KS16: Letter From the Editor

Letter From the Editor

Love makes you lazy. This is what I thought, trying to consider how I was going to write my first—and last—letter from the editor. Everyone involved in this issue, and in the fifteen issues preceding it, will tell you that Kitchen Sink has been a labor of love. I’ve never liked the inherent premise of sacrifice in that phrase; love, after all, should theoretically be free of effort, but obviously that’s bullshit, both on a personal level and on a professional one. While the people who have worked on KS have a fair amount of love for one another, we also fight, people quit, there is resentment, 15 emails arrive in the space of an hour, all requiring me to do things I’d rather not do. Sometimes I get confused as to how I wound up here. Ten years ago, I met Jeff Johnson and Jen Loy, we worked on a now-defunct magazine together, we stayed friends, and at some point we decided to start another magazine. That’s the simple story. But there are many more stories involved.

One of the puzzling labels we earned within the first couple issues of Kitchen Sink’s was that we were “hipsters.” This bothered me for several reasons, and still does. First, as one of the oldest people involved in this thing from the start, I am totally out of the hipster age demographic. Second, I can’t stand indie rock. Yeah, I said it. Sitting around at copy edits and being subjected to the horror of the Magnetic Fields has scarred me. Being at crowded warehouse parties with 24-year-olds drunk on Pabst hurts my feelings. Knowing those same people were supposedly my magazine’s readership often drove me to despair.

So why did I do it? Why did I stick around for five years, working on this magazine, debating what we would call it (oh god, the hours we spent on that), resenting the time it sucked from my life, cursing my ignorance of serial commas, wondering if Harper’s would ever reprint anything we wrote? I did it because I’m a fool for love. I don’t express emotions easily, which would surprise the hell out of anyone who reads my poetry. But nobody was more surprised or embarrassed than I when, during one of the staff meetings where the magazine’s demise began to become apparent, I burst into tears. In the months since we first got the inklings that our distributor was going to fuck us and that we would not recover, I felt like I was cleaning up after a funeral that had already taken place.

I still feel that way, though we sometimes talk about the future and what it means for KS. We’d like to publish books, and we talk about keeping our storytelling series going, and we talk about hanging out—most of us are staying here in the Bay Area, which is nothing but a small town with a puddle in the middle. We talk about what we’ll do with our free time. For most of us, that involves writing. For me, it involves seeing my first book—a book written while I worked on this magazine—arrive, hopefully shortly after this issue does. Mostly, we talk about business, and we think about how much we’re going to miss doing this, and sometimes we talk about that too.

As a writer and a writing teacher, words come naturally to me on the page, much less so in person or on the telephone. And one of the most valuable things about the time I spent working on KS has been the ability to write, and to sometimes write a lot (like the time I contributed five articles to an issue, one under a pseudonym), and to interact with a different readership than I do when I write poetry. Ultimately, most of what I wrote for KS was neither ground-breaking nor even that great (can writing about fat white asses like mine and about John Cougar ever be great?), but the two or three fan letters I got from Canada after every issue reassured me I must have been doing something right.

Mostly, however, KS has been my chance to have a community, and to have readers who didn’t turn out to be dirty little hipster assholes after all. I’m grateful to the friends of mine who were naïve enough to get sucked into this thing, and to the people I worked with who became my friends. Childless, hermetic writer types like me are lucky to even be able to leave the house, much less to do so and be around like-minded people. Many people came and went from the KS fold over the years, but it’s the current iteration of editors, publishers and designers with which I have most felt like this magazine really was doing what we originally set out to do—something different, something challenging and something new. Which in turn makes it even more painful to see it end.

Love of the people KS has brought into my life, and love of the thing we made together, has indeed made me lazy. And laziness, after all, is the product of privilege, and I have been privileged to be a part of KS since before KS existed. Now we all move on to other things. Although I don’t doubt we’ll see one another, and follow each other’s stories, I’ve been around long enough to know that when the band breaks up, or the couple you always admired part ways, the magic is never the same when you see them together again. So whatever form this project takes next, it will likely look and feel nothing like what you hold in your hands. And while that’s sad in the sense that we won’t be here, making this thing for you together, it’s also the beginning of another kind of love—the love of building up from what’s been torn down. And while that’s raw and new, it’s also where we started.
—Kaya Oakes, KS senior editor, poetry editor, 2002-2007

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KS15: Letter From the Editor

Letter From the Editor

As I write this, it’s early October and the Bay Area is experiencing its first rain of the season. Summer officially ended two weeks ago, but the Bay Area’s seasons are like peculiar party guests—hanging out just late enough to make you uncomfortable, but sneaking away right when you were starting to get used to them.

The sky is bleached gray. A boat shaped like a horse pulls forcefully into the harbor. And our wet, stretched-out winter begins.

I realize that not all of our readers reside in the Bay Area. This summer we received subscription and single-issue requests from all over the world, every one of which was fulfilled eagerly (albeit late at night, at a kitchen table, and not through Paypal). Issue 15 paints pictures of specific seasons and seasonless cities alike, from wintering in New York City (“Ice-Cream-Filled Martini Olives”) to biking in Los Angeles (“Two-Wheeling in Tinseltown”), and from there, bigger than the weather, it tackles living green on a budget (“Earth Balancing”) and sustainable design (“So Fresh and So Green”), in addition to the conservational stance of Jessica Hoffman’s aforementioned bicycling essay.

