“Bridges Made From Junk”

Bridges Made From Junk

a short story by Stephen Page

brookln bridge under constructionAs the glass and metal doors slide open, Jonathan Burns steps outside into the cool October air. Crisp brown leaves scrape across the sidewalk. He rolls up a sheaf of poems, sticks it in his jacket pocket, takes out a pack of cigarettes, lights on, inhales deeply then lifts his face to the sun and feels the nicotine rush wash over his body. First cigarette he has had in weeks. He takes another drag, exhales, and watches the smoke tunnel out of his mouth. When the doors close behind him, he walks down the drive and out the front gates, finds the nearest bar, and orders a beer.

Jonathan is walking down a cobblestone street. Choral music emanates from one of the many churches that line the street. Bells are calling people to prayer. Holy men, their faces dark in the shadows of hooded robes, stand within pointed window frames. Jonathan looks inside one of the churches and notices the ribbed, Gothic-style vault. The masonry is smooth and gray and smells freshly built. He goes in, steals the sacrificial wine, and runs outside into the blaring sun.

He is sitting cross-legged on a tapestry rug, smoking hashish from a water pipe, listening to Jimi Hendrix play If 6 was 9. Jimi wears a multicolored silk shirt and strangles notes from his white Stratocaster within the confines of a black-light poster that hangs upon a wall. The poster melts, swirls, and transforms into a gilt-framed painting. It is Rembrandt’s Self-portrait c. 1667. The paint is glistening. A bowling trophy sits on a table below the Rembrandt. A woman wearing a minute array of transparent veils glides into the room. Her skin is the color of lightly creamed coffee. She is sable-haired, has sweeping cheekbones, wears small jeweled rings, and has thin gold chains adorning her wrists, waist, and ankles. She is carrying a cardboard shoe box. Jonathan wants to reach out and touch her, to place his cheek against the mouth of her belly. She sits in a chair behind the table, pushes the bowling trophy aside, sets the shoe box upon the table, and slowly lifts the lid. From inside the box, she carefully extracts a note pad, a pencil, and a stack of cards. She methodically positions them equally apart in front of her. She sets the empty box near her nude feet. One at a time, she turns over each card, examines it front to back, then stacks it face down into a new pile. When she has gone through the entire deck, she lifts the pencil and writes something in the note pad. She looks up at him. Her eyes are crystal yellow.

Jonathan is in a red-draped room. An early jazz song sung in French begins to play. All around him are women in various stages of undress, and men wearing Nazi uniforms stand near the women. They are all talking, laughing, drinking champagne and smoking cigarettes. A white-gloves hand offers Jonathan an enormous bottle of Dom Pérignon ‘38 and he pours himself a glass. As he sips, the cool bubbles burst inside his nose, releasing small drops of chilled, fragrant air. He peers over the rim of his glass. The harem girl is still at the table in front of him, as are the Rembrandt above her, the bowling trophy near her, the cards, the note pad, the pencil, the rectangular box at her feet. She gazes into his eyes and begins to shuffle the cards.

The jukebox against the wall of the soda shop blasts American pop tunes. Girls in tight sweaters, poodle skirts, bobbysocks, and saddle shoes dance with boys that have their hair slicked back and packs of cigarettes rolled up in their T-shirt sleeves. One of the boys, an old friend of Jonathan who looks exactly the same as he had in high school, hands him an open pint of bourbon that smells like paint thinner. The harem girl is staring intently at him, and she begins to flip the cards face up and lay them out in neat vertical rows.

Jonathan and the harem girl are sitting together at the back of a dark, smoke-filled bar. Musicians on a low stage in the corner play bluesy jazz music with complicated be-bop riffs. Jonathan is squeezing the girl’s thigh. She is cradling the empty shoe box in one arm and pressing a breast into his ribs. They are sipping scotch. A man wearing a long black leather jacket walks up to their table and deposits a small packet of tinfoil. Jonathan pays the man, opens the packet, and puts the brown clump onto a spoon. It is the same color as the girl’s skin. He adds a few drops of water from a dripping ice cube, lights two matches, puts the flame under the spoon, allows the brown liquid to boil, and extracts it into a syringe. While the girl squeezes his biceps with one hand, he inserts the needle into a vein. She releases her hand. He jerks once and the girl drops the box, opens his shirt and frantically runs her fingers through his chest hair. His eyes flip closed. He floats with the girl to a small room in the back of the bar and drifts onto a bed. She removes his clothes, then, swaying to the music, slowly slips off her veils. She lies next to him and pulls him towards her so that his backbone is embedded in her warm spot and his shoulder blades upon her stomach. She turns his head, sets his cheek upon her breasts, wraps her legs around him, and places the soles of her feet upon his flaccid penis. She begins to hum. Her body smells of jasmine and salt. He falls asleep rocked in her arms.

