An Incremental Journey (Caught in an Elevator with Viktor Shklovsky)

I got a call from Hosterman–tenant at the Glover Hotel. Damn elevator is out again, he says. It has gotten unbearable. Manager says it needs a goddamned part.

“I can’t go to buy groceries, I can’t walk my dog; I’m missing doctor’s appointments.”

Hosterman lives on the 7th floor, has COPD, hip problems.

“That’s just part of the problem” he continues.  “The building manager doesn’t give a damn.  Nothing works in this place.” 

Hosterman’s a nice guy, one of those guys who looks mean until you talk to him–like that old pro wrestler Baron Von Raschke—that tall guy with the bald head, green teeth and hairy chest–stomping his feet across the ring in rain boots giving a heil Hitler salute to a chorus of boos—and booze.

He asks me to come down to the Glover to talk to the building manager about the elevator.  It wouldn’t be my first trip to the Glover—also known as The Glove—a residential hotel on 6th Street, the city’s skid row.  An old building built in the Jack Dempsey days, made of brick and covered with a fire escape facade partially covered in rust and pigeon shit.  The word Glover was fading, having been painted long ago with the R almost completely faded leaving the word Glove.  From a distance it looks a bit like the book depository where Oswald—for those who believe the lone gunman theory—sat perched, waiting while the grassy knoll crowd sat in the greenness of a sunny Dallas afternoon waiting for the fireworks to begin.

Hosterman had a host of problems.  Part of the problem was his working many years at state and county fairs.  He assembled and disassembled roller coasters, putting a strain on his body.  He knew the parts of roller coasters, with the ability to assemble them with his eyes closed. Then his spine began to curve like those tracks and the pain surged through his body in straight lines and loops. He finally stopped working, getting permanent disability, sitting it out on skid row, looking out of his 7th floor window, his view partially blocked by a billboard that read: God loves you.

I get him on the phone. His voice sounds distant.  In the background is his dog Oboe, a source of companionship and bickering.

“How long has the elevator been out?” I ask

“Aw jeeze, so long I can’t keep track” Hosterman answers

“Did you complain to the manager?”

“The manager?  He’s more like a mangler.  He wouldn’t know an elevator from a coffee pot.  But I can’t get downstairs to talk to him and he doesn’t answer his phone.”

I hear a bark, followed by more barking.

“Hold on” Hosterman says. I hear his voice, somewhat muffled:

“Damnit Oboe, will you get off my back!”

“Arf!”

“I know, I know!  You think I’m stupid?”
“Arf!”

“Keep it up and I’ll flush your kibble down the toilet!”

“Arf!”

“Oh yeah?   Well you fix the fuckin’ elevator then!”

“Arf”

Hosterman comes back.

“Well, anyway, I really need your help.  Lots of tenants can’t get out because of the elevator.  Part of me wants to punch that damn building manager but I have a pinched nerve.  Can you drop by?”

“Yes, I can” I reply

“When?” Hosterman asks

“Tomorrow afternoon.”

“Ok”

“But you need to put in a complaint with the manager.”

“I tried that.  It’s the same blah blah blah.  I got a note on my door saying it’s going to take time to get the elevator fixed.  It’s the damn part he says.  They have to order it.  It’s some rare part that needs to be custom made by some elevator company.”

“Which company?”

“Some outfit called Shklovsky Elevator.”

I jot in my calendar: See Hosterman at the Glover tomorrow afternoon.

I shuffle through my paperwork—intake forms—phone numbers notes scribbled on scraps of paper.  My stack of notes is stained with soy sauce from a take-out sushi lunch—the stain spread in the shape of an insignificant island on the fringes of the earth.   I am an SRO tenant organizer which to me is filled with irony.  I am an organizer yet I am barely able to organize my socks. I guess what I have is empathy and the ability to listen to others’ problems without seeming bored.  But often I am.  The phone rings incessantly with calls from SRO tenants—single room occupancy—about harassment from neighbors, leaky faucets, roaches, non-working showers, toilets that won’t flush etc. 

Once I was called by a tenant at the Mission Hotel, the biggest SRO hotel in the city. 

“Hey, you need to come quick, there’s a creature in my sink” the tenant said.

“A creature, what kind of creature?” I asked

“I don’t know, but it’s in my sink and I don’t know what to do.”

“Sit tight, I’ll be there.” I said

“I’m in unit 402.” He said, then hung up.

I signed in with the unfriendly desk clerk then went up to the 4th floor.  The door was partially open.  I walked in.

“It’s over there.” the man said, pointing to the sink in the corner.

I walked to the sink, one of those old fashioned types. 

“Do you see it?” the man asked

“See what?” I answered

“The two eyes” He said

“Where?” I asked

“In the gap.”

I looked into the grating, the opening in the sink under the faucet. Yes, I saw two spots that looked like eyes. 

“You know” I began, “I can see where you think you see two eyes, but from what I can see, seeing with the two eyes that I possess, what you think are two eyes are actually two water spots.  Come and look.”

“The man came and leaned down.  He looked at the two water spots then looked at me.”

“Did you see that!” the man cried

“What?”

“It winked!” he yelled, backing up towards the corner.

“It’s only shadows” I said.  “When you move to the left, it looks like its winking, see?”

We both move our heads to the left in unison, slow as if performing Tai Chi.  We did this for a few minutes.

“Look man” he said, “I’m not crazy…I mean, I thought that was some kind of animal in there.”

“I understand” I said, raising my hands as if in surrender.  “I would have thought the same thing.  You were right to call me.”

I shook the man’s hand and left.  I shook my head as I went down the elevator and out the front door.  SRO Hotels—also known as poor people housing.

Part of me was—I suppose—being led into this kind of work by some invisible hand guiding me, not pushing, but inching me along.  I’d worked other jobs that fell flat. I thought I’d give plumbing a try, getting a job as a drain cleaning specialist.  The problem was that I wasn’t good with my hands. I was dispatched to Marin County to unclog a few drains in a spacious house.  I got there and was told by the homeowner that the water wouldn’t go down.  So I climbed up to the vent stack on the roof.

I found that leaves had fallen through the stack, causing a partial obstruction in air flow, causing the water to back up.  I cleared it and decided to run the snake one more time for good measure.  It was disastrous.  The snake hit a T-joint, made a sharp turn, travelled partially upward and came out through the toilet.  I heard the shattering of porcelain and the owner’s cold scream, Stop, stop! 

