Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Fake It 'Til Ya Make It

“Paul!  Whatcha doin’ home taday?”  He’s puttering around his house as I cut down Hume Avenue.  I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen him in jeans and a t-shirt.  “Are ya on vacation or somethin’?”

“Oh, hey Luke.”  He makes his way to the edge of the yard.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen him with stubble before.  Just assumed Paul had a baby face.  “What’s goin’ on?”

“Not much.  Just runnin’ some errands.”  I hold up a grocery bag full of random junk.  “Got da day off?”

“Yeah.  Was laid off last week.  So, have lotsa days off now.”  Paul follows this with embarrassed laughter.

“Ugh…  Sorry ta hear that, man.”  He looks at the grass and kicks a stone toward the street.  “Are ya doin’ awright?  Need anythin’?”

“I’m good fer now.  I have a bit of money saved up ta get me through a coupla months.  Whadda ‘bout you?  How’s everythin’ goin’?”

“’Bout da same.  Still no steady work.  Still livin’ at my granpa’s.  Still stuck in-between things.  But, doin’ fine.”  I set the grocery bag down since it seems I’ll be here a while.  “Still seein’ Jonathan?”

“Oh yeah,” he cracks a half-smile.  “Things are goin’ well with us.  Been really supportive ‘nd fun.  Jon’s in Pittsburgh fer work this week though.”

“Good.  I like him.”  The conversation lulls to a stop as Paul seems preoccupied with concern.  “Did they give ya a reason fer bein’ laid off?”

“Some bullshit ‘bout havin’ ta cut costs even though we made record profits ‘nd senior management got huge pay increases ‘nd bonuses!  I increased net revenue fer my programs by nearly 60% in three years ‘nd still got cut.”

“That sucks.  Been there myself though.”  I remove tortilla chips from the bag and offer to share.  “Were ya da only one cut or were there others?”

“A few of us got da ax.”

“Did they give ya a reason fer their choices?”

“Not really.  Gave us da usual line ‘bout how they valued our loyalty ‘nd that our hard work made a huge impact on da organization ‘nd yada, yada, yada.  I hosted dinner fer those of us laid off ‘nd we thought their decisions were strange.”

“’Strange’, how so?”  I could eat bags of tortilla chips forever.

“It may be just sour grapes, but it’s odd who they kept ‘nd who they released.  Fer da most part, those laid off were da most experienced, hardest workin’, self-motivated, ‘nd responsible.  I mean, one of my co-workers was there 17-years, took home lotsa work on nights ‘nd weekends, ‘nd loved what she did.  These were da types of people now strugglin’ ta file fer unemployment ‘nd fill out job applications.”

“I’m sure they have a rational explanation.”

“Yer probably right.  But, I’d like ta know why they kept who they did.”

“Bet that was a hot topic at dinner.  Who’d they keep?”

“Again, might be sour grapes.  But, most of them are useless.  They show up late, leave early, ‘nd take extra long lunches.  Most of ‘em don’t know how ta use da database, which is used fer almost every aspect of our jobs.  ‘Bout all they were good at was callin’ attention ta themselves.  Pretendin’ they’re celebrities walkin’ down da red carpet in fancy outfits with da rest of us as adorin’ fans.  That ‘nd kissin’ ass ‘nd ‘yes men’ ta every stupid idea.  I guess ya gotta do somethin’ when ya have da worst sales ‘nd production numbers.”

“Do ya really think it’s ‘sour grapes’?”

“Really?”  Paul’s too thoughtful and knows himself too well to be envious.  “If we just started ta feel this way ‘bout these people after da layoff, I might say ‘yeah, probably.’  But, I think our feelins are valid.  But, I think da world’s changin’ too.  Organizations no longer appreciate good skills, efficiency, ‘nd competence.  It’s all ‘bout appearances now.  Even a fake appearance of success is better than true good results.”

“If that’s true, I’m really in trouble.  Do ya really believe that?”

“Well, I use ta believe in da whole Puritan work ethic and all.  But, like everythin’ else, that seems ta be obsolete.  I guess I gotta get an Armani suit ta deceive everyone.  Ya know, da whole fake it ‘til ya make it nonsense.”

“Ha!  I guess a fake economy requires phony people ta run it, right?”  How can I be out of chips already?  “Got anythin’ lined up fer a job?”

