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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Flash Fiction for Suspect Press

The flash fiction prompt, 'the last time I arrived at a party unannounced' was given to Dan Landes by his good friend Kris Scuccimara

Man Maker 



She wasn’t in love with him when she got pregnant.  Time and his stories changed that.  She didn’t even know him when she got pregnant.  Time and his stories changed that.  They met one night at a dive bar.  He was a regular.  She was there with a friend that encouraged her to ‘just fuck someone’ in hopes it would help her get over the visceral heartbreak of losing her true love who dumped her in a most ungracious fashion. Before they fucked he said to her, ‘I take full responsibility for my actions’ and then he came in her.  Those words came back to her as she stared at the plus sign on the pregnancy test two weeks later.  ‘Do I?’ she wondered.
He texted her a handful of times after their encounter.  She ignored them.  ‘Too needy’ her friend had said.  ‘Just ‘cause you fucked him doesn’t mean you want to see him again’ she said.  She didn’t want to see him again.  ‘He was just a fuck’ she told herself.   ‘He’s a loser’ she thought, ‘he told me so himself.’ 
He met her at the clinic for every doctor’s appointment.  As they waited he held her attention by telling her stories of his life.  They were sad, real stories full of introspection and humor, embarrassing stories about a botched life.  ‘I once ate a urinal cake.’  He told her at week 33. 
When the baby was 9 months old they got married. 
They walked with each other each evening, the baby snug to his chest in a strappy carrier.  She held his hand and looked at her feet as he and the baby looked about at the houses, parked cars and sovereign cats peering from porches and wheel wells.  His hand in hers he pumped the rhythm to the words ‘do you love me?’ to which she pumped back, ‘yes I do.’  To which he pumped ‘how much?’ In silent response she squeezed his hand until her knuckles splotched pink and white.  ‘That’s a lot!’ he would say, or ‘is that all?’

On one of their evening walks he pointed to an apartment building ‘did I ever tell you the story of the last time I arrived at a party unannounced?’  She wiped some spit up off the babies mouth, ‘no my love.  You never have.’ 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Revolt to What?





The rattle clack hum swaying of the cold steel train shakes my belly and head as I sweat out a bohemian style hangover. Czech beers are insidious, a tool brewed to pacify the populous. One is never enough, ten is almost enough, by fifteen in you are shoulder to shoulder with a knot of new friends pissing an anti fascist slogan on the wall of an alley. Fifteen in and you’re too drunk to realize the world is passing you by along with sunrise pedestrians on their way to work. Grey bodies off to work, heads down collars up, stepping carelessly on the cracks in the sidewalk, off to work, never noticing your pissing stance in the alley as they suffer through hangovers of their own.

“Czech people are caught in a vicious cycle, “ Peter said last night as we drank mugs of pilsner at a long community table in a dark pub near the cathedral. “The only way to cure the hangover is to drink again. All Czech people do is work and drink, work and drink, work and drink.” He pauses to drink. “And then we die”. He finishes lifting his mug from the table and toasts us “pro zivot zijeme, není zivot jsme chteli”.

We all drink. I take a drag off my cigarette. The ribbon of smoke twists around the ankles of a dummy hanging from the rafters by a noose.

“What does this mean?” asks Féder, a professor from Buenas Aires, now in Prague to guest lecturer on León Ferrari. Not for Ferrari’s work as a conceptual artist but for the articles he wrote for the left-leaning Agrentinian newspaper página . In the two years since the fall of communism the intellectuals at Charles University stopped looking over their shoulder for brown shirts and became obsessed with artists in exile

“To the lives we live, not the lives we wanted.” Peter translates.

Féder nods and drinks. As do I.

“Look at this fucking sheep,” Peter points to a swollen faced guy in a blue blazer standing at the bar, his back turned to us, ordering mugs of pilsner for his crew. The white salt stains on the underarms of his blazer indicate the high water marks of his daily detoxing. The white rings of dry sweat from each armpit bisect across his middle spine like overlapping salt-water ripples. “Three years ago that fuck was a loyal communist now he thinks he’s a goddam American college boy. A sigma-fucking phi getting ankle tattoos and talking about the NBA.”

