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
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!



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

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

Step Aside, Tony Soprano

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Please visit

"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
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
“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
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
“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

I have fiction in the Mississippi Review (Spring
), Whistling Shade (Winter
), and the Blue Moon Review (current
). I am currently working toward my MFA in creative writing.

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