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Archive for the ‘Prose’ Category

I Hate, Love, Am Not Happy About This; Love

In Prose, Uncategorized on January 10, 2017 at 8:22 pm

opening-letter

I Hate This

I’m shocked and appalled at the idea of trying to get me angry.

Sincerely,

Me

 

I Love This

Dear Mayor de Blasio:

I wanted to write to congratulate you on one of the initiatives that came out of your office.  However, after careful and diligent search, I couldn’t find one.  I would suggest you and your people stop doing everything you’re doing and try doing the *right* thing for a change.

Sincerely,

Me

 

I’m Not Happy About This, To Say the Least

Dear Mr. Quatrofino,

I came today to see if there’s any news, but was told you weren’t in today.  You told me a week ago that you left three messages on Mr. McDonnell’s phone (one in my presence), but he never called you back.  I also hoped to hear a reply to my voicemail message to you, if only to find out just that.

I had been told that you would be a good person to call Mr. McDonnell, because you two are friends.  If he doesn’t return your calls, I wonder what kind of friendship this is; you might want to reevaluate it.  Or perhaps there’s more to it than I know about.

Further, this has been going on for quite a few weeks now.  As you know, I can hardly afford to wait – I have nothing firm, nothing definite to go on.  I was hoping that people who profess to help those in my situation actually would help me, and without undue delay.  I am rather disheartened at the lack of urgency everyone seems to have about this.

Please let me know if you were able to reach Mr. McDonnell, or his boss, or at least confirm the receipt of this letter.

Sincerely,

Me

 

Love

Dear Hamilton,

I wrote a letter to the court.  A friend helped me.  It’s all right that Mr. and Mrs. Williams took you in after your mom died, if they’re so kind.  But they’re asking for guardianship, and I’m worried that they want to take my parental rights away.  You’re my daughter; I don’t wanna let you go just like that.

I can’t do much for you right now.  I moved to New York City, joined the union, and they send me to jobs when they come up.  But they last only a few days, and then I’m going back to the line to wait for another.  In time, I’ll get more seniority, more work, and more money.  Then I’ll rent my own apartment.

When you graduate high school, I’d like you to come to the city with me.  I should have enough work and enough money to support you.  You could go to college and have a career.  Thanks be to God for union jobs and resident tuition.

Love,

Dad

Andre P.

 

Did We Make Any Money?

In employment, Prose, Uncategorized on January 10, 2017 at 8:12 pm

money

We did.

First, we invested in things that had done well for the last couple of years.  Not individual stocks, because we wanted to be broadly diversified, to protect against single-company risks.  Mutual funds, offered by the providers of my girlfriend’s accounts.

Morningstar.com, a company that provides information about mutual funds and the stocks they invest in, classifies companies in two ways: by their market capitalization, the current “paper value”, combined price of all their shares, into large-caps, mid-caps, and small-caps; and into “growth” companies that are expected to have growing profits and growing share prices, and “value” companies whose shares are cheap compared to what they “should” cost.  (“Value investing” is a whole science started by Benjamin Graham and followed by Warren Buffett.  “The value is what it’s worth; the price is what you pay for it.”)

Stock mutual funds can be “growth” funds that invest in growth companies, “value” funds, or “blend” funds that invest in both.  This classification, together with the other, gives rise to a 3-by-3 table, with cells, pigeon holes, with names like “small-cap growth” or “large-cap value”.  Funds that invest in one of these pigeon holes are called “style funds”.

The best style funds turned out to be the TIAA-CREF Midcap Growth and the Fidelity Small-cap Enhanced Index fund.  Her portfolio started growing faster, as if you added new yeast to an old batch of dough.

My friend, the financial guru, sends his friends a list of stocks he thinks are worth investing in.  He pores over annual reports, financial statements, reads the lines, and between the lines.  I wrote another program to draw charts, so I could see all 20 on one screen.  I chose 5, started reading about them, at first just to know, for each, what’s the business of the business.  Around Valentine’s Day, one of them, V.F. Corporation (ticker symbol VFC), announced that it had missed earnings expectations, by 1 cent per share.  Its stock dropped by more than 6%.  I thought that was too much: the missed penny corresponded to about 3% of the earnings, so we could expect a 3% drop as a correction; the company was still as good as it had been; so any further drop was a discount, a sale.  They say, you can make more money buying than selling.

I wrote a program to “watch” stocks.  I would start it with a list of ticker symbols, and it would contact Yahoo Finance every minute, request their current prices, and display them on the screen.  On Monday, we started watching VFC.  It was still down, but stabilized, stopped tanking.  We bought.  The lesson: find a good company, do your homework, wait for superficial bad news, pounce as others panic.