I scurried off the roof to find the toilet in shambles. I spent a good part of the day searching for a replacement toilet; the owner insisting that it be the original color, Mexican Sand.  After much driving I found the Mexican sand toilet, installed it and took the broken one as a souvenir. I dropped it off at the plumbing company where my boss laughed in my face.  Next time I saw the bowl it was in the driveway filled with soil with a lone sunflower reaching for the heavens.  I decided that that was one toilet flush too many.

I bounced around as a temp for a while before ending up at a life insurance company.  I helped process applications, following up on applicant’s medical records etc.  But it wore me down—starting at 7am, fielding calls from the east coast and the requirement of making 70 outbound calls a day.  I came to hate the telephone.  I eventually got fired, tired of demanding life insurance agents, their anti-depression medication induced smiles and plastic faces beaming under the glow of florescent lights. Even the bagels they gave out once a week began acquire a fake taste. After 7 years I was let go in less than 7 minutes.  I walked out of the office for the last time.

I walked with nowhere to go. I found myself on 6th Street walking past places that I ignored on my way to other places.  I felt like the long lost salmon heading home. I looked at the faces around me. People seemed familiar.  They weren’t outfitted with an imposed cleanliness or dignity; no anti-depressant masking.  They were the people I had seen all my life; only I hadn’t seen them lately, being under the florescent glow of that office.  They were out here, only they were older, sleeping or selling their last belongings on sidewalks–displaying styles long since out of style, half-filled bottles of cologne, record albums riddled with scratches or warped by the elements–on flattened cardboard, or if lucky, worn down rugs.  And when there was nothing to sell and cardboard remained, it was sold as a biodegradable yoga mat to the affluent who flew into the neighborhood with messianic missions whose tableaus sought iconic meanings through poses while the locals tried to maintain their smiles.  I continued walking and stopped in front of a pawn shop and looked at the jewelry and musical instruments waiting for a sound.  It was on the ground floor in front of the Glover Hotel.

Next day I got to the Glover.  It was a gloomy day, a pigeon colored sky loomed.  In front of the hotel was a van with the words Shklovsky Elevator company written on the side.  I enter the hotel. I approach the desk clerk.

“ID please”

The clerk is a black woman behind a mesh wire screen.  There is a small space to slip an ID through.

“I’m here to see the manager.”

“Manager ain’t here”

“When will he be available?”

“Hell if I know.”

I slip my ID under the small space as if slipping a cracker to a bird.

“I’m gonna go up to see Hosterman.” I say

I sign the guest book and slip it into the space.

“Elevator still out?” I ask

“You ever heard of stairs?”

I shove the pen under the mesh screen and walk down the dimly lit hall.

I walk towards the stairs past the elevator when I hear the elevator door open.  I look.  Inside is a bald man. He looks strangely like the wrestler George The Animal Steele.  The elevator looks different, as if it had been replaced.

I walk closer.  The man stands before a three legged chopping block.  In one hand he holds a cleaver; in the other is a fish. The man looks at me.  He does not smile.

“Come inside.” He says

“No, I’ll take the stairs” I answer

“Stairs no work” he answers, “Come…come.” He says.

I walk inside the elevator.  The door eases shut.

“Who are you?” I ask

“Viktor” the man answers.

“Are you the elevator attendant?”

“Yes, part time.”

“Is the elevator working?” I ask “This elevator doesn’t look familiar.”

“Perhaps it is you that is not familiar” he answers.

I look around the at the elevator walls.  Fish entrails, scales, tails and fins are strewn about.  I look at Viktor who is now scaling a big fish.

“What kind of fish is that?” I ask

“Good big fish” he answers, finally smiling.

“Look, I need to go to the 7th floor” I say, looking for the elevator buttons.

Viktor raises his cleaver and chops the head off the fish in one clean blow.  He puts the fish head in his pocket. 

“Press button” he says.

The elevator panel is not familiar either.  Instead of buttons there is a human eye, a nose, a pair of lips, a piece of sushi, a human toe, an ice cube and a bed bug.

“None of this looks familiar” I say.  “What kind of crazy elevator is this?”

“What is familiar?” Viktor replies. “It is elevator…goes up…down.”

“And sideways” I suppose

“Perhaps”

“I thought this elevator would be fixed.  It doesn’t look like an elevator at all. It looks like a fish market. What happened to the elevator company who was supposed have the part, to fix it.”

“I am elevator company” replied Viktor.  “Shklovsky Elevator and Seafood Company.”

He smiled then chopped the head off another fish.

“Push button” he says

“Which one?” I ask

“Any button”

I look at the buttons.  The sushi button looks interesting.

“I like sushi” I say, looking at Viktor.

“Yes, yes…I know” he replies.  “Push button”

I push the sushi button and the door eases partially open.  Viktor gives it a kick and the door widens.  I step into what looks like an all-you-can-eat sushi buffet.

“I will return in a while”

“Wait, when are you going—“, I begin as the door shuts.

I walk around a rather large room, dimly lit.  On the wall are the words: Mount Wasabi Sushi Buffet.  Around me are tables filled with familiar sushi, some are floating on small boats in a scaled down version of a Venice canal. 

“Eat, eat!” A voice calls out. “Eat to overflowing!”

I don’t see a face. I look around.  The voice is coming from above, from large speakers like in a concert.  It sounds like that goddamned part-time elevator attendant.

There is sushi everywhere.  I walk around not knowing where to begin. I grab a plate.  I stack the sushi high, a small mountain—tuna, eel, urchin, squid; there’s even whale!  I take my plate to a table and sit down.  I mix some soy sauce and wasabi.  I take a pair of chopsticks and lift a piece of eel to my mouth.  I could die here and feel good about myself, I think.  I place the sushi in my mouth and chew.  It tastes like nothing. I spit it out.  I look at it. It’s fake sushi!  That plastic sushi you see in the display windows of Japanese restaurants.

“Ha ha ha ha ha!” I hear from the speakers above.

“Hey Shklovsky” I say, “That’s pretty goddamned funny.  You’re in the elevator chopping the heads off fish and the only thing you can offer me is fake sushi?”

“Is it not familiar?” the voice answers. “Can you not taste it?”

“Yeah, I can taste it alright; it tastes like the fossilized remains of a dead cat.”

To this he laughs again: Ha ha ha ha ha!

“Can you just get me out of here?”

I see the elevator door appear near the head of the fake sushi buffet. The door opens.  I enter.

Shklovsky raises his cleaver, chops the head off another smiling fish.