That last piece also considers identity, which could be another unintentional theme for this issue (and not just because we’ve got two blonde Elkas writing for us this time); other leitmotifs include creative collectives and Christianity, with three stories each, in multiple sections. But KS doesn’t DO themes anymore, right? We’re nearly four years old now, and therefore more sure than ever of who we are and who we aren’t,* perhaps less apt to wear a band T-shirt or afix a bumper sticker to our ride. In fact, the word “gestalt” comes up twice in this issue, so perhaps we should just accept that concept—per Merriam Webster, “a structure, configuration, or pattern of physical, biological, or psychological phenomena so integrated as to constitute a functional unit with properties not derivable by summation of its parts”—as a theme for our entire publication project, and call it a personality.

With maturity comes focus, too, and sections take on their own color: People who think too much often think too much about the words they think with, and so KS15’s Paper City section centers heavily on language, from Michael Lukas’ column on naming (and not naming) things in the novel Apex Hides the Hurt, to the improvisational text-and-music performance pieces chronicled in “The Diviners” (an article that, in typical KS fashion, could fit comfortably in our Louder Than Words or Untitled sections); and from Ben Bush’s fictional heroine—a Caucasian girl who speaks perfect Korean from birth—to Jeff T. Johnson’s meditation on line breaks in poetry, to the four poems themselves (yes, poetry is back in the mag, after a several-issue hiatus).

All told, I think we’ve given you something to warm your brain over the winter months, no matter what your weather. —Stefanie

*And on a more personal note: Speaking of who we are and who we aren’t, it’s come to my attention that I may have given a mistaken impression of my years at the East Bay Express in issue 14’s Letter from the Editor. My time at that paper was, on the whole, a pretty great one; I owe my editors and coworkers there a great debt, for trusting me enough to promote me twice, helping me develop my strengths, and allowing me to depart gracefully when I realized the weekly newspaper world was not for me.

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KS15: Acknowledgements

Kitchen Sink thanks the Alameda County Arts Commission, Barry and everyone at ABCo Artspace for making it work, Lagunitas Brewing Company for its generous do-nation, Miguel Depedro for all his help, 16 Bitch Pile-Up for a stellar set, all of the artists who donated work, the Stork Club for its hospitality, and Greg Ashley, Sweetbriar, Brian Glaze, Dan Strachota, Geoff Trenchard, Neela Banerjee, and Alex Green for donating their voices.

Elka thanks the Sad Billionaire and Femme Feral for being so enchantingly weird; J Hoff for writing the best essay yet; her dad for the awesome homemade wine; Luci for explaining how to make kombucha; Karen for the chicken broth; Carla for the plums; Jen for including her in the Virus show; and Ozzie for the dog love.

Carla thanks Tim for helping so much despite the gimpy arm, Katie for too many things to list, Tara Goe for doing what needs doing without being asked, the staff for making events awesome, Jeff for the Schuyler and O’Hara talk, Kalem for processing, Jen for the homestretch, Clay for Thursdays and other days, and J.D. Daniels for fresh eyes and honesty.

Jen thanks Carla for reprogramming Spider, Fanny for talking shit, Jeff and Kaya for five years, Juba for imitating an intern, Greg Edwards for coffees, the Port, etc., the Art Murmur gang for sticking together, Wade and Katy and all the Fox Force for sharing the bubbly, and Ross for desert mornings, playa PDA, and for knowing how this robot ticks—and congratulations to Nicole and Sander!

Kaya wants to thank Jeff, Stefanie, Carla, Elka, Sam, Jen, Nicole, Serena, Colin, Laurie, and everyone who makes KS tick, plus all of the writerly types in her life who keep her going and inspire her to do better. And everyone who’s ever told her she’s pretty.

Jeff thanks Chris Stroffolino for early returns on the breaks, Kaya for having his editorial back, Lee Skirboll for pouring it on, Tara for rescuing Untitled, Stefanie and Carla for digging in, and Nicole for finishing strong. He also thanks the grammar gods for not smiting him.

Stefanie would like to thank Karen Hildebrand for holding tight to her martini olives for almost a year, Nicole for allowing us to retreat to Bolinas, Jeff and Kaya for thinking ahead, Jen for scaring the neighborhood kids almost straight, Carla for her lack of restraint, Serina for stepping up, Michael Shaw for Slide Ranch, SR for three years of bespectacled hussitude, being supersonic, Bean for rolling with just about anything, Bakesale Betty’s for banana bread, Cole Coffee for chocolate croissants, Jennie for newsletter help, and Jenna for shampoo-money savings.

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Sex Fact: Sex for Teens

Sex Fact: Sex for Teens

Between 1990 and 2000, the teen pregnancy rate dropped by nearly 30 percent.Also way down are teen births and abortions. Is it because U.S. teens just aren’t screwing as much ’cause they spend so much time in super-churches and you, know, god doesn’t want them to? Or has the direct and honest talk about safe sex and STDs and pregnancy actually managed to penetrate?