Things went up and down, but more up than down.  After about a year of some contributions and some growth, she had about 40% more than when she started.

Then she fired me.

Andre P.

Shoes

In Prose, Uncategorized on January 6, 2017 at 4:00 pm

snowfootsteps

It was a January morning, and a wet, heavy snow was falling. I could not stay indoors as I had business to do that day. I left with a proper amount of clothing and a recently purchased pair of shoes. These shoes were comfortable, which was a blessing. I looked down at them, and I was proud of them for their appearance and their fit. Fit is very important to me, since my podiatrist said my aching feet are due to foot bones shifting with old age.

The snow kept coming down and then the snow turned to rain. Slush was everywhere – big puddles formed at city intersections. Cars and cabs were splashing dirty water about. I walked about the city, low on cash, going from place to place. I started the day with a nice pair of shoes. At the end of the day, the shoes were soaking wet. It started when I had to step in a deep puddle at a corner. After this I did not care about my feet – I just marched on.

At home, I took the shoes off. They dried with that heavy salt stain all over them. I was disheartened. I let them stay under my bed for over a month. Finally, I got up the gumption to clean those shoes. I put them under the faucet and scrubbed them and let them dry. Then I used some saddle soap, finished the cleaning and polished the shoes.

Today there is a light snow outside and I am walking about the city again, enjoying the comfort of these same shoes. Yes, today is a better day.

Bill Acheson

 

The Discreet Banquet of the Comfortable Class

In Food, Prose on September 16, 2016 at 1:05 pm

banquet_87615343_161885c

Seeing the picture of the banquet table generates a mixture of associations. Someone once said life is a banquet and many poor suckers are starving. That’s not an exact quote, but I’m certain you get the general idea. Food can be about sustenance, community, or abstinence. Often those hazard a career in the arts find themselves unwittingly playing the role of hungry artist. Frequently it is more about famine than feasting. One gig may pay exceedingly well. The next may pay virtually nothing at all. If you’re doing well you may have the luxury of the incestuous elite. It also allow for an awareness of how certain life choices lead one down a road that is far afield from what many consider to be “normal” or mainstream.

Sharing a meal with others can have outcomes that vary. How many holiday family get-togethers degenerate into combat? Hidden rivalry, resentment, and misunderstanding come to the fore. Asking someone to pass the salt can easily turn into an act of war.

When I was quite young, I spent hours in the library reading. Everyone said that would-be writers should read. I read and always enjoyed reading. One of the first things I read by Kafka was A Hunger Artist. The metaphorical aspect of this story contains much having to do with the hazards of artistic life. At least that is the notion in a painfully real and vivid manner. Of course there is humor inherent in the darkest aspect of it all. A person who starves to death professionally can have a laugh or two from time to time. Maybe a professional hunger artist’s life is the ultimate punch line delivered by the ultimate sick comedian.

Hunger has many aspects. There’s the physical hunger for food, the metaphysical hunger for something that palliates the ineffable dread that characterizes even the most smug, secure existence; the kind of existence that allows for one to sup in elegant places.

-Bern Nix

Secrets

In Prose, Stories, secrets & dreams, Uncategorized on January 4, 2016 at 6:35 pm

dumbwaiter

 

Ezra Sugarbaker was a kid at heart. When he built the Sugarbaker mansion, he had a few add-ons, like a revolving door, a sliding wall, fake fireplaces, and for himself, a dumbwaiter. The first set of changes was for children he entertains at Christmas, Easter, or whenever else he feels like having kids over. When he got sick, he closed up all those features, except for the dumb-waiter.

By the way, do you know the use of a dumbwaiter? It’s an elevator-like appliance that goes from the kitchen to the floor above. Most rich houses have one, so that your meals can be served in bed, rather than going downstairs.

Leticia was the housekeeper who took care of Ezra. Let me tell you how Leticia came to work for the Sugarbakers. She worked for a bed-and-breakfast in Cootersville. When Ezra and Rose were on a trip, they saw her, liked her, and hired her on the spot. She has been with them for years.

The reason I’m telling you this is because of secrets. When Anthony heard what Mee Mee said, he called Iris, and the conversation was overheard by Dulcinanea and Prudence, the two downstairs maids, who were washing the the dishes in the kitchen.

Let me tell you how this is possible. After Ezra’s death, Rose closed off the dumbwaiter, made bookshelves, and turned that area into a bedroom for her daughter when she came home from college. But in the kitchen she added a one-way intercom, so she can listen to the conversations her daughter is having in the room. That’s the room Anthony is staying in.

So Dulcinanea said to Prudence, , “Did you hear that he is talking to some woman named Iris?”