“Show your tattoo!” Peter shouts at him in English. Turning around he mouths jíst hovno back to Peter.

Peter looks us over running his fingers through his long hair. His eyes are red and tired. He looks like shit for a twenty five year old. “It’s a fucking Mickey Mouse.” He shakes his head. “Right here, fifty years ago, tattoos were a death mark. Now this fuck gets Mickey Mouse tattooed on his skin. Mickey Mouse, the rodent mascot to the grand simulacra. The big-eared symbol of inauthenticity, all the architecture none of the grit. To the new Prague!” Peter lifts his mug and swills. He wipes up a puddle of spilled beer off the table with a napkin, wads it up and throws it at the communist turned frat boy, “Fuck You!”

The wet wad lands like organ meat falling from a butcher’s table with a splat in the middle of the their table. None of the men turn around. They just huddled closer together in a calculating not cowardly way.

I look up from my beer at the dummy hanging from the rafters directly over my head. On the bottom of its bare feet are blisters from cigarette lighters.

“I haven’t spoken in three weeks,” I say. My voice sounds lame.

Peter looks at me. “Say that again.”

I clear my throat, “I haven’t spoken in three weeks,” I repeat a little stronger.

“Illinois?” he asks me.

I look at him blankly.

“Say it one more time,” Peter’s eyes are studying my mouth.

“I haven’t spoken in three weeks,” I say for third time.

“Ohio?”

I shake my head.

“Mid-West though? Right?”

“Colorado,” now saying the seventh word I’ve said in three weeks.

“C’mon, give it to me. Colorado is pretty much the Mid-West. Not bad for a guy who has never left Prague.”

The train pitches laterally rocking me from my revere of last night’s events. I’m hungry, thirsty and so hung over I can hardly open my eyes. My right hand is sore and my temples throb. The door slides open filling the train with bitter cold air. Sitting across from me a mother, broad shouldered and mannish, restrains a young pre-school aged boy whom is destined to suffer with his flat head and wide-set abuse me eyes. Her hand clamps the sleeve of his mustard yellow nylon jacket. The boy, goat born, bleats and hisses his frustration of being held captive by this ugly woman. The cords of his caprine neck protrude as he pulls desperately to slip through the closing gap of the steel door. To escape. The mother jerks him back as the train lurches forward. The child loses his balance and slams the back of his head hard into the cold corner of the windowsill. His eyes meet mine as he winds up for a howl of pain. The train lurches again slamming his thick head even harder into the window. The child looses consciousness. The mother puts his head on her lap and strokes his coarse black hair. I am grateful for the silence in which to suffer through this hangover.

Of the many women in the pub last night there was only one worth noticing. Selena. Selena, smoking a thin cigarette, slides down closer to our group.

“Why you not speak for three weeks,” asks Féder.

“I have nothing to contribute to the peanut butter vegemite debate.” I say.

“I’ll bite,” Selena says looking at me from behind jet-black windowpane bangs pausing to allow the full effect of the double entendre. “what is the peanut butter vegemite debate?”

Peter and Féder both lean in as if the answer to this question holds some importance. “It’s the hot topic of Australian backpackers. If they find out your are from America they feel the need to argue why vegemite is better than peanut butter.”

“They have to have pride in something,” Selena remarks. Her accent is one in which you would expect her to end every sentence with darling. “Do you like peanut butter very much?” she asks.

“What’s peanut butter?” This my patent response to the dopey Australians who widen their eyes and drop their jaws as they try to wrap their heads around the idea that an American exists having never heard of peanut butter.

Selena blows smoke out of her pursed red lips. “Of course the boy who doesn’t speak for three weeks has never heard of peanut butter.”

“Why speak now?” asks Peter.

Selena.

“Tell me about the velvet revolution,” I ask him.

Peter reaches for the bag of Drum tobacco sitting in the middle of the table and begins rolling a cigarette. “In 1967 my grandfather was tied naked to a steel bed frame, just the frame.” He pauses to moisten the glue on the rolling paper. “You know Samizdat?” Peter asks. I shake my head no. “Samizdat were pamphlets written by agitators. Samizdat was a clandestine way of passing information about activity in the Soviet bloc. Very fucking dangerous to do. My grandfather was tougher than your cowboys. He wrote, edited, published and distributed anti-communist pamphlets until he got tied to a fucking bed frame by the secret police. They hooked up a car battery to the frame and shocked him until the battery ran out. Again and again and again.”

