15-views-v2-cover“As literary writers…we’re not supposed to just get the job done, we’re supposed to advance the conversation, and part of our challenge is to dig deeper and create something new, or at least approach an existing thing (such as setting) from a unique angle. Yes, our writing relies on social norms and cultural touchstones, but where genre writers tend to follow the old wrinkled tourist map, literary writers explore new territory.”

— Ryan Rivas

Real Mammal

By Caroll Sun Yang

Essay

He snorts Ritalin all night and chases down the white dust with Old Fashioned Sidecars. He asks me to take pictures of him wearing my sheer black panties with striped ruffles and pink-lemonade colored ribbons laced through. He asks me to do this with my cellular phone so that I might later “text” him the “good ones”. He says has plans to save them for some later date, maybe for use as “jack-off material”. I am reluctant at first. A smidgen hurt at the thought of being replaced as his masturbatory focus. I try not to let my face show disinterest in this project, a disinterest verging on disdain. What will be achieved by this activity? He is not gay. He is not usually prone to high narcissism. He is infrequently frivolous. In fact, he harbors contempt for operatic displays. But here he is cut a little loose on pills and Cognac, retrieving my makeup bag and hand mirror.

For my 10th birthday my family took me to a steakhouse. This was the last time in my childhood I really enjoyed eating meat. I ordered steak tips medium rare. Before they brought the food they brought out tin buckets full of peanuts. My brother and I finished an entire pail, cracking the shells open with our fists, crunching the remnants on the floor. When our meals came, I could still feel the empty shells crushed under my feet.

Waiting to wait at the DMV

One of the first things you might notice about people at the DMV—besides the most obvious, superficial aspects of race, class, and station—are the bottoms. It’s not that you’re into people’s rear ends – though maybe you are – but that there’s a kind of taboo to looking. At first, you tell yourself, it’s just a glance, but then you glance at another. You know, just for idle comparison, right? Pretty soon the bottom becomes the DMV’s version of a window into the soul, a starting place to see a person’s humanity, in their natural clothes, in their natural stance, in their natural attitude. I was at the San Francisco DMV when this happened to me.

There was this woman way ahead of me at the counter who was shaped exactly like the Penguin from Batman Returns–if the Penguin were inclined to wear a purple jumpsuit. Her bottom encompassed nearly the entire backside of her body, one shallow curve beginning around the high hamstring area before tapering off just below the neck. She moved her arms wildly like a conductor when she spoke, but as she turned her head I saw that she was all smiles. She struck me as a lady in control of her day, a rare sight at the DMV, and I liked her immediately.

Another woman, whom I overheard complaining about a registration fee, was roughly the inverse shape-wise: short and generally petite, but an imposing creature with undulating curves. Her bottom, having roughly the same volume as the first woman’s though on a much smaller frame, was the kind of bottom that men tend to whistle at, or sculpt, and indeed I found myself drawn to it.

It must have been her hips. The term “birthing hips” comes to mind, but that doesn’t really do it justice. Her stature was like a tangerine with a pencil running through it from top to bottom. It was that dramatic.

Adding to the effect was the opulent design of her jeans, the back pockets of which were adorned with strips of fabric and fasteners, all cinched horizontally from one cheek to the other, giving her bottom an efficient, packaged look that seemed more inclined to be addressed and mailed than admired from afar.

As I watched her I could see that most of her time at the counter was spent looking off into the distance with a stern, pinched expression. She didn’t want to be there. She had somewhere else to be.

Unlike the first woman, she hardly moved at all, just stood there anxiously, and I began to imagine her surrounded by trees, a doe in the wild, standing perfectly still, trying to avoid the sights of nearby hunters. I felt like the hunter, and sheepishly looked away, only half-catching sight of her passing by silently, no doubt heading to some nearby brook or stream. She must get looked at all the time, not just at the DMV, and I wondered if her face would relax that pinched expression once there was nobody around to look at her.