Or, as suggested by recent scientific studies, is it that dudes just don’t make semen like they used to?

A recent article on Slate.com points out that, although both sides of partisan politics—abstinence vs. education— want to take credit, it looks like it’s thanks to the boys. And their sperm count.

In the mammal world, humans have weak sperm, apparently only outdone by the low numbers put out by gorillas and ganders. And this, according one scientist, is due to longtime female monogamy.Think of it like this: If Man #1’s little guys don’t have to do battle with Man #2’s little guys, let alone Man #3’s, 4’s and 5’s, the speed, strength and numbers of human semen just aren’t that important anymore.

Up to a point, that is. In seagulls and seals, mollusks and polar bears, gators and teenage boys, studies increasingly suggest that decades of exposure to pollutants and toxins are further lowering sperm counts in the offspring. A 1992 Danish study suggested that “environmental influences” caused a global sperm count decline of roughly 1 percent per year from 1938 to 1992.

A scientific debate, with a political edge, was born, and future studies did their best to refute these findings.Then along came Shanna Swan. Swan, an American reproductive epidemiologist, has published a book and at least one study confirming the sperm-count drop findings. United States: 1.5 percent/year; Europe and Australia: 3 percent; and although the developing world doesn’t present much of a drop, Swan also shows that in the United States, sperm count is lower in rural areas than in cities.

She places the blame on pesticides and other regional chemicals—remember DES, the 1930s drug that was supposed to prevent miscarriages but caused cancer in offspring or compromised their fertility? The Slate.com article goes on to quote more studies that have found male alligators with small phalli and low testosterone levels, and female alligators with way too high estrogen levels (the mama gators had been exposed to a toxic dump). Then, back to humans, “trends that seem to point to a subtle feminization of male babies” which include: urethral openings on the side of the shaft rather than the tip, undescended testicles, a shortening of the space between a boy’s anus to his genitals, etc.

Oh, and less sperm.

While less teen pregnancy is a good thing, birth defects and the cumulative effect of a falling sperm count are not. I wonder what healthy sperm solution will be easier for newly right-leaning middle America to swallow: Women need to have sex with more partners? Or legislation that enforces lower use of pesticides and toxic dumping? —Jen Loy

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Tip, You Bastards

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Tip, You Bastards

by Amy Reed
illustration by Justin Wambult-Reynolds

I’M NOT A real waitress. I stand behind a counter writing your order on a pad of tickets that has not changed since the 1950s, when women like me wore starched white uniforms and paper hats. Sometimes roller skates.

I use my college degree to encrypt mysterious instructions like “OMM” for omelet and “WW” for whole-wheat toast. Were I to make the journey to your table, walk those two yards and hold the pad in my hand rather than rest it on the counter, my work would warrant a tip. But I work behind the counter, and my jar collects nothing but the thirteen cents change that you throw in like trash.

I could spit in your food, but I do not. I could do a lot of things, but instead I say “good morning” over and over, through gritted teeth for seven years now. “Anything to drink with that?” “What kind of cheese?” And you keep ordering the same thing over and over, and you keep bringing your kids in and rearranging tables, letting them lick the salt shaker while you talk on your cell phone, letting them throw their Cheerios and bananas all over the floor, leaving the mess for me to clean up on my hands and knees like some minimum-wage Cinderella while you waltz out with your five-hundred-dollar stroller. And no, you did not tip.

I could accidentally spill your soy chai latte on your designer purse, but I do not.

I could hit you over the head with your yoga mat, but I do not.

I could tell you about this girl, my co-worker, who has another job as an X-ray technician. I could tell you about the girl who was on the dean’s list at Stanford, and another who teaches ESL classes for poor immigrants, or countless others who are putting themselves through school or working three jobs to pay off student loans. I could tell you about all of our great talents and accomplishments. I could tell you about my IQ. But I do not. You would not care. You would say, if you acknowledged me at all: “Well, I work at Clear Channel and make six figures. I had a trust fund in college. Too bad for you. Now make me my bagel.”

I could spit on your bagel, but I do not.

Did I tell you I’m in grad school? Did I mention my IQ?

I have a fantasy. I have many fantasies that have developed while wiping down tables with bleach-drenched towels or stocking cups or making carrot juice. They usually involve humiliating medical students or men who order for their dates, but this one is my favorite. It involves two men, scientists perhaps, PhD candidates working on their theses. They’ve had a few afternoon beers. They are hungry. They want me to serve them. But before that, they want to prove their superiority. They want to make an example.

I am ready to take their order. I have been ready to take their order. A line has formed and the doctoral candidates continue whispering to each other, completely oblivious that there are other people in the world. One of them finally speaks. He pulls a hundred-dollar bill out of his wallet and slowly pushes it towards me. He leans on the counter and, after noticing my breasts, says smugly, “I’ll give you a hundred dollars if you can tell me the scientific name for the green sea urchin.” His friend laughs.

I look the doctoral candidate in the eye and calmly tell him, “Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis.” His mouth drops. His friend’s mouth drops. I grab the bill out of his hand. The restaurant starts cheering. Each and every one of the housewives and independently wealthy patrons has a sudden epiphany: Their waitresses are all probably smarter than they are. They empty their wallets frantically, rushing to redeem years of bad tipping.

Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis, bitch.

God bless you bartenders and waiters, you construction workers and gardeners, you strippers and security guards, you few who look me in the eye and ask how I’m doing, pouring dollars into my tip jar out of solidarity. And God bless you Southern gentlemen who trick me with your confused tourist ways and mistrust of the counter system, you who call me ma’am and surprise me later with a five-dollar bill on the table, hidden discreetely under ravaged plates of eggs benedict. God bless you solitary people who come in at the same time every morning for the same large cup of coffee to go, who tip a dollar and a smile at 7 a.m. And God bless you few, kind professionals, some of you rich, some of you very rich, who have not forgotten when you had a job you hated, a job that insulted your intelligence and abused you daily with its insistence that you would never amount to anything. God bless your memory, your thank you’s. And most of all, your money.

Amy Reed is in the MFA writing program at New College of California. She left food service to start an exciting career as a secretary. 

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Tall Guys, Short Women: Searching for the Opposite

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Tall Guys, Short Women

Searching for the Opposite

by Kaya Oakes
illustration by Emily Oinen

I once read, in a book about witchcraft, about something called the Wheel of Attraction. Around the wheel are different body types. Once you found your body type you would look to the other side of the wheel and find what was supposed to be the ideal body type for the person you want to be with.

THE AUTHOR of that sentiment is Ronald, a 6’ 7” man whose most recent girlfriend was five feet tall. We’ve all seen couples like this, and maybe, if you’re like me, you’ve asked yourself, “What’s up with that? Why do tall guys like short girls so much?” When I say “if you’re like me,” I mean you are a female person of average- to-above-average height, looking down on the petite and up at the tall and trying to figure out the attraction when the height difference is, as Ronald puts it, “a little dramatic.” Or occasionally astonishing.

Part of the matter from the male point of view seems to be the question of protecting the mate. Ronald says that’s a factor in his attraction to short girls, but also that he “wouldn’t have to be as protective of a girl who’s taller.” This might be true; however, one of the toughest girls I know is 4’ 11”, and even though she barely reaches my shoulder, she’s also entirely capable of not only defending and protecting herself, she has actually pounded a thief with a telephone and sprayed an assaultive asshole with gasoline. I will admit that I, a woman of above-average height, sometimes feel protective of my shorter female friends; there is an impulse, whether gendered or not, to keep the short safe in crowds, where they can easily get overwhelmed or, in severe cases, trod upon. Yet this has never caused me to pursue a short guy. Something tells me he would not appreciate it if I pushed people out of his way at a rock show, for example, as I do for my short female friends, or hoisted him up on my shoulders, which I used to do before I developed chronic neck pain (partially from having had to lean over to talk to people since I was 12).

If men want to protect women, that’s probably Darwinian; the mate must survive in order for the male to continue his line. But think of the adjectives used for a short girl: petite, cute, adorable, pocket-sized. All imply their inherent attractiveness, and, in a more sinister way, their inferiority. While petiteness may imply weakness, oftentimes women learn to compensate for their size, just as short men do. Meanwhile, for a tall girl, we have words like Amazonian, statuesque, intimidating, towering. Clearly, there are issues of objectification afoot.

And, if tall guys like short women, then what happens to the tall women? You could feasibly make the argument that we have many advantages in life: We kill at basketball, we can buy pants off the rack without having them hemmed, we’re harder to lose in a crowd. But in my experience—and in the experience of most of the other tall women I’ve met—none of this has worked to our advantage when it comes to dating or finding a mate. E., who’s a hair under six feet tall and has dated a number of guys shorter than her, says an ex told her she was kind of a conquest, which led her to wonder if other guys feel the same way. She explains, “I wonder if taller women seem somehow less attainable, or more intimidating, and so dating one is like some kind of bigger score than a shorter woman.” Being bigger than many men does tend to draw attention to tall girls whether we like it or not; yet that attention can take on a negative taint. Both E. and I have been told by shorter boyfriends that we shouldn’t wear heels (taking improper advantage of feminine accoutrements), that we should be shorter (as if this could be changed), that we look “weird” with short guys. Yet our intimidation of men is of a subtle kind of intimidation, as E. agrees; you might find a guy pursuing your shorter friend, or choosing a different dance partner, or bouncing on his toes to make himself seem taller. Only a few times have men said outright to me, “You’re too tall,” and when they have said it, it felt about as good as being told I have a big nose. What, I wonder, am I supposed to do about it?

Clearly, however, history lays down a precedent for men liking short women, and there’s not much that’s going to change that now. Yet when I see a couple with a radical height difference (we’re talking a foot or more), I can’t help but stare. I’ve only met a handful of guys who are a full foot taller than me, and I never dated any of them—because they were all dating short girls. Ronald says that it “felt like we were the right height in relation to one another” when he was dating his five-foot-tall girlfriend. And the short girls I talked to came to a consensus: They like bigger guys. Bigger, however, doesn’t necessarily mean a lot bigger. Ash says she prefers guys who are just slightly taller than her, rather than much taller: When heights are relatively equal, she says, “the eye gazing thing is nice, because you know that you both see the world, literally, on the same level.” And Ginny agrees that radical height differences can even affect communication in a relationship: “I very much need to be able to stand close to my partner and have a discussion that lasts longer than one drink, or one room in a museum, or a mile on a bus ride. It won’t last longer than one drink if he’s too tall. My neck will hurt. I will not be able to wow him with my wit and intellect, and he will not be able to seduce me with his stories.”