Through the glass of a cracked-paint window frame is a view of the Brooklyn Bridge under construction. Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D plays on a gramophone on the floor. Jonathan sits comfortably in an old brown chair, the only item of furniture in the flat, and stares at a wet spot on the hardwood floor. he has not changed his clothes nor shaven for a week. Roaches crawl on the walls. He is at peace.

Punk rock music is blaring. Jonathan is screaming. The ground is shaking and the ceiling of a dank basement is falling in chunks upon him. In front of him, the Rembrandt is hanging upside-down, the bowling trophy is smashed, the cards are scattered on the floor, and the girl is gone. Someone is lying in the box.

Brightness knifes into Jonathan’s eyes. The walls are white. Blaringly white. He is lying inert, face-down with his cheek on the cool white fabric of the floor. He pukes and lies there with his nose and cheek in the putrid, lumpy vomit. His throat is burning, his mouth feels sticky, he can feel bile clogged in his nasal passages. His intestines feel wrapped around his stomach and are moving up toward a point at the back of his throat. He pukes again. Attempting to rise, he finds it impossible to move his arms. The room begins to spin. He screams and a blonde, blue-eyed, beautifully pale woman wearing a white gown is standing over him.

this story first published on amphibi.us:

amphibi.us header

Stephen Page as Executive Editor at Quarto


Issue cover with Stephen Page as Executive Editor.

Quart issue 33. 

Columbia University Shield


 

“Flora”, by Stephen Page

Fox Chase Review header

“Flora,” a poem by Stephen Page, as published on  Fox Chase Review

Read the poem here: http://www.thefoxchasereview.org/w15spage.html

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The Courts-martial of Lance Corporal Jones

imageAs Published on The Whistling Fire Continue reading “The Courts-martial of Lance Corporal Jones”

Stephen Page reading at the Ernesto Sabato Foundation

Stephen Page reading at the Ernesto Sabato Foundation

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The Psychologist and the Foreign Language Teacher By Wilga M. Rivers

ThePsychologistAndTheForeignLanguageTeacherCvrHardcover: 220 pages
Publisher: Univ of Chicago Pr (Tx); 1St Edition edition (June 1964)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0226720950
ISBN-13: 978-0226720951
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Review by S. M. Page
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Halfway through the second chapter of The Psychologist and the Foreign Language Teacher, I began having flashbacks.  Putting on a coat and tie.  Walking to class on a clear bright day, carrying a briefcase.  Walking to class on a rainy day, whistling, holding an umbrella.  Entering the classroom and being called “Prof” and “Teach.”  The scent of chalk-dust, the sound of books opening and pens scribbling.  The satisfaction I feel when I am helping somebody learn something and I see the look on their face when they realize they have learned something.  The cortical sensation I get from stimulating conversation with my advanced students.  Having students come up to me after a class and saying, “thanks.”  I haven’t taught in two-and-a-half years, but I realize how much I miss it.  The book is intelligently written and the “audio-lingual” method is clearly outlined and explained.  She is correct in believing that the translation method does not work well.  It makes the student lazy and creates too many steps in the neural pathways.  The only comment I would make to the author is that the drilling method is only appropriate for the beginner student.  I taught many methods, Berlitz style drilling, grammar methods, and natural-speaking methods.  The latter seems to work the best, but only on the post-beginner levels.  After the first few months the drilling becomes unnatural and a bore.  She does bring up a lot of clever points, most notably:
Language is speech . . .Language is a set of habits . . . Teach the language, not about the language . . . listening, speaking, reading, and writing.  These four skills must be learned “in that order” (that is the way children learn). . . mastery of the skills must be accompanied by familiarity with the culture the language represents, as well as a larger view of life resulting from the realization that there are many cultures and value systems, some far different from our own . . . Learning to make responses in situations which simulate “real-life” communication situations . . . When language is in action, there is always a speaker.  He is always somewhere, speaking to someone, about something . . . and word-lists pairing foreign-language words with “equivalents” in the native language should not be used for teaching purposes.
The book is a technical but good read, and I would recommend it to anyone teaching a foreign language.
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S. M. teaching Engilsh2No one knows where S. M. Page came from or where he is going, but it rumored he likes Motown music, and that he is part Shawnee and part Apache.  It is also reported that he was recently been seen riding his Harley through a mountain pass, wandering a patch of woods with a notebook in his hand, sitting on a beach watching a sunrise, entering a movie theater with his wife, walking his son to school, cheering in the stands of a football match, teaching English to employees in a South American corporate bank, and standing on a stage playing bass in a rock-n-roll band.
originally posted on Fox Chase Review

 

