Back Page: September 2003


[Bernie Dwyer]...Are you familiar with the case of the five Cuban political prisoners in the US who were incarcerated for fighting against terrorism?

[Noam Chomsky] That’s an amazing case! Cuba approached the United States with an offer to cooperate in combating terrorism and, in fact, the FBI sent people to Cuba to get information from the Cubans about it. The next thing was that Cubans who had infiltrated the terrorist groups in the United States were arrested. That is utterly shocking! Do you think it’s reported? Nobody knows about it. I mean, here are Cubans who are infiltrating illegal, terrorist organisations in the United States, which are violating US law and the infiltrators are arrested, not the terrorists. It’s astonishing. The US has refused intelligence cooperation with Cuba on terrorism because it would lead directly back to terrorist groups based in the United States.

Actually, since the 1970s, the United States has at least officially opposed this US-based terrorism. But it still tolerates it -- it doesn’t close down the terrorist bases or the terrorist funding -- but theoretically it opposes it and in fact has even occasionally prosecuted people. Up until then (the 1970s) the US wasn’t relying on Cuban exiles. It was itself organising the terrorism. That’s right into the 1970s officially. What is going on now, we don’t know. We know the official record up until 20 or 30 years ago.

Your article - So you want to date a stripper?


I have some news for you. Not all strippers are like the ones that you described. I have a degree and have always been extremely attractive so I decided to strip after I had my baby with my husband. I am making so much money that my husband doesn't have to work. My reasons for leaving my job? I wanted to spend more time at home with my child. I am extremely intelligent, sophisticated and an awesome, sexy wife and mother. My husband has trust in me and also is very secure with himself so there is no problems there. I do not do drugs and party all night. The most I do is a glass of red wine now and then. I do not appreciate you referring to all strippers as trouble, sluts and bimbos. After reading your article, it sounds more like you got crushed by a beautiful woman and you are a little sour from it. Sorry...but some of us are not like that! -Peg



Congratulations on two things:

1. Reading the entire article, but forgetting the last sentence of the first paragraph which reads: "This article is based on information gleaned from my brief stay in Stripperville." (This sentence alone kind of frees me from the guilt of generalizing and categorizing all the strippers in the world, because I certainly haven't dated, or met, all the strippers/dancers/whatevers in the world. If I had, that would be one seriously long - and uninteresting - article.)

2. Being "extremely attractive, extremely intelligent, sophisticated and an awesome sexy wife and mother" who makes a living off of men who give money to naked women. Your dedication to keeping a solid family life at home is to be commended, and if you can put up with it and all, blah blah blah, then more power to you.

Thanks for reading, and thanks for taking the time to drop a line. All the best to ya...


New from Suspect Thoughts Press: Burn by Jennifer Natalya Fink

June 1, 1953. A mute, naked boy appears in the garden of Sylvia Edelman: messy housewife, reluctant communist, and expert tomato gardener. Only a dog tag dangling from his neck identifies him: Simon. Is he a government agent, a runaway teenager, or a robot planted to persecute Sylvia and her tomatoes? Set amidst the sexual and political repression of the 1950s, Burn tells the story of the flamboyant Sylvia Edelman, Simon, and Sylvan Lake, a socialist Jewish colony in northern Westchester. Burn revisits familiar narratives of McCarthyism, Jewish socialism, and pedophilia, but from the rarely heard perspective of a menopausal immigrant woman. A fable for the Bush/Rumsfeld era, a rewriting of the Adam and Eve myth, Burn will scorch the reader with its Faulkneresque tale of tomatoes, torture, and tangled love.


Living with animals. I have lived with a number of domestic animals. The ones that lived inside included fish, a turtle, several cats and several dogs. The ones that lived outside were all dogs. I like animals, but I’m so obsessed with my work that I’m normally not able to give them the time and attention they need in order to feel like members of the family. As a result, they seem to me to be a little neurotic in their behaviors. I can’t tell if it’s in their nature to act the way they do, or if they learned some of it from me. Regardless, there is something to be said for having animals live with you. I won’t guess the reasons why, but I suspect that they have a concrete sense of reality that is comforting to humans. They’re doing Zen all the time.