The wet napkin wad remained untouched in the middle of the frat boy’s table.

“One is born an agitator.” Peter continued. “My grandfather, my father, me, we are all born agitators. Even if we were born in a sprawling estate on your Cape Cod with silver spoons stuffed in our mouths we would organize to shut down the boarding school we were shipped off to. It’s our nature. My grandfather was tied to a steel bed frame and shocked in cycles for 10 days for being caught writing Samizdat, my father disappeared during the Prague Spring, and me?” Peter pulls back his hair reveling a creator in his forehead where a truncheon caved it in “I got this November 17, 1989, the first day of the student protests…”

“The revolution that eventually ousted the Soviets.” Selena finished.

Peter’s dark eyes focus on the full mug of beer in front of him. He stares at the retreating head as the foam bubbles pop. The frat boys, vying for attention from some ladies one table over, laugh and slam hands on the tabletop. More people arrive in the pub shaking off the cold looking for seats in the crowded bar. The frat boy with the Mickey Mouse tattoo turns around. He wears a Rage Against the Machine t-shirt beneath his blazer. “Are you fucking kidding me?” Peter asks shaking his head. “We traded Soviet control for the long hard cock of capitalism and I helped force open the legs.”

“You could not know what lie in wait beyond the Iron Curtain,” says Féder.

“I should have assumed it was shit,” Peter says bitterly before continuing his story. “Artists toppled the oligarchy. Artists and students. After the government attack on protestors on the 17th, as I lay unconscious on my mothers couch, the actor’s went on strike along side the students. Theaters were transformed into gathering places for the disenfranchised. From the stage agitators would speak of revolution to a packed house. Our cry for change was familiar to all attending, except this time we were not whispering our discontent in bars over beers for fear of persecution we screamed them from the stage. Within ten days of the student attacks the entire country went on a two hour strike. Two days after that the constitution was amended to abolish the control of the communist party. The revolution happened while I lay on my mother’s couch with a bandage around my head.”

“This could never happen in your country.” Peter says to me.



I was not in the mood for another peanut butter vegemite debate. Europeans assume all Americans are the spoiled cousin come to visit the salt mines from the country club bringing our cheap first world problems in luxury suitcases bitching about tennis elbow and skin cancer. “No shit,” I say eyes locked on to Peter’s, “agitators are just idealists leading the way to a dead end. Congrats on your successful revolution.” I raise my glass. Selena moves closer to me. Peter gets up to take a piss. The frat boys follow him. Féder taps my shoulder and we rise together readying for a fight. Selena looks up at the dummy. It’s wearing a Harley-Davidson t-shirt.

“Until soon,” I say bending over to kiss Selena’s cheek.

“Until soon,” she returns.

The rattle clack hum swaying of the cold steel train shakes my belly and head as I sweat out a bohemian style hangover. Czech beers are insidious…




Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Mezcal vs. Tequila




At some point on the road to becoming an expert the fun gets out, sticks out its thumb and hitches a ride back into the world of innocence and adventure.
I never want to be an expert on Mezcal or talk too much about it. I just want to drink it (preferably in the country of it’s production). I know enough about Mezcal to tell you that Mezcal she is the older wiser sister to her brother Tequila. The cool older sister, the one who in the ninth grade read Carlos Castanada, ate hallucinogens, and began studying transcendental meditation and shamanism. Her books were her distraction while her younger brother Tequila was all about tits, ass and torque.

On a date with Tequila, you zoom through the night; talk shit, drive fast and fuck faster. Mezcal, a romantic, leads her love along a secret, moon lit, silver ribbon tributary, fucks her nice and slow as luminous moon water laps the damp river rocks wrapped in soft moss.