Fox Chase Review

ThePsychologistAndTheForeignLanguageTeacherCvrHardcover: 220 pages
Publisher: Univ of Chicago Pr (Tx); 1St Edition edition (June 1964)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0226720950
ISBN-13: 978-0226720951
.
 .
Review by S. M. Page
 .
Halfway through the second chapter of The Psychologist and the Foreign Language Teacher, I began having flashbacks.  Putting on a coat and tie.  Walking to class on a clear bright day, carrying a briefcase.  Walking to class on a rainy day, whistling, holding an umbrella.  Entering the classroom and being called “Prof” and “Teach.”  The scent of chalk-dust, the sound of books opening and pens scribbling.  The satisfaction I feel when I am helping somebody learn something and I see the look on their face when they realize they have learned something.  The cortical sensation I get from stimulating conversation with my advanced students.  Having students come up to me after a class and saying, “thanks.”  I haven’t taught in two-and-a-half…

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Story, “Jake Sclavus,” by Stephen Page

Jake Sclavus 

by Stephen Page

Security Guard Badge and Flashlight Stephen PageMy beeper is going off, so I look down to see the number on the display screen. It’s the grocery store. I run toward the store, hoping it isn’t anything serious.   This job is generally boring, in fact, deathly boring, but when something exciting happens, it is usually the kind of excitement that sane people try to avoid. Crossing the large parking lot, I dodge moving cars, scattered shopping carts, and slow-moving people. I check to see that my handcuffs are in place on my security belt as I enter the store. My three-cell, heavy-duty flashlight is in my right hand. The manager of the store tells me there is an “undesirable” walking around, one that has been picked up before on shoplifting charges. The manager points him out to me and I begin to follow him around. He hasn’t yet noticed me when he cuts into one of the aisles with some food items in his hand. When I turn the corner of the aisle, there he is, gulping down a quart of milk. There is half-eaten lunch meat and cheese in his hand. He has long, matted hair and he is wearing an Army trench coat, old jeans, T-shirt, and worn-out tennis shoes–all of which look like they have been worn for several weeks without a washing.   He gapes at me. A few of his front teeth are missing. I ask him if he is going to pay for the items, and he says, “Yes.” I say, “Let’s go then,” and he says, “Fuck you.” He begins to walk out the door. I tell him if he walks out the door, I will have to apprehend him. He says, “You wouldn’t dare.” I tell the manager to call the police as I follow him out the store. When we are outside, he turns and bumps me with his chest. I am surprised because his body is hard and wiry, his muscles hard as steel. A fork has appeared in his right hand, and he is holding it in a menacing manner. I notice that the sun has gone down and the parking lot has emptied. There is a slight chill in the air. The manger comes outside and tells me that the police will not arrive for at least half-an-hour. Then he disappears, ducking quickly back into the store. I look down at the very sharp fork waving around in the air. Just then, a police car pulls into the parking lot. I think they are there to assist me, but it turns out they are headed for the Mexican restaurant located at the other end of the parking lot. I yell, “Hey!” They turn their car around and head toward me and the hungry man with the fork in his hand. They end up arresting him.

*

I am walking around the parking lot. I am bored. My mind is numb from lack of use. It feels like someone has had it freeze-dried, or at the very least, cut off its blood supply. The only part of my brain that is alive is the motor-function area, and a minute section of the language area that keeps reverberating, “I’m bored, I’m bored, I’m bored.” It takes absolutely no intelligence to do this kind of work. I am trying to figure how a person like me ends up with a job like this.

*

It is near closing time. Three more minutes and I can lock the doors and go home. I am lazily staring through the glass doors and out over the parking lot. Suddenly, a man appears in front of me, on the other side of the glass, his eyes are bloodshot and glassy. I have to let him in because it isn’t yet closing time. I open the doors and he just stands there. It isn’t very cold out, but he is shivering. “I just seen my friend get killed,” he says. “Over drugs.” I feel terrible. Then I remember I’m on duty. “Was it here, in this parking lot?” “No,” he says. “A few blocks away.” His eyes stare unfocused on an imaginary spot over my shoulder. His pupils are dilated. “He was shot, man. Three times. In the gut. He just lay there and bled all over the ground.” I look down and notice he has one of his hands in his jacket pocket. There is a bulge in that pocket, and he is lifting the bulge up, pushing it forward, pointing it toward me. “Sorry,” I say. “But it’s near closing time. I have to lock up.” I quickly begin to close the doors. He doesn’t move. He’s still staring at the imaginary place behind me, still pointing the bulge at me. He looks like he is ready to cry. I finally get the doors closed in front of him, lock them, and move off like I have something to do.

*

I am walking around the parking lot. My legs are tired and my feet are killing me. My new shoes are pinching across the tops of my toes and rubbing sore spots on the backs of my heels. When the eight-hour shift finally ends, I hobble to my car and drive home. When I arrive, I take off my shoes and socks and notice the skin is missing on numerous spots around my feet. I soak my feet in Epsom salts and wince at the pain. The next day, when I wear tennis shoes, the Sergeant of the Guard chastises me for not having black shoes on.

