Travels: The Unforgettable Place

By Eva-Maria Simms

My home in Pittsburgh lies now 3000 miles across the ocean. Siegen, the German city of my childhood, surrounds me, and I walk the places that are inscribed into my memories. I have always loved the trek up the steep hill into the upper city, even though it does not have much beauty: just a busy road flanked by houses and trees leading to the heart of the town. The easier way to go would be around the mountain, through the flatlands and the newer wide urban streets, but as a child I always felt it my duty to walk across the hill, no matter where I headed. Perhaps it was the anticipation that made this road so attractive: on top of the Siegberg are two castles, the market square, city hall, a small remnant of the old medieval city, and the shopping street. My hometown prides itself to have been built on seven hills, just like Rome, and the Siegberg is the central point around which the city grew. Siegen has been a city for almost 800 years, and before that there were Germanic and even earlier Celtic settlements which mined the rich ore and tried to eke out a living growing food on the steep slopes and the barren soil. There are dark forests everywhere, and even the edges of the city lace into pine or beech woods and are the foreground for the hazy blue stretch of hills in the distance. From the top of the castle fortification you can see villages, fields, and forests for miles around. The Siegberg was always my home, but I lived at its foot, in its shadow, in a three-story house with my parents, grandparents, and uncle and aunt. My grandfather had bought the house in 1936, and my father grew up there and still lives in the ground floor apartment with my mother. Our house, our street, our quarter was very urban, plain, and dark, and built over a drained swamp. In my childhood it was still called “Schlaemmchen”, which means “little muddy place”, and the springs from the Siegberg ran under it to the river Sieg a quarter mile away. To ascent to the top of the city was liberating: the light became brighter, the sounds lost their echo, the air was less heavy, and the houses receded and left room to see into the distance.

The French philosopher Gaston Bachelard said once that the house in which we spent our early years is not merely a place in the past. It is present in our gestures, inscribed into our bodies, inhabits our imagination, is part of our chiasmic heritage: “But over and beyond our memories, the house we were born in is physically inscribed in us. It is a group of organic habits”. The word “habit” does not quite satisfy Bachelard: “the word habit is too worn a word to express this passionate liaison of our bodies, which do not forget, with an unforgettable house” (Poetics of Space, p. 14). Yet it is not only the height of the steps leading up to the attic or the location of the light switch in the hallway that our body remembers. My body also has a passionate liaison with the streets it roamed almost everyday throughout my childhood. Sometimes, far away in America, I have an almost physical longing to feel that unremarkable sidewalk up the hill under my feet. The Siegberg is my organic habit, my unforgettable place. My inner refuge.


And look upon myself, and curse my fate

by Publius

I have 177 students.

I’d like my reader to pause for that number. 177.

I am an English teacher, and sometimes a history teacher. I teach seven periods. On Mondays and Wednesdays, I have no planning periods. I get about 30 minutes for lunch, 20 minutes of real time. Sometimes, when I have to meet with a parent or some such, I skip lunch. That and I have 177 students.

If in each class I give each student one page to write per day, by Friday I have more papers to grade than there are pages in some novels by Steinbeck.

By no means do I have the largest student load in the school. Some teachers have over 200 students.

Tomorrow, I have to go to an all day professional development, “How To Write A Lesson Plan.” Every teacher in the district has to go to this. My problem is that I don’t really have time to write lesson plans.

The up-side is that, with thirty-six years of teaching, I have hundreds of lesson plans in my head. The down-side is that I don’t have time to write them all down. I just know them and do them. An administrator told me that I need to start writing them out. I told that administrator that “If you take time for this, then you steal time from that. If something goes in, then something goes out.” Usually, what goes out is the student. I have to put in an all day meeting about lesson plans, so — What goes out? — I won’t teach Walt Whitman tomorrow.

I refuse to take time from my private life, from my wife, or, frankly, from watching a Star Trek rerun. And I’m not going to do what some of my colleagues do: take a day off work in order to get some work done. I have done both, and I won’t do it anymore.

If something goes in, then something goes out.

A kid comes up to me yesterday and says, “You’re Catholic. How do I break it to my parents that I don’t want to go to Mass anymore?”

I only had time to say, “Gently. Break it to them gently. Because you’ll remember this moment all your life. I was your age when I told my mother the same thing. Forty-five years later, I remember her tears.” The kid wanted to talk more. I wanted to talk more. But I had to go. Because I paused for this kid, I was almost late handing in a lesson plan.


Nobel Prize

By Karen Zhang

There is a well-known lyric in China: “The east is red, the sun rises. From China arises Mao Zedong.” On October 11, 2012, when the Swedish Academy announced that the winner of this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature is Chinese writer Mo Yan, my mind immediately brought up the tune. Yet, we should change the lyrics to “The east is red, the sun rises. From China arises the first Nobel Laureate of Literature.” Less than half an hour after the announcement from Stockholm, Mr. Mo’s works were sold out at China’s major online book sellers.

Like many Chinese, I haven’t read any of Mo Yan’s novels. My knowledge about Mo is limited to the movie Red Sorghum based on his novel by the same name. Born and raised in the countryside of northeast China, Mo writes about ordinary rural life, which resonates with me deeply. I am crafting a novel that takes place in a Chinese village. As a writer learning to write in my second language about my motherland, I have so many questions for Mr. Mo. First and foremost, when he started his first book, did he find it hard to get it published?

Over the past few months, I’ve been looking for literary agents in the U.S. to represent another manuscript of mine: a memoir. I am experiencing the long waiting time for responses and the rejections that every published writer says is a rite of passage. I see my literary path chilled but with a glimpse of hope. That glimpse of hope comes from my dedication to writing.

During my search for a break-out for my literary career in America, one thing I notice is that American publishers seem to care a great deal about sales. Chinese publishers may publish a book for the sake of literature. Like Mr. Mo said in an interview after the Nobel Prize announcement, as long as you render human truth, friendliness and beauty in the work, the Western readers will echo with you. His point soothes me.

By far, Mo Yan is not the most popular novelist in China, in either in the book market or in reputation. But his works which combine hallucinatory realism with folk tales, history and contemporary life in China are undoubtedly the epitome of rural Chinese life. I thank him for rendering these elements of traditional Chinese life as urbanization in China grows rapidly. This is what Chinese characteristics should mean — not tearing down old houses for new skyscrapers, not replacing natural habitats with parking lots, not dumping away folk culture for modernity in the name of keeping pace with times.