Tequila wakes up the morning after , eats a greasy breakfast, sheds a nasty dump, and itches to do it all over again. Mezcal wakes up, fucks again, falls asleep, wakes up, grabs the book off her nightstand and spends the rest of the morning reading and drinking coffee. It’s like my friend Todd ( a Mezcal importer) said “Mezcal is to mushrooms as Tequila is to cocaine.” I fucking hate cocaine, I like Tequila but I love Mezcal.

Over the past 80,000 years two great plant consciousness’s, corn and maguey, battled for dominance in Mesoamerica. Corn is currently winning the battle, but much like dogs, corn depends on humans for its survival. Maguey, no man it’s master, is rouge and can survive and thrive without the hands of man. Before corn manipulated the Pueblos, Incas, Maya and Aztecs into becoming agriculturalists and disciples, the maguey plant was the most versatile and widely exploited plant in pre-Hispanic Mexico. From its flesh came materials to build homes, get drunk (slowly), sew up clothes, and eat. Like the return of the bison, in time, maguey, with its versatile independence, will once more dominate the landscape of the southwestern Americas. Until then we do corn’s bidding.

Both Mezcal and Tequila are made from the maguey plant,. Maguey, also known as agave is a member of the lily family. Maguey only blossoms when its own death is imminent. The flower, a mortal flag signaling its capitulation to this sun life, opens to be pollinated by bees, bats and hummingbirds. The plant then dies and is absorbed once again by the earth to be reduced, reused and recycled. This death offering is a well-known symbol in Mexico; sacrifice perpetuates life.

Although both Mezcal and Tequila are made from the maguey plant, Tequila’s industrialized production shortcuts, mono-cropping and shrewd market dominance anger its spirit. This anger permeates into the consumer resulting in punchy/kicky drunks who do dumb, regrettable shit. Alternatively there is Mezcal, which must be made with 100% agave and bottled in Mexico, Tequila can be cut with up to 51% other alcohols, and can be bottled outside of Mexico. There are 30 different maguey plants that can be used to make Mezcal. Tequila is shackled to being produced by only one type of maguey “blue agave”. Mezcal celebrates the vibrancy of nature by allowing for biodiversity. The production of Tequila abominates nature with it’s forced mono-cropping.

Tequila is a brand that allows for its mass production. There are100% agave Tequilas on the market of great quality and produced with respect to tradition by wonderful passionate people, yet they are bound to the angry spirit of the entirety of the brand. Mezcal is not a brand it is a force.

…wait, at what point on the road to becoming an expert did you get out Daniel? And what about not talking about it too much? You are pontificating on Mezcal like a pinché gringo. What’d you do an “extensive” google search on the topic? Neat. Tell us why is Mezcal magic.

From valleys Mezcal speaks of the earth and fire, muscles, machetes and mules. Placed on pine bars in dry mountain towns Mezcal tells stories of the sun and moon. In cities it shares love stories and mollifies the pain of war and loss. Mezcal is the combined spirit of the mighty maguey, the mottled red soil of Mexico, the indefatigable Mexican laborer, and the fornicating Spaniard’s who first distilled it.

The first sip of Mezcal burns a red hot line from tongue to tummy like Cortez’s march through Mexico to overthrow the Aztec empire. If you don’t know where the bottom of your stomach lies the first sip of Mezcal will show you. The second sip releases the smoke. By the third sip earth notes are revealed in whispers of the buried Mezcaleros who finally know the secrets of the subsoil that held the roots and worms.

Mezcal is earth, animal, smoke, stone and people/love/magic. By paying good money for it we help maintain a way of life that goes back five hundred years. It is produced in small quite towns in the high hills outside of Oaxaca where men ride bikes and dogs don’t do much. In little villages where kids walk down dusty roads in school uniforms and smile teasingly at lanky white guys that come to “experience Mezcal”. Where women pat tortillas into shape and cook them quickly on a wood fired stovetops while clothes dry on a line and babies wrapped in soft shawls sleep contentedly. Mezcal is the spirit of Mexico.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Lists for Suspect Press



My Top Hopes the Legalization on Marijuana will have on the city of Denver

I hope that those who own dispensaries begin to consider using good design. Please hire good graphic designers, interior designers, and local artists, craftspeople, furniture makers, and sign painters to promote your business. The 420 culture needs to give way to the new style. One invested in good design.