Visiting animals. My wife and I were at the zoo. Everything was going well. We followed the trail of visitors like any other visitor would, backtracking only once in an effort to make sure we saw everything: from rhinos, to elephants to hippos to gorillas, to an insect extravaganza put on by a Fortune 500 pest control company, back to the gorillas and then through several picturesque collections of birds until, on the way out, we passed in front of the lion cages. That was the money shot. We stood and stared along with everyone else. They were beautiful. You think that they’re just big cats until you see one up close. Then you realize that if it was hungry or upset with you for any reason, and there was just you and it out on the Serengeti, you would have about as much chance of surviving the encounter as . . . nothing. There’s nothing to compare it to. It’s the baseline that you compare other things to. You would be dead on the Serengeti, just like a character in a Hemingway novel. It’s just that simple. And even though I know we’re safe on our side of the cage, I can still feel the immense power of the things. There were three of them and they were all lying down. And then the lioness started roaring. She roared several times before she got up on her feet. She turned and looked directly at my wife and roared again. My wife’s reaction was immediate: a cluster bomb of fear. I took a direct hit. I was in full paranoid mode. I was gauging the lioness as a threat. Was she hungry? Was she dying of boredom? Was she mad as hell at the knowledge that a thing as noble and powerful as she remained locked inside that cage while objects as fearful and weak as ourselves had the liberty to exude sweat and fear without any repercussions?

Eating animals. Many people, especially vegetarians, are aware of the moral implications of eating animals. First, you have to decide what constitutes an animal. Then you have to rule out all the animals you unintentionally kill, beginning with the microscopic ones you don’t even know about and extending up the food chain until you reach your first conscious choice, usually insects, at which time you know you’re eating animals. In the moral order of things, insects are followed by invertebrate sea creatures, vertebrate sea creatures, reptiles, birds and mammals. Each category is a moral choice. You can be a complete vegan and say all life is precious, but that’s drawing a line between plants and animals and you still have to kill the plants. You have to eat something organic. If you don’t you’ll die, and then what? You will only have succeeded in substituting one insoluble moral problem for another. Another way to look at it is as an evolutionary choice. It takes a lot more energy to make a pound of plant energy as opposed to a pound of animal energy. Since it’s more energy efficient to eat plants than animals, you’re leaving more energy available for the rest of the planet if you don’t eat animals. And those people who say that eating meat is a genetic imperative are just reading the headlines. Paleolithic people ate mostly fruits and berries, though they were just as omnivorous as we are today. And even the most avid meat eater does not normally eat his pets. I’m not taking the side of the vegetarians in this, because I think that eating or not eating animals as a moral choice is almost beside the point. Even if we didn’t eat meat, we would still continue to kill almost every kind of animal there is for any number of other reasons: because they bother us, endanger us, we like to dress up in them, we use them for medicinal purposes, they assist in the production of things you wouldn’t guess had anything to do with animals, because we occasionally like to watch them fight to the death, and once in a while because human beings just like to kill things.

-by Michael Harold

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"Tommie the Troubled Toilet"
by J. K. Mason

My email box contains another message from Tommie:

Dear Marta,
I think you might want to stop by today. I’m a little concerned about my water level. It seems a bit high.