Mo Yan winning the Nobel Prize tells me that Chinese literature does not need to cater to the Western audience. If it’s good work, it will be well received anywhere. For American publishers, perhaps they should not neglect the art of literature while focusing so much on sales.


Dance Preview: Twenty Eighty-Four by the Pillow Project

Preview by Adrienne Totino

“No matter how much we seem to annihilate ourselves, there is always a rebirth,” says Pearlann Porter, Artistic Director of the Pillow Project. Her latest work is, in fact, a revival. The piece, “Twenty Eighty-Four,” was originally created in 2008, but will premiere in its newest incarnation for six more shows this week.

The evening length work was originally inspired by Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, and Orwell’s1984. Porter describes the main theme of the show as “the disconnected feeling we have about our place in this very isolating, yet demanding time….the panicky need to embrace this information age, knowing that we might lose our sense of real interaction.”

There are two main characters in the cast of seven. Riva Strauss plays the part of the information obsessed, overcome with the fear of getting left behind and not knowing what is going on in the world. Zek Stewart plays the opposite role, detaching himself from the age of information, resigned to the fact that he cannot change the world we live in. But despite their differing points of view, they find themselves in the exact same place – isolated, and feeling numb.

Although the piece is quite dark, it doesn’t come without Porter’s optimistic side, inspired by the science and philosophy of Carl Sagan. “To grow, as a whole, you need to fall,” Porter says. “Maybe we need to go down this road, to go off a cliff together, then step backwards and try it all again.”

As always, Porter has created a highly elaborate set for the performance. At her Point Breeze location, The Space Upstairs, huge walls create a semicircular stage, with the audience placed in two corners. The walls are covered from floor to ceiling with propaganda designed by local artist, Jordan Bush. Decaying papers are scattered all over the floor.

The look feels very “menacing and archaic,” says Porter. There are a mountain of old televisions in one corner, all obsolete. The dancers’ clothing is worn out and unwashed, to convey the sense of a tired and battered humanity.

Although the movement will be improvised, the piece was meticulously directed by Porter, perhaps her most technical work to date. In collaboration with lighting designer Mike Cooper, Porter has created moments where the entire space is lit, and times when the audience can only see a small part of a performer. News channels blare on large screens, while live tweeting occurs throughout.

Porter is highly regarded in Pittsburgh for creating stunning visual landscapes through technology. And despite the strong opinion in her work, she finds a way to free herself from the self-absorption sometimes found in politically charged art. As a deep and critical thinker, she isn’t capable of righteousness.

Of the directorial process, she says, “I ask myself three questions – is the work simple, clear, and open? By simplifying the feel, it allows everyone to contribute their own perspective. I think that’s the role of the artist. We’re supposed to speak of our time, but transcend the specifics of words.”


Show Details:

Where? The Space Upstairs – 214 N. Lexington Street in Point Breeze, Pittsburgh.

When? October 22, 24, 25, 26, 27 & 28. Doors open at 8:00 p.m. The show begins precisely at 8:30. Latecomers will not be allowed entrance.

How much? $15 general admission, or $10 for current students.

*Enter the code “STUDENT” and present your current student ID at the door for the discount.____________

Book Review: Blood Honey by Chana Bloch

Blood Honey
Poems by Chana Bloch
Autumn House Press, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 2009,
85 pages, $14.95 paper

by Lindy Hough

Blood Honey is a book filled with moving poems by a poet who has been a translator of important poets since she was a young woman. Her own poems are lush and vivid. One never finishes a poem wishing for more—they end beautifully as finished wholes.

Bloch trails the blood of her Eastern European forefathers into accessible set pieces, eschewing experimentalism and the hip-pocket currency her progenitor Yehuda Amichai achieved, commonly regarded as Israel’s greatest contemporary poet. Her work is a weave of tribal knowledge: family secrets kept, told, suspected, weighing down her bones, refracting in her writing.

She is our inter-generational poet, weaving the generations together, showing where psychological and emotional ladders make a rip-rap between child and grandparent, or young woman and mother, or child and uncle, in case any Gen-Xers begin convincing themselves they’re the whole story, that what happened in their family before them doesn’t count. Some young people want to strike out alone, so they don’t see themselves as within the context of family. Bloch’s generational swing, like Faulkner’s deep veins of Sutpen lineages, reminds the reader that the generations are supposed to be generous to one another — though they are not always.

Bloch’s poems reverberate with nuances of those who came before, in many different countries. A lightning rod grounding energy from her past, she endows us with the feeling it is our past. Narration as history, not just personal revelation.

Bloch takes her palette on the road, writing in any country or state; if she is a poet of place, it would be anywhere. Amichai wrote mainly of Israel, much to the delight of his countrymen. We hear about nature in Blood Honey, but Chana Bloch’s mind is so active with images and memories the actual location is subtle, glimpsed, or not mentioned. Writing of the colors of the Grand Canyon, she thinks of Rothko’s colors, and describes them.

Amichai had published a dozen books in English translated by many others by the time Bloch and Chana Kronfield’s translation of Open Closed Open was issued in 2000. Bloch then bit off the translation into English of three volumes of Dahlia Ravikovitch’s work. The last, published in 2009, was Hovering At A Low Altitude, Ravikovitch’s collected poems.

Her early translation with her first husband Ariel Bloch of the biblical Song of Songs faced the task of rendering poetically deep sexual love with language compatible with the King James version. She and Bloch brought alive a beloved Victorian-weary cliché, probably one of the most excerpted parts of Old Testament. They made it starkly sensual, neither ribald or tacky.

The earthiness of “Trespass” echoes the quick sensuality of The Song of Songs, mixed with dreamscape time- travel. The narrator takes a fantasy lover into her train compartment fashioned from the man at the ticket counter, who reminds of an early lover. “He’s not the one, but he’ll do.”

without knowing, that man
handed me a key.
I open him easily, helping myself
to whatever I please.

There’s no stopping me now—nervy, elated,
I’ve sneaked past a sleepy guard
to plunder a time zone.

The “time zone” of the poem is a leap to years back, the present brought to contemporary life by dream.

Perhaps translation gave Bloch a surety and ear for freshness in language. Ear, voice, vocabulary, rhythm, and economy—she mixes the elements deftly and acutely into a pleasing whole.