“Nothin’ much.  A friend of mine said I could help him sell phone accessories part-time ‘til I find somethin’ better.  I’m hoping ta get somethin’ before my mortgage ‘nd student loans are due.  Hate ta put that on da credit card.”

“I’ll keep my eyes peeled fer ya.  Are ya busy now?  Wanna hang out or somethin’?”

“Nah.  Got no money.  Plus, I should finish up some stuff ‘round da house.  But, come over this weekend ‘nd we can watch da game.”  We wrap up our conversation.  Paul zig-zags aimlessly on his lawn.  For my friends and family, losing a job is the first step toward moving away. 

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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Gotta Have Some Fun Before Ya Go

Stubborn son-of-a-bitch.  Refuses to take his medicine.  Just looks at an old wedding photo on the wall from his recliner.  The fat and muscles of his body have evaporated leaving loose skin draped on a frail skeleton.  “Luke, what da hell are ya doin’?  Put me down.”  As I lift him, I notice he weighs no more than a child.

“Sorry, ya got plans taday, Granpa.”

“Plans!?!  Yer not bringin’ me ta da goddamn doctor, are ya?  Put me down!” his resistance would be funny if it wasn’t so sad.

“Calm down.  We’re gonna have a good day.” I carry him to the garage and put him in the passenger seat of his old station wagon.  I head back into the kitchen, throw a bunch of junk into a backpack, and return to the car.  His gaze is fixed on the distance as I tear through the neighborhoods.

“Can we listen ta da radio?” he sheepishly asks.

“'Course, it’s yer car ‘nd we do whatcha want taday.” I turn on the radio, which is set to the only country station he listens to.  The gravel of Johnny Cash runs through the speakers instead of the usual grating twang.  “We’re here.”  I turn right off Indiana Avenue onto River Street bouncing the car into F-and-N Hot Dog Drive-In.

“Whatcha bringin’ me here fer?  Da doc won’t lemme eat this stuff.”

“Ya can have a veggie milkshake if ya want, but I won’t tell da quack ya had a dog if you won’t.”  Two Chicago Dog Specials with fries, all the toppings, and malts eventually make it to the car.  It’s the only thing I’ve seen him eat in days.  Slowly, he sets down a half-gnawed fry when he realizes I drove us to LaSalle Park.  “Done?  Wanna go down ta da river?”  I throw on my backpack and carry him to the grassy landing of the riverbank.  His eyes take in all the light.  “Here ya go.”  I hand him a loaf of bread from the bag and ducks race over.  The Mallards battle for position.

“A loaf doesn’t last as long as ya think it would, does it?” Grandpa says.  The ducks are impatient with his pace and I shoo them away when they try to bypass the middleman for food.  “This was nice.  Thanks fer gettin’ me outta da house.”

“Do ya wanna go home?  We can do whatever ya want.”

“Whatever?” he looks at the river and ponders.  “Let’s get back ta da car then.”  I pick him and the backpack up and carefully cross the meadow.  About ten minutes later, we pull into a disintegrated parking lot in front of a blighted factory.  The bricks are graffitied and the corrugated steel slowly melts into rust.  “Ya know, I worked here for 43 years.”  I slowly drive around the plany trying to avoid potholes.  “Park over there.”

“Here ya go.” I hand hem a fifth of whiskey from the bag.  “Fancy people call it a digest-if if ya drink after hot dogs.”

“Very nice.  This was da only place I ever worked.”  He takes a sip.  “Straight outta high school onta da assembly line.  Worked my way up ‘nd into da union.  Picketed fer fair wages ‘nd benefits.  Their security guards ‘nd police would start fights ‘nd arrest us if we tried ta defend ourselves.  Wasn’t right, but money was involved.  Don’t know how these fat cats can sleep at night with their employee’s kids starvin’ at night.  It’s also where I met yer granma.  Ever tell ya that story?”

“Nope.” I answer.  He’s never been secretive, but wasn’t open to sharing private details either.  “Did she work here too?”