I’m back in the elevator.

“Look Shklovsky” I say, “I know you’re having a ball but I have to see Hosterman.  Can you just get me to the 7th floor?”

“Push button” Shklovsky answers, this time pulling a fish out of his ear.

“Oh god” I say

I look to the panel and push the ice cube.

“Cube ice” Shklovsky says, “Good choice”

The elevator door opens.   I look out.  It looks like a desert. 
            “Hey Shklovsky, this is the wrong floor.  I ain’t going out there.”

Shklovsky takes a fish—a bigger one this time—whacks me in the back of the head and plants a firm kick into my ass, causing me to lurch forward.

“Go, go…explore! He says as the elevator door closes.

I look around.  The sun is beating down and it is hot, very hot; sand all over, a roller coaster of sand with peaks and dips.  I hear music in the distance. It is a mariachi band 100 or so yards away.  I see the musicians approach, closer and closer.  I begin to get very thirsty.

“Hermano” I say to the guitar player, “Agua por favor?”

“Oh, you want some water?” he says

“You speak English?”

“Yeah”

“Where am I?” I ask

“In Mexico”

I look around; nothing but sand.

The guitarist pulls out a bottle, hands it to me.  I put it to my lips, tilt it.  Sand comes out. I cough and spit.

“Are you crazy? I yell.  “This is sand!”

“Well” The guitarist says, “The border is 100 miles that way.  If you leave now you might get to the river in 2 days.”

I look that the other musicians, they point that way in unison.  I stand in the sun for a few minutes.  I pour all of the sand out of the bottle.  I am sweating and my throat feels like cracked leaves.

“Shklovsky!” I yell

The mariachi band departs—leaving me with 12 bottles of sand.

The elevator drops down from the sky like in some bad outer space movie.  The door opens.  I see Shklovsky’s smiling face.

“Water, Shklovsky, I need water” I cry

He picks up a steel bucket and hands it to me.  It tastes vaguely of fish but I don’t care.  Shklovsky continues to chop fish. He cleans them and drops them into the steel bucket.

I look at Shklovsky, grateful for the water but, at the same time wanting to kill him.  I want to take that cleaver and do a fish job on him.  The cleaver is on the chopping block as he reaches for another fish. 

“If you’re going to do it” he says, “Do it.  If you are not, then push button.”

I look at the panel.  The bedbug or the eye?

I thrust my finger into the eye, at which Shklovsky lets out a scream.

“Wrong button, wrong button!” he cries out. “Push bedbug, bedbug!”

“This is the weirdest elevator I’ve ever been on.  Is it fixed, did they get the part?”

“I am part” Shlovsky says.

I push the bedbug and the door opens.  I walk out.  I hear a dog.  It’s the 7th floor.  I see Hosterman’s room, the door is open partially.  I approach.

“Hey, good to see a familiar face” Hosterman says, approaching with a limp. “Those stairs are a bitch.”

“Yeah, I know” I reply, “But I can use the exercise.

I sit on a lawn chair at the foot of Hosterman’s bed.  His dog Oboe comes over, tail fluttering, licks my hand. 

“We need to write a letter to the building owner” I say. I can help you with it. 

We sit and exchange ideas about what to write.

“I need a few things from the store. I can’t get down those stairs with my bad leg.” Hosterman says.

“No problem” I answer.  I’ll take the elevator down and get a few things for you.” I say

“The elevator don’t work”

“Oh, that’s right” I say.  “I’ll take the stairs.”

“It’s gonna take then forever to get the part” he says.

“Yeah, familiar story” I answer

I reach into my pocket for a pen.  I feel something cold and slimy.  I pull it out.  It is a fish head smiling.

            “What on God’s earth?” Hosterman says.

            “Long story” I answer.

We sit in his small room writing a letter as the light comes through, partially blocked by the billboard that reads: God Loves you

© Tony Robles   2021

Books Have Feelings (Dedicated to the late Sanford Chandler)

“How vain it is to sit down and write when you have not stood up to live”
—Henry David Thoreau

I sit at my desk at work and think about a man named Sanford Chandler. He was my homeroom teacher in high school. I remember sitting in homeroom at George Washington High School, half-dozing, when he said, “Books have feelings.” I didn’t think much of it at the time. I didn’t read many books, didn’t have the patience to read—short stories, novels, the newspaper or the back of a soup can. Mr. Chandler saw something in me that I didn’t see—a writer. He’d urge me to write. “Write what?” I’d ask myself. I’d sit at the desk half-dozing /half-waiting for something to happen.

I’m still at a desk waiting, far removed from high school. The best writing I have done always happens during work hours, that is, someone else’s hours. I remember the hours I spent at a desk working at a life insurance company in San Francisco. My job was answering the phone, starting at 7am. My attention would wane and I’d begin writing poems and short stories. I wrote quite a bit, about my father, work and whatever seemed poignant at the moment. I would feel freedom in those moments—freedom from florescent lights, freedom from faxes, copiers, toner. I would be on a roll, as it were, writing what I thought were good, even great, poems. I’d jot it all in longhand (I can’t do it on a keyboard), getting it off my back, my chest—the injustice or my perceived injustice of the world around me. Then it would happen, the phone would ring. The words I’d carved onto the page would cry in unison, “don’t leave us…stay and dream and swim in this miracle, this thick stew of words that will provide spiritual nourishment for the masses—masses of people you will never meet.”

I’d put down my pen, adjust my headset and utter the profound: “Good morning…this is Deny-a-Quote Insurance Services…Tony speaking…how may I assist you?” The person on the other end would inquire about the status of his (or her) colonoscopy report or some other. There is poetry in this, I’d say to myself. I’d assure the client that there was nothing more important to me—poetry or short stories, or anything else—than obtaining his (or her) colonoscopy report (and the poems that lay in it) and that I was bending over—in earnest—forwards, backwards and every which way—to obtain that report. Afterwards I’d go back to my poem or short story. It would come back to me—sometimes.

But it was not always fun and games. I recall being sent by a temp agency to a large office of a multinational corporation. I was to file documents, provide office support and occasionally make coffee. I mostly filed, stapled and punched holes into reams of paper. I spent long periods of time sitting and pretending to work, filling jars with paperclips and thumbtacks, trying to guess the number of paperclips, thumbtacks or anything else my mind could conjure. I would inevitably begin writing poems. Just as I’d begin a poem, my supervisor would dream up a task for me and I’d have to leave my incomplete poem on the desk or stuff it in my pocket. One day I was working on a poem to send to a literary journal for consideration. I was having trouble writing the poem—writing anything—for I was in the throes of self-doubt—badgering myself with daily doses of: you don’t have what it takes…you ain’t shit, etc.