Who came before? Bloch is not afraid to ponder and critique her own mothering, understanding that it came at the same time as she was living through the horrors of the Holocaust for her family and others. The book most concerned with children, her own and others, is The Past Keeps Changing, poems written in the 80s and published in 1992. In Blood Honey, the horrors of the Holocaust seep in, almost as if now that children are gone, one can explore more these dark shadows held at bay during the raising of “the boys.”

The narrator remembers the callousness she experienced as a young girl from rough-talking parents, and reflects on her own actions as a mother. In a rueful and memorable passage she tells of reading her sons Baba Yaga folktales and acting them out in later moments of play when they were small, and loved being chased:

I chased them screeching down the hall,
I catch you, I eat you!
My witch-blade hungry for the spurt
of laughter—

What stopped me
even as I lifted my hand?
The stricken voice that cried: Eat him!
Eat my brother!

The narrator is jolted by an awareness of ancient and modern cultures where brother betrays brother, in the Old Testament, in the Holocaust. Bloch pinpoints the moment in the past with her children, reflects on her action of the raised hand, and allows the darker shadow to surface the ending of the poem.

As Director of the Creative Writing Program at Mills College for many years, Bloch was a griot responsible for giving her students tools to maintain an oral record of their tribal history in music, poetry, and storytelling. No trivial matter. A failure of modernism is that many of us aren’t born into tribal clans who pass down initiation and social bonding rituals, stories and a mythopoetics for life—or we are and don’t value this material. MFA Programs can teach some things, but they can’t create a gift for writing. She trained generations of students’ ears and eyes to recognize eschew sentimentality, and tack towards honesty and subtlety in writing. She listened to her students’ cadences, and attempted to instill a useful lineage: poetry is a map with earlier mapmakers. She empowered her students, by deconstructing her own poems and others; and drew attention to visual artists and musicians—important influences from a colorist, so her students could see their task as carrying on lineages and adding to the world’s knowledge.

Blood Honey, at this moment the pinnacle of Chana Bloch’s poetic output, is outspoken, true to history and the tribal lineages it represents. Searching for some reason for the horrors humans create, she maps history as individuals enter her life—decades ago when she was a child, or at breakfast yesterday. Older people seem particularly strong in the first section of Blood Honey—an uncle, an old Jewish woman in Prague, a calm rabbi.

This year at Pesach, a Jewish student proclaimed
Armageddon. “Burn the books! Burn the textbooks!”
he shouted to a cheerful crowd…

The rabbi was a skeptic.
Years ago he’d been taught, If you’re planting a tree
and someone cries out, The Messiah has come!
finish planting the tree. Then
go see if it’s true.

“Flour and Ash” startles— a vision washes over reality. The narrator is in the studio of a painter using flour and ash, “working in seven shades of gray” on large sheets of paper tacked to the wall:

“Make flour into dough,” she answers,
and fire will turn it into food.
Ash is the final abstraction of matter.
You can just brush it away.”

The artist applies “the fine soft powders with a fingertip, highlighting in chalk and graphite,/blending, blurring with her thumb.” The narrator looks outside, is alarmed at the red and yellow daylilies in the dry summer, and the notion of fire begins to fill her mind, as it does for many in the Oakland and Berkeley Hills when the weather is dry and still, perfect for conflagration: “Her garden burns/red and yellow in the dry August air/and is not consumed.”

But then the chilling vision:
Inside, on the studio wall, a heavy
particulate smoke
thickens and rises. Footsteps grime the snow.
The about-to-be-dead line up on the ramp
with their boxy suitcases,
ashen shoes.

When I get too close she yanks me back.
She hovers over her creation
though she too has a mind
to brush against that world
and wipe it out.

A revelatory poem, full of confusions about time and space—A real occurrence? A dream? An imagined sequence suggested by looking at an artist’s work? This ash cannot be “brushed away.” The Biblical resonance of the second line “and fire will turn it into food” foreshadows the mournful dirge of the Holocaust. We feel the sorrow of the dead, relive the victims’ agony. The poem leaves us with “boxy suitcases,” and “ashen shoes.” Recent horror only a generation old, never to be forgotten.

The Past Keeps Changing (1992), Bloch’s second book, is filled with children. The first poem suggests the tight unit of the nuclear family as “The Family” is compared to a Russian nesting doll, all the members sealed up again at night: “We sleep/staring at the inside.”

These poems are as strong as those in Blood Honey, without its sweep. The focus on family leads to lovely detail: movement from remembering her own piano lessons in one poem, to working with her son at the piano in another; a son asking her to sock her fist into his stomach to test his strength is a wonderful depiction of pre-adolescence. “In the Land of A Body” lays it out about a cancer operation. Bloch is a reliable narrator; we are sure that revelation will include transformation. My favorite poem in this collection edges into the moral ambiguities which claim more attention in Blood Honey. In “Listening,” an unknown man brings everyone, including all his women and myriad children, to a carousel to say something tawdry:

It’s your dream, not mine. That’s why
we’re all in one place:
you, me, your dead wife,
your mistress, your girlfriend, everyone’s
puzzled children.

We climb on the carousel without speaking.

This is your dream. You wrote it. That’s why
the women lean forward in their stirrups as if
to kiss each other, and the children
close their eyes. They’re so young,
aren’t they?
Why are you
telling me this, suddenly happy,
tapping the spoon against the spongy
palm of your hand? Why
am I leaning forward, listening,
like one of them?

The poem chills us, with its Cocteau-like carousel, its depiction of children inappropriately present. Bloch’s disgust at the profligacy of the dreamer is clear. Less easily resolved than many of her poems, it’s equal to the best of Blood Honey.

Back in Blood Honey, there is an almost lazy comfortableness to “Natural History.” Bloch watches a meadow and traces the evolution of the trees over eons, past when we’ve forgotten we were there, past our own lives:

It takes a long time to make a meadow.
First you need glaciers
to gouge out a lake.
Then reeds grow, the lake fills with silt
and eventually grass.

So many trees with their litter
of fallen leaves to beget
a single live joy.
Look at the dead ends
up and down that trunk: each one
could have been a branch.

How a meadow is made, by a colorist who sees with the vision of a painter. The “single live joy” makes art of science—deft strokes on the progression of a lake.