And then there’s the issue of sex, which I heard plenty about from men and women alike. You’ve got to get creative when it comes to getting down, more so when you’re getting down with someone who’s looking up. Though Ash comments that sex with tall guys is like “climbing a jungle gym,” for the most part relative height equity was preferred, if only for the sake of the taller partner’s spinal health.

In spite of whatever challenges might be presented when people in a relationship are of such different heights, there is something endearing about the way in which a taller person’s arm can go around a shorter person’s shoulders just so, or how one person’s hip can notch into another’s waist. No matter the height difference, we all make adjustments in order to fit with another person. The wheel of attraction may imply that we are all looking for our opposite, but if no human body is a perfect sphere, why should we base our attraction to one another on that model? That would imply that perfection in the human form is normal, when it’s imperfection in the human form that makes life—and sex—interesting.

Even after writing this essay, Kaya Oakes still thinks she’s too tall for most guys. Luckily, her husband isn’t one of them. 

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Ice-Cream-Filled Martini Olives

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Ice-Cream-Filled Martini Olives

by Karen Hildebrand
illustration by David Wilson

IT’S 10 DEGREES in Manhattan and my breath billows in cartoon talk bubbles that dampen the cashmere pashmina wrapped around my neck up to my ears. This could be the Middle East: All the women wear a shapeless western version of a burqa, only their eyes peering out. I wear the lilac wool blanket coat I bought secondhand in San Francisco. In a mass of black-cloaked commuters, I stand out like neon.

Winter in New York is relentless. Every day I check the temperature. Still 30. Sometimes sunny, sometimes not, but always cold. A week of 40, then back to 30, sometimes 20. 60, 70, maybe 80 days. Why would I look forward to 40 when the only difference that brings is a shorter heavy wool coat? What I want is 50 and fun vintage: short black jacket with white piping and fake sheepskin collar. But by then, we’re in danger of jumping directly into 80, with bare legs and arms all white and scaly.

I live where anything goes. I can wear the cocktail dresses and spike heels that I’ve adored since playing dress-up at age six, only now, my feet hurt. What I’d give for the smooth skin of my 20s. To to have 50s skin when it’s in the 80s is the worst of all the numbers. I’m living upside-down and twisted, ice cream inside a martini olive. Braless with gray roots, the heels of my Italian boots worn down to cheap white plastic. Winter is out of control.

Faulty wiring, smoking in bed, forgetting the grease on the stove. Eight million of us faulty beings stacked on top of each other, breathing fire. My first months in New York were spent in a Harlem sublet. One night, seven fire trucks parked outside and extended their ladders to the building next door. I packed up my two cats in their carriers, grabbed my purse and laptop, put on my purple coat, and went down to the lobby at 3 a.m. The only other residents there were an Indian couple with two kids. No alarm sounded. In San Francisco, if a fire were blazing in the building next door, the entire block would be evacuated. I had begun pushing the buzzers to all the apartments in the building when the super came out and said, “Everything’s OK. It’s the building next door. You can go back upstairs.” When I got back up to my door, I heard my neighbor talking on the phone saying, “There’s a crazy woman down in the lobby ringing buzzers and shouting, ‘fire.’”

How Did This Happen?

I came to New York with a sketchy plan to redefine myself, to see what would shift in my less-than-compelling job and under-committed love life. Things happened. I can’t say it was boring. My career geared up the way I hoped it might. I turned 53. My cat died. I turned 54. My boyfriend died. I was never under-committed about that cat. Men don’t look at me. There is tremendous freedom in this, but I’m insecure about what it means for my future. I spend a lot of time alone, and I find I prefer it that way.

After Harlem, I found a tiny place in the West Village. Stationed at my notebook com- puter at the kitchen window the first week there, I could admire a view of the building next door, where, at least, the windows were bricked over to spare me from staring at a mir- ror image of my solitary self; an inflatable bed on the floor, sleeping bag spread over it; a white card table with a shiny red folding chair to sit on; the sound of toilets flushing above and next to me, and a woman’s loud orgasm two nights in a row. Ten boxes in transit from San Francisco with dishes, linens, files of bank statements and half-written stories, a few pieces of art—I left behind camping equipment, watercolor paper, a French easel, a handmade cherry queen-sized bed, my grandmother’s chest of drawers, a commercial-grade upright vacuum.

An apartment so empty it echoed, the glowing oak floors with the double brown border and eggshell white walls, perfectly sterile. With a long shopping list and a limited budget, it would be a while before this would be much of a home. I almost preferred it at that stage, the stage where you live within well-defined limits. The stage where for dinner you decide against a jar of spaghetti sauce because you have nothing to heat it in, and opt instead for a bowl of hot split pea soup at Joe Jr’s on Sixth Avenue. The stage where you’re ecstatic about a Salvation Army find of matching stainless for four.