“No, no.” he laughs a bit.  “We were on lunch break ‘nd a bunch of us were standin’ ‘round eatin’ on the third floor.  Well, there were a coupla girls we could see sunbathin’ in da backyard over there.”  He points to a boarded up bungalow on Erzinger Street.  “Oh, da guys were whistlin’ ‘nd cat-callin’.  My friend, George, asked me ‘think those girls are pretty?’  I said, ‘sure’.  He went on, ‘what ‘bout da brunette?  What ‘bout this?  What ‘bout that?’  Finally, I told ol’ George ta ‘shut up’ ‘bout the girls.  Well, coupla days later, George invited me over ta his house ‘nd, wouldn’t ya know it, those sunbathin’ girls were there.  One of da girls was his cousin ‘nd da other was yer granma.  Da rest is history.”  He savors another tiny bit of his drink.

“A good history?” I bite my upper lip.

“A great history…  Let’s go over there.”  His shaky hand points across the street.  The old grocery-getter rattles into the entrance of Mary Magdalene Cemetery and sputters to a stop halfway down St. Herman Avenue at a hardened path.  I hoist him through generations of headstones of varying styles and quality.  At the end of the trail is a white birch tree along a chain link fence.  The decaying factory casts its shadow over us.  I set my grandfather at the base of a humble monument dedicated to “My beloved Gertrude.”

His body trembles as he lays his hand on the granite slab, which also bears his name.  There’s a tear slowly making its way down the contours of his wrinkled face.  I crouch down beside him and place my arm around his bony shoulders, as this is the first time I’ve seen him cry.  He twists to grab onto me and buries his head into my chest.  What few tears he’s able to shed exhaust his energy.  “C’mon Granpa, it’s time ta go home.”  As I pick him up to return to the car, I barely hear him mumble, “I’ll see ya soon, Gertie.  See ya soon…” 

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Wednesday, March 12, 2014


By Elizabeth Dunphey

  Midtown.  Just the name sounds powerful and booming, beautiful and glittery.  Yet it depends on where you are, at what time of the dark night, that you can see the gorgeous nature of this neighborhood.  Jay McIrney could inform you more clearly in Bright Lights, Big City than me.  But at the college girl age of 19, I knew his alienated pain.

  Christmas off of Lexington. 

  I have that German-American, Goethe- induced, poetically severe temperment.  My hair is a natural ripe chesnut yanked into a tight bun,   basically the current urban Girls coda: blood red lipstick, messy hipster gorgeous, long faux diamond earrings.  People tell me I look like a young Barbara Minty, the Playmate and Steve McQueen’s girlfriend.  I take the compliment.

  One cold Christmas, I was stranded at a midtown NYU dorm, with the song “Brandy” playing in the background.  Not to sound all Holden Caulfield, since it’s a great song, but it was a pretty lousy party for sophomores -- mostly goths and theatre students.  HBO’s Girls was blaring from the TV.  We watched as Lena Dunham mugged for the camera. 

  “This show rules!” screamed one raven haired girl.  I nodded my head in agreement. I worship the show lately, on lonely nights.  ”My neighbor knows her!”

  The girl I will call Raven, sings along with the stereo’s words:

Brandy wears a braided chain
Made of finest silver from the North of SpainA locket that bears the nameOf the man that Brandy loves. . .
  Stuffed in her tattered Hermes bag, was a list of LA contacts to every Hollywood actor’s PR connection. 

  I could take the short haired goth girls, despite their grating quality, but the theatre kids were absolute hell. They were transfer students, basic egotistic drips who had not gotten in last year.  They knew the name of every Brando movie, and the goths loved Warhol.  It could drain a truly humbler person.

  To get away from this fake atmosphere, I sank into the brandy stained couch, which was dimly lit by candles. I thumbed through a brand new, shiny, slimy, sexy magazine.  Ironically, like the song, and the sofa,  it was called Brandy.

  One bespectacled boy, Simon French, who wanted desperately to be a director, and to date or at the very least kiss me, filled me it.  He wanted to be Somebody in caps.
  “It’s this new trendy garbage that’s trying to compete with Maxim and Playboy.”
  “I’ll take Playboy,” I murmured in a snarky art school way.  I was always bold that way.  “If I was a guy and needed to see women,        I want the whole pictoral.  I want the babe. Not these cooking articles.”
  “I second you!” crowed Raven.  “But keep a copy.  It’s a hit with 20 year old men.  Some of these articles are very modern.”  