The collective consciousness of Denver becomes more insightful and mindful. I would hope that cases of domestic violence decrease, drunk driving accidents decrease, violent crime decreases.

I hope the stoned citizens of Denver take time to appreciate how fucking beautiful the blue of our sky is.

I hope the stoned citizens of Denver never, ever, leave their edibles out for children to find.

I hope though the taxes collected by the sale of Marijuana that Denver invests in quality education for our children (see my essay in this issue).

I hope cops chill out and can begin to focus more on their mission to serve and protect instead of harass and beat down.



Top reasons I love hip hop

1987, 10th grade, Thomas Jefferson High School, Denver, CO
Waiting in a car with a German engineered soundsystem, outside H***Ks liquor store in five points, taking turns shoulder tapping brothers to buy us a bottle of wild iris rose, “gimme a pint a rosie with a skirt” (a skirt being the paper bag), listening to that 808 boom on Run DMC’s Dumb Girl.

1994, the coldest spot in Colorado, Gunnison, CO.
Bought the Fugees Blunted on Reality and listened to it on repeat for a year.


2/23/1995 Prague, Czech Repulic
On my way to the Sports Hall to see the Beastie Boys witnessed a phalanx of Neo Nazi Fucktards in white laced 20 hole Doc Marten Jack Boots high step in unison down the cobblestone street in front of the Pinkas Synagogue Holocaust Musesum as if the ghost Heinrich Himmler was behind them eating the masticated rutabaga out of their assholes, prodding the dummies along with a nasty Nazi rim job.
The cold war was barely over, Prauge was just beginning to spread it’s legs to the hard cock of Western influence, when three Jewish cats from New York sell out Prauge’s ice arena on their European Ill Communication tour. The arena was packed, I looked in vain for fire exits. After the third song Ad Rock takes the mic, puffs out his chest and shouts “FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU!...”. I could only imagine him saying this to those dickless Neo Nazi’s and those that came before.

11/23/2012 San Luis Valley
Driving through the high desert plateau with my kids by my side. The sun setting over the western mountains casting a pink glow on the valley. Charley pulls out a CD that his friend Riley burned for him. Written in drippy paint pen was one word EARL.

Monday, April 28, 2014

WATERCOURSE FOODS GOES 100% VEGAN

Perhaps all restaurants are based on philosophy. Perhaps not.

As the name would suggest WaterCourse Foods was born beside a stream. At 24, I felt angry at the world, so I went for a long walk following the Colorado Trail from Denver to Gunnison. I carried a book, a pencil and a pad. I also lugged around my baggage that continued to fall away the further I walked. After fourteen days of walking I sat beside a crystalline stream, 13,000 feet above sea level, and pumped filtered water into my bottle. The sun, a bright ball, slowly crossed a brilliantly blue sky and shined lovingly on the alpine tundra, as pikas chirped and butterflies alighted small blue forget-me-nots.

I sat beside the stream, a twist of angst and appreciation, noticing the beauty of nature, but also painfully aware of my negative effect on it. Conflicted. Books have always been my escape from the crisis of existence. While reading l feel as though I am participating with out influencing. The word order is predetermined; my participation does not effect the outcome. Reading is peaceful. Pulling the book, The Tao de Ching, from my backpack I hoped to escape my own thoughts. The passage I read there besides the stream was to be the basis for WaterCourse Foods.

8
The supreme good is like water,
which nourishes all things without trying to.
It is content with the low places that people disdain.
Thus it is like the Tao.

In dwelling, live close to the ground.
In thinking, keep to the simple.
In conflict, be fair and generous.
In governing, don’t try to control.
In work, do what you enjoy.
In family life, be completely present.

When you are content to be simply yourself
and don’t compare or compete,
everybody will respect you.


These words, each a management technique, had a profound effect on me. I learned that although my existence on earth my have a net negative effect I have an opportunity to live gently upon it. So I applied my 10 years of restaurant experience and opened a vegetarian restaurant.

I have sat beside the stream of WaterCourse Foods for the last 16 years and witnessed it nourish a city. I tumbled through the rapids and occasionally enjoyed the calmer waters. I have waited patiently for the time to come to truly live up to our motto “EAT THE PATH OF LEAST RESISTENCE.”