New York City is often depicted darkly in movies, but in truth, it never gets dark. I leave the curtains open at night and pretend I’m bathed in moonlight. Hard to believe I’m thinking of the same moon that used to rise, yellow and lazy, over Potrero Hill, while I gazed out of my floor-to-ceiling tree-house window. It’s the same moon, the same me. And oddly, I feel safe here on the streets of New York City—safer than I have almost anywhere else.

Except for the ghosts. They’re everywhere. Standing just outside my peripheral vision while I wait for the subway: I grind them between my teeth and they crunch under my boots. All that I do reminds me of something else. My past and my imagined past. I’ve been in this narrow hallway before. As I lay in bed with a migraine on a gray day, I’m reminded of my first semester at college. I laid in the dorm feeling sorry for myself, listening to laughter and loud voices in the next room, watching a crack of light under the door.

Call it karma, call it habit, life repeats itself. Eight hundred multiple selves look back at me in the mirror. The same expression as in a photo of me at five, but now with the beginnings of jowls and crinkly lines around my eyes. I can see the child in many of the people around me. Maybe we’re all still children playing dress-up with ghosts riding our shoulders.

Be Here Now

Then, before I know it, it’s late summer. New Yorkers go away during August, the way Europeans do. In San Francisco the weather is just beginning to be summer-like. There, I could avoid the tendency to treat the month like vacation. In fact, when I lived in San Francisco I didn’t feel the need to take a vacation. There was nowhere I wanted to get away to. Conversely, the New York energy is exhausting. When the weekend arrives, I sleep.

And travel to San Francisco in my dreams. I close my eyes with a firm decision to stick it out in New York another year and voila, in the morning I wake with San Francisco light in my head. My cat looks like a wrung-out dishrag in the sticky morning heat, and I consider that I might look the same to her as we lay side by side in my wrecked bed. We’re shipwrecked, stranded on the island of Manhattan, and this is another day that we must forage for our survival.

My favorite San Francisco expatriate calls me from Baltimore. I tell him that I can’t believe that, after two years, I still vacillate between San Francisco and New York, and can’t find what I want in either. “Why can’t I just pick one, make a commitment, and get on with it?” He says he’s always found my ambivalence to be part of my charm, but that he, on the other hand, has made a clean break with the past. “That was then, this is now,” he says.

Meanwhile I wander higgledy-piggledy up and down the avenues, picking up a black silk ’40s dress here, catching a play there that’s so perfectly drawn I hang on every word, and afterward discovering a jazz combo playing be- hind a café I didn’t know existed. Is it enough to simply be a witness? Why am I living on the same block as my writerly heroes decades after they’re gone? Am I too late for the show?

Last night at a bar, a man asked me whether I like New York or San Francisco better. I smiled. “That’s a difficult question to answer.” He laughed and said he knew exactly what I meant. It took him four years after moving from Australia to adjust. Outside at Columbus Circle, the fountains were finally back in operation, and the sunset reflected pink off a building in the distance—an ornate tower with parapets surrounded by glass towers. The sight was stunning, and I thought once again, I live in an amazing place.

Karen Hildebrand is a NYC based writer and editor. Her poetry chapbook, One Foot Out the Door, is available at onefootoutthedoor.blogspot.com.

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Signs: Hardest Moon

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Signs: Hardest Moon

The math: When the moon moves into the sign opposite the sun, “full moons” occur.

For example, during Scorpio’s season in the sun (Oct. 21-Nov. 20ish), the moon hits the full mark during the nights when it travels through Taurus, Scorpio’s opposite. Likewise, when the sun is in Taurus (April 21-May 20ish), the moon becomes full as it moves through Scorpio. Get an astrological calendar and see for yourself. The other five pairings are Sagittarius-Gemini; Capricorn-Cancer; Aquarius-Leo; Pisces-Virgo; and Aries-Libra. (The new moon occurs when the sun and moon are in the same sign).

The metaphysics: When the moon is waxing, we start up new projects, think big, and get it all going.Then the full moon happens and we howl it up, act like assholes, get laid, rob banks—do whatever we do to get our rocks off. The moon wanes, and it’s time to wind down, make bail, pump our stomachs, finish projects, and rest. Finally, we take a moment of silence with the new moon. Repeat.

The catch: We each have our own personal full and new moons, based on our individual charts. My sun is at 22-degrees Sagittarius, and so my personal full moon occurs each month when the moon is at 22-degrees Gemini. While I pay attention to the influence the moon exerts upon us all from the sky, I also watch what she’s doing to me, personally.

The example: On June 11, 2006, the moon sodomized me, with very little lubrication. As it worked out this year, our full moon coincided with my personal new moon. So while the big moon up there was telling me to GO-GO-GO, my inner moon was saying NO- NO-NO. Now I can never get back the invitation to that killer party, the fully-equipped recording studio all to myself, or the opportunity for a three-day fuck-fest with a brand new love interest. Instead, I slept, yawned, looked bored, pouted, and watched the worst Jennifer Aniston movie ever—all by myself.