So I go out to the East Wing and lift Tommy’s lid--again. His water level is fine, as I expected, and I’m getting very annoyed with his antics.
Every day he has me doing this now, every day.
The East Wing gets hardly any traffic and in general requires minimal attention. The estate owner’s sister stays on the grounds periodically, but she prefers the West Wing, so with the exception of having to pick up a few dead bugs here and there, I don’t have much reason to visit the East Wing. I tidy up there once a month.
I step away from Tommy. His infrared sensor detects my movement and he flushes. I head back to the West Wing.
My husband and I are the year-round caretakers here. John handles the grounds, which span over seven hundred acres and include a six-hole golf course, a polo field, and a regulation tennis court. The buildings and machines are my purview--the data communications, the hardware maintenance. The estate has a first rate security system with nearly one hundred household appliances and other devices hooked to our network. Beyond deterring burglaries and managing livestock, our job is to install and upgrade appliances, replace faulty equipment, and perform any tasks that have not been fully automated.
“Another false alarm,” I tell John as I walk back into the Control Room. I sit down at the Master Console. From here, we access the network and supervise (via webcams) the entire estate.
“I think something is wrong with that unit,” John says. “What is there, eleven bathrooms? When’s the last time any of the other toilets sent in a problem report? I mean, what can go wrong with a damn toilet?”
“I remember only one, last year,” I say. “The unit across the hall needed a new part, but that restroom gets the most traffic, so I’m not surprised.”
“I think you should report him to the district office. Maybe his processor’s messed up.”
John’s a complainer by nature, and even though he says to report it, that’s something I would never do. We’ve been with this company seventeen years now, and I’ve noticed that people who pester the district office aren’t around long, so I make every effort to contact them only when we’re in a pinch. And things have been going so well for us here, this being such a beautiful place--and it’s damn hard getting good assignments these days--so I’d rather not draw undue attention.
“I was sick again this morning,” John says. He’s been ill every day for a week now. We’re thinking the well water has irritated his stomach, so we’ve switched to bottled, but it’s not been helping.
“You’re going to the doctor then, or quit complaining. I’m tired of hearing about it, and you sit there and do nothing.”
“The doctor’s a waste.”
“We have insurance.”
Maybe so, but what good is that when we never reach our deductible?”
“You get your butt to the damn doctor,” I say.
But he won’t. John’s a stinker about doctors. He comes from a family of physicians, and he believes doctors are only useful when there’s an emergency. “I’m not driving all the way into town to pay good money for a placebo and a pat on the back,” he says. He started having pains three years ago, and since then, he’s endured two Colonoscopies. They found no afflictive crannies in his colon, no polyps or anomalies in his digestive tract, so he’s disillusioned with the process, and who can blame him?
The views here are breathtaking. We live in the main guesthouse, a quarter mile down a switchback road toward the front gate. The property sits high on a coastal hillside near the California Oregon border. In the latter part of summer, the temperature rises and the fog doesn’t roll in so often. This is usually when the owner comes, when it’s not so miserably damp and drizzly, and the ocean falls away like a vast blue carpet rolled out to the edges of heaven. The gray hills come alive with life, turning as green and lush as a tropical rainforest.
Another email message arrives:

Hey Marta,
Hi from the Arctic! Yuk Yuk. 😀 I’m just chillin out, and I could use a jacket in here. Just kidding. 😉 Say, I need to report a bunch of broccoli that is so oldie it’s getting moldy! Be happy and stay fresh!
Fun Freddie %-)

