn’t a fixture so much as a frequency. Showing up like a bill, always unannounced, and always with a box of the cheapest donuts. He’d let himself in the front door, stomp his shoes in the breezeway, and still manage to track snow all over the carpet on his way to the kitchen.
And as he passed me on his way, he’d peer down at the open pages of my library book, some VanGogh or Michaelangelo spread with my neophyte replication beside it, and he’d say, ‘well, now, you’re getting pretty good at that. if you can’t find better work when you’re grown, maybe you can set up a little sketch booth at a state fair or I’m sure there’s a shopping mall craft fairs circuit where you could draw caricatures. Though I don’t reckon art is much of a living.” And he’d take his coat off and sit himself down at the kitchen table to belittle my mother.
Each cigarette was lit from the embers of her previous one during his visits. They’d sit with a pot of coffee between them. And he’d remind her how everyone had always said she was the smart one, but look at her now. He’d tell her how tired she looked. Is “youth-spent” a word she came across in her poetry books much? Finishing a degree is not so easy when you’re divorced with a brood and working a dead-end job, is it?
She was canning corn for Jolly Green Giant out in LeSueur. One of her co-workers had just come back from Alaska. They were always hiring at the fish canneries there. It paid double, but the hours were longer. And you could get used to the smell, but the real problem was if the boss didn’t like you, he’d pick you for unclogging which meant lying down on the conveyor belt, wriggling your way through the fish and guts and fins poking you. And people still lost fingers in those machines.
Of course this was common in her parent’s generation. Lots of people just lost their fingers. Her aunt, who worked at Tony Dunn’s cannery out near Medellia got her glove caught in the corn husker, and ripped three fingers right off. And this happened, so frequently, that there was a protocol for someone to pull a cord on a loud chromatic steam whistle. And when it would blow, one by one the rumbling machines would sputter to a halt, and the conveyors stopped until the fingers were found. But there was no sympathy to go around because they weren’t going to make their quotas now. And you heard the machines start up again before you even left the floor, as they handed you a jar with ice and fingers, and sent you to the hospital. They were able to reattach one of the fingers but she didn’t have any feeling in it.
Of course, none of that ever needed to happen for my mother, if she’d just listened to him. If she hadn’t been so proud. He’d told her what kind of fellah my father was, in fact he’d just passed his van parked outside the bar behind the grocery store with the donuts he liked. That’s where he was. And where was she? Three months behind on house payments, that’s where.
And on another cheap doughnut morning, he’d brought his will with him. Just to show her that she wasn’t in it. “So don’t waste your time waiting for me to die—you won’t get a thing.”
All of his money would be going to go to her brother. The son who was making bank in pharmaceuticals, and who came back once a year from Delaware, or maybe it was Rhode Island. “He may not NEED the money as badly as you do, and that’s why he’ll get it. You would just squander it. He’ll invest it wisely. I have to respect my money. I have to protect my legacy. ”
And his visits often ended in a variation of the following: a mother of three behind the kind of tears that recall raw teenage frustration. She attempts to explode his chest with her mind, and when it doesn’t work, she stubs out her cigarette, and says, “You’re RELENTLESS! WHY? Why do you REDUCE me to begging when you can SEE I need help. Can’t you see how hard I work for my boys? I just wish I understood WHY you need to be so cruel. And WHY I am alone in this? Their father doesn’t pay child support, but the amount of money I need is nothing to you. And you won’t help either. What kind of man doesn’t care if his grandchildren are thrown out in the street?! Why are they not your legacy?”
And that’s when he would stand up, and he’d swirl around the last of the coffee in his cup, and set the remaining cold mouthful back on the table. And as she sits there despairing, he’d put his coat on in a kind of slow-motion victory lap. The nylon sound of his arm pushing through his right sleeve. and then the left. The bottom button. Snap. The next one up. snap. snap. snap. He wraps himself in a scarf and adjusts his hat just how he likes it, and finally, pats his gloves together, and he tells her that he’ll think about it, as he walked out the door.
After he’s gone, I’d stand by her chair and put my arm around her. Her head leaning into my chest. We’d look out the window at the falling snow, and I’d say, “Ya know, that man doesn’t have a single novel in his whole house. The only art on his walls is a black velvet bullfighter. He thinks that Stone Henge was made with bulldozers as tourist trap. And isn’t it pitiful, I mean, truly deserving of pity, a social Darwinist who can’t unzip happiness from finance, a man who loves a dollar more than anything he can ever imagine buying with it? ”
All this I would’ve said with my silence because I was 8 or 9 years old, but she’d reply, “There’s a certain type of personality that you’ll come across that’s determined to grab life by the dick and whip it around over their head like a lasso. YOU have to be one of THOSE. Because your grandfather won’t be happy, until I’m missing fingers and we’re all living in a trailer court.”