Then Prudence said, “That’s that Tibido woman. I was at the dinner tonight, and he was talking about Miss Mee Mee.”

Then Dulcinanea said, “We have to tell Leticia what we heard.”

Anthony is still talking to Iris. “Look, Iris, I am not going to jeopardize a good thing I got going here, because you want to continue some feud. Hello? Hello? Hello?” She’d hung up.

Dulcinanea said, “We’d better call Leticia and tell her what we heard. I tell you, some secrets, like this one, must be told.”

by George Cousins

32 Flavors of Ice Cream

In Food, holidays, memoir, Prose on December 18, 2015 at 2:54 pm

fruitcake-3lb-small

32 Flavors of IceCream

“32 flavors and then some.” Song and slogan tells take of tastes fixed in forever. Perhaps Ben & Jerry’s have split. Still either/or and thousands more can access the pages of molecular exactitudes to make Crunchy Carmal Cone a heavenly thing.

After Jerry has hung a “for sale” placard on the lawn, and Ben has taken the pooch, I will  be able to purchase a pint – if only on “for a limited time only” anniversary dates.

Those anniversaries never commemorate my longings for those lost, nor could they honor those recipes.

There is a  piece of paper filed, or even an index card to indicate how many cloves my grandmother put in her pidgeon peas, and they were added at the point of or just before bursting?

At holiday times the only dessert was Ms. Lowe’s fruitcake. Not a dry, bland colorful rock. Rather, a deep brown, solidified pudding on fruits left steeping in wine and finished with whatever else goes into a cake, and palatable amounts of Rivers rhum. This was a meal closer, months in the making, with payment made not solely in cash, but with barters of spices and booze. No last minute rush to the market, but phone calls and scheduling of meet ups and pick ups of this tasty treat.

Even my mother, though no great cultivator of cuisine, and still with me in this world, no one can ever replicate those scrambled eggs.

With three simple ingredients – eggs, butter, salt – I come close.

I likely will be unwilling to use enough butter to let the eggs swim freely. Instead I will leave exact replications to the scientists while I dream of my loved ones while gorging on ice cream.

-Stephanie Lawlor

GREYHOUND

In Prose, Stories on August 14, 2015 at 12:54 pm

greyhound bus station

By the time I saw the turnpike exit from the bus, I knew I was almost home. I saw the refineries, the bridge, then the airport, and then the tunnel under the Hudson. I remembered the heavy traffic, the horns, the dim lighting once you got into the city. And then there was the chaotic bus terminal, all the people swarming around, hustlers, cops, taxi drivers with fares way out of my price range.

Normally by this point, I would have gotten my Metro card ready for a long trip to either my storage in the Bronx or my old place out in Rockaway. But it was 8PM on a Friday night, too late to drop off any excess luggage at the storage site. And even though I had enough money for a couple of weeks rent, I couldn’t go back to Rockaway, for another hour plus subway ride and cold February transfer at Broad Channel to Rockaway. And no cold but soothing beach to visit at night. I remembered the place I had booked for the next 3 nights was on the other side of the river, in Union City. I went to the NJ Transit bus counter and found out which bus went out there – and it cost $3.20 – 70 cents more than the subway. If the Greyhound had made any stops between Newark and the Port Authority, I would have needed to make 2 bus trips across the Lincoln Tunnel. But I had to do this – to get to a place that would cost me $45 for 3 nights which beat staying in a shelter or 2 nights on a greyhound from Colorado.

When I got to the still-under-construction hostel, I met the sour desk attendant. Even with my Colorado ID, he must have figured out I was a local, because he blurted that the rates were going up soon and that there were no vacancies on Monday, (when my 3 day payment was up).

But for now I could sleep on a bed, shower, use the microwave downstairs, and use the overpriced Laundromat to clean the clothes I had been wearing for 2 days straight since Colorado.

-Thomas Clarke

Simple Story

In memoir, Prose on July 17, 2015 at 2:35 pm

 

roy rogers

As I sat down to try to write a simple story in my writers’ workshop, I remember in the 1940’s tenants’ apartments were like train cars — you had to go through one bedroom to another bedroom to get to the bathroom. I also remember, sometimes the bathrooms were in the hallway, used by 4 families. But they were clean all the time.

My grandmother and I slept on a bunker bed. I slept on the top and she slept on the bottom. I also remember having a small radio and listening to Roy Rogers on the radio. I sometimes wish I could go back to that time.

Sometimes there was no heat, so my mom had to bang on the pipes for heat.

My mom was a remarkable lady. All the Italian neighbors loved my mom. We were poor, but rich in spirit.