The title poem describes long days with a man dying of a brain tumor. He recalls the summer he packed blood oranges, drinking fresh-squeezed orange juice straight from the tap, “scooping sweetness from the belly of death/—honey from a lion’s carcass.” /We sit with our friend /and brood on the riddle he sets before us:/What is it, this blood honey?” The weeks turn into months, as Bloch realizes this is how this man is going to die: his flame will leap and surge before going out is extinguished. The poem captures the sadness of this, the amazement that day after day the man tastes the goodness in the world “through a keyhole/that keeps getting smaller/and smaller.” A metaphor not just for death, but our lives.

The comings and goings of the generations; a commitment to emotional honesty. Bloch tastes the joy of life in “The Daily News,” written at Lake Como: “We rush out into the blur of snowflakes/flustered and suddenly happy./We’re all set to hope/but the sky turns to water in our hands.” Like a good songwriter, she stays with the poem just long enough.

Blood Honey contains poems you may want to keep with you always, savor while travelling, or a train or anytime you want delight in a small space, as in these memorable lines from “Blue:”

…I lurched
from one hope to the next, irremediably
deep in blue.


Lindy Hough is a poet and fiction writer. She is Founding Publisher of North Atlantic Books. Her most recent book is Wild Horses, Wild Dreams: New and Selected Poems 1971-2010. She lives in Berkeley, California and Mt. Desert Island, Maine with her husband, the writer Richard Grossinger. They have a son, Robin Grossinger, in Berkeley, and a daughter, Miranda July, in Los Angeles.


by Publius

I spent the morning watching genetically enhanced sharks. I came a little late, so I never did get the explanation about why it’s a good idea to make sharks bigger, faster and hungrier. That said, I spent the morning watching genetically enhanced sharks.

Freshmen (or, as my principal says, “freshmens”) and sophomores had to take a standardized test, and seniors had to sign-up for a standardized test. This left only the juniors unmolested. Since many juniors are mixed in with other classes, someone decided to show them a movie about genetically enhanced sharks eating stupid scientists with great abs and/or great breasts. It never seemed to occur to whomever that some of us, me for example, might just have a class of nothing but juniors. So, instead of reading Antigone, my kids and I spent the morning watching genetically enhanced sharks.


Big Bird

By Karen Zhang

Alert! The much-loved Big Bird is under attack by none other than this year’s U.S. presidential candidates. Oh, poor bird!

I feel sorry that Big Bird cannot escape the same rhetorical fate as China — which has become an American political campaign target. In the first presidential debate, Mitt Romney apologized to Big Bird after realizing he’d said something offensive to the moderator Jim Lehrer, in regard to his remark on stopping the federal subsidy to Public Broadcasting Service. He said, “I like PBS. I love Big Bird.” But does he really?

The following day, President Obama used Big Bird as a metaphor to deride his contender. Then Mitt Romney retorted, “Obama is spending time saving Big Bird. I am spending my time saving jobs.” The dispute went on and on like a schoolyard squabble.

This is my first time living in America during a presidential election year. The political atmosphere in this country is definitely heavier than I’d imagined. When I was in China, I heard a lot about the American presidential campaign. Young people like me look forward to the debates as a way to learn English. Above all, we carry the hope that someday public debates among top officials will be held in China. Most Chinese have a positive attitude about American politics.

Now I feel differently. American politicians talk way more than Chinese leaders. Perhaps because freedom of speech is what this country advocates and is built on, public figures like politicians seem to say whatever comes to mind without considering the feelings of their listeners. In the case of Big Bird, I would have never thought of a universal character loved by millions of children around the world would be dragged into the black hole of political spin.

When Republicans and Democrats both throw out campaign ads, slamming the opponent’s policy on China, I am resentful. This is American politicians’ rhetoric: when in good times, China is your friend; when in bad times, China is your foe. But Sino-U.S. relations are never regarded as chest to chest as is, for instance, the Japan-U.S. alliance. Suspicion always grows on both sides. But it’s not my position to judge the bilateral relation of both countries. My fury about the campaign ads is based no more than on Big Bird being attacked. I grew up watching Sesame Street in China. Why should a pure and lovable character in a children’s TV show turn into a bombshell in the adults’ world?


Theater Review: The Other Place

Reviewed by Arlene Weiner

The Other Place. By Sharr White. Off the Wall Theater, 26 Main Street, Carnegie, PA. October 12 -27, 2012. Directed by: Melissa Hill Grande. With Erika Cuenca, Virginia Wall Gruenert, Mark Conway Thompson, Ricardo Vila Roger.

Off the Wall Theater’s production of The Other Place is a double Pittsburgh premiere: a play we haven’t seen, and a brand-new theater. A theater sentimentalist, I like to reminiscence about the quirks and hardships of remembered venues, where good things sometimes came in ugly packages. I recall The Pit, the University of Pittsburgh’s small theater with its vacant-warehouse vibe, where theatergoers had to peer around two posts planted right in front of the first row; and the Odd Chair Playhouse, with its museum of reclaimed chairs, somewhere south of the Monongahela; and the Upstairs on Penn Avenue in Garfield, which wasn’t upstairs. And will anyone who attended it forget the funky Pittsburgh Playwrights Theater venue on the second level of a downtown garage, and its second space, the Couch Theater, with, yes, couches on risers for seats?

Among these spaces, Off the Wall’s former theater in Washington, PA was as funky as any. First: It was in Washington. Then: It had a parking lot canted at a 30 degree angle, or so it seemed when it poured rain, as it so often seemed to when we ventured there. Up many steep steps, the theater space, which seemed to be a decommissioned church, was divided by a wide middle aisle, so that most of the seats felt off center no matter how good they were. And yet, we traveled from the East End of Pittsburgh to Washington many times for Off the Wall’s offerings, which most times were, as France’s Michelin Guide would say, “vaut le voyage”—worth the trip.

Well, huzzah. Off the Wall now has a sleek and worthy new theater in Carnegie, PA. Sorry, Washington. Across the street (Carnegie’s Main Street), a level public parking lot that’s free in the evenings; the theater handicap-accessible; very good coffee served in the lobby. As before, community-minded Off the Wall provides a showcase for artists. And there are nearby restaurants that look promising, including some that give sponsorship to the new theater.