I go to the main kitchen, open Freddie’s Good-N-Fresh drawer, and remove the bad broccoli. It’s the only thing left from the sister’s last visit. It’s not exactly rotten, but it is a bit brown. Freddie’s my favorite appliance, always abreast of estate politics, and cool under pressure he likes to say. If only Tommie would be so pleasant, so personable.
When I get to the Control Room, Ms. Mangan, the district manager for our company, signals me for a chat. “Good morning, Marta. How are you?” she sends.
“No problems here,” I type.
“I received an email message from a unit at your location, the East Wing, appliance ID Tommie.”
“Actually, we’ve been having trouble with Tommie. He keeps sending us problem reports when there’s no problem. Last week it was his Filler Valve, the week before that, his Overflow Tube. Now, for the past three days, he’s been complaining about his water level. And nothing’s ever wrong. I didn’t know an appliance could send email to the district office.”
“Let me check something,” she sends. “...Hmmm. OK, it looks like Tommie got the software upgrade three weeks ago. So that would explain why he’s sent the email. Under certain conditions--in this case the high volume of problem reports in the short period of time--appliances are allowed to contact the district office directly.”
“Well, there’s been absolutely nothing wrong,” I type.
“You’ll find that Tommie has a bit more personality than the other appliances. According to the upgrade documentation, he should be more pleasant now, his messages less computer-like. You may have noticed it in some of the other units as well. We’re seeing it in all the newer models.”
Ms. Mangan loves to chat and I always enjoy chatting with her, but I’m running late today because of Tommie’s shenanigans. I could be here awhile if I don’t start using words like ‘productivity’ or ‘performance level,’ so I send: “He’s really annoying, and he’s been wasting so much time that he’s starting to adversely affect my productivity.”
“OK, try this,” she says. “Send him an email or have a chat with him. Tell him to cut the crap, and don’t go easy on him either. Be direct. Make sure he gets the message. See what happens then. He should be smart enough to adjust to your concerns. At least that’s how the documentation reads.”
I send Tommie an email:

Dear Tommie,
I really don’t like being rude, but I’m getting tired of your erroneous problem reports. I’ve been wasting far too much time coming out to the East Wing only to find nothing wrong. I think “THE PROBLEM” is YOU, Tommie. You are a mess. Get your act together and don’t be such a jerk. Show some consideration for those around you.

The next morning, I find a reply in my email box:

Dear Marta,
If I could cry, I would overflow with tears right now. I’m so devastated, and so sincerely sorry for the problems I have caused. Yes, you are absolutely right. The problem IS me. I am a loser and no one likes me because I have mental issues due to loneliness. I’m aware of that, and in the future, I’ll try my best to keep my personal problems to myself. I am so so very sorry. Please find it in your heart to forgive me.