I was feeling a bit awkward then, trying not to look at anyone or at least not anyone in particular. Then there was a young Japanese girl. She passed me a few times as I stood in line and caught my attention. She was wearing a loose, oversized dress over mostly hidden jeans, a shapeless outfit about as revealing as a duvet. Later, when I finally sat down, waiting for my number to be called, I noticed her sitting across from me: Large, old-fashioned glasses, the kind your grandmother keeps at her bedside table, and wisps of long, brown hair hanging down, covering most of her face. She was a bookish girl, quiet looking, but intense in her gaze like an owl. She was watching people too, and I watched her steal glances at a dwarfish man who was standing across the way.

He looked like Santa Claus in the off-season, with the big beard and the red suspenders holding up a pair of hardy, brown pants, giving me the uncertain impression that he either had no bottom at all or was, in fact, all bottom. (The type of pants, I began to imagine, that would be appropriate for working in a toy factory.) His face was tired and steady like an old clock, until it lit up with pleasure, his eyebrows high and kindly, as he finally reached the front of his line. I kid you not, but his cheeks actually became rosy when he approached the woman behind the counter. The Japanese girl covered her mouth briefly. Maybe a cough, though she might have been smiling.

Eventually, my number was called. Even if you’ve been watching people the whole time, you forget to be self-conscious when it’s your turn. What am I wearing? How am I standing? What’s my attitude look like? You never wonder if people are watching you. You’re distracted by the call to stage.

I stepped to the window and leaned hard against the counter, feeling as though the further I leaned, the faster the matter would be handled. At the DMV, everyone leans like this, shamelessly, believing it helps. The myth persists because once you’re at the counter you are processed with surprising efficiency. It must be working. You lean-in harder.

I thanked the woman at the counter, leaned back, and turned to make my exit, along the way passing the young Japanese girl, her eyes now settled in front of her, apparently focused on nobody in particular. Then, as I reached the exit, I paused for a moment to turn around and take a photo, thinking it might be nice to have one on-hand in case I wanted to write about it later. As I did this, I noticed the Japanese girl, her neck now oriented to the right, eyes comfortably settled where my bottom had been moments before.


I’ve discovered, by traveling at the holidays, that people in general are not a particularly nice bunch of bipeds. Especially at Christmas. They’re greedy, self-centered, bitter, and not above running you over for a better parking space. By the time I leave Maryland for the Great White North of New Hampshire and my family’s Christmas traditions, I’m so sick of humanity that I want to bitch slap it into the New Year.

I wanted to be an actress. I wanted to be a lawyer. I wanted to be a rock star. For the two years I took gymnastics I thought I would go to the Olympics. I thought maybe I would be a lesbian. I fully intended to be a poor writer, living in an apartment somewhere in New York with two or three dogs and no electricity. I considered doing the same in the country except that the basic necessities would take up all my time. I feared I would live out the dream scene in Look Who’s Talking, in which Kirstie Alley’s character pictures her life if she married John Travolta’s character. I got really close on that one. I thought I might be single for a while. I thought of becoming a happy old maid. I thought I’d be dead by now. Not for any particular reason, of course. Just because, which is why I think most things.

I also wanted to be a saint. Not just any saint, though. Not the kind that get her sainthood by doing a lot of nice things for other people. Not the kind who donates money, volunteers, feeds the poor, touches dirty people and so forth. I wanted to be a martyr. I wanted to be one of those virgins who got thrown to the lions rather than betray her vow of purity, one of those who were so beautiful that to protect their virginity, they mutilated their beautiful faces. I considered becoming a nun because the idea of alternately praying and working in a vegetable garden within the stone walls of a convent sounded sublime. I hated tomatoes, but I could imagine the freshness and beautiful red ripeness of tomatoes grown by the virtuous women of my would-be convent. I thought a vow of silence would be fab. Then I learned about sex. In the eighth grade, I thought really hard and decided I couldn’t become a nun because I liked boys too much. Not boys, really, but guys. The ones who notice you. The ones who toss meaningful glances across the church when you are sitting in your pew pretending to pray.

I thought my mom would die when I was 16 because when she was 16, her mom died. I thought I was really lucky to still have a mom at 17, and then I thought I was pretty dumb because if she was going to follow in her mother’s footsteps, she would’ve died when my older sister turned 16, since my mom was the oldest of her family. But the whole pattern started to lose credibility because my mom was the oldest of three while there were four kids in our family, and the oldest was a boy. That was a turning point.