My supervisor came in one day and informed, “I have a little project for you.” She led me into the back storage room. Boxes were stacked high, filled with folders, papers, jars, Christmas tree lights, coffee mugs—everything befitting a multinational corporate office. After groping through the sea of boxes, we came upon a set of golf clubs. “Bring those over here,” I was told. I lugged the clubs to a corner. The supervisor handed me a small brush. “I need you,” she explained, “To brush the grass and dirt off these clubs, then go over it with a rag and polish.” She explained that the general manager had an important golf game coming up and that the clubs needed sparkle. I sank to the floor, shook my head, and buffed with much corporate vigor.

I sit and write this while at my most recent job. After a few years of working as a security guard, I now work as a door attendant at a high-end apartment complex. I open doors for people who appear able to open doors by themselves—yet I perform this function—as well as arranging dry cleaning, maid, limousine, and taxi service. I look out the window and hear the ravens call out in their mocking laughter. I see the leaves falling from trees with feet that seem to run across the pavement and think of the beautiful way Bienvenido Santos wrote of such moments—how the trees show their golden leaves, proud like, in twilight. These beautiful things are living poems; poems that live through interruption and minutia, giving rise to feelings that float in memory, memory that the writer Joy Harjo describes as a “delta in the skin.”

I recently came upon an article in the local newspaper about my high school homeroom teacher Mr. Chandler. When I was a student, he presided over what was known as the speech team. The team was comprised of all grade levels and competed with other schools in debating, prose and poetry, and extemporaneous speaking (one of my teammates was Alec Mapa, a Filipino kid who went on to fame in M Butterfly, as well as appearing in TV shows such as Seinfeld and Desperate Housewives). Mr. Chandler convinced me to compete in OPP—Original prose and poetry. I wrote revolutionary poems such as “A letter to Malcolm X” and “America”—both heavily influenced by Gil Scott Heron and my Uncle Anthony.

The article in the local paper showed a spry 80 year old Sanford Chandler walking outdoors, as he has done for years. The article reported that Mr. Chandler has walked roughly 25,000 miles—the equivalent of traveling from SF to NY and back many times. I smiled and remembered what he said to a student he saw bending a book backwards, cracking the spine. “Don’t do that,” Mr. Chandler said. “Why not?” asked the student. Mr. Chandler leaned forward in his seat. “Because books have feelings,” he answered.

I sit at my desk at work. My back is bent at a slight angle. I think of Mr. Chandler’s words. I think of books and feelings. I think of writers who’ve inspired me, like Toshio Mori. His story “The Woman who makes swell doughnuts” contains the sweet symphony of silence in an elderly woman’s house—a depot from the crazy world outside. Or Bienvenido Santos’ “Scent of Apples”—who brings us the fragrance of the Filipino heart in exile—from a small farm in Michigan. I rise from my chair ready to feel the feelings of a book, to kick that door open and walk 25,000 miles.

Then the phone rings.

Derby Jacket

What’s that I see on the thrift store rack?  Is it a Derby jacket?  I work at a thrift store where I am surrounded by fashions of yesteryear and sometimes yesterday.  I was never a slave to fashion. I was a slave, became a slave, but my attire was of little concern. I was always uneasy in nice clothes. Nice clothes were uncomfortable, ill-fitting in feel even if well-fitted. I recall my father taking me to a department store to buy clothes for school. He chose the clothes. Any input from me as to the contents of my haberdashery were dashed with my father’s imposed fashion sense consisting of shirts and slacks appropriate for a middle aged man. It was a fashion sense that made little sense. I didn’t care about fashion but I didn’t want to walk around looking like a middle aged man before my time. I was given a large bag of clothing that I didn’t want to wear. The fitting room experience was bleak with fluorescent lights, a narrow mirror and me in my underwear–narrow ass and all–with every birthmark, crevice and area lacking muscle development amplified with the unsaid message: Put some damn clothes on. 

I had a cousin who was older and had the sense to have fashion sense. Members Only jackets were becoming popular and it seemed everyone was wearing them. I went to the department store with him (Coincidentally, the same department store my father dragged me to procure middle aged man clothing).  The Members Only jackets cost 30 dollars which to me, a recent high school graduate with no job, seemed a lot of money.  Those Members Only jackets came in several colors: black, tan, gray, brown and blue—not patriotic colors but colors I’d grown accustomed to, especially black and blue. My cousin took much time donning the jackets, striking stoic, serious and carefree poses that, had he decided to shed his clothing, could launch him into an underwear modeling career. Somehow he looked rather dapper under the fluorescent lights. He finally decided on black while I looked at my reflection in the mirror–face showing the arrival of a mustache and the departure of pimples. All of this happened long before a poet uncle whose fashion sense consisted of torn jeans and sandals introduced me to Henry David Thoreau who posed the following: It is an interesting question how far men would retain their relative rank if they were divested of their clothes.

Which brings me to the subject of the sacred Derby Jacket. The Derby Jacket was a Members Only of sorts.  Where Members Only attracted the nightclub crowd with its thin fabric and glossy, pseudo leather sheen, the Derby jacket was working class. Its fabric was rougher, resembling a bomber jacket, its lining a sort of insulation for the skin, blood and bone of the Frisco born. It seemed like everyone wore one in my school in San Francisco. Kids from other schools wore them too. It was an identifier of sorts. It identified you as being from San Francisco. Most of the kids I saw wearing them were Chinese. I thought they were some sort of Chinese gang jacket but, in reality, kids of every color wore them. It was as if the jacket were a multicultural badge and you became a member of a San Francisco, or Frisco bloodline when that jacket hit your skin: black, Chinese, Filipino, Irish, Italian, Samoan–or combinations thereof–all combined in a nondescript, rather plain looking jacket. I pestered my father to buy me one, “Dad, can I have a Derby Jacket?” He looked at me and said, “A dirty jacket…what the hell you want with a dirty jacket? You better think about wearing a clean jacket. How you expect to get a girlfriend if you wearing a dirty jacket?” From that moment onward, I associated the jacket as one that Chinese kids wore and, since I wasn’t Chinese, I didn’t bother pestering my father about that dirty…Derby Jacket again.