-Charles Borges

MY MUSIC BOX STORY

In memoir, Prose on July 16, 2015 at 1:29 pm

red music box

This story has three parts, so please be patient. But it is still a short story. Also, for those of you who know me, you will be seeing a different side of me. Please don’t judge me too harshly. That goes for those of you who don’t me as well. Like all my stories, this one is true in its entirety.

Many years ago, as far back as I can remember, my family, my immediate family, my mother, father, sister, and later on my two brothers, would travel every Sunday from our New Jersey apartment to my Grandparent’s apartment in Brooklyn. This was my mother’s side of the family, the Italian side. Uncles, aunts and cousins would join us there for my grandmother’s macaroni and gravy. I don’t know if it was the length of the drive and the ensuing anticipation, but my grandmother’s macaroni was the absolute best macaroni, until many years later, when my mother mastered it and took over the Sunday tradition. Now, my grandmother, who had the gravy cooking for hours when we got there, also had the pot of hot water on the stove ready to boil. At the point of boiling, she would add the boxes of macaroni to the water, and begin to stir. While she stirred, she would sing various songs in Italian. ‘Way Mari,’ ‘O Sole Mio,’ and the like. My absolute favorite was ‘Torna A Surriento,’ which means ‘Come Back to Sorrento.’ Whether it made the macaroni taste better or my grandmother was just so happy to have her family all around her that she had to sing, it didn’t matter. I would sit at the kid’s table, which I did even after I had come back from the Vietnam War, and listen and wait for the macaroni. Two quick asides, one my grandmother would always ask me if I wanted to taste the macaroni to see if it was done. I was too afraid of that responsibility, so I always refused. She would smile, give me a kiss, and say I was a good boy. The second aside, I have that kid’s table in my kitchen today, my grandparents have long since passed, and the table has been in various kitchens of mine for years. So, I’m still sitting at the kid’s table.

That’s the end of Part One.

Fast forward, a little over twenty years. I am in my forties, teaching seventh and eighth grade in upper Manhattan, and backpacking through some foreign country on my summer vacation. I would always bring something back for my mother from wherever I went. Usually, it was a small box or something that I could easily fit into my backpack, and not break.

This particular summer, I was in Italy. And this part of the story begins when I’m in Venezia, Venice. I had just gotten off the train and now in a line to change my traveler’s checks into lire. From behind, somebody pokes me. Being a good New Yorker, I first feel for my wallet, just to be sure. Then I turn and see some guy, roughly my age, but shorter. He asks ‘Are you American?’ Obviously he has seen my passport which I was holding in my hand, so I can complete the money exchange. He seems pleasant enough and not shady at all. So despite my disappointment that it’s not a beautiful woman, I say ‘yeah’. He tells me his name and that he’s from Iowa and that he’s has been it Italy for two weeks and hasn’t really talked to anyone, especially in English. He then asks if we could hang out just for a while. So, I say ‘okay’.

We start walking, along the canal, passing open-front shops, talking about nothing in particular, and sort-of souvenir shopping. After a half-hour or so, something in one of the shops catches my eye. It is a small, four by six inch, red lacquer box. I pick it up, and then I open it. It was a music box, and ….and, it’s playing ‘Torne A Surriento.’ I am positively ecstatic. But I don’t show it, and actually feign indifference. I know that I’m going to have to bargain the price. But I also know that I must have that music box for my mother. She will be overjoyed, I just knew it. So, I ask the proprietor ‘How much?’ I know the box is worth about twenty-five dollars. But if I have to go to forty, I would still have to buy it. So he tells me what is the lire equivalent of seventy-five dollars. I say ‘no, I’ll give you twenty.’ He again says ‘no, seventy-five.’ Now I’m starting to get a little upset, but I offer ‘twenty-five’. Again he says ‘no, seventy-five,’ spitting the words out like he’s angry. I ask him if he bargains. He says, ‘Sure, seventy-five.’ Now I feel like he’s taunting me. And I don’t like it. So now I’m really pissed about the whole thing. But I do want that box. It was perfect. But I know that I am not going to pay seventy-five dollars, especially to this arrogant SOB. So I walk away. Iowa follows me. We walk about a half a block, and I stop.

I tell Iowa, ‘Listen, we’re going back to that store. I want you to go inside, where he has the chess sets in the back and ask to see a set. Then I want you to drop one piece on the floor. Let him pick it up. ‘What for?’ Iowa asks. ‘Just do it’ I tell him and that I’ll explain everything to him later.

So, we go back to the store. I wait outside and off to the side. Iowa goes inside. I see him talking to the guy, but the guy isn’t reaching for one of the chess sets. I wait, nothing. I wait a little more, nothing. So, I have to make my move. I grab the box. And I start walking away.