And I’d say, “that man will NEVER be happy, because happiness is not a destination—but a signal, a compass needle, a divining rod, a light house, a North Star.”
And with her eyes lost in the snowy white abyss, she’d reply, “Karma is a shaft of light.”
<— interview #2:
I think that he always identified more with his working class beginnings. The whole idea of, ya know, somebody could grow up poor and make good. And then after a certain point, he wasn’t willing to go there. On the one hand we supposed to be grateful and sort of loyal to him. On the other hand, he wasn’t going to give us anything to work with [laughs] and make everything so difficult. So basically, their whole thing with adopting kids: make sure they have enough food on the table, guide them into being decent citizens so they wouldn’t go out and turn into the mother’s and fathers they came from. Then, sort of, put you out in the world.
I mean basically he was a college professor in investments, and so he talked about money, he taught about money—his life, in that sense, revolved around it.
Um, the other thing I always thought, and it’s just, um, he was not the most intelligent of men. [laughs] maybe i’m being kind, but, ya know, but i think that he thought that being wealthy was going to mean a lot of things and that one of them was going to be that he looked smarter than he actually was. Smart men I think he felt like he was on an even keel with them because he had made the money that he had made, which meant success to him. Smart women, in particular, intimidated him. And Mom was very much smarter than he was. Ya know what I mean?
I try to think about what he would want to be remembered for or, um, let’s see. I think that our beliefs, our belief systems, dictate our behavior. I believe that. And I think that he believed that everything that he did was okay. And there was nothing that he did that was wrong or not called for. As a teenager, I did everything to let him know that I was not going to follow the rules or it was not on my agenda to figure out how to make him proud. So it was hard for him to give up his money to somebody that didn’t appreciate it enough, or wasn’t willing to work hard enough for it, or wasn’t willing to be careful in things like if I hadn’t gone off and got pregnant I wouldn’t have had to get married and then I wouldn’t be in this situation now.
And those were the conversations we had to go through every single time I needed money I would have to go and sit in his office and sit across from his desk and he would say, “well, gal, you’re still in the same place you were the last time you were here, and why do you think that is?” And it was a whole humiliation game, which is [laughs] why I hated it so much, ya know? And I would have to agree with everything he said in order for him to give me the money. And he knew that. His definite thing was money. It was his power and he did not give it up lightly.
The biggest thing for him, he had a relationship with his mom–if you even brought her up, he would start to cry. He was the baby and would say things like “my mother always told me the best thing a man can be is kind.” Or “be a good person, that’s the most important thing.” And then he would be able to rattle off things that he had done that were good. And some of them were good, ya know? And maybe there’s ways that we all get kind of sidetracked.
//end of interview//—>
It sounds to me / like forgiveness / is an out of body experience. Rising above, someone’s impact, to comprehend them through multiple perspectives. That’s like a superpower, that kind of letting go. I don’t have it.
So I’ll dedicate it to my mother, this book, when I finish it. A gesture of applause for her fortitude, a moment to take a bow, for not having been transformed by him, into something ugly. A long overdue and incommensurate gratitude for her years of sacrifice that her children’s talents might find purchase.
And sure, it’s decades behind schedule, but the quarantine could maybe be a gift in that way—long stretches of solitude for the chrysalis of my efforts. Why, just this morning, I started work on one of the final pieces of the puzzle—A writer from Los Angeles. His heyday in the 80s and 90s produced a volume obscure radio plays. The most famous of which was about an unctuous tailor and the assistant he abused. It was called “Cut Him Some Slacks”.
And it’s not bad, but if you know where to look, you turn up the deep cuts of an artist at the top of his game.
I throw one on about a priest, an atheist, and a demon who go on a road trip. This one’s called “Beelzebuds”.
Throughout the trio’s process of discovering what it means to be human, I produce sketch after sketch of the author. But his portrait isn’t coming together. Frankly, I blame the source material. Google’s image searches won’t yield the quality I need for my work, I move on to Microsoft Bing, Getty, Flickr, DuckDuckGo, Swisscows.
All, useless, ..But for one image, which has exactly HALF of what I need. It’s a black and white photograph of the man in his 60s. It was taken with proper studio lighting, and has the clarity of a high res camera, but the image is cropped, artistically, right at the nose, leaving only the lengthening forehead of an aging man, his remaining hair, bushy eyebrows, the tops of his ears. And a pair of strong eyes throttling the lens from a black abyss.
I track the photographer’s name in the byline, and it’s a long shot, but there’s a “contact me” on their portfolio site. I make some decorous pleasantries about the work, and I say, I’m reaching out as an artist working on a series of author portraits, and quality photographs like yours can be incredibly difficult to find, and I was wondering if you had an uncropped version I could see, or any others that might have been taken at the time could be a huge help to me.