Some of the Chinese kids were bad.  At the time a movie had come out called Kung Fu Mama, the story of a bad ass lady who doled out beatings—of mostly men. I’d seen the mothers of these Chinese kids.  It was as if they’d stepped out of the screen. They played Four Square, punching a red rubber ball with fists and open palm strikes that seemed like a school yard kung fu movie. I attempted the same Four Square moves but ended up punching and slapping at air and, occasionally, my own face in a red rubber ball slapstick routine not worthy of a Derby Jacket fart in the Richmond District winds. One day I was playing in the school yard shooting baskets—something I wasn’t totally inept at. I remember being good at free throws. I’d be at the free throw line letting them go: swish. I hit those shots consistently because they were free; nobody defending me with their stupid lanky arms flailing with stupid hands attached, impeding my shot.  One day I was on a roll, sinking 10 straight when a stray ball bounced towards me hitting me in the ass, ruining my streak.

“Hey slave!” a voice rang out.  “Get the ball!”

Walking towards me were 2 older Chinese boys–Stevie Yip and Johnny Yap. Stevie and Johnny went to Junior High School, making sporadic appearances. Stevie’s face had a permanent sneer, a twist at the lips suggesting he had chewed on lemon rinds.  He was tall, taller than my dad, while Johnny was short–my height–with a bowl haircut and lips twisted in a half smile/half frown that suggested he’d chewed on lemon rinds dipped in a bit of sugar. Stevie Yip and Johnny Yap, AKA Yip and Yap–the deadly duo of the George Peabody School yard wearing Derby jackets.

At the thrift store my eyes scan the lining of the Derby Jacket.  It is an intricate map. On the outside it is made of canvas material but the lining is gold with abstract, paisley-like designs that you could lose yourself in. The detail in the design is complicated, with the look of a network of blood cells and dendrites, splashes of an unseen world under the skin that have navigated to form the outward skin that is the jacket. The label at the neck has a stitched image of the Golden Gate Bridge and the words Derby in lower case letters. My duties at the thrift store include making sure that pieces of clothing are hung properly, that none slip from their hangers and onto the floor. I must appear to be busy at all times, wiping the counter, picking up fallen pieces of clothing, placing misplaced items in the proper shelves. I am mindful of my boss, also roving the aisles. I watch for his head of gray hair the way a swimmer watches out for a shark’s fin. There’s something tragic about a piece of clothing that has fallen off a hanger–as if shot.  It happens quickly like an oily fish slipping though a hand.  A shirt or pair of pants hits the floor and people step around or onto its fabric without notice. I pick up those pieces and place them onto their hangers to restore some sort of dignity to the fabric and, to a lesser degree, the hands in some other country that produced it. 

I never expected to find a Derby Jacket in a thrift store 3000 miles away in North Carolina.  I was ruffling through coats as if record albums, sliding each on the cool rack when I came across the jacket.  I’d always wanted a Derby jacket.  What the hell was it doing here?  The jacket is rather plain, an ordinary blue with pockets and a zipper—not unlike other jackets.  But the blue of this jacket is dingy, as if left out in the elements, hanging on an outside hanger through untold seasons. The arms of the jacket hang at the sides but seem to want to move, to swing, to gesture.  I think of the word Derby, two syllables with the ability to stretch into the past. My initial introduction to Derbys was not jackets at all but roller skates.  Roller Derby was big at the time and I’d watch on Saturday mornings.  The local Roller Derby squad was the Bay Bombers. The skaters would circle a track, each jockeying for position in the dizzying objective of knocking the opposing team’s skater on their ass. It was like professional wrestling on roller skates with elbows thrown and bodies slammed and flung over the guard rail—moving in endless circles.

I saw kids wearing Derby Jackets and they too were jockeying for position to see who could out tough who.  It became a second skin, in black, brown, blue, gray and tan; proof that you were homegrown with the ability to fight your way through a wall of opposition as well as out of a paper bag but not a Derby Jacket.  A Derby Jacket was slept in; it hugged your body when you woke, you showered in it, fought in it, made out in it, sat in the back of the bus in it, got high in it while concealing your fear in its pockets in the form of fists.  I never had a Derby Jacket. I wanted one.  I wasn’t tough enough. Even if the jacket were given to me, it would reject my body. If I attempted to put it on, it would struggle to free itself of me.

I have a reoccurring dream.  I am in a school yard and a bigger boy is pushing me around.  He starts swinging on me, lefts and rights from down home—like Jack Dempsey returned from the grave. In the dream I am eluding his blows, leaning back, ducking in a beautiful display of defense.  But when I try to fire back, my arms are weighed down as if I am carrying 20 lb. dumbbells in each hand. On the roof of the school are several ravens perched in icy stillness, their beaks twitching, making sounds. I duck and lean away from the punches, unable to lift my hands. I wake in a clinch of twisted sheets.

In the thrift store I feel like I am in a Roller Derby jockeying for position among the shoppers roving the aisles in search of a hidden treasure, which I’ve found in the Derby jacket.  I’ll tuck it away somewhere so no one buys it.  Maybe I can stuff it in a suitcase.  I take the jacket from its hanger and make a sharp left, turning my body away from other shoppers in my path on my way to the luggage section. I turn the corner approaching the suitcases when I come upon my boss, jolting me upward.

“Nice jacket” he says, “Is it yours?”

“Uh, what?” I answer, my stomach tightening

“The jacket, is it yours?”

“No, it fell to the floor…just picked it up” I say, nervously, thinking the question odd.  He looks at me, not suspiciously but I feel guilty, as if I am holding a bag of weed.

I bring the jacket back to the rack where I found it.

In the school yard Yip approaches.

“Get the ball, slave”

I look at him. He has on a black Derby Jacket. He has thick pinkish lips covering a set of freckled teeth. I look at his Derby Jacket. It is dirty. Maybe my father was right about the dirty jacket. Yip coughs up a wad of spit and lets it fly. The wad’s trajectory is thrown off by a jolt of breeze, nearly hitting Yap who was wearing a blue Derby jacket.

“Hey, watch it!” snaps Yap, annoyed.

“Oh, sorry” says Yip, looking at Yap, then at me.

“Hey, you got trouble hearing?” says Yip.  “Get the ball…slave!”

I stand frozen.  I can’t thaw out. The Derby jacket moves closer.

“You know who I am?” Yip asks, moving within inches of me.

“Uh, yeah” I answer. “You’re Yap and he’s…”

A hand thrust into my chest, knocking me backwards.