But what, you ask, of the play? It’s taut and moving. The Other Place is a play centered on a confident, even arrogant, woman who specializes in introducing and promoting a new drug to conferences of physicians in luxurious resorts. Under Melissa Hill Grande’s direction, the play unfolds mysteries, present and past, in Juliana’s life, work, and relationships. She is a researcher whose breakthrough produced this drug, it seems. Seems, the operative word, because in brief scenes the play presents a kaleidoscope of views of Juliana, her husband Ian, their daughter, another physician, and other characters. Is Ian philandering? Is their daughter seeking a reunion with them? Why does Ian refuse to talk to Juliana about certain topics? What is the “episode,” or “thingy,” that causes Juliana to stop mid-stream in her practiced spiel? It happens “out of the blue,” and the setting takes its cue from this—the minimal, fluid set is all sky blue, with the backdrop abstracting windows and doors of “the other place” where she intermittently longs to be. Slides projected on the background illustrate Juliana’s sales spiel. In the second half of the play, parts of the set unfold to surprise with a more conventional and cosier setting—very appropriately.

Virginia Wall Gruenert, in the role of Juliana, is equal to the challenge of being onstage nearly every moment, shifting time, place, and tone, dominating the play. Mark Conway Thompson as her husband is convincing even at times when, I think, the script may use him as a convenience. Ricardo Vila Roger is effective in the smallest role. Erika Cuenca very capably undertakes several roles, switching back and forth easily but making the characters distinct, and in particular brings emotional warmth to the play’s resolution, which might be unconvincing in lesser hands. Finally, Juliana has a touching speech as simple as Lear’s self-recognition.

[Warning: the web site talks. 1-888-71-TICKETS]


Book Review: Party Girls by Diane Goodman

Reviewed by Marcella Prokop

One of the great joys and struggles in writing fiction is the process of developing characters. The word here is, indeed, “developing” and not “creating.” Many fictitious character are an assemblage of parts: a boss’s arrogance here, a neighbor’s laziness there—and in Party Girls, Diane Goodman’s 2011 collection of short stories, the delicate crafting and organizing of these characteristics into the women who flesh out these stories makes this book a humorous and often challenging study of humanity. Thematically, each story pulls readers into the lives of “party girls”—women who plan for, attend or are ostracized from social events and lives in their narrow worlds. Goodman’s process of character development is so seamless the reader must remind herself that the women appearing here are not likely to show up at her next party and demand attention. This is a relief because the standouts, who include an isolated mother, a lonely chef, and a manipulative, naïve ex-banker, are not the life-of-the-party party girls any hostess wants to entertain or endure.

Take Candace, for example, the protagonist of “CandyLand,” the collection’s third story. At 60, she has worked her way to the top of the banking ceiling—executive vice president—but her life is empty. With no friends, and an imaginary husband, her clients are the only people she truly knows, perhaps because they are just like her: “They are self-important, entitled, often rude. They can be judgmental. Mean. Candace is often amazed at how ugly they are inside.” Shortly into the story, Candace has even these relationships taken away when she is let go, and Goodman takes the reader into Candace’s gaudy, empty life, and a depressing St. Patrick’s Day party.

“The little dogs, Fred and Wilma, trot around her feet as she works in the kitchen,” writes Goodman, before moving on to Candace. “She had thought about dressing as a leprechaun but then decided on a green jumpsuit with a gold lame belt, sparkly gold sandals, and green and gold dangling shamrock earrings. More hostess-appropriate.”
Goodman’s ability to find the quirky and pair it with the familiar means that each character in this collection, whether prominent or supporting, is reminiscent of someone any reader would know. This adds depth to the characters and stories—readers like to feel a sense of common ground with the characters who occupy their free time—but it also means that some of the characters are so irritatingly real it’s hard to remember they are figments of someone’s imagination. Yet the very process of showcasing such individuals allows readers to fall into a story and find their own likenesses interacting with and befriending (or not) the characters. In this way Goodman helps readers understand the world and the people who inhabit it—themselves included.

As “CandyLand” progresses, Mr. and Mrs. Kramer, Candace’s former boss and his wife arrive, becoming the only guests at the party. This leaves Candace confused and alienated, drawing out her true nature.
“‘Are we the first ones here?’ Mr. Kramer asks, hesitantly. He is thinking that at least her own staff would have stopped by. He felt it was the least they could do. When Candace hears his question, the full weight of what is happening begins to descend and the steam from the pot of potatoes rises up and into her face. The heat makes her angry. Look around, fool she thinks but says, ‘Yes you are!’” Candace’s fury appears as mashed potatoes spattered on her green jumpsuit, and as she demands hunger of her two guests, “it sounds almost like she’s singing.”
Goodman’s ability to shape her characters is such that the reader may feel embarrassed and sad for them, but it is this emotive response that fosters a sense of understanding between page and person. Envisioning Candace’s pride in her getup and her hope for the evening is easy, and depending on where the reader stands—cringing each time the boss tries to throw a party, or wondering where all the guests are—this is a story to which all people can relate. Furthermore, Goodman has woven the need for human interaction and acceptance into each story, humanizing characters that chafe against the grain of social interaction with awkwardness. In “CandyLand” this note of empathy comes with a simple history, and the foundation of Candace’s personality becomes clear.

“Her mother and father had named her Candy, a confection,” Goodman writes, her tight sentences sharp with disapproval. “But she was not the daughter her mother envisioned. … Candy wanted to make her mother proud but she couldn’t because her parents were too much in love. They were so much in love that there wasn’t enough room for their child, especially such a big child.”

Goodman’s work as a caterer and chef in Miami Beach has no doubt led to her sifting and blending of fact and fiction in each of the nine stories in this collection. With a focus on food, relationships and the ways in which base instincts are involved when the two intersect, the stories contained within this collection depict the life of a party girl as less than glamorous.

In “Abracadabra,” the second piece in this work, the nameless narrator and protagonist engages in a whirlwind affair with a stranger and loses all she has built as a restaurateur and chef when he robs her in the night. Her plight is that of many ambitious women in the creative world: “I threw myself into culinary school and then into work,” she explains. “I thought I only needed myself. I thought I knew myself, which is why I didn’t sense my own loneliness creeping up on me. I never saw it coming and then, abracadabra, it disappeared.”
This is the most difficult narrative to read, for the narrator is so obviously vulnerable that one cannot help but feel sorry for her. The converse is that it’s hard to pity someone who so blindly hands over all she has worked for to a stranger, yet Goodman’s use of the magic metaphor and her ability to evoke compassion make this also the best story in the collection.