The moral: Take heed the full moon near your half-birthday. Half-birthdays and full moons do not play well with one another, and they don’t take “maybe” for an answer. — Camille Anderson

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Blasphemous Rumors: Tips for Kindergoth Christian Teens

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Blasphemous Rumors

Tips for Kindergoth Christian Teens

by Jen Burke Anderson
illustration by Caleb Morris

SUNDAY WAS THE first lovely day of this entire miserable spring. I was planted outside the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park, the sun warming my back on a green park bench as I contemplated the riot of landscaped blooms at my feet and hoped to God this weather would hold up for a few days. What could possibly be better than this, except maybe this with an ice cream cone?

On an adjacent park bench, three teenage girls were going through a game of Rock Paper Scissors to decide something between them. Hm, my sun-fried mind vaguely wondered, how does all that go again? Paper covers rock, scissors cut paper… blah blah… la la la…

“Excuse me.”

I looked up. The three girls stood before me, wearing the vestiges of small-town goth- dom: crucifix chokers, long skirts, Celtic bangles, glittery eyeshadow and a studied absence of hair styling. Two of them were quite heavy-set; one was trim.

I was preparing myself to give directions to Comic-Con when one of the heavy-set girls, blond and probably around 16, took a seat next to me. The other two stood at attention like a Greek chorus waiting for action.

“Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?”

People Are People

There was a time, long ago, when I would have lashed out at such people. But I am 37 now, and have since done a lot of living, hurting, thinking, reading, discussing, traveling and writing. Since I can’t attempt a civilized political or philosophical exchange with my family without raising my voice and acting like an idiot, I’ve resolved to try civilized exchanges with everyone else. Besides, I was impressed by the novelty of being politely addressed by teenagers for the first time since my young adulthood.

“Well,” I began, already feeling the fight-or-flight reaction that usually accompanies being randomly asked to surrender your entire belief system: My heart pounded, my face flushed, my mind raced, my eyes darted across the horizon for channels of escape. Stand firm, I told myself. Be straight-up. You will only hurt them if you don’t tell the truth.

“I was raised Seventh-Day Adventist, and I pretty much trashed the whole Christian thing in my early 20s. I’ve been happy ever since.”

They nodded sagely, as though they were way ahead of me. Still, there were some cracks in the façade: breaks in eye contact, slightly knitted brows.

We were worrying each other.

“Well,” said the blonde, “why would you say you’ve been happier?”

“I can be myself,” I said. “I can think how I choose to think. Before, I felt like I had to have the church’s permission to think or say anything. It felt very inauthentic to me.”

This interested them. At this point the blonde girl launched into a narrative about their recent adventures using some jargon I didn’t quite catch: Battle Cry, ATF, some other acronyms apparently particular to ex-goth Christians.

“Wait, wait,” I said, “you’re losing me. Battle Cry?”

“The big Christian youth gathering in town,” one of the standing chorus said.

Ah. Now this was all making sense. Of course they were from out of town. One of them had mentioned Tacoma.

“Have you ever had a loved one close to you pass away?” the blonde asked.

I replied that I had.

“Well, don’t you ever want to see that person again? Don’t you want to see them in heaven?”

“Of course I’d like to see them again,” I said, “but does wanting it make it so?”

She stopped; there was a collective holding of breath among the others. She told me that her little brother was handicapped, had a very serious disease. The doctor said he was going to die in six months.

Her eyes were full of tears. She wasn’t bullshitting.

She also described herself as an “ex-kindergoth.” She had been suicidally depressed, had seen the doctor, had taken eight different types of anti-depressants. They had all made her worse. I believed that, too; those drugs don’t work for everyone and doctors often overprescribe them.

I was unsure what to say. Perhaps mega-church Christianity, in the immediate sense, really had saved her life. Her standing friends seemed to genuinely stick by her as she’d taken the tremendous chance of approaching me cold on the park bench. They were a support system for this fragile girl.

And yet, while not wanting to smash her belief, I wanted her to learn to think. Her long-term well-being would depend on her being able to take more chances in life, and religion does not exactly smile upon the chance-taking life — especially in girls and women.

When she described the tremendous “rush” she’d felt at the Battle Cry event, surrounded by thousands of enthusiastic fellow believers, I told her that she wanted to be careful of sensations like that. Perhaps it’s not the Holy Spirit you felt, I warned, but the same visceral tide of emotion you’ll feel wherever scores of people gather and direct their attention towards a single thing: a sporting event, a political rally.

Looking back, I wish I’d told her about some of the genuine “rushes” I’ve had in my life: traveling to a foreign country by myself for the first time, seeing my name in print next to a story I’d published, doing shows on college radio, scoring a cool job. I fear my rationalist approach might have simply disillusioned her without offering a positive alternative.

The four of us did have an enjoyable, civilized exchange. These girls were not the type of aggressive, script-operative Holy Joes who make you eventually throw up your hands and walk away. They listened. I hope I listened, too.

When they realized they had somewhere to be, they took their leave and we agreed it had been pleasant talking to each other. I wished them luck, and meant it.

Policy of Truth

If only I’d had the chance to talk to them some more, here’s the advice I would have left them with as they continued their journeys in the church:

1. Get yourselves a broad base of knowledge. Don’t let the church be the only influencing factor in your lives. Take your education seriously. Psychology, history, literature—all these things will help you grow as a person. And don’t freak out if they teach things that seem to conflict with your faith; nobody is trying to persecute you. Choose appropriate moments to add your calm, dignified voice to the dialogue. You’ll be in a secular humanist society for a very long time, and it need not torment you. At the end of the day, you still have the ultimate say in deciding what’s right or wrong for you.