“I’m Yip…he’s Yap!  Get it right…slave!

The other kids in the schoolyard went about playing ball, oblivious to my predicament.  The San Francisco fog eased by, aloof in its slow drag towards the Golden Gate Bridge.

“I don’t think he’s listening” says Yap.

They both proceeded to push me across the yard, taking turns.  When Yip pushed, he roared Yip! When Yap pushed, he roared Yap!  It was a sort of Ying and Yang nightmare but luckily for me both of their names contained one syllable each making it easy to remember. They pushed me from one end of the schoolyard to the other until I came to the basketball at my feet.

“Get the ball…slave…said Yip.

I bend down to the concrete with the flattened pieces of gum. I pick up the ball and throw it over their heads then bounces over the fence.

Yip and Yap look at me, shocked.

“Go get the ball motherfucker…” I say, not believing it myself.

At that moment I’d wished that I was the basketball flying away in that nice arc, bouncing my way out of the schoolyard, over the heads of Yip and Yap and whoever else happened close by. But the ball comes back, someone on the other side of the fence flinging it back towards us.

I saw a fist come in my direction. It was from Yip, the black of his jacket a blur. I moved my head backwards, leaning away causing him to miss. He threw another shot, this time, the left, which grazed my ear. Then Yap rushed towards me with a flying kick towards my midsection that missed.  In the frenzy I thought that these guys hadn’t paid much attention to Kung Fu Mama they way they were missing. We were breathing heavily. Yip and Yap rushed towards me throwing wild punches, hitting me in the body and head. I grabbed Yip’s Derby Jacket. I heard a tear at the pocket. His face became a flame as he fired more blows at me.  I covered up, going down under the barrage.  Finally they stopped.  I looked up at them.  They were 2 blurry figures like those birds in my dream.

“This slave ripped my fuckin’ jacket”? Yip says, his face wrung with anger.

“You gonna cry?” Yap laughs as I look up at them.  I wasn’t hurt.  I’d taken it. It wasn’t the end of the world. Yip and Yap finally left.  I didn’t cry, I went home.

I look at the Derby Jacket that I have found in a thrift store some 3000 miles away from San Francisco 40 years later. How did it get here? I have found it, or perhaps, it has found me. I take the Blue Derby Jacket off the rack. Hey, don’t I know you? It seems to ask as I hold it up to the fluorescent light. I slip into it. It is in good condition. I look into the mirror. A voice says, this jacket is you, man, you earned it. I strike a few poses.  To answer my boss’ question, is that jacket yours?  Yes, it’s mine. The years pass by in my reflection. It is more than a jacket. I stick my hands into its pockets making fists, clutching onto memories that are mine, holding tight. No holes or tears in the fabric can make me let go. That jacket is me. But still, I’m no slave to fashion.

© 2020 Tony Robles

The Derby Has Landed

My Derby jacket arrived in the mail a few days ago.  I guess you can say it arrived after a 56 year journey.  I came home and found it in my mailbox wrapped tightly in a box.  I am Frisco born and bred but live in North Carolina.  When I think of the word Derby, a few things come to mind.  When I was a kid there was a brand of underwear called Derby.  I wore them all the time.  Kids at school used to cap on each other saying things like, “You got dukey stains in yo’ draws.”  I used to wonder how anybody would know if this were true or not.  And why would anyone want to know such a thing?  The other Derby involved horseracing.  My grandfather loved playing the horses and would watch the Kentucky Derby.  As a kid I watched the roller derby on channel 2, a kind of professional wrestling in roller skates.  But the derby that eluded me was the jacket called Derby–the Derby jacket.  Some important events in my life involved Derby jackets such as when I sold magazine subscriptions and mood rings to raise money for Roosevelt Jr. High School.  We were paid for our efforts in candy or other items.  I remember getting a string of jawbreakers as my reward for selling those magazine subscriptions.  That string of jawbreakers was long, like a boa constrictor and I was walking happily along with that big cellophane string of jawbreakers–resembling a tapeworm–when a guy wearing a Derby jacket snuck up from behind me and took a hold of the string of jawbreakers.  He yanked and I pulled in opposite directions a ridiculous tug of war reminding me of a scene I’d once seen as a kid at a petting zoo. A kindly woman wearing a shawl, large sunglasses and a straw hat–more appropriate for a Bahama’s beach stroll–was engaging in what seemed to be a sort of farm animal swoon walk. A goat approached from behind and took a mouthful of that fuzzy shawl and pulled. Amidst screaming, a tugging battle ensued with the woman showing incredible strength, extricating the precious shawl from the jaws of the goat. In her backwards momentum she fell on her ass with a mighty thud and kicking up swirls of petting zoo dust. My Derby Jacket adversary was no goat, our scenario ending with the jawbreaker bandit breaking off a bunch of the jawbreakers I’d earned and stuffing them in the pocket of his derby jacket like dollar bills .  I didn’t punch the guy (I should have), didn’t break his jaw. Perhaps the jawbreaker accomplished that when he put it in his mouth.  Perhaps he ended up becoming a dentist pulling–not jawbreakers–but teeth for a living.  Where ever he is, he probably still has that Derby Jacket.


Of course when I hit George Washington High School there were lots of guys wearing Derby Jackets.  I remember one guy, he was in my homeroom.  He was out cutting class near the football field.  I said, what’s up?  We started talking.  There was a tree nearby.  He walked towards it and leaped in the air, turning 360 degrees kicking the branch.  It was like something out of a kung fu movie during a matinee at the St. Francis Theater on Market Street. It was such a beautiful kick that it made the air pop.  He wore a black Derby jacket.  And I’d see all kinds of guys wearing Derby jackets–studious guys, guys that got into trouble, guys who cut class, guys with girlfriends, guys without girlfriends, guys who snuck on Muni and so on.  I never had a Derby jacket.  I don’t know why I never had one.  Maybe I didn’t feel worthy of having one.  


As the years went by it seemed to me that a Derby jacket was something you earned.  In order to really wear it you had to know the taste, the heart, the spirit of the streets of Frisco. You had to whip some ass and you had to know what it was like to get your ass whipped. You had to keep some of that Frisco fog in your Derby Jacket pocket because that fog was like the burning of sage, it was survival, it was healing, cleansing–it is who you are.  I spent my life trying to find myself in the Frisco fog and eventually I did. I became a poet and my poetry, my song is the song of Frisco that lives in me.  After 55 years in Frisco I moved to Western North Carolina in 2019.  The only thing I wanted upon leaving the city was a Derby Jacket.  After 56 years of searching for Frisco, searching for my voice, my song, my skin, I found it in a Derby Jacket that was sent to me by Derby of San Francisco. I knew it had to be earned and this message is one of thanks to Frisco for giving me poetry and to Derby for sending me that jacket.  I’ll wear it like a second skin.