*

A commotion breaks out at the far end of the parking lot. Because of all the cars, I can’t see what it is, but I can hear a lot of shouting. I follow the noise until I arrive at the scene. I find a man and a woman arguing. A few people have gathered to watch. Nobody is interfering or saying anything, even though the man is moving toward the woman, gesticulating in a manner that is causing her to walk backward. The man is about six-foot-four, and weighs about two hundred and forty pounds; maybe that is why nobody is doing anything. I check to make sure my battery-powered zapper is on my belt. My ever-present flashlight is swinging in my right hand. “Please take your argument elsewhere,” I tell them. They ignore me. I say it louder. They still ignore me. “I want my baby,” the man says. “If you’re going to leave me, I want my baby.” “No,” she says. “I’m taking her to my mother’s.” By this time the man has the woman backed up to the trunk of a car. She looks like she wants to crawl backward over the top of the car. She is not afraid to argue back though, and keeps the emphatic rhetoric going, all the time eyeing his hands. I walk up next to them and yell, “Take your problems off this parking lot!” “Stay out of this,” the man says as he turns his face toward me. That is all the time the woman needs. In the split-second it takes the man to turn his attention, the woman ducks under one of his arms and begins running toward an idling car. Behind the steering wheel is another woman, holding a baby. The man turns and takes a step in their direction. I quickly maneuver around him and stop a few steps in front of him. He looks intent on tearing me limb-from-limb. His eyes are flashing fire. He steps up to me and towers over me. I stand my ground. He looks surprised. “You’re only doing this because I’m black,” he says. “No,” I say. “It’s my job. I have to do this.” The car behind me squeals off, carrying with it the two women and the baby. The man looks over my head and begins to relax. “She’s a terrible mother,” he says. He turns and saunters off toward a large four-by-four vehicle, gets in, and slowly drives off. I relax the tight grip I had on my flashlight.

*

Tonight I am working at the local hospital. It is near the end of my shift, but my replacement hasn’t arrived yet. I wait, fifteen minutes, half-an-hour, an hour-and-a-half. It is near midnight. I call the officer of the day and tell him what happened. He asks me to work a double shift. They never pay overtime, but I agree. I drink another cup of coffee, buy a newspaper and check the want-ads.

*

I am working out in the Palomar area, guarding an office building on the midnight shift. I took this post because I can sit in my car most of the time and study. I only have to walk around every hour, check the area, and make sure all the office doors are locked. It is cold here at night. Whoever said it doesn’t get cold in sunny Southern California never lived away from the coast, and never worked outside at nighttime in the winter. I have a Volkswagen, so the heater doesn’t work unless I am driving 40 miles an hour. Since it’s hard to drive around the parking lot at night at 40 miles and hour and study at the same time, I sit in my car and study by flashlight. The bad light bothers my eyes. Even when I wear long johns, my legs go numb after ten or fifteen minutes.

*

I am sleeping soundly when the phone rings. It is the officer of the day, asking me to come into work. I look at the clock and notice it has only been six hours since I left my last post. A headache creeps into my frontal lobes. My neck tenses up. I tell him, “Yes,” hang up, and stumble toward the shower. As the water washes over me, I remember what I studied last year in American history: at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, business owners exploited their workers to every extent possible. As I make myself coffee, I wonder what happened to the strong labor unions of the 1970’s. As I drive to work, I look down at the gas needle. It hovers near the empty mark. I think about the one hundred-fifty dollar paycheck I received for last week’s pay.

*

Sometime around three in the morning, on one of my rounds at the Palomar office building, around the back, next to one of the dumpsters, where the smell of rotting lunch scraps and ink-smeared photocopy paper mingles with the night air, I find a man sleeping on the ground. He is wrapped up in a dirty Army-surplus sleeping bag. He is snoring. With my foot, I tap the end of the sleeping bag where his feet are. It takes me three or four nudges to wake him. “You’re going to have to leave,” I say. “No one is allowed on these premises at night.” “Man, do you know who God is?” he asks. “I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to leave.” “Do you go to church, man?” “Look, you have to leave the area.” “I didn’t think you went to church. Otherwise you wouldn’t be kicking me out of here.” I wait as he slowly stands and rolls up his sleeping bag, grumbling all the time about God and church. I watch as he picks up pieces of food from the ground, wraps them in a greasy piece of typing paper, and deposits the package in his pocket. I follow him until he walks off the parking lot. “Go to church, man,” he says as he walks away.

*

I got this job, finally. After six months of checking the want-ads, making phone calls, driving around, pounding the pavement, filling out apps, and getting drunk every evening, I got this job.

 

Story, “Jake Sclavus,” by S.M. Page as published in @columbiaquarto. Flip to page 71. http://issuu.com/quarto/docs/1995

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