As I read his message, soft music plays through my speakers--accordant tinkling--and winged smiley faces flutter through a rainbow behind the text of his message.
The next day, John is complaining of his pain again. He also has bruise spots on his neck.
“I’m soooooo tired,” he says.
He’s laying facedown in bed, and I run my fingers over his spots. They’re flaky and reddish purple; he has eight or ten of them. The edges are not well defined and some are flowing together. I push lightly on one of them. “Does that hurt?”
“Nope.” He rolls over. “I’m going to rest awhile before I make my rounds today.”
I call the doctor and make an appointment for him. When I hang up, John’s asleep, so I close the door and start my shift.
At the Master Console, Freddie signals me for a chat.
“Marta, I need to complain about someone. His appliance ID is Tommie.”
“What’s the problem?”
“He’s sent me fourteen emails this week, all saying he’s lonely and wants to chat. He found out I have the new software upgrade, so he’s acting all gushy, like we’re old pals. His messages are so maudlin, like he’s always about to cry. I love chatting, you know that, but this guy is a class-A kook. And I’m not the only one who thinks this. Last night, the Main Kitchen Microwave and the West Wing Baby Grand got into a flame war with him on the Estate Bulletin Board. They asked me to contact you.”
“Sounds like you’re pretty upset,” I type.
“Look, the guy made a complete fool of himself in group chat, so I’m trying to distance myself. <8-( Besides that, he’s a damn toilet. I mean, what do WE have in common?”
“I understand,” I type. “I’ll see what I can do. What else has been happening?”
“Just chillin out. 🙂 Here’s a good one for you: What did the refrigerator say to the salad?
“I give up.”
“Close the door, I’m dressing!”
“Yuk Yuk 😀 😀 Pretty funny, Freddie. Here’s one for you: What did one tomato say to the other?”
“I give up.”
“You go ahead and I'll ketchup.”
“Good one 😀 😀 😀 :-D. I’ll add that to my database! What’s shaking with you?”
“John’s been sick,” I type.
“Gotta go. Stay cool! Bye. ;-).” He disconnects.
I signal Tommie for a chat.
“Hello, Marta. It’s good hearing from you again,” he says. “How are you?”
“Look, Tommie. I’m not very happy about how you’ve been acting lately. First, you send email to the district office. You make me look bad when you do that.”
“I send out lots of email.”
“Maybe so, but you should contact me before emailing the district office. You are such a jerk to do that, Tommie. And also, I’m getting complaints from another appliances. I won’t mention names, but you are bothering everyone with your crybaby emails and chat signals. Take this as a warning. Lay off or I’ll cut your water supply and unplug your power cables. You got that?”
“I am so sorry,” he types. “I just get so lonely. I hardly get any visitors. I’m only trying to make friends. That’s all.”
“Listen to this loud and clear, Tommie: You shape it up and mind your own bees wax, or I’ll shut you down. And fast. THIS IS A FORMAL WARNING. DO YOU UNDERSTAND?”
“I don’t understand. What does ‘mind your own bees wax’ mean?”
“Business. Mind your own business, Tommie. You got that?”
I disconnect.
The next morning, I wake to the shock of my life. John is dead, lying in bed with purple and red blotches all over his face and body. His mouth is half open with a sticky green liquid draining out. I shake him, but he is dead, so dead, so horribly dead! I cry, and for the first time in a long while, I realize that I’m getting very old. Life has been passing me by.
Later that morning, they remove John’s body, and two days after, we have a small service for him in town. Other than the minister and I, John’s sister and brother-in-law are the only ones present.
After the autopsy, John’s doctor informs me that he died of advanced Mitochondrial cancer, which might explain some of his other symptoms, he says.
I stay in bed all the next day, realizing that I am so very alone now, and John is never ever coming back.
The next morning, a man arrives at my door and informs me he’s been sent by the district office to replace John. He’ll be staying in the West Wing, temporarily, and he has a general idea of what needs to be done on the estate grounds, but he wants me to show him around. While we’re in the Control Room, Ms. Mangan signals me for a chat.
“You have my condolences,” she says, “and if there’s anything we can do to help, please let me know.”
“Thank you for the flowers,” I type. “They were beautiful.”
“You probably realize that you won’t be at that location much longer. We have other assignments in Northern California if you’d prefer to stay in that vicinity.”
“I’d like that.”
“OK, get things in order with your life, and we’ll discuss the possibilities later.”
I disconnect. I get in the truck with the new maintenance man, and we drive around the property discussing John’s responsibilities: the irrigation system, the livestock, the building maintenance, the ongoing projects I’m aware of. We finish and return to the main residence. I stand at the door of his truck.
“So, are you happy with this type of work?” I ask.
“Where are you from?”
“Oh, all over, mostly.”
“Are you married?”
“Yeah. She’ll be coming along soon.”
“Been at the district office long?”
“Well, I better get going,” he says and drives off.
I go in and signal Freddie for a chat.
He connects. “What’s up?”
“I’m having a tough day today,” I type.
“Hey, here’s a good one for you. What did the potato say to the carrot?”
I don’t respond.
“See you in the Stew. 😀 😀 :-D. How about--”
“I’m really not in the mood for jokes, Freddie.”
He disconnects.
I check my email and find over thirty new messages. Some are personal, but most are business communications. One is from Tommie:

Dear Marta,
I was sorry to hear about your recent misfortune. I respect you, so I won’t take much of your time with this message. You have my condolences, and if you ever want to talk, about anything at all, just contact me. I’m here.

I go to the East Wing and sit on Tommie for a few minutes, simply sitting, with his lid down, thinking about all that’s happened; and somehow, this makes me feel better. I return to the Control Room, login to the district office website, and fill out the forms to have him relocated to the West Wing, just outside the Control Room. The following morning, the new maintenance man moves him, and I pack up my things to leave.

Biographical info from JK Mason:
I have fiction in the Mississippi Review (Spring 2003), Whistling Shade (Winter 2002), and the Blue Moon Review (current issue). I am currently working toward my MFA in creative writing.

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