Additionally moving are “Dancing,” the only story with a truly heroic and eventually confident protagonist, and “The Other Mothers,” in which a mother and pilot’s wife is displaced on an island for her husband’s work and ostracized by the women on the island who could be her lifeline.
“Sometimes the other mothers say ‘Hi’ or ‘Hola’ when I approach them,” she explains, “but then they turn back to each other. … I can’t tell them apart. They are impossibly thin, polished and flawless like statues. Each one is astonishingly beautiful in different ways yet interchangeable: at one time or another, each one has touched me on the shoulder to compensate for her disinterest.”

So many of the scenes and actions completing this collection are chillingly familiar. Who does not know women like that; who cannot remember a time she was excluded from “the” party of the year? For all of the pettiness that parties stir up, for all of the desire, and yes, fun, at the end of the event, those of a more reflective nature will sit back and contemplate what worked, what didn’t, what should be done next time. Goodman’s distinct background certainly enabled her to look at the party world from this angle and apply it to her writing, and all readers of this collection will be better prepared for the next fete for it.

Goodman’s ability to isolate traits and scenarios from the real word and blend them into rich stories has done more than simply satisfy. It has entertained. And what hostess—gracious or otherwise—would refuse such a comment?

Local Color(s)

by Arlene Weiner

I’ve been spending time in the Old North End of a northern town, near the intersection of North Avenue and North Street. Really, literally. It’s Burlington, Vermont, near the shore of Lake Champlain. Depot Street runs steeply down to the lakeshore, once a busy port, now an attractive park with a bike trail, swinging benches, a boardwalk, a shack that sells cremees (the localism for soft-serve ice cream), and a dock. The old warehouse, an eight-story hulk, slightly mars the pleasure center. Ferries leave for towns in New York State. Sailboats and kayaks skim the lake.

Straight, wide, and treeless, North Avenue. The buildings along it aren’t the white-clapboard and green-shuttered charmers of imagined New England greens. Nor are they elaborated Victorians and Queen Annes, like some houses nearer the university. Many are two- and three-story boxes, flat-roofed, without shutter, porch, or lintel. Utilitarian, I’d say, though in this climate, where people shovel accumulated snow off porch roofs in winter to avoid their collapsing, a flat roof seems an impractical idea.

North Avenue is now a focus for recent immigrants. And it shows. It seems that the various national groups like to display their colors. Next to a Himalayan grocery a house—this one does have a porch, paneled doors, turned posts—is painted red, blue, and yellow, colors as bright as a kindergarten’s poster paint. Half a block down from it a newly re-sided three-story box is painted the same colors. A food store/convenience store called “Cool Runnings,” after a movie based on a Jamaican luge team, has a large grill painted equally bright yellow, black, and green. Round the corner is a house in those colors.

A halal grocery seems an exception. Shouldn’t it be painted green, the color of Islam? But it’s white with a blue star. Then I notice that the side wall IS painted green, a little faded. And it turns out that the flag of Somalia is blue with a white five-pointed star. There is indeed a Somali community. I enjoy seeing the women in long, brightly printed dresses. Today I saw one carrying a bundle on her head, with a poise I’ve always envied.

I’ve been having an e-mail discussion with some of my family about, roughly, the Other. It began with one man’s disgust with intolerant religious fanatics and was countered by another that religion wasn’t the problem, tribalism was. And that people would divide into tribes on any basis. I recalled that I’d visited Quebec just after Canada’s voters had rejected a proposal that Canada become bilingual, the official languages to be French and English. Naturally French-speaking Quebecois wished the referendum to pass.

I’d noticed that many houses in the countryside were painted white with contrasting bright trim. Quite pretty. Eventually I realized that the houses with blue trim were expressing allegiance to French and those with red trim were expressing allegiance to English. Tribes, and a good deal of hostility behind the flying colors. But at least they weren’t slaughtering each other.


Bonjour, Montreal

By Songyi Zhang

I don’t speak French, but when I visited Montreal for the first time this summer, I was completely immersed in a French-speaking environment. I couldn’t tell the difference between tourists or local people because the only language I heard on the street was French. Montreal’s cityscape – with its old sandstone churches, Victorian buildings and storefront patio restaurants — seems European to me, rather than North American.
Americans often seem to think of Canada as another state in their country, rather than a foreign country. Canadian students who study in the U.S. don’t consider themselves international students. However, I saw lots of differences between the two cultures.

Quebecois are proud of their French heritage. Many places are named after saints, so the road names tend to be very long. If I didn’t look Asian, the waitresses or the cashiers wouldn’t have spoken to me in accented English.

Montreal is a biker-friendly city. Many residents ride bikes instead of driving cars. In Montreal, you can borrow bikes right on the street from the public bike racks which are all digitally programed. Once you start the rental, the digital timer also begins. All the bikes have a global positioning system. So it’s easy to locate the lost bike. You can return the bike anywhere in the city. I heard this bike rental system is similar to that in France. No matter subway or buses, Montreal provides very good public transportation. I think this is what most American cities lack.

Perhaps because more people choose to ride bikes or walk, Montrealers are quite fit. During my three-day visit, I saw only a few overweight people on the street – unlike America where almost everyone is overweight. There were lots of young people in Montreal, thanks to several big universities like McGill and Concordia in the city. The nightlife flourished in summertime with visitors from everywhere.

Montreal is like a little Paris in North America during summer. All kinds of festivals are held one after another. While I was there, the Comedy Festival was on. Street performers played music and told jokes in public. Some even entertained the passersby through games. It was so much fun. I think I will return to Montreal for a long stay next time.


Designing a Trailhead

By Eva-Maria Simms

Kathryn and I went to look at the Greenleaf trailhead in order to figure out how the entrance to the trails on that side of the mountain should be designed. Kathryn had written and received a block grant from the city and had lined up volunteers to plant shrubs and trees, which would be donated by the Home Depot. The trailhead is behind a gravel parking lot which is separated from the woods by one of those ugly concrete jersey barriers that you find on highways – and by lots of weeds. The city has promised to remove the barrier and erect a wooden fence with a gateway for the trailhead.