I haven’t taken five steps and the guy is out of the store. He yells to me ‘Hey, you stole that box!’

I think quickly, I got two choices, bring the box back, or run with the box. I figure that the guy isn’t going to leave the store unguarded and chase me. It’s a box, a twenty-five dollar box. I quickly stuff the box in my back pack and I run. He starts running after me. He’s not going to run too far from the store I think, and keep going. So does he. And now we’re running, really running. I’m big, he’s small. I’m in my forties. He’s in his twenties. But I play handball, and I’m in good shape. So we keep running. He can’t catch me, I’m taking long strides. But I can’t lose him either. And we’re running. Over the canals, through narrow streets, behind houses, in alley ways. Then he starts yelling. ‘I’m gonna catch you.’ I yell back, ‘what are you going to do with me if you do? I’m too big for you to handle.’ ‘I’m going to get you anyway.’ ‘People are stealing from your store’ I yell back. We keep yelling back and forth, and keep going. I have no idea where I am, or how to get back to where I was. But we keep running. Now the streets are getting more and more narrow. I know that I’m going to wind up in a dead end, with no place to go. Then, I’m going to have to fight this guy.   I know I can take him, that’s not the problem. The problem is, do I want to?

He has been about ten yards behind me the whole trip. So, I stop. I take the box out of my backpack, place it on top of a garbage can, and start running again. I go about twenty yards and turn. He’s standing by the garbage pail, with the box in his hands. ‘I’m going to get you’ he yells. ‘What are you going to do with me? I’m too big and too strong for you. I’m running with a backpack and you still can’t catch me.’ He turns and walks away. I half follow him back. I have to. I would have been lost there forever.

I see Iowa when I get back. I ask him, ‘what happened?’ He says I didn’t know you were making me part of a caper. I say, ‘You’re not a good partner.’ That was the last I saw of either of them.

That’s the end of Part Two. Part Three is short, so please bear with me.

I spend the next few weeks, visiting Rome, Florence, and Pisa. All the while, I’m looking for the box. And growing more and more disappointed for the last part of my trip to Italy. I’m going to the ‘Isle of Capri’, to see the ‘Blue Grotto’. It’s magnificent, by the way so was Italy. But that’s another story.

My jumping off point, for the Isle of Capri is Sorrento. I arrive late at night. From the guide book, the cheapest hotel in Sorrento is fifteen dollars. So, that’s where I go. In the lobby, it smells like they’ve been painting. But for fifteen dollars, and its late, I don’t complain. I get up the next morning, and it still smells of paint. I tell them at the desk, ‘it stinks here.’ The desk clerk says ‘It’s not the hotel; it’s the factory next door.’ I’m like ‘whatever’ and I leave. I’m standing outside. I know I have to walk to get to the boat. But something tells me to go look in the factory. So I go. The closer I got to the factory, the more it stinks. I open the door, and what do I see? A few thousand of the same music boxes, but in different colors. I see a guy working and I yell to him ‘you got any that play ‘Torno A Sorrento’? He says ‘Yeah, I got about five hundred of them on that table.’ ‘How much? I ask. ‘Twenty-five dollars’ he says. ‘Good deal’ I say.

I never told my mother the stealing part of the story, only the ending part. She would have broken that box, even though I hadn’t stolen that one. But she did love it. And now, so do I.

 -Charles Moonjian

The Sloth

In Prose on June 10, 2015 at 6:00 pm

sloth

I am irate. I have feet and claws. What do you mean I can’t walk fast? You idiots just zip on by here in the jungle. Like what’s the hurry? Do you think getting it done fast means getting it done better? And what’s with the staring, like you’ve never seen a bipodal furry mammal in the jungle before. These claws can shred your face, cleanly, slowly I killed a vulture with these claws once. And what’s with these vultures? They even have a stupid recipe: Catch a sloth out of a tree Peck it to death Mix it with dead fish and insects And then a whole bunch of them flying creeps Swarm and eat Do I look edible? I just take my time hanging around on the trees I like those nice sweet flowery fruits I don’t like those eco-tourists, though Their light boxes are too bright, too sudden I just show them my fur and crawl to the next branch. Sometimes me and my girl just like hanging together so she says I smell bad, so I dropped into the river and my fur gets wet – and I notice these small fish with white teeth like my claws. About 20 of them start biting – and I swat them off- but those damn fish took some of my fur off. My girl starts laughing until I tell her to drop into the river too – maybe those damn fish will polish her claws. So much for getting wet, let me swing out of here.

-Thomas Clarke