  I gazed at the cover, a 23 year old Suzette Heaton.  A complete drop dead gorgeous Jemima Kirke doppelganger: honey blonde, great voluptuous body, bright blue eyes, pale skin.  Husky hips too.  She was garbed in a lithe blue cotton tank dress.  Her thin lips matte with red Chanel lipstick. 

  “Suzy Heaton’s Heat!” The magazine proclaimed.  “Hot off her new series, and girl toy of Howard Stern!”

  Life changes so randomly.  Because of this offhand party, with this tarty men’s magazine, I snagged an internship at Brandy.

  And I thought the theatre kids in midtown were hell,     I had never encountered dirty old men in midtown. Otherwise known as my coworkers: Ruben, Noah, and Joachim, who discussed temple, holidays, shiksa movie stars, and the fact that they were slaves to the movie industry.  There was one obvious goy besides me.  Wess Avon, in his uptight yuppie business suits.  He was always ignored- like me, sadly.

  Pasted on the wall above Wes’s desk, sandwiched between old gorgeous photos of Raquel Welch and Victoria Silvstedt, was a quote by Andy Warhol: “I’ve decided something.  Commercial things really do stink.  As soon as it becomes commercial for a mass market it really stinks.”

  The one noteworthy fact about Brandy was our boss was a woman.  And a total, incorrigible brat.  She was 33.  Flame haired Jesse Roland grew up in Kansas City, and rose to the top of events planning.  She never wore makeup.  Her clothes were wrinkled GAP.  She smelled a little, by mid afternoon.  And she was a butcher, with no pity at all.  Grown men feared her. 

  Our staff of five, nicknamed her The Python

  There was another woman on staff, who was also PR.  The exquisitely  obnoxious, English born, dark maned Sally Buckstone.  Looks-wise, she was very Bebe Neurwith.  It took me forever to be able to watch an episode of Cheers, without projecting vibes.

   Sally was my supervisor, and she ordered me to book models for the Brandy parties, which were held in a tacky hotel bar near Bryant Park.

  It was a little odd for me to book models, seeing as in Ruben and Noah and Joachim’s eye, I looked like a teen model – of the sultry Famke Janssen variety.  I had her dark, German good looks.  I was fresh, exotic, voluptuous and naïve.  Nadine Ludwig.  I could see my name on the cover. A perfect candidate for their magazine.  But here I was, cold calling the Elite and Click agency for fresh faces, most of whom were way older than me, sometimes in their 30’s.

  To put things to the point, Ruben fell in love with me and broke up with his PR girlfriend.  We had a lot of sexual tension, sitting next to each other, listening to Alicia Keyes.  I liked his profile, the strength of it, and he worshipped my button nose.

  Poor Wess spied on us the whole time.

  Joachim yelled at everyone, while ditching his real responsibilities of retouching the cover ingénues and spraying a smooth tan on their hairless bodies.  His good looking girlfriend was the receptionist, and he made her do his work sometimes.

   Sally never broke a smile at me once, and proved some of the British have icy Anna Wintour hearts.  Jesse, the boss, handed me faxes to pass out, and treated me worse than a flight attendant on Howard Stern – the man that paid their Brandy paycheck.

  My flight attendant mother had warned that women who are masculine and insecure with power, will pick on pretty. feminine women, and I should ignore it.

  Jesse fired me after two months.

  For the first time, I looked at her hostile face.  I can see her going about her day, to her meetings and the gym and the Whole Foods store, not even thinking about me, how this has affected my experience with men. I drop out of her life, like a wad of bills from your pocket, like a stranger.  Warhol had his 15 minutes.  Mine felt like ten.  Here I was in midtown, with a bag of peanuts and diet coke.  My stupid diet. I thought of Sally.  Maybe I was turning somebody you will never know the name of at all.   

  I looked around me.  It was nearing spring.  I was free.  I tossed the diet coke in the garbage, and bought a brand new cheesesteak for the train back to upstate NY.

Elizabeth has modeled, written stories forever, and loves winter.  Read more of her in the Eunioa Review and Milk.

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Saturday, March 8, 2014

An Enchanting Evening At the Golden Ticket

The waitress has deep set eyes and almost a sneer as she refills our coffee.  Semis rumble by this 24-hour diner along I-57.  The Golden Ticket Diner is the only place to go after seeing a show at a bar.  “What makes people fall in love?” Monica gingerly stirs her coffee with a slightly bent spoon.

“Genetics.” I reply with little-to-no thought or reflection.