The time has come. It is with great pride in WaterCourse Foods, Denver, CO and all the wonderful people from around the world that have supported WaterCourse over the years that I announce;

WaterCourse Foods is 100% VEGAN!

From this day forward 100% of the WaterCourse Foods menu will be sourced from plants. We celebrate the way we always have at WaterCourse, with a plate of comfort food and a cold pint of beer.

Love always,
Daniel Landes

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Akward Morning After- A Flash Fiction topic from Brian Polk

The awkward morning after
My tongue is a dried cocoon. My head is caving in. I have been dreaming of draining pitchers of water into my depleted body. I always forget to drink water when I’m back in Denver.

“I drank too much beer and smoked too much weed,” I said to her.

“Welcome to Denver, now go back to sleep,” she responds without opening her eyes.

Rolling her off my arm I try to remember her name.

Her toilet bowl is freckled. Clearly she did not intend on having company last night. The only glass in the bathroom, smudged white with toothpaste, has toothbrushes in it. I rinse the glass with hot water and hand soap and then fill it with lukewarm tap water. As I drain the third glass I can hear my cells crackle back into form. My pee is dark. I drain two more glasses of water and go back into her bedroom.

I pray to god to see the empty, golden, foil wrapper indicating good decision making on the floor next to the bed, or glinting somewhere in the folds of the sheets. I see none.

“Fuck,” I think.

Her bra is crumpled at the foot of the bed.

As she sleeps I trace what may have been her bra history. From her first one, purchased six months before she needed it, but a long four months after her best friend got one. There were the bras that didn’t fit, the ones that chaffed, the one bought and worn for the first boy she ever loved, the one she calls her favorite, the one she can wear with a backless dress and the one now crumpled at the foot of her bed.

Her hair covers her face. I delicately brush it back behind her ear. She is beautiful.

I kiss her softly. She opens her eyes and smiles rolling on her back. She is really beautiful.

Her smile grows as I brush more hair from her face. I smile back.

“Water,” she says.

When I return with the bathroom glass filled with tap water she sits up and drains it. I fill it up again for her. We are both naked sitting on her bed. She puts her arm around me, rests her head on my shoulder and whispers in my ear shamelessly “tell me your name again. “

We did not leave her room the rest of the day.




Post Industrial Crow Children

Post Industrial Crow Children

My first day of kindergarten was in the fall of 1976. From that moment on the Denver Public School system attempted to educate me. By applying a district approved educational system to my unique and wondrous psyche the DPS tried to educate me enough to meet a district-approved standard. The system utilized obedience to time and authority to achieve their results. Those students with a basic aptitude for rote memory, math and subservience tended to thrive in the school system of my time. Those students who had a basic aptitude for mythology, playing make believe, and, expected authority to earn respect, rather than demand it, tended to do poorly in my school system. I was distinctly the latter.

Denver Public Schools had systems in place to promote those who excelled in sports, academics or both. They also had systems to cope with those with behavioral problems and obvious learning struggles. I was neither smart nor dumb, an athlete nor an academic . I was good at recess.

It was not the fault of the grossly underfunded school system that my talents for play were summarily overlooked, I blame the industrial revolution. As a result of the industrial revolution, we Americans needed an educational system to produce good factory workers. As students, like clock-punching laborers, we lined up outside the school, single file; waiting for the bell to ring indicating it was time to enter the utilitarian building. In the classroom we sat in rows and were given instructions by the authority at the head of the class. Our work was graded on a scale. Excellence was rewarded, mediocrity was expected and failure was managed. We were motivated by bells, discipline and rewards. There was no place for a being like mine in the factory.

The DPS did provide me with an education. I learned to sleep with my eyes open. I learned to keep a perfect beat as I counted down the seconds, minutes, hours, months, years, until I would be free from that educational system. I learned to cheat guilt free. I learned that lunchroom milk is only palatable when served ice cold. The skill I have most benefited from is; how to assess a situation in a fraction of a second and adjust my behavior in order to avoid unwanted attention yet ultimately get the results I want. A basic jungle lesson.