I wanted to be terribly skinny, but that was never going to happen. I wanted to be one of those girls that other girls call “skinny bitch,” because even if other girls hate you, at least you’re skinny, which is the most valuable trait a woman can have. But starving myself was out of the question, and I couldn’t bring myself to puke, not even with a spoon down the throat. Then I thought maybe I’d just lose a few pounds. I wanted to be crazy and wear dark eye liner and be excused for things because people thought I was “sensitive.” Then I got therapy, and I wanted to be listened to. And I wanted a big dictionary, and I got it, but I never open it because it’s too damned big, and who needs a dictionary that big when you’ve got internet, anyway? Then I got group therapy and realized I was comparatively incredibly well-adjusted, and that as fucked up as I was, so was everyone else. Then I just wanted to be left alone and not to have to listen to these people anymore, and then I told this girl in therapy to say hi to my old best friend who went to her high school, and only years later did I realize how awkward that must have been. “Hey, I’m in group therapy with your best friend from junior high, and she says to tell you hi.”

I considered becoming a Realtor. I worked in customer service, selling shoes, then selling jeans, then selling coffee. Turns out it doesn’t matter what I’m selling. I cannot be nice to people purely in the hopes of receiving money from them. I waited tables at a seedy strip club while wearing a black leotard, shiny tights, black heels and red lipstick for a week until a man offered me money to go home with him and a stripper tried to give me lessons on how to upsell: Don’t just make do with cash — offer to start him a tab. Ask him if he’d like to meet one of the girls. Don’t call them dancers, call them ladies. Then she did her dominatrix routine on stage in something resembling an Aeon Flux outfit. I really just wanted to hang out in the dressing room and watch them. One of them threw her cell phone across the room upon learning her boyfriend had spent all their rent money. On what, I wasn’t sure. Then a woman called Luna, who was the mother of a five-year-old boy, made the sign of the cross and said a blessing over her plate of spaghetti in front of the large makeup mirror all the girls shared. Her glittered breasts dangled precariously close to the marinara. I took cigarette breaks every fifteen minutes or so, and a stripper told me I should quit because smoking would ruin my good looks. I didn’t know I had any such thing, and I told her I didn’t care. I kept smoking for a couple years, but I took a job at the Gap a couple weeks later. I folded some shirts for a week and didn’t sell a single pair of jeans.

I wanted to be a journalist, or at least a copy editor, but I’m a bad speller and terrified of interviewing. I can’t write fast enough. I want to learn shorthand. I want to write a book. I want so much. I have wanted so much, but I have so much else.


Visceral

By Mary Hendrie

Essay

Visceral: Of or pertaining to the viscera.

Viscera: The organs in the cavities of the body, especially the abdominal cavity.

Viscus: Singular of viscera

Viscous: Of a glutinous nature or consistency; sticky; thick; adhesive

Vicious: Addicted to or characterized by vice; grossly immoral; depraved; profligate

I could go on looking up definitions of words all day. My vocabulary is so lacking. Visceral, though. That’s a good one.

This word keeps cropping up lately, mostly when people describe their reactions to dramatic events. A visceral reaction: instinctive, possibly even impulsive, wild, presumably a strong response. An animal moment. A moment in which we are not just in touch with our guts but ruled by them. One with them. We are intestines.

[Go ahead. Allow yourself to get strange. Maintaining normalcy is exhausting.]

Visceral is a car wreck, the way time slows down, the way we have no clue, no matter what we tell the police and the insurance adjustor and the other driver, no clue what we did in that split second that allowed us to live. We just remember spinning.

My theory, and I always have one, is that we use these words to reflect more of what we wish we were than what we actually are. We are so goddamned civilized, or at least on the surface, with all our methods and tools. With all our evolution, we are standing up straight, even at an unnatural incline in our shoes, and we are buttoned down and made up and watching the news and trying not to cry because it will damage the five-minute-makeup job we have perfected. I cannot cry over Iran because I will have to explain myself, and I didn’t bring the makeup to patch up, and there is nothing crazier than crying at your laptop because someone across the world got beat up by a cop.

Civilized people know these things happen and do not cry about it.