“Genetics!?!  That’s romantic.”  Obviously she was looking for a more sensual answer than a scientific one (not that I’m a scientist).

“Well, at least that’s what I saw somewhere.  Has ta do with evolution.”  I cram a big piece of French Toast in my mouth hoping there won’t be enough room for my foot.

So, yer sayin’ we only fall in love ‘cause of our genes?” 

“I’m not.  Scientists do.”  It’s hard to blame someone not there.  “Genes wanna survive.  Ta survive, they need ta reproduce.  So, natural selection manipulated us inta enjoyin’ companionship, sex, ‘nd stuff.  DNA wants us ta make lotsa babies so they can continue inta da next generation.  Part of that is ta trick us inta fallin’ in love.”

“’Trick us inta fallin’ in love’?”  Monica’s confusion turns into irritation.  This can be dangerous.  “What makes ya think I hafta be tricked inta love?”

“I was just repeatin’ what I saw onna science show.  Talkin’ ‘bout shows, yer friend’s band was pretty good tanight.”

“No.  I wanna hear whatcha think ‘bout love.  Do ya believe genetics make ya love?”  Me and my big mouth.

“Well…  What do ya think makes ya love?”

“Fer me, it’s emotional.  I mean, I’ll see a guy ‘nd think ‘he’s cute’.  I’ll make eye contact ‘nd smile.  If we end up talkin’, I’ll twirl my hair.  I’ll ask lotsa questions ‘bout him ‘nd laugh at his jokes.  If I’m really inta him, I’ll find a way ta touch his shoulder or arm, which leads ta a compliment ‘bout how strong he is or somethin’.  If he seems inta me, I’ll give him my number ‘nd take off before he gets bored.”

“But that’s not love.  Ya just told me how ya flirt.”  She has tricks, but doesn’t believe genes do?  “Tell me ‘bout when yer in love.”

“What do ya mean?”  Monica takes a sip of coffee and crosses her arms. 

“Okay…  Say ya’ve been seein’ someone fer a while ‘nd realize ya more than like ‘em.  Ya love ‘em.  Can’t imagine life without ‘em.  Think ‘bout havin’ babies ‘nd all.  What makes ya love ‘em?”

“I dunno.”  She puts her elbow on the table and presses her cheek into her fist.  “Maybe it’s bein’ passionate ‘nd stuff.  Ya know, tellin’ someone all da details of yer life ‘nd they still accept ya ‘nd wanna be with ya.  Wanna be with ya so much that they don’t plan on leavin’ ya.”  She rips open another packet of fake sugar and pours it into her half empty mug of joe.  “Does that answer yer questions?”

“It was yer questions.” I reply trying not to sound too defensive, but still cautious.  “But, not really.”

“What do ya mean ‘not really’?  What’s wrong with my answer?”

“Well, ya told me what makes ya fall in love, but not why.  Why do ya seek affection?”

Why do ya hafta turn a simple question inta an interrogation?”  The sarcasm is getting thick.  “We’ll keep playin’ yer game.  I guess love is like hunger.  My body needs food fer energy, so my stomach growls ta let me know.  I need love ta fulfill some urge.  Don’t know what that urge is.  Might be ta feel safe.  May be dif’rent fer everyone.  Who knows?  Is that a better answer?”

“Will I get in trouble if I say ‘no’ again?”  Why am I pushing this?  I should just say “yes” so we can banter about other meaningless garbage.

“Yer in trouble already, so ya got nothin’ ta lose.”  Her left eyebrow rises to a concerning level.  “Okay professor, what’s wrong now.”

“Let’s say yer right.  Love is like hunger.  What makes yer stomach know ta tell ya yer hungry?”

“If ya say ‘genetics’, I’ll kill ya.”  A fork and butter knife are dangerously close to her hands.

“What’s wrong with genetic love?  DNA is da most basic element of who we are.  They make our eyes blue ‘nd tell our bodies ta have two arms.  So, if every cell in our body is programmed ta love, is that so bad?”  There’s quiet as we bashfully look at each other and the twinkling lights of the interstate speed by our window.

“There’s somethin’ almost enchantin’ ‘bout our whole bodies bein’ designed ta love.”

“See, I can be romantic.”

“Shut up.  Yer just lucky ya were able ta pull that outta yer ass.”

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