2. Don’t buy Christian rock. Come on. Those bands suck. Besides, to paraphrase Daniel Smith of the Danielson Famile, if there were a true Christian music industry, CDs would be eight dollars. (Battle Cry tickets were $55-199. Where’s Jesus when you need him to boot some money-changers out of the temple?) And think about it: Why get the church-approved Radiohead knockoff band when you can get Radiohead? Did the good Lord not give Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood, et al. extraordinary gifts of composition? And they’re pissed off about a lot of the same things you’re pissed off about; they’re no fans of mainstream culture either. There’s good music out there that won’t rub your values the wrong way. You just have to look for it. Branch out. Why not bluegrass, roots, gospel, classical, rockabilly?

3. When you’re old enough to vote, don’t just vote for any old bozo who throws a bunch of God talk at you. If America becomes a more spiritual place, it will be because of peer-to-peer networks, not a federally administered program. Besides, the “Revival of Values” people are going to screw you economically. They’re going to throw social security down the crapper and let Wal-Mart destroy your town and they’re definitely not going to build you guys any youth centers or skateboard ramps. Screw ’em. You deserve better.

4. If you’re disgusted with MTV/shopping mall culture, your remaining alternatives are not limited to goth, mega-churches or the 7-11 parking lot scene. There’s other stuff out there, and again, it doesn’t have to conflict with your faith. Keep looking. Never be satisfied. There’s al- ways something better just around the corner. The public library is your friend.

5. Travel. Get out of the country. Shoo! Go on! See the world. And don’t go there to convert people, go there for fun. It may be one of the most important things you ever do for yourself.

6. Develop your talents and interests. To people outside the church, it will seem like I’m stating the obvious, but I have a firm recollection of a Christian childhood where my talents and interests were hungrily monitored as mere accessories to furthering the church agenda. The real purpose of talents and interests, girls, is to let you make your mark on the world and get you through the hard times.

7. Don’t let moralism screw up your morals. I was attending a Christian college in 1988, when the AIDS epidemic was doing its worst. Students doing internships in public hospitals had to make a decision: Do I give compassion to these gay men who are dying alone of this horrible disease, or is it more important to not have any association with what I consider to be a sinful lifestyle? Most—but not all—of my classmates came down on the side of compassion. Once the students saw these patients as human beings, saw for themselves how much pain they were in and how lonely they were, it was a whole different ballgame. The right decision became clear, despite the dictates of the church mechanism. Exercising your individual moral conscience is a good thing.

8. It’s OK to masturbate. No, really, it is. It’s possible nobody else will ever tell you that, but I’m telling you: IT’S OK.

Nice talking to you.

Jen Burke Anderson is a writer in San Francisco, but she really wants to be in a f***in’ band. F***in’ contact the magazine if you’re interested.

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Recipe: Pascal’s Chocolate Rum Cake

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Recipe: Pascal’s Chocolate Rum Cake

by Aneesa Davenport
illustration by Serina Koester

When I visited home last Thanksgiving, I got to watch my mother splash spiced rum into warm butternut squash before mashing it, then deglaze her fried sage pan with even more rum. She was trying to impress me—she knows that lately I’ve been asking friends abroad to smuggle back palm-sized bottles of Black Magic, the Indian brand that tastes like molasses infused with incense (perfect straight, but irresistible mixed with Thums Up, their cane-sweetened, betel-nutty cola), and that I add rum, or white wine, or Grand Marnier, or triple sec to all my recipes.

And she blames herself.

She first baked me chocolate rum cake for my third birthday, and she’s not sure whether or not all of the alcohol burned out of the icing. Some of the girls at that party are the ones who still email me for the recipe on special occasions, when their brothers graduate or their in-laws come to town.


1 box devil’s food cake mix
1 small box instant chocolate pudding 2 eggs
1⁄2 cup vegetable or canola oil
1⁄2 cup water
1⁄2 cup dark rum
about 8 pecan halves
1/8 cup chopped pecans

1 stick butter
1 cup finely granulated sugar
a little more than 1/4 cup dark rum


1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and liberally butter or oil a scalloped bundt pan, ensuring that every spot is greased.
2. Place a single pecan half upside-down in every other section, sprinkling chopped pecans between them.
3. Combine other above ingredients well.
4. Pour into bundt pan, and bake for about 50 minutes.

1. Five minutes before the cake is done, melt butter in a small saucepan.
2.Add sugar and rum and boil for a few minutes, until sugar has dissolved. (Don’t burn your tongue tasting it!)
3. Slowly pour the icing over the cake while it’s still in the pan, and both cake and icing are still hot, letting it seep down the sides.
4. After it’s all soaked in, remove cake from the pan (you may need to run a knife along the edges first) and let cool.You probably won’t be able to resist serving it hot (I take mine with shots), but it’s best cool, and even better the next day, preferably for breakfast, garnished with blackberries.

Aneesa Davenport is a Bay Area writer.

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