Thrift Store Writing Residence

I was listening to a radio news program reporting the country’s staggering number of positive Covid-19 cases.  The positive cases are on the rise with record numbers of infections; numbers that are shattered by higher numbers on a daily basis. With the holiday season approaching, the public is urged to avoid travel and gatherings—including Thanksgiving dinners—that assemblage of family and friends where political opinions are spilled like gravy on that uncle’s tie, rarely ending up in a food or fistfight where wisdom is spewed in double and triple helpings. The radio report included information on the numbers of positive Covid-19 cases among workers in a meat processing plant in South Dakota. The infection rate in the plant was so high that it became the epicenter of the Covid-19 crisis in the state. The report indicated that the plant manager took bets on how many workers would test positive for Covid-19. Many workers have fallen ill, died. The family of a worker who lost his life has filed suit against the plant. I never gave much thought to meat processing plants outside of movies such as Rocky where the protagonist slugs away at sides of beef as part of his training regimen; not to mention the great heavyweight champion Joe Frazier who, in reality, worked in the slaughterhouses before achieving the ultimate in boxing laurels.  But there is a divide between where something comes from and how it is presented to the world—IE: marketed.  The great poet Jorge Argueta wrote of this disconnect in his children’s book, A movie in my pillow, in the way mangoes and chickens were different in the US as opposed to his native El Salvador.

                Here mangoes

                Come in cans

                In El Salvador

                They grew on trees

                Here chickens come

                In plastic bags

                Over there

                They slept beside me

President Trump signed an executive order months ago to keep the plants open during the crisis impacting thousands of what are now deemed essential workers on the frontlines with no options and no place to hide.

I live in North Carolina in an area known for apples and mountains. The poet Carl Sandburg called this part of North Carolina home in his later years. His home is a stone’s toss away from mine in Flat Rock. A committee entrusted to preserving his legacy selects an annual writer in residence at the Carl Sandburg Home Historic site. The home sits atop green green slopes and overlooks a serene body of water where visitors take meditative walks in what is known as Connemara, the place that Carl Sandburg produced poetry, along with the biography of Abraham Lincoln. During guided tours of the home, one is taken by the fact that the home has been maintained closely to the way Sandburg left it, inhabited by his library of books, desk, typewriter and household items–brick-a-brac–that would be considered treasures by those who scour thrift stores in search of such things. I applied for the residency and was selected. I was flattered. Next to being a saintly looking white-haired old man, Sandburg was a socialist who wrote about workers, the slaughterhouses, prostitution, unfulfilled dreams—centered in Chicago—the city that he described as the “City of the big shoulders.”  Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, I did not live in the Sandburg Home farmhouse as is the norm for Sandburg Writers in Residence. I envisioned sleeping in the wood framed farmhouse with the aroma of coffee in the morning and the odor of goat shit wafting from the nearby goat farm that was lovingly started by Sandburg’s beloved wife Paula. My writing residence commenced remotely, minus the smell of goat droppings, morning coffee and native plants.  I conducted 3 writing workshops for the community and conducted myself as a community poet, involving myself in the life of the community as best I could during the pandemic.

Carl Sandburg is referred to as the poet of the people. In researching his life, I found his poetry to speak to the workers, the forgotten—those left out of the capitalist equation or at the bottom rung. I have, in the last few years, begun to refer to myself as The People’s Poet, but for different reasons than Carl Sandburg. I assert I am The People’s Poet because I write for and about people. This would be different had the focus of my poetry and writing been dogs or cats; then I would have assumed the title of the canine or feline poet.  Had my writing been focused on apes, I would be the primate poet; marsupials, the marsupial poet and so on. 

My month’s long writer’s residence at the Carl Sandburg home came to an end. Truth be told, I thought, for a brief moment that I was hot shit. However, my shit temperature dropped when I was stopped by a local cop for looking suspicious during an evening walk—that ambiguous description phoned in by a vigilant and concerned community member no doubt. I soon needed to get a real job. Writing is fine but I needed to invest in new underwear—among other things–as the elastic on my present pairs were sagging. I found employment at a thrift store, forgoing an opportunity to work at a supermarket deli. I didn’t want to smell like potato salad and fried chicken and instead opted to smell like musty old clothes, second hand knick-knacks and occasional treasures.  I became a cashier, something I’d always dreaded given my ineptitude with numbers. Thank the gods of modern day cashiering that the register calculates change. I assumed my duties with a smile concealed by facial covering. 

I observe that the clothes on racks appear to want to escape, slipping off hangers, slithering and falling to the floor. Some falls are not so graceful, such as a pair of pants—size 50 waist—that fall with a thud reminiscent of the legendary wrestler Haystacks Calhoun, who, donning overalls, landed on the mat, all 601 pounds of him, shaking not only the ring but our small black and white TV sets at home.  As I preside over my thrift store fiefdom, I see a woman.  I recognize her as one of the staff members of the Carl Sandburg home that selected me as Writer in Residence.  I somehow feel shame; shame that I am working as a thrift store cashier. I’m a writer, shouldn’t I be writing my stories behind a mahogany desk wearing a silk robe and snacking on bits of Melba toast?  The woman wore a facial covering but I recognized the auburn locks falling from her head flecked with silver as well as her green eyes. It was her minus the Park Service attire.

I need to hide, I think.  I can’t let her see me at the register.  I am a writer.  I could avoid her by ducking into the clothes rack, underneath the pants and jackets that would provide cover.  I slide underneath a cluster of jackets. 

“What do you want?” a voice asks.

It is a middle aged man with an ample middle.  He is playing some sort of game on his cell phone.

“What are you doing here?” I ask

“What do you think? The man replies, his voice muffled under a mask.  “I’m hiding from my wife.”

“Why?”
“You ever been married?”

“No”

“Get the hell outta here.”

I leave the man in the oasis of his used clothes bunker.

I look to my right towards the bedroom domestics section; lots of comforters, sheets and blankets; a good hiding place. I approach but there is a kindly white haired man reading the tag on a blanket.  He holds the tag close to his eyes, so close that if it was any closer he’d be able to inhale the small print through his nose. I’m tempted to bring him a used magnifying glass as he is taking forever. Move old man, I think. He finally walks away, leaving the blanket behind. He turns to me, winks and disappears into the household aisle. A dead ringer for Carl Sandburg, I think. 