And when I click ‘send’, I’m catapulted toward the kitchen sink to show the world i’m worth responding to. To start the work of washing an apartment’s worth of dishes. To open a window, to let some fresh air in. And it tastes so sweet that I can only imagine what stench I’d grown accustomed to. The hydrangeas in the flower bed outside my window begin to wilt from what’s pouring out of my apartment. Flies whiz past me in escape, and I have to dodge a dozen or so mice who scurry up the radiator onto the sill, where two by two, they stand upright, and clasp each other’s front paws. And it’d look like a little mouse wedding but for their wee eyes clamped tight against the ammonia stench of my isolation, until one pair after another hurl their tiny bodies out the three story window.
This has all the makings of a viral video, but when I pull OUT my phone to live stream it, I find a response already from the photographer. It begins, “thank you for writing. The image you’re referring to is of my late husband. It’s a medium format film negative and it’s NOT cropped—that was my original, intentional composition. Thank you for your kind words, however, after working closely with him for decades, I am confident that he would not want his portrait produced in your style. I’m sorry, but this would simply not have worked for him, at all. I’m sure you can understand that protecting what he would have wanted is paramount—and protecting his legacy, in the end, is the number one priority.”
The phone number on her website may have been to her studio or her gallery, but when it goes to voicemail, I say, “you know, I don’t think you quite understand what I’m doing here. There will be a lot of important authors in this book I’m developing. He’ll be juxtaposed with luminaries like Baldwin and Borges. And also, well, I haven’t finished them yet, but I have plans to include some of the his new-wave contemporaries, geniuses that he respected, that some might even say influenced his work. You know, so, I’m actually quite magnanimously elevating your late husband who, let’s be honest, did have his share of critics. Whereas my skills and my platform are being used to lacerate the sails of his detractors. And with your help, we ensure that his legacy is much more than some ‘stream of conscious radio rants’ or whatever they might be saying about him. And of course I’m willing to work with you on the style if you think he’d prefer something more realistic, I have, after all received a bachelor of fine art at a very prestigious 4 year art school” and at that moment, at the one minute mark, there’s a beep and I’m disconnected.
And obviously there’s much more to discuss so I call again. And then again. By the 5th or 6th call, I’m simply listing all the artists who were worse than me. Come on, I mean, Caravagio killed a guy and cut off his johnson, Gaugain, an obvious pedophile sex tourist. And you can’t tell me Degas hasn’t been MeToo-ed by now. Are you sure you’re even looking at the right drawings?!
Naturally, I pull up my own website, to verify where she may have made a wrong turn, and the floor of my gallery shifts beneath me. There’s been a coup. A menagerie of cheap and unremarkable faces stare back, as the statues of kings are pulled down and melted for bullets. The puissant psychedelia my blind contours previously yielded, no longer resonate as the heir apparent of Egon Schiele. Not even George Grosz. The smeared reality that produced these deformed freaks weren’t even successful as caricatures. They didn’t capture the essence of the subject through a perversion of their appearance, they simply looked like the uncrumpled works of an unskilled cartoonist. And When I can hardly see anything from the wet frustration in my eyes, I hear the voice of my mother. She’s saying, “Do you think Raphael wept all over his sketchbook, drank himself silly because he sucked compared to DaVinci? No! He was a gardener to his inferiority, and his butt-soarness about it. And he pulled himself up by his cod piece and dammit, he got to work!”
But then I hear another beep. So, I call back and say, ‘Look, I’m sorry. I can admit I was maybe a little high strung earlier, but I think if I could only talk to you, I think there’s another way to look at all this. At the end of the day, we’re all artists here—I mean, to the extent that photography is considered art in some circles. The point is: your average human is a dolt with a handful of firecrackers. You and I.. We’re creators. We’re the ones who see the horizon in the void. Who step forward to the crunch of present crystalizing into the dernier cri as coffee turns our spleens to Swiss cheese. Our cigarettes ASH on kale salads and babies. We’re the bitter rind of summer’s end. We’re a Good Kiss Before Bad News. A Sacred harvest in a moment of total presence with the elusive deeper self. And isn’t that enough? to look out for each other? NO exerts power. YES begets grace. I already said, I could change the style a little, though I don’t see why you feel entitled to force my hand here. I really just don’t understand why you won’t help? Or why you need to be so cruel about it. Why do you want me to live in a trailer court?!’
And for the first time, I hang up before the beep, Go back to her email, Hammer on the keys, “Do you think THIS style might have been more to his liking?! Is this a style that meets your legacy gate-keeping approval?!”