Instead of taking my car to the meeting with Kathryn at the Greenleaf parking lot I thought it would be better to experience the trailhead from a walker’s perspective and get a sense how the trail is connected to the neighborhood and the existing network of trails. I walked past the fancy houses and restaurants of Grandview Ave., scowled at the dilapidated and weed covered backside of the Bayer sign, and took a deep breath as I reached the open view of the Ohio River valley at the top of the hill. The wooded trail begins behind the Point of View Statue and meanders along the steep West End hillside and comes out on Greenleaf Street a quarter mile above the parking lot. Our landscape is a unique mix of urban landscape features, such as streets, houses, fences, and telephone poles, and feral landscape features such as trees, slopes, rivers and animals. With each feature comes a particular soundscape: the roar of vehicle traffic is always in the background, even though it recedes as soon as you enter the forest trails; birdsong can be heard everywhere, but it is most intense in the stillness of the woods. Urban and feral themes alternate and move through each other and form a unique landscape melody.

I approached the Greenleaf parking lot and trailhead as future walkers and motorists will: all I saw down the street was an expanse of gravel and a telephone pole. No one would know that this is a trailhead and that cars are allowed to park in the lot. Is it private? Is it public? Are you allowed to park there? Are you allowed to walk in the woods behind the Jersey barriers, or is it private land? “Are you allowed?” is the surprising question I have encountered most often when I take people into our urban forest. For Kathryn and me this means that we have to pay attention to designing the thresholds into the wooded parkland and give clear indicators that people may enter the common spaces (more about the idea of the commons in a future blog) of the park.

Kathryn and I looked at and talked about the threshold of the trailhead and how it lay in the landscape. I am a phenomenologist and I suggested that we explore our own sensory and emotional experience of the landscape as we looked at it, walked through it, and engaged with it, and tried to make conscious how it would unfold for other visitors. This would be the foundation for creating design elements that would respect the landscape, but also enhance its features for the hiker. Here is a brief overview of how we approached the trailhead and what we discovered:

1. We described the features we noticed: both the most apparent ones, like the concrete fence and the gravel lot; and the less apparent ones, like the end of the parking lot which opens into a protected, shady open space
2. We talked about what we saw as the salient features of the natural landscape behind the fence. There was a clearing behind the fence crossed by the trail which divided into a three way cross-road 30 feet ahead. The right hand trail lead into a semi-open meadow and the left gently up the hill and into the woods. Behind the trail-crossing a lovely clump of trees framed a view into a small valley. To our left the clearing was overgrown with weeds, to our right it stretched through some bushes and ended in a flat place under a set of midsized trees. Together we combined what we saw and pointed things out to each other.
3. We let ourselves be moved by the landscape. What did it want? What were the key natural features, and how could we enhance and intensify them? How could we create a trailhead that respected the lay of the land and was at the same time hospitable to people?
4. I found myself using my body and my hands often during our conversation. With my hand I pointed out and followed the line of the trail as it moved through the fence and divided at the crossroads. My hands followed through with this line by shaping the opening between the trees ahead and I had a strong sense that we should mark this intersection and make it a key feature of how we design this entrance. Traditionally places like this were marked by cairns or herms, and Kathryn suggested that we place large boulders in the clearing behind the fence, which would guide the trail but also provide a place to sit for people as they enter and exit the trails and maybe also for children to climb on and play.
5. We found ourselves generating more interesting ideas the more we looked and talked. To the left we imagined a picnic bench for the weary hikers or the families from the neighborhood – not too far away that it would be vandalized, but still secluded enough to give semi-privacy for a meal. Kathryn thought that she might be able to pay for the wood through the grant and built the picnic table with volunteers at the community volunteer day at the end of the month.
6. We thought about other places and their special features and remembered the lovely redbuds in Grandview Park, which bloom bright pink in early spring. How about a redbud or dogwood grove to the left of the boulders which would frame the trail as it leads up the hill? It would be spectacularly pink or white for a few weeks in April, and then let its magic fade into the background. How very Japanese!

We spent almost 2 hours interacting with the landscape. In the beginning I had worried that we would just stand there and count how many planting holes would be dug in order to spend the grant money. But our conversation and “design session” was a true phenomenological exercise because it allowed the landscape to come into focus through the process of intense and attentive observation and conversation about it. I left the gravel parking lot hopeful and inspired, and I think Kathryn walked away with some very creative ideas and do-able projects for the volunteers.

Theater Review: Her Hamlet

Reviewed by Dylan Jesse

Her Hamlet. By Lisa Jackson-Schebetta and Theo Allyn. Directed by Lisa Schebetta-Jackson. With Theo Allyn and Robert Frankenberry. Joint production from the University of Pittsburgh Repertory Theatre with Shakespeare-in-the-Schools. Henry Heymann Theatre, Stephen Foster Memorial Hall, Univeristy of Pittsburgh Oakland campus. October 5-13, Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8PM, Sunday Matinees at 2PM, ASL Interpretation Performance Saturday, October 13 at 8PM.

Heaven and earth,
Must I remember? Why, she would hang on him
As if increase of appetite had grown
By what it fed on, and yet, within a month—
Let me not think on’t—Frailty, thy name is woman!

(Hamlet Act I, scene II, 142-146)

Frailty, thy name is woman.

But not so in the daring new production, Her Hamlet (presented by the University of Pittsburgh Repertory Theatre) where a hitherto obscure historical figure—William Shakespeare’s youngest daughter, Judith—takes wonderfully invigorating control of center stage. True, Judith (played commandingly by Theo Allyn, Teaching Artist-in-Residence at the University of Pittsburgh) comes to us as a young woman trying earnestly to piece together an understanding of her absentee father William from the scraps of play texts he has left behind in their Stratford-upon-Avon home. And doubly true, Judith is a troubled character: she attempts to build an understanding of her father with the aid of (and often against impediments from) her “imaginary” friend, none other than Yorick—the court jester that appears in the Hamlet play texts only as a skull and a mention. But this is not an Elizabethan- or Shakespearean-focused production, nor is it one that pretends to be: this is a wholly unique theatrical creature that gives audiences a much-needed alternate look at the legacy of the Bard and the wake his dubious—if also under-catalogued—history has left behind.

This one-act play is billed as “Her Hamlet: based on Hamlet, Prince of Denmark by William Shakespeare,” which is both true and completely beside the point. The truth: yes, so much rests upon the characters of Hamlet and Ophelia whom many of us have encountered in our high-school or college English classes. The deviation from the truth: well, that’s the interesting part. Despite ostensibly centering on the true-to-fact daughter of the Bard, Her Hamlet is no Elizabethan period piece. Nor does it restrict itself to the original Hamlet text (or original three, if you want to be scholarly about it). No, Her Hamlet takes thrilling leaps across the centuries between now and the true Judith’s own lifetime to present audiences with a layered and nuanced portrait of a woman about whom history remembers essentially nothing, but who gives us a unique and invaluable window into both one of our most cherished and culturally valuable figures, Willam Shakespeare, and the struggles modern-day women face in coming to terms with their own representation in cannonical English literature.