I slide between 2 thick quilts.  I could lie low here for a while unnoticed.  It feels warm and fuzzy, like back in the womb.  Then I ask myself, how do I know what the womb feels like?  I breathe and smell the pungent stench of my breath beneath the mask.  I stand there for several minutes.  Suddenly I feel something moving towards me–a hand.  It gropes closer towards my crotch. I flinch. The quilts part and the florescent lights hit my eyes.  I see a pair of green eyes.

“Tony, is that you?” the voice says.

“Yes it is” I reply, a writer, an essential worker with nowhere to hide.

© 2020 Tony Robles

Lord of the Files

By Tony Robles

I was trying to write poems. I hardly knew what a poem was yet I was writing poetry, or what I thought poetry to be. I was a file clerk at a university with a reputation for producing poets, artists, revolutionaries; as well as accountants, nurses, teachers, hotel and restaurant professionals and yes, file clerks. I ended up at this university because it was destined, the beaten path, a prescribed map of sorts. I was one of many who attended high school in San Francisco. The sequence was: 1. High school followed by 2. City College followed by 3. A transfer to San Francisco State. City College was a way station, populated by students we knew from high school. We shared the halls and stairs and classrooms with each other but there was a change. There was a glint of importance in those waxed floors as we marched our way to class with a new found seriousness and striving absent from high school. Upon approaching ex-high school brethren in the hall, a polite nod was offered. Of course there were those who didn’t want to remember the high school experience at all and bypassed the nod altogether.

I’d landed the file clerk job while a student at San Francisco State University in the Foundation office–a squat building covered by specks of candy colored rock. It was separated from the other buildings and departments on campus. It had large windows where one could see the glow of fluorescent lights. It looked like a place off-limits to students unless the students were delivering something; the kind of place where coffee oozed from non-disposable cups, paired with saucers lifted to waiting lips on faces attached to bodies sitting in chairs with cushions of neutral colors.

The office needed a part time file clerk. Perfect for me as I was attending classes in the Broadcasting Department. How difficult could being a file clerk be? You had to know the alphabet and, having been indoctrinated in local schools, I knew my ABC’s. No less important was my steady diet of canned foods at home, which included alphabet soup that would surely be of help in this important office endeavor. I surmised that this job would be easy–cushy as they say. I arrived on my first day. The file room was in the rear of an office staffed with accountants. The file room was in the path of the bathroom. My work area would be a waystation enroute to performing intimate bodily functions; a quasi-sacred space where my co-workers would come to spill their secrets–entrusting intimate information to a lowly file clerk. But the job at hand, filing in alphabetical order–how hard could it be?

I was a fairly decent speller. I would have never competed in a spelling bee but I knew the difference between their, they’re and there. For some reason I had trouble with the word restaurant, spelling it restauraunt. However, I did know the difference between desert and dessert. I recall my stepfather, a learned man issuing me a challenge when I was in Jr. High School. He had attended a private college and kept all of his papers. Those papers tended to have a large “A” affixed to the top. In flipping through his old test papers, we came upon one that had a D+ printed at the top. An aberration, he said. You can’t be perfect all the time. “Do you know your alphabet?” he asked me while sipping warm jello from a cup (A favorite treat of his as he was too impatient to wait for the jello to solidify in the fridge). Do I know the alphabet?  

What kind of silly assed question was that?

“Yeah, i know my alphabet.” I answered, “Just like I know the nose on my face.” “Ok, if you know your alphabet” he said, “What’s the 14th letter?” “The 14th letter of what?” I asked.  

“Do I have to repeat it?”

“Uh”

“Uh is not the answer.”

I began counting on my fingers

“Don’t cheat”

I counted internally. My stepfather then did something that will live in the annals of my limited memory. He began reciting the alphabet–backwards. His recitation was so fast that it sounded like a record played backwards at the wrong speed. I couldn’t believe it. It was part babble, part speaking in tongues that i, on occasion, heard on Sundays at the Church of Christ. It sounded something like this: Z–Y….blobbablabbledaddble zeegrofromolgulattoppa blebblio lakaphocomma B-A! I was amazed. If I could only climb the highest palm tree and shout that across the ocean I could wake up my ancestors in the Philippines who would respond with the question: Do you know what the 14th letter is?

The file room is in disarray. The file clerk that I replaced was an aspiring comedian. I assumed she spent more time writing comedy bits than filing but perhaps that too was a form of filing. But I learned valuable lessons such as names beginning with Mc or Mac are essentially the same, that Mac is an abbreviated form of Mc. There were lots of forms to be filed, mostly invoices. I placed files in large metal cabinets. There was a file container that looked like an accordion., I pushed it in and pulled it out, pretending that I had some kind of musical gene but all I got was a faceful of dust. I was one in a long line of file clerks that had occupied this space, this way station en route to the bathroom. I was the king of the Manila folder. However, there were hazards; papercuts, leaving more knicks than shaving. I got cut by everything; envelopes, folders, papers of all sizes and thicknesses. I soon developed a thick skin and became immune to the cuts. I remember one such cut, on my index finger. I searched for a bandage when the phone rang.

“Hello?”

“Who’s this?”
“Your step dad.”

“Oh, hi. What do you want?”

“To ask you something.?

“What?”
“What’s the 14th letter of the alphabet?”

I couldn’t believe his impeccable timing. Here I am in the middle of a possible medical emergency and he calls asking me a question he knows I don’t have the answer to. I usually have time to get into his shit but that time is not now. I paused then hung up. No bandages anywhere so I sucked on my index finger. I tried to write a poem but the only thing I got on the page was a drop of blood. I sat surrounded by file cabinets and stacks of files on the table. I feel them growing with the desire to swallow me. They said that J. Edgar Hoover had files on everybody, that’s how he stayed FBI director for so long. I’d never rise to that level. I’m not white, short, dumpy or possess an affinity for donning women’s clothing. However, I am fond of the alphabet, thanks to my stepfather. I sit in my filedom of ever-growing stacks of file folders. The phone rings. My stepfather? I inhale deeply and for the first time blurt out the alphabet: Z-Y sibbleskrheiolshrieslkmg iorgtuvdlknsoiub ofksdkfleil B-A!

Faster than a record played backwards.

(c) 2020 Tony Robles