In an absolute frenzy, my pencil digs into paper. Fast and crude, an image of her deceased husband fucking a dog. But just as I take a photo of the drawing to attach to the email, I have some misgivings that it doesn’t quite look enough like him to really sting. Which, in fact, might even prove her point, so I erase and redraw, but have to erase and redraw, until it’s so overworked that I can’t possibly send it. I can’t bear to look at it. I crumple it up and throw it on the floor. Then I get up and step on it. and then light it on fire, and my slippers get a little scorched when I stomp it out.
But the whole episode is like being cleansed with sage. My mother’s voice starts to say something again, but I throw up an index finger to pause her with my obvious concentration on a fresh, new page.
THIS Time, I simply draw a coffin. at the center of which is a glory hole, with a small pecker nub poking through, upon which an Irish Setter is about to sit. The haughty expression on the dog’s face is rendered with a hand so quick and assured that no one would deny the talent and semesters of Life Drawing behind it… The piece de resistance, though, the mot juste, the final twist of the knife is gonna be to dress the dog in a piece of her clothing or jewelry, maybe some identifiable purse or something.
And unfortunately, this is when we learn that Google is a vexation with a hundred zeroes behind it—Her name, so commonplace in an image search, that I can’t be sure which of the 10+ women smiling back at me is her.
Most of them look too young. Of course, with an older, established, artist, that’s not unheard of. But so many of them have a kind of midwestern wholesomeness that doesn’t fit the profile. There is one woman, toward the bottom of the page, the only one not smiling. She wears a luxurious silk blouse over a halter top. Her hair is cropped. Glasses, chunky. and She has this kind of Sigourney Weaver no-bullshit power to her face that instills cold desire.
I imagine meeting in real life. and I’m still wound up with the kind of impotent rage that only allows me to take her hand and congratulate her. As cameras flash, and champagne flutes are passed around in anticipation. At a ribbon cutting, for a feat of her engineering prowess. Her latest heartlessly efficient industrial marvel, shimmering before us, poised to rip the market cap off the entire sector of agribusiness, with the new, tour-de-force, creme de la creme of creamed corn canning machines. And as the lights are dimmed, and the crowd is hushed, and the scissors raised, she looks me in the eye and asks for a volunteer.
And of its own accord, my hand raises for the last time with all five fingers.
And somewhere between her PR manager, handing me a champaign flute with ice and fingers,, and our inevitable short-lived and kink-ridden affair, I snake through the image search rabbit hole for more, and more, photos of this, industrial amputation fetishist. Until I discover that Her name and the photographer’s name, don’t match. at all.
And to dump some ice-water on the last several minutes, her name is something Kind of Silly Sounding. In a way that makes you wonder if people with silly sounding names ever grow up NOT to have BDSM kinks, or to have faces that do anything BUT stare the world down. And wonder, too, why the world amplifies women like her in search results they clearly don’t belong.
It forces me to set her aside, and go back to facing off against that wall of smiling photographer would-bes, and by now, the clarity of my indignation is really, starting to lose its edge, so I just take a Bold Black sharpie and draw an arrow pointing to the dog, and I write “YOU”! And I click “send” so hard the mouse shatters.
And I storm over to the window and Ram it down with such force that it shatters too. The apartment whirls around me shattering anything it puts in my hands. Framed paintings, flower pots, the tv, I pull out a jar of pickles from the fridge, and smash that too. And move on to the dishes that I’m surprised to find suddenly in the drying rack for the first time in weeks. And when each and everyone one of them was smashed into pieces that I can’t possibly smash any smaller, when there’s absolutely Nothing Left to Break, I sit down on the kitchen tile among the shards beneath the skylight.
A distant leaf blower revs to a stop, and I feel the climactic scene dissolving into this perfectly lit epilogue. Like a pieta from the height of the Italian Renaissance—with the soft light, streaming down from the heavens with no one else to bear witness. And so, just like everyone, a phone comes out and I’m reduced to a selfie in the ruin. And I try for a little while to come up with the perfect hashtag, but, the moment is passing, and I finally give up, and let it go.
From the Editor:
We hope that readers receive In Parentheses as a medium through which the evolution of human thought can be appreciated, nurtured and precipitated. It will present a dynamo of artistic expression, journalism, informal analysis of our daily world, entertainment of ideas considered lofty and criticism of today’s popular culture. The featured content does not follow any specific ideology except for that of intellectual expansion of the masses.
Founded in late 2011, In Parentheses prides itself upon analysis of the current condition of intelligence in the minds of these young people, and building a hypothesis for one looming question: what comes after Post-Modernism?
The idea for this magazine stems from a simple conversation regarding the aforementioned question, which drew out the need to identify our generation’s place in literary history.
To view the types of work we typically publish, preview or purchase our past issues.