Her Hamlet does take tremendous liberties with chronology. It opens (more or less) with Judith reciting the well-remembered “To be or not to be” soliloquy from the later Hamlet texts with which we are all so familiar (from the second quarto and first folio, for Shakespeare purists like myself). The first character audiences meet is actually Yorick (played keenly by Robert Frankenberry, who also composed and performs the play’s entire score) musing over a skull, the very same image we all have of Yorick from the original Hamlet texts. As if that were not enough, the stage itself is quite a lot to wrap one’s head around: the back stage harbors a netting-and-fabric willow supporting a Raddedy-Ann doll—a striking reinterpretation of the famous John Evertt Millais painting that inspired Kenneth Branagh’s treatment of the character Ophelia—which becomes all the more poignant for those familiar with the debate over Ophelia’s death (but that is for another aritcle). Frankenberry shares the stage as Yorick with Allyn’s Judith for the length of the play, but is still central to the story, being the perturbingly present embodiment of what was originally a ghostly, tertiary character. Judith’s father, the William Shakespeare, never makes a single appearance, and so Yorick, whom Judith expressly says she “has made up,” is an electrically understated foil to the man we all think we know and expect to see but never do.

When we hear “based on Shakespeare,” we do not generally expect to hear “dude” or see flashlights and swimming goggles on stage, but that is what Her Hamlet gives us. There is a distinct shift that happens time and again where the audience is brought from recitations of the play texts Judith has recovered in her home back to modern parlance, where the audience is presented with a very up-to-date woman in the same Judith who expresses the self-assertivenes that we have come to expect from modern performers. It plays wonderfully off two pivotal quotations from Shakepeare’s contemporary (and often critic) Ben Jonson: first, “He was not of an age, but for all time!”; and second, “I remember, the players have often mentioned it as an honour that in his writing, whatsoever he penned, he never blotted out a line. My answer hath been, ‘Would he had blotted out a thousand.'” And so it is with Her Hamlet: it is not concerned with providing a period piece portraying the Bard’s youngest daughter in strict historicity so much as it is willing to transgress the bounds of chronology to provide an audience with a woman who is both searching for her place in her own family (after the death of her fraternal twin brother Hamnet, none the less) and who embodies the idea that Jonson ascribed to her father: she is beyond the bounds of her historical context: she is a woman for all ages.

For those who are Bard afficiondaos, the careful play-goer will catch references to other bits of Hamlet as well as snippets from King John, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and a musical treatment of The Tempest (by Frankenberry as Yorick) to name a few. For those unfamiliar with Shakespeare’s body of work, Theo Allyn provides a magnetic depiction of a young woman struggling to understand herself through the fragments of plays her father—the father “of scraps and patches”—has left behind. Both Allyn and Frankenberry command the stage for an all-too-short play that reënvisions typical treatments of cannonical characters and begs, begs, begs for more daring treatments of all-too-well-worn theatrical source-material. If you love Shakespeare’s penned work, then here is your chance for a fresh look at familiar theatrical ground. If you have never cared for Shakespeare’s work, then here is a play to stir your interests. Either way, Her Hamlet is a unique and refreshing theatrical experience.


The New Normal

By Karen Zhang

These days I’ve frequently heard the phrase “new normal” particularly after the wildfires in Colorado neighborhood that swallowed hundreds of homes and thousands of acres of trees, after the record-breaking drought in the Midwest that killed crops, and after the unusual weekend floods in Northeast China affected hundreds of local lives.

It’s inevitable that global warming is pressing us day by day. I’m not sure if human’s tolerance of heat gets weaker or the climate change gets faster. Facing all types of unpredictable natural disasters, humans become so vulnerable. It’s like watching the debris from Japan’s tsunami last year now landing the west coast of the U.S., local people are frustrated because it is estimated more ocean trash will arrive on the shore later this year. I doubt that governments will invest too much money on the massive cleanup since the noise of cutting government spending is so loud.

I used to think America is quite an ecologically-conscious country. But as in China, only some cities stand out to make an effort of protecting the environment. When customers have to pay for their plastic bags in my home city, Guangzhou, I’m shocked to know most supermarkets in America give out free plastic bags. Where are the paper grocery bags that I saw in the American movies? When Chinese housewives recycle their used water to water plants or flush toilets, I’m surprised to see Americans leaving their running hoses on the lawn and lights on in vacant rooms.

A recent trip to New York City reminds me how much trash the New Yorkers produce a day. In that city, you’ll never miss seeing gigantic plastic bags of trash lining both sides of the street as if they are suggesting the trash collecting companies are seriously understaffed. I’m not sure how the city disposes millions of tons of trash but I do know the city dwellers have too much to waste.

Even though America is a developed country, there’s still a long way for the country to become a global model of living economically and environmentally. When the abnormal natural phenomenon really does become the new normal, it’ll be too late to make a change.


The Order of Things: Housework

by Eva-Maria Simms

Anyone who lives in a house or an apartment for a period of time knows how quickly human living spaces deteriorate if we neglect our things and fail to vacuum the carpet, do the dishes, pick up our dirty clothes of the floor. The lovely, orderly, well designed room turns into a dirty cave within weeks and things get lost in the clutter. Housework is the continuous battle of ordered human design against nature who wants to do something else with our spaces and things: grow mold, create crevices for bugs and rodents, festoon with spider webs, push roots through the foundations, level walls, return the bricks to the dust where they came from.

Housework demands a different kind of heroism than the conquering of places or the building of city structures. To love housework means to love not the glory of the new but the eternal return of the same. It means to attend to things already there by touching them and by returning them to where they want to be. It means to rinse the dishes from last night’s supper and load them into the dishwasher so that the celebration of eating can happen once again, tomorrow, around the table with its ensemble of plates and crystal and forks, knives, and spoons. It means to set yourself against the mold and keep the minuscule predators out of your territory, out of your body. It means to rest on the seventh day and look at the order of it all and find it good – and mess it up again just by living in it.


After Martial

by Publius

We no longer love you, boss,
but the reason – it’s just hard to tell;
though there’s one thing we know,
and we can tell this full well –
we’d all love to smash your ass, boss.