Being a pleasure seeking human I wanted to avoid the threats and reap the rewards of the system so I made attempts to get good grades. It was apparent I did not have the necessary aptitude for success in that particular system. Eventually I sunk to the slow-moving, deep eddies of the public school system known as the remedial classroom. As opposed to AP classes where the goal is to prepare you for college, the goal of a remedial classroom is to provide the students with the bare minimum of necessary information to participate in the economy and the democracy. The low expectations of the remedial classroom provided the perfect climate to hide. I was thankfully overlooked by the system.

As I watched high functioning students take on a great many activates, and hours of homework, I began to wonder if the goal of the school system is to burn out their adrenal glands. Take the fight out of ‘em. The most successful students were always busy and stressed out. Stress is not good for the body. Even at fifteen. A less toxic stress, mostly caused by trying to avoid conflict, existed for the students in the remedial classroom, which tended to be populated with those who prefer the slow swirling waters of under achievement.

Compared to the focused energy of a college prep classroom, the remedial climate was breezy. The smartest teachers learned they could spend time trying to focus a group of smart-ass kids who don’t give a fuck, or they could create a mellow environment dedicated to activities like “free reading” or “study hall”. The smartest teachers caught up on their work while we read books, slept or wrote notes. I read books of my choosing. Imagine the abrupt transition from being totally absorbed in Tom Robbins’ luscious romantic novel, Still Life with Woodpecker ,only to step into the fray of a 1980’s high school hallway replete with cliques, pegged jeans, and violence.

The detention room was also a safe haven. Confined to an antiseptic desk, I spent hours trying to think of nothingness. As time slowly passed I listened as teachers gossiped, witnessed their faces contort with the stresses of the work place and the struggles of their existence outside of it. As we sat at our respective desks, each eating our sack lunch, it became very clear, we were both in detention.

By the time I reached the tenth grade I had failed a dozen classes. The phrase “not working up to potential” was the indelible mark on my permanent file. So many hours had been spent in detention that I knew how many holes were in 12’ x 12’ acoustic tile. Not by using multiplication, but by counting them individually. Fuck math. I could also drink as many beers as my years and still drive home and say goodnight to my parents before the stroke of midnight. Drinking was something I was good at. I did it well and I did it often.

I lived like a eastern block communist. I went to the factory during the day and got drunk at night.

*
And when I was grown I had two kids of my own.

Smart kids. My oldest son was yet two we sat on a hilltop as the sun began to set. I was overwhelmed by stresses at work. He smiled and cooed in the dirt. I was distracted by my own plight. A crow circled overhead.

Caw Caw Caw… said the crow.

Caw caw caw… mimicked my son.

Pulled from my self-absorption the crow called out again. Again my son answerd.

With a nod he looked at me. His shining eyes communicated the wonderment and humor in the world. In that moment my stress breezed away and we laughed together at how funny crows are.

On a Saturday morning, when my youngest was seven, he bumbled underfoot as I poured coffee. Dogs plodded through the kitchen, cats hopped on counter tops and my youngest spun contentedly amongst my legs and pets. Again I was distracted by stresses external. I was hardly present to the morning light shining through the kitchen window on to a perfect domestic morning.

“Dad do you know there are only seven stories in the world?” asked my son pulling on my pajama pants.

There is no stress grand enough that a comment like that can’t cut through it easy.

“What?” I asked.

“There are really only seven stories in the world. We just tell them differently.” He said as he floated out of the kitchen chasing some animal tail or another.

Yes, it was my responsibility to send these blessed children to school.

So we chose a brilliant school. A public school. A school rife with the struggles of trying to change the order of things. A school trying to do what is right by children’s intrinsic genius while placating standards set by an impuissant government that has continued to fail us in regards to the education of our children for decades. We chose an expeditionary learning school. Jefferson County Open School.

Forty years ago the “Open School” philosophy responded to the industrialized information cram approach to education, by allowing students to be self-directed and aspire to be life long learners. Open School followed in the words of William Butler Yeats "Education is not filling a bucket, but lighting a fire". Students work hard within the great freedoms they are entitled to not because of the threat of a bad grade or detention, they work hard because that is their nature. Open School trusts that the human lust for learning exists in all kids they just